The Real Reasons Why Women Cheat

Most married folks like to pretend extramarital affairs just don't happen — or at least not in their houses. But the sad truth is affairs do happen. They're a lot more common than you might think, and women are almost just as likely to step out on their relationship as their male counterparts.

"Despite over 90 percent of Americans believing cheating is morally wrong, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy says 74 percent of men and 68 percent of women admit they'd have an affair if they knew they'd never get caught," said Michelle Crosby, relationship expert and founder of Wevorce. "Not such a wide gap between the sexes and an interesting revelation on the strength of morality in today's world."

Now that we know women are not as opposed to cheating as we'd like to think, it's time to dive deeper into the reasons so many women are abandoning their vows. I spoke with several experts to find out, and while some reasons may be just what you expected, others might really give you pause.

Emotional cheating

Some may view emotional cheating as harmless companionship, but professional relationship consultant Chris Seiter says it's just asking for trouble. "Emotional cheating often leads to physical cheating, and even though the lines are blurred when dealing with 'emotional cheating' I have found that it can be just as dangerous," he said.

Seiter went on to explain that emotional cheating may mean different things to different people, but it all boils down to the same motivation: "If you have an emotional need that you need to get met by your partner and you instead go to someone else to get that need met, then that would be considered emotional cheating." He says some examples of emotional cheating include seeking someone else out to make you feel admired, important, reassured, appreciated, or approved of.

Attachment style

It makes sense that a person who is overly attached to their partner would be less likely to stray, but Charlotte Howard, Ph.D., says people who need high levels of attachment may be more prone to cheating for that very reason. "Attachment style affects how people feel in close relationships and can make people insatiably hungry for more connection — in which case they might have to look outside the relationship for more," she explained.

Emotional abandoment

Just because a spouse is physically present does not mean he is emotionally checked in, and for some women, that sort of abandonment can be worse. "The urge to cheat can often emerge when women feel emotionally abandoned," said psychotherapist and relationship expert Rhonda Richards-Smith, LCSW. "The physical presence of a partner is never enough to sustain a healthy, satisfying relationship. It is imperative that couples communicate their needs and expectations regularly as these can change over time. Instead of making assumptions or hoping your partner can read your mind, initiate a direct conversation about the emotional needs that are not being met."

Marilyn Williams, founder of the MEDIAN Center for Resilience and Brain Training, agreed, saying, "In my experience, most women cheat (or explain/justify their cheating) because their emotional needs were either not being met, or were perceived as not being met by their partner. They feel lonely, ignored, not paid attention to, etc. Most of the time the cheating was not premeditated; they realized how lonely or vulnerable they were once someone else started paying attention to them."


It may sound like a cop-out, but Michelle Crosby, relationship expert and founder of Wevorce, says simple biology may sometimes be the reason for a wandering wife. "Many affairs can happen during pre-menopause when women experience an intense flash of sexuality, biologically explained as a last chance to procreate, an urgent, hormonal 'going out of business' sale," she explained.

Intimacy fears

Being afraid of intimacy has the power to destroy a relationship in more ways than one. Charlotte Howard, Ph.D., says those who have intimacy issues may still seek out that sexual companionship, but not with their partner. She says some people may be "scared of intimacy in a way that allows sexual desire to only be felt outside of a deep partnership, because there is too much closeness with a partner to feel safe merging through sex."

A power play

Sometimes, a woman's decision to cheat is nothing more than a tactic to show her partner who's really in charge. "When women feel that they have no voice in their relationship, they may be more likely to stray," said psychotherapist and relationship expert Rhonda Richards-Smith, LCSW. "If a woman feels she has little to no say with regard to household decisions, finances, or future plans, the temptation to step outside of the relationship can be particularly tempting. In fact, some women may feel a gratifying sense of power and control when engaged in a secret affair."

Smith reminds us that cheating isn't the only way to exert power, though. It may just be time for a serious discussion. "If your relationship is headed this way, it is critical to evaluate whether the partnership is flexible enough to allow for better compromise and shared decision-making," she said.


You might not be surprised to hear that money may cause women to cheat, but the explanation for this is probably not going to go quite the way you thought. According to relationship expert John Gray, Ph.D. and author of best-selling novel Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, women are more likely to cheat when they have money, not because they're going out looking for it. Gray says a woman's financial success affects her testosterone levels, which, in turn, affects her love life.

"As more women are financially independent, they are less dependent on their partners. This increases their testosterone levels and lowers their estrogen which is a hormone balance more similar to a man's," explained Gray. "This increased testosterone can increase her desire for sex with a stranger or a one night stand for fun. On the other hand, married women who are less financially independent will tend to have lower testosterone and higher estrogen. This balance increases her need and attachment to her partner."

Before you get all riled up, though, it's important to note that Gray isn't saying financial success will automatically make a woman more likely to cheat, just more likely to act on that desire if it exists. "If she is fulfilled in her relationship, she is rarely even tempted to stray," he added.


They say hell hath no fury like a women scorned, and Rhonda Milrad, founder and CEO of Relationup, says there is quite a bit of truth to that. "Some women have been hurt, betrayed or disrespected by their partner and decide to retaliate by going outside of the relationship sexually and letting their partner know. It's the 'see how you like this' lesson," she explained.

Victoria Lorient-Faibish, psychotherapist and author of Connecting: Rewire Your Relationship Culture, agreed. "Work to heal all resentments quickly. Don't let wounds fester. In reality, it is hard to be fully attracted to someone if you do not feel emotionally safe, free, and comfortable with them," she explained. "If you harbor resentment for your partner, it is difficult to be hot for that person, especially if you are in a long-term relationship or marriage."


It's no secret that as women begin to age, they start to feel like they've lost many qualities that once made them desirable, and Dr. Gail Saltz, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, best-selling author, and host of The Power of Different podcast, says an affair is one way women try to make themselves feel better about the whole thing. "The search for feeling sexy, playful, and less sexually inhibited may also be the start of an affair, especially if fears of aging and loss of attractiveness are bothering her," she said. While it's true that starting an affair may make you feel sexy for a short while, they guilt of what you're doing may end up making you feel worse in the long run.

Licensed marriage and family therapist Anita Chlipala agrees, saying, "Women can cheat because they want reinforcement that they 'still got it.'"

To spice things up

It's pretty normal for even the most exciting relationship to get a little boring every now and then, but some women are prepared to cross some pretty big lines to bring excitement back into their lives. Rhonda Milrad, founder and CEO of Relationup, says it's actually a reason many women cheat. "Some women feel that they have landed in a rut and that their life has become predictable and boring. A new relationship can seem like an exciting way to get a buzz," she explained. "The secretiveness, the sneaking around, the sexual passion can create a high with the release of all those feel-good hormones. These women often compartmentalize and tell themselves that this affair does not detract from their love for their partner."

Father issues

We tend to blame a lot of our adult issues on things we've experienced in our childhoods, and Dr. Gail Saltz says that blame may be appropriate, at least when it comes to women who cheat — especially when they seek out older men. "Psychologically, women who enter into affairs with men who are 10 to 20 years older than them may be looking for affection from a father who never gave it to them," she said. "If their father was gone, neglectful, or angry a lot, she may crave that paternal attention and seek it in the form of an affair."

Not enough face time

We're not talking about face time on your phone, but actual, face-to-face conversations with your spouse. This may seem like an old-school concept, but it's still pretty important in your relationship, according to Dr. Jenn Mann, host of VH1's Couple's Therapy. "One key issue for women who cheated is having enough time with their partners. Taking the time to sit and connect, talk about your day, and share experiences is crucial. Put down your phones! Turn off your TV! Make some eye contact, sit and talk about your day," said Mann. "The studies show that the women who did not cheat spent an average of 30 minutes a day sitting and talking with their husbands."

A drop in sex

Physical connections are very important in relationships, and Victoria Lorient-Faibish, psychotherapist and author of Connecting: Rewire Your Relationship Culture, says allowing touch and sex to drop off significantly is a major reason women tend to step out on their partners. "The oxytocin biochemical released when we have good, intimate, connected sex goes a long way toward keeping the nesting intentions alive and well for both people in a committed relationship. Research suggests that sexual dissatisfaction has been closely linked to greater incidences of conflict as well as unhappiness, infidelity and instability in the marriage," she explained. "Sex is a use-it-or-lose-it prospect! Neural pathways associated with sexuality are strengthened and maintained if sex is engaged in often. Remembering that there are many kinds of sexual encounters to be explored is important as well. There are the quickies, the long drawn-out sessions, the everything-but-intercourse sessions, the sexy shower-time sessions and then there is simply sensual touch as well. This all contributes significantly to a couple's being interested in one another and feeling a deep attraction for and excitement about one another."


Dr. Jess O'Reilly, the resident sexologist for Astroglide, says the reason women cheat is often quite simple — they're looking for something to do. "We cheat because we're bored. Some research suggests that women cheat for the emotional connection or to fill a void in their relationships, but I work with many women (especially professional, high-power women) who cheat because they want the challenge. They like the chase, the excitement and the risk," she said. " Some have ended relationships because of boredom and others have realized that they don't want to be tied down to one partner, because inevitably they become bored and end up looking for sex elsewhere."

Low self-esteem

Sometimes, having an affair is just a way fr a woman to fix her low self-esteem, especially if her issues stem from her spouse, according to Renee Smith Ettline, Author of Peace after Divorce and founder of After Divorce Ministries. "If your husband takes you for granted, ignores you, or demeans you, especially over a period of time, your self-esteem takes a plunge. Women who experience this can develop a desperate need to know that they are valuable and desirable. Having another man want them is affirming," she said.

To find themselves

These days, women are busy. As wives, mothers, career women, volunteers and more, our lives seem to be run by our commitments. It's easy to feel like we're known not for who we are, but what we do. Dr. Amelia Romanowsky, clinical psychologist, says an affair may just be a way for some women to get in touch with who we are as a person. "Women largely cheat because they've lost themselves within all of the ways that they give and connect with others. Often women have no intention of cheating but are seduced by the wonderful feeling of being seen for the woman that they are within all of their roles. Women often experience it as a wake up call to a sense of autonomy," she explained.

Sexual incompatibility

It's possible to connect with a partner on an emotional level, yet not quite hit that same mark in the bedroom. According to Dr. Jess O'Reilly, the resident sexologist for Astroglide, this can sometimes case women to stray. "They're incompatible and don't know how to talk about their desires to improve compatiblity," she explained. "I've worked with several woman who have had affairs and claimed that they simply 'clicked' with their lovers. It's no surprise that the affairs didn't blossom into long-lasting relationships either, because the real deficit is in their inability to communicate what they want in bed. They expect their partners to read their minds and when they don't, they simply walk away or stray. They blame their lovers or partners, when in fact, it's their own lack of communication that pushed them to seek an affair."

To get out

Ending a relationship, especially a long-term one, is never easy. Rhonda Milrad, founder and CEO of Relationup, says having affair is sometimes just a method of taking the easy way out when your relationship is over. "In some cases, women have an affair to find another relationship. They want to leave, but don't want to be alone. So, they are looking to set up the next one and slip out of their current relationship," she said.

Getting past it

How many of us have talked about what we would do in the event an affair happened in our relationships? We all like to think we'd never stand for it, never stay. But your tune may change if you find yourself in the midst of this exact situation — no matter what side of the infidenility you're on. And Michelle Crosby, relationship expert and founder of Wevorce, says it is possible to save a relationship that's endured even the worst kind of betrayal.

"Although affairs may be considered a moral issue, many times they're merely a wake-up call, indicators of deeper problems with each partner playing a role that can lead to a series of relationship breakdowns," she explained. "Any crisis has the potential to make a relationship stronger and an affair is no exception. But, too often the moral stigma of infidelity locks couples in a power struggle over right and wrong, rather than fixing the underlying ailments."