The Secret behind Cheaters

15 factors that Fuel Unfaithfulness

By Dwight Bain, Nationally Certified Counselor & Certified Life Coach

Celebrities do it - so do Pro Athletes, Politicians, Television Evangelists, Executives, Salesmen, Singers, Truckers, Teachers, and even Presidents. No, I’m not referring to a Nike commercial, rather to people who cheat in their marriage relationship. There is even a reality TV show called, “Cheaters” where you can watch a betrayed partner spy on and eventually confront their mate – caught in the act.

Cheating as Recreational Entertainment or Symptom of Psychological Problems?

Watching people lie, cheat, manipulate or hide in the shadows of their secret sin isn’t entertaining, it’s just sad. Lying, cheating and covering up secret affairs has become so commonplace that it has evolved into media fodder for stand up comics to joke about, trending topics to Tweet about, or an endless source of gossip fueling the tabloid headlines at the checkout counter of your local supermarket.

Why do cheaters cheat?Instead of being entertained by affairs, let’s take a moment to understand the psychological dynamics behind breaking the basic promise in a relationship – to be faithful. What drives a man, (or woman since women cheat almost as often as men according to a cover story in Newsweek magazine), to break their vows, violate their values and spend more time in the shadows of their secret fantasy life than simply living in the light of the life they already have?

15 Factors fuel AdulteryThere are 15 key elements that can cause someone to ignore everything they believe in to break all the rules of a stable relationship. The more factors present, the harder it is to break out of the illicit relationship and the more likely trust can’t be rebuilt, meaning that restoration is virtually impossible. Most people think that an affair “just happened” like a bolt of lightening out of the sky striking two unsuspecting individuals who then are destined to become soul-mates for the rest of eternity. Nope. That concept fuels ‘chick-flick’ movies, sappy music and smutty novels but it isn’t the real reason that drives people to cheat.

Here are the factors that drive people to cheat. As you read them, think of the people you have watched in a continual and desperate attempt to find somebody new to love, who only ended up creating massive stress and chaos for everyone else involved. Because when a secret life is exposed, all the new ‘love’ gets replaced with loss and pain. There are tremendous losses; loss of family, loss of children, loss of financial stability and loss of integrity; over the deceit and betrayal. Research from the University of Florida showed that only 3% of people who cheat and end their marriage to be with their secret lover actually end up staying married to their new love interest. The passion of infatuation fades fast, or to quote Will Smith’s old song lyric, “Ain’t no love in the Champagne room”

The real reason behind bad behavior is not because people wake up and decide to destroy their lives. Actually a lot of things are going on privately under the surface which aren’t evident until their public lives collapse after the affair is discovered. Here are the most common factors that erode stability and ruin relationships.

Selfishness – The clear #1 factor that fuels secret relationships is a commitment to please ones self over any commitment to their partner. Selfishness is a subtle slave master because it seems so natural to do what feels good inside, without consideration for how it will affect others. Once a person buys into the notion that their happiness is more important than that of their marriage partner, or children, parents, co-workers, boss or share-holders; they begin a seductive slide into the darkness of forbidden behaviors. Rules don’t matter to a person driven by their selfish need for pleasure, which is why they justify their bad decisions instead of having the self-control not to make them in the first place.

Lustful – However not the kind of lust you may be thinking about. Adultery is fueled by psychological insecurities more than by physical intimacy. The breathless ripping off of clothes (remember Michael Douglas in the elevator scene of the film “Fatal Attraction”) to experience physical passion is only one stage of an affair. It’s not the only factor and in long term affairs it’s often a forgotten one. Lust is the illicit desire for something more; so once the ‘conquest’ has been made with the new partner, a cheater silently begins the ‘hunt’ for the next target in their string of hopping from bed to bed hoping for a little more happiness. They are continually looking and lusting for a better life instead of learning how to be satisfied with the one they have. Perhaps that’s why “Hollywood” marriages only last a few years. Lust for more prevents feeling contentment and satisfaction inside the person driven to find a little more happiness from their partner instead of finding it inside themselves. When someone is never fully satisfied with their life they and their relationships continually change because of it.

Lonely – Distance in a relationship leaves a married partner feeling empty inside. Often instead of working to solve that emptiness in a positive way, (creating connection points through date-nights, weekend getaways or attending a couples retreat together), they just grow more distant which leaves them vulnerable to the temptation of forbidden fruit. However, loneliness is a solvable problem in a marriage because there are so many healthy ways a lonely partner can reach out to rebuild their relationship. Loneliness can be solved by reconnecting with God and healthy people, including talking with a pastor, counselor or family member who can help develop strategies in a positive way, instead of leaving the gap of temptation open by crying on the shoulder of a stranger. It takes courage to move past the fear of feeling alone to seek help, but it’s a stronger choice than the chaos of living a secret life.

Low esteem – When someone feels like they are a ‘loser’ in life they are vulnerable to the temptations of others. Low esteem leaves the door open for someone to respond to the advances of a stranger because they don’t believe in themselves. When there is a major gap of personal confidence, or someone believes that they are not worthy of feeling loved they might seek out the attention of strangers to fill the ‘leaks’ from the ‘holes in their soul’. It doesn’t last for long, which is why they drift from relationship to relationship looking for someone who will completely satisfy their emptiness and fears. The problem is that another person cannot completely fill up the gaps inside; at least not for long. And there is always the risk of meeting someone new who has just a little more charisma or charm, leaving the door open to change partners again and again.

Conversation Connection – One of the most common factors I’ve heard from hundreds of people who crashed their marriage relationship to be with a stranger said it was because the new person was just so “Easy to talk to”. This is a subtle way into seduction because it seems so innocent. One day you are just sharing opinions and ideas with someone at work, church, or at a social event. And then, WHAM! The chemistry races ahead of reason and decisions are made that destroy stability. There are many people you could talk to in safe ways, but long conversations with someone new can lead to saying goodbye to the people who trusted you to stay faithful and keep the promises made in marriage.

Power and control – You may not have associated this category with cheaters, but it is a driving force. You see, many times the whole dynamic of keeping a secret lifestyle is to break the rules of order and decency to do whatever they want to do. To control others, or feel the invincible power of being able to get away with breaking the rules leads many powerful people into destroying their lifestyle. While it is true that you can break the rules, it is also true that eventually the rules break you. Cheaters forget that the truth always comes out, always. It’s just not revealed quickly. Sometimes people even act abusive to force their desires of manipulation on others, which is why those relationships fail so fast and so often. You can’t make someone do something they don’t want to do for very long, and if an affair is driven by the issues of power and control eventually the people in it will grow tired of the manipulation and gradually pull away. Sadly a lot of innocent people get stepped on in the process.

Addictions- When someone can’t stop their inappropriate and irresponsible behavior it can often be tied to the driven compulsive need for instant gratification, instead of long term commitment. Sadly I’ve seen situations where secret addictions were suffocating all of the joy out of living the life a person had been given because they were continually and compulsively reaching for something else. Addictions don’t make much sense to people who haven’t struggled with inner demons of desire, yet to an addict it is more important than their next breath. Addiction gradually destroys every relationship and will usually end a marriage if professional help isn’t sought out to stabilize the real factors fueling the fire of out of control desire inside.

Shame based past – Unresolved abuse of any kind, (either as victim or perpetrator) can lead to acting outside of the normal boundaries of a marriage relationship. Simply put, if a person feels dirty on the inside because of what has happened to them in the past, they often will act ‘dirty’ on the outside. This is tied to deeper psychological issues that often require counseling to resolve because a person with shame issues will continue to repeat the same self-destructive behavior pattern. Shame creates a feeling of guilt and condemnation and can become a driving force behind irresponsible and impulsive behavior. Until shame based behaviors are stabilized the person will continual to make the wrong choices, and while they may hate themselves for doing the wrong thing, they feel like they have absolutely no power to stop it.

Peer Pressure – You become like the people you hang around. So when a person works in an environment that embraces impulsive decisions, or if there is a ‘locker room’ mentality of conquest over character people ruin relationships. This can show up as ending up in the wrong bed on a business trip, or drinking too much at the office Christmas party, and then bragging about their indiscretions to coworkers. Focusing on romance instead of real work violates the basic principle of any job. A professor I had at Rollins College taught me, “Work should be about creating a quality product or service that returns a profit to shareholders.” Some corporate cultures push people to be their best, others build teams who want to pass the competition, however in a toxic workplace people spend their time sneaking around on the job to fall in love with someone else’s spouse. Cheating hurts a marriage, but it can also hurt the customers, clients and coworkers who depend on people do actually do their job well; instead of being totally distracted by the pressure to have more partners.

Lies, Deception & Cover Up – this factor is based on the notion that “liars lie – and cheaters cheat.” The driving force behind this factor is to manipulate others by keeping secrets and avoiding honestly. It’s not about the new relationship, since there are countless examples of cheaters who simply go on to cheat on their next partner. They weren’t into the new person they were simply using the next person to fuel their need to keep a continual string of secret relationships to fuel their inner desire to avoid playing by the rules of society.

Generational patterns – there is an old saying in families that “the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree” meaning that a parent or grandparent who models the secret lifestyle behavior creates the negative role model for the kids who are always watching to do the same thing. And they do. It can be uncanny how repetitive the cycle plays out in people who hit a certain age, (say 35 or so), and then do exactly what their father did at the same age. Family secrets can go on for generations until someone finds the faith to move beyond the past to build a better future. Until that happens it’s like they are following a script of making the same mistakes to pass along the generational pain.

Stress- often an affair isn’t driven by the desire to really swap partners, violate trust and shatter integrity, rather, it was based on an escape from pressure. Simply put, exhausted and desperate people do exhausted and desperate things. When a person becomes overwhelmed with the responsibilities and pressures of life they sometimes give up on things that don’t seem important at the time. A distant marriage is completely vulnerable to temptations from others because there is no solid foundation to hold it together during the stressful seasons of life. A stressed out person doesn’t have to choose an affair to deal with stress, but when they do it creates a whole new layer of pressure from trying to keep secrets – and sadly that generates substantial new stress. Stress relief cannot be found in creating new problems. Real relief comes from reaching out to get help from people who can pull you out of the pressure, instead of those who add more burdens to your life.

Distance in relationship- The old saying is wrong. Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder… it often just makes a person’s heart, eyes and hands begin to wander. Feeling alone in a relationship, either from emotional distance, or geographical distance that comes from a job with a lot of travel, can lead to seeking the company of other people than their marriage partner and that can be disastrous. It takes far less emotional and psychological energy to keep your current relationship together than it does to keep a secret lifestyle going on behind the scenes.

Leaks - When people feel like they ‘leak’ or have a continual need to hear the praise and compliments from others they are open to stumble and struggle with temptation. When a person is constantly looking for someone to fill the void inside, the emptiness leads to making bad decisions and desperate attempts at finding fulfillment. Better to find true filling from healthy sources instead of making the ‘leaks’ bigger with bad decisions.

Acceptance – Everyone longs to feel a sense of connection, of belonging and approval. Finding validation from another person instead of from core values and beliefs that you hold inside can lead to the continual need for replacement. A healthy person has those needs for acceptance met in healthy ways, which improves their life instead of leading to a pattern of continual problems, secrets and lies. Being a person of deception, secrets and lies won’t make someone feel better inside, they feel worse! The deepest psychological and spiritual needs cannot be met through wrong choices, and when someone sees that truth it is transformational.

Boring Brain Chemistry creates Bad-Boy Behavior
Once the excitement of the new relationship wears off, many people choose to chase the intense feelings which can only come from the infatuation of an affair. Don’t discount the brain chemistry that causes infatuation, because it literally feels like oxygen to the person experiencing it and that they can’t live without it, (Think of the life or death struggle that the Greek hero Ulysses faced with the deadly Sirens in Homer’s classic Greek story of “The Odyssey”).

However it is an unsustainable emotion because it is created from the sparks of being with someone new and exciting. The longer a relationship goes, the less infatuation can create enough brain chemistry to connect two desperate souls who must be together or they will simply die. This sounds like a high-school play of “Romeo and Juliet” because it basically is. Adolescent relationships are driven by surges of hormones and chemistry more than self-control and sincere commitment. Healthy people don’t ruin their lives chasing impulsive urges, they protect the stability of their relationships by making wise choices.

No such thing as “Soul-Mates”
The concept that you have a single ‘soul-mate’ who is the perfect partner that can totally “complete you,” (remember Tom Cruise tearfully saying that in the film Jerry Maguire?) really sells movie tickets, but it simply isn’t real. The hard reality isn’t that Americans marry and divorce more than any country in the world, which they do. The hardest reality, (reported in a Time magazine cover story) is that Americans divorce more than any country in the HISTORY of the world! And a large part of that partner swapping is driven by the false belief that the next person will be a lucky catch way better than the loser you are stuck with now.

The soul-mate concept is a common reason why people leave one partner for the next. But don’t miss the statistical reality that the pattern continues. (Divorce rates are much higher in for people in multiple marriages, or what some researchers call ‘serial monogamy’). Searching for the next soul-mate to complete you just a little better than the last one did may be why romance writers have a job, but it won’t create any stability in the relationship you currently have – only the desperate longing that you are missing out on happiness by being with the wrong partner. So people who cling to this belief practice the philosophy of an old rock n’roll lyric that says…”If you can’t be with the one you love – love the one you’re with!”

Sorry, no soul-mates, just different people with different levels of maturity and development. Healthy people can have healthy relationships with hundreds of others, including the self-control to make a single relationship the most satisfying.

Promise Keeping instead of Promise Breaking
The bottom line on breaking a cheating lifestyle is to change to invest time and energy in keeping the promises you made, instead of spending time, energy and money desperately trying to chase another person to create a little happiness. Over time it takes a lot more work to keep a secret lifestyle going than it does to simply work on the relationship you have. Trading a stable life for the hope of something better doesn’t work out for the majority of people who attempt it. The research shows that people divorce at significantly higher levels when they move from partner to partner. There is more stability from making wise choices in reality than in chasing a fantasy image of being with ‘dream boat’ person who later turns out to be a ‘nightmare’. Keeping promises builds trust, integrity, character and a life of balance. Keeping promises is the opposite of cheating, and may seem boring compared to a “Las Vegas” lifestyle, but the long term benefits of a stable life are worth it.

The Best Deal!
How much better life is when people move from cheating to protecting character! If you know someone who has been cheating, reach out to them and challenge them to stop making impulsive choices that hurt others. If you have been hurt by a cheater, learn to set boundaries, study what the Bible teaches about forgiveness so that you don’t become overwhelmed by bitterness, resentment or rage inside. The best deal is to live a life of integrity by keeping your word and holding your head high because you are a person respected by all.

Life is about choices, and when a cheater stops to really study the reasons why they cheat it’s possible for them to turn their life from one of being known as a liar to become a person who can be trusted again. It takes time and often a lot of hard work by the former cheater but it’s well worth the trade. I challenge anyone caught cheating to make that trade because their life and their future legacy will be much more successful. Blessings follow the man or woman who turns their life around.

The Bible is full of stories of people who experienced a major heart change, which rippled into every other area of their life and people still talk about those positive changes thousands of years later. When a cheater gets real enough to see that they really can change on the inside and that they can rebuild their life it’s a story that will be told in their family for generations. A deceptive person can’t re-write a painful past, but they can reach out, get some help and take bold action to write a better future. Start writing!

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Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group weekly eNews, (Copyright, 2004-2010), To subscribe to this valuable counseling and coaching resource visit or call 407-647-7005"About the author- Dwight Bain is dedicated to helping people achieve greater results. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Certified Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change.

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