Why Do Women Cheat? A Psychobiological Look

Dr. Helen Fisher is an evolutionary anthropologist at Rutgers University. Dr. Fisher is not a clinician. However, she is an interesting writer on love, sex, and the science of gender differences in couples therapy.

Dr. Fisher is a Senior Research Fellow at the Kinsey Institute and is the author of an huge body of research. She has published 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.

Out of women engaged in affairs, 66% reported being unhappy in their marriages. This is in contrast to men involved in ongoing affairs, where 44% claimed to have an unhappy marriage. This is a statistically significant finding.

Women assess their relationships, and complain more when things aren’t going well according to John Gottman. They may be less likely to tolerate consistently unsatisfying circumstances.

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 are often unhappy in relationships, while men can be happy and still cheat. Women are more likely to seek additional support or leave their marriage than men. For men, this is a less important option compared to finding an alternative.

Romantic love is like a sleeping cat

According to neurobiology, stimulation of the genitals promotes dopamine activity. This mechanism in the body is incredibly indiscriminate and responds to virtually any stimulation.

If their partner is sexually compatible, orgasm can increase feelings of attachment through oxytocin and vasopressin release. Women in affairs who are unhappy can easily find themselves falling in love with their affair partner.

Limerence has its agenda. It interferes with logical thinking and rational decisionmaking.

Dr. Fisher tells us that the necessary wiring for Romantic Love inhabits ancient, primitive areas in the brain. When you look at a human brain map, you can see that hunger and thirst are close by the same brain centers as Romantic Love.

Romantic love isn’t a new idea, as some post-modern philosophers claim, according to Fisher.

One of three major brain systems evolved to orchestrate our essential mate selection and reproductive strategy. Sex drive may drive the pursuit of a variety of sexual partners.

Romantic Love, on the other hand, 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.

Wives in affairs usually feel a significant empathy deficit in their partner. If someone in a romantic relationship feels misunderstood, they may cheat on their partner to compensate for it. This happens when they believe that cheating will fill the void of understanding that they are experiencing.

Dr. Scott Wolfe is one of Couples Therapy Inc’s Master Therapists. His research reached an identical conclusion. Empathy links to marital satisfaction. If a wife feels compassion from her husband, she is much more likely to be satisfied with her marriage. When satisfied with her marriage, according to this research, she is less likely to cheat.

Self-esteem and feeling ignored

I once worked with Danielle (not her real name), who traveled for work and was away from her husband sometimes for months at a time.

When her affair began, her marriage with Dave at a low point, as he was taking his company public. She felt ignored, even when she bitterly complained.

” I was living in a lonely bubble of luxury,” said Danielle. “I got involved with Peter because he pursued me. I now know exactly how I was vulnerable. I felt horrible about myself and when Peter made a move on me, I fell for him. At one point, I even thought it was love. When I look back on that crazy time, I marvel at how distorted my thinking was.”

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

That is not to say that some women don’t have affairs just for the sex or that sex was insignificant in the decisionmaking. But in general, a wife who cheats initially wants emotional closeness rather than strictly sexual desire. However, great sex induces a neurochemical cascade that often seals the deal.

What do you mean by connection?

  • Dashed Expectations.  A woman starts a relationship with expectations of who her partner is and how he can grow over time. If her partner misrepresented or embellished himself, her dissatisfaction may be what grows over time.
  • The Relationship is ending. When a relationship is nearing its end, a woman may engage in an affair. She often does this to express her unhappiness and to shield herself from feelings of loneliness and sadness.
  • Limerence is seen as an improvement. Studies show that many women have affairs when they believe their main relationship is ending.
  • Being Taken for Granted. Women, and all people, want to be appreciated. If they think they are not appreciated, they may be open to advances from other attractive men.
  • Curiosity. This reason given for affairs 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 unappreciated, they might have a secret emotional affair to create their own private space.
  • Abuse. Emotional, physical or psychological abuse can drive unfaithfulness.

Understanding the complexity of infidelity among women delves into a multifaceted realm encompassing emotional, psychological, and neurobiological aspects. Dr. Helen Fisher found that women have affairs due to unhappiness and lack of emotional connection in their relationships.

This contrasts with men, where happiness within marriage seems less influential in their decision to be unfaithful. Fisher’s research reveals that love and attachment impact behavior, making it difficult to think clearly and make logical decisions.

Dr. Scott Wolfe and other experts say empathy is crucial in marriage to prevent infidelity and enhance emotional bond. Women engage in affairs for reasons beyond sexual desire. Why do women cheat? These reasons include unmet emotional needs, dashed expectations, and the desire for appreciation or independence. These multifarious motivations underscore the complexity of infidelity, intertwined with personal vulnerabilities, relational dynamics, and unaddressed emotional needs within the intricate fabric of relationships.

These are possible explanations for affairs, not excuses, however.