Why Do Women Cheat?

Revised 12/26/19

Why do women cheat? I know someone who has an answer. Helen Fisher is an evolutionary anthropologist at Rutgers University. While not a couples therapist, Helen is an intriguing thought leader on human love, sex, and the neuroscience of gender differences informing the field of couples therapy today.

why do women cheat?Helen is a Senior Research Fellow at the Kinsey Institute and is the author of a stunning body of research. She is also the author of several books on how we love, mate, bond…and cheat.

Fisher’s research has found that only 34% of women who had affairs reported that they were either happy or delighted in their marriage.

That means a clear majority of 66% of women having affairs were not happy.

On the other hand, Fisher discovered that 56% of men who engaged in ongoing affairs said their marriages were happy. That suggests that a minority of 44% of men having affairs were unhappily married. Gottman’s research discovered that wives do the vast majority of the criticism in any given relationship.

Because women are always “checking the thermostat” of their relational bond, they are less likely to endure circumstances that are severely and chronically unsatisfactory.

This fundamental difference between unfaithful men and women creates complications in couples therapy. Women are far more likely to engage in exit affairs to cushion the collapse of their marriage.

“Women tend to be more unhappy with the relationship they are in, while men can be a lot happier in their primary relationship and also cheat. Women are more interested in supplementing their marriage or jumping ship than men are — for men, it is a secondary strategy as opposed to an alternate.” Dr. Helen Fisher

Why Do Women Cheat? Romantic Love and Sleeping Cats

Stimulation of the genitals promotes dopamine activity. This mechanism in the body is incredibly indiscriminate and responds to virtually any stimulation. Unhappy cheating wives can easily get nudged over the threshold into a felt sense of “falling in love” with their affair partner.

why do women cheat?

If their affair partner is a good sexual fit, oxytocin, and vasopressin released in orgasm will cause feelings of attachment to hockey stick upward.

Limerence has its agenda and can be a cruel taskmaster. It not only doesn’t care what you think…it prefers that you don’t.

Dr. Fisher tells us that the necessary wiring for Romantic Love inhabits very old, primitive areas in the brain. When you look at a human brain map, you can see that Hunger and Thirst are Romantic Love’s next-door neighbors.

Romantic Love is, in fact, not a recent social construction, as some post-modern philosophers would have you believe.

It is one of three major brain systems that evolved to orchestrate our essential mate selection and reproductive strategy. While perhaps not as quite as old as your reptilian horniness, which may incline you to pursue a variety of sexual partners, Romantic Love has been a proven, successful survival strategy for the human race.

Romantic love is like a sleeping cat; it can be awakened at any time. Feelings of deep attachment, however, take time. Dr. Helen Fisher.

Fisher has mapped some of the brain circuitry responsible for marital happiness. She studied happily married couples who scored high on a marital satisfaction questionnaire. Their brains revealed more activity in the area of the brain, where feelings of empathy reside. Cheating wives usually feel a significant empathy deficit. If the”sleeping cat” of Romantic Love awakens, it will seek to compensate for a perceived empathy deficit with an affair partner.

Dr. Scott Wolfe is one of Couples Therapy Inc. Master Therapists. His research reached an identical conclusion. Marital satisfaction is linked to empathy. If a wife feels compassion from her husband, she is much more likely to be satisfied with her marriage and is less likely to cheat.

What Was I Thinking?

I once worked with Jane (not her real name), who is a personal assistant to a famous international figure. In her job, she traveled the world and was away from her husband sometimes for months at a time.

why do women cheat?When her affair began, her marriage with Marc at a low point, but not critical.

” The five-star hotels, the fine dining, I was living in a lonely bubble of luxury,” said Jane. “I got involved with Chet because he pursued me, and I now know exactly how I was vulnerable. Marc was preoccupied with taking his company public and was pretty much ignoring me…even when I complained. 

I know I was kinda bitchy, but my self-esteem was pretty much shot to hell. Chet made moves on me. He looked pretty good. I even thought I was in love with him. Marc and I have been together for 9 years. Sure, we’ve had our ups and downs.

When I look back on that crazy time, I gotta ask myself…what was I thinking?”

Dr. Fisher says that women’s motivations to have affairs are typically more than just sexual.

That’s not to say that some women don’t have affairs just for the sex or that sex wasn’t important. But overall, a cheating wife’s initial motivation for infidelity tends to be more about connection and less about sex. However, great sex induces a neurochemical cascade that often seals the deal.

What Do You Mean by Connection?

  • Dashed Expectations. Why do women cheat? Let’s start with the fact that a woman begins a relationship with clear expectations of who her partner is, and how she can reasonably expect him to grow and develop over time. If her partner misrepresented or embellished himself, dissatisfaction may be what grows over time.
  • The Relationship has Become a Near Death Experience. When you both know the relationship is near death, a woman will often engage in an affair as a way to elegantly convey her displeasure and to cushion herself from loneliness and depression. Limerence is seen as an improvement. Research tells us that exit affairs are quite common for women when they are convinced that their primary relationship has become terminal.
  • Being Taken for Granted. Why do women cheat? Women want to be appreciated. If they feel that they are taken for granted, they might be vulnerable to the flirtatious overtures of other attractive men.
  • Curiosity. This reason to cheat is psycho-biological. A woman’s choice in a mate has profound implications, not only for herself but also for her children. Some women will compensate for deficits in their primary relationship by having their unmet needs satisfied elsewhere.
  • Narcissism. Women have a heavy burden of caretaking. Children Housework. Career, etc. If they feel that they are being taken for granted, they may engage in an affair that carves out a private emotional space that is uniquely their own.
  • Abuse. Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose addressed this issue in their less than profound 1971 hit Treat her Like a Lady; “strange as it seems you can’t treat a woman mean.”

So my friend, there you have it. Research suggests that about 20% of married women cheat. Why do women cheat? Their primary reasons for doing so are due primarily to growing relational dissatisfaction. So, men take note. Check your empathy connection.

“If you fail to do this, “… well, you know how the song ends.

Ready for a change in your relationship?

It starts with a no-obligation 15 minute phone call with our client services team.

Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist and the blog editor. He currently works with couples online and in person. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and Developmental Models in his approaches. Daniel specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, couples that are recovering from an affair, and couples struggling with conflict avoidant and passive aggressive behavior patterns.

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