Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Infidelity

The motive behind cheating
This page is part of the Motivation and emotion book. See also: Guidelines.



Monogamy is desired in most cultures and infidelity breaks the monogamous bond. Contemporary Western society values faithfulness within heterosexual relationships. Locker, McIntosh, Hackney, Wilson, & Wiegand (2010) suggest that faithfulness within a relationship is a major factor in relationship commitment and longevity. He[who?] also found that couples expressed infidelity as a primary reason to leave a relationship. It is safe to say, that people don’t enter relationships for the sake of being unfaithful[factual?]. The social concept of monogamy is valued across most cultures[factual?], however, the value at times does not exceed the motivation behind unfaithfulness[explain?].

This chapter was written, to help understand the motives which drive people to cheat in monogamous relationships. You can better understand yourself and others, whether you may have cheated or been tempted cheat on a partner, or your partner has cheated or been tempted to cheat on you.

Three key theories which can explain the motivations[what?] concerning infidelity will be discussed and compared. Applied examples are also provided about how to stay committed and keep your partner interested. Additional links can further help you to empathise with this challenging topic.



Evolutionary theory suggests that infidelity is a consequence of a biological drive to enhance reproductive success (RS) (Shakelford & Buss, 1997). This drive is irrespective of socially conceptualised monogamy, meaning that, humans are biologically motivated to mate to produce the best possible offspring. This may involve looking beyond present mating partners to find mates with the best qualities. (Drigotas & Barta 2001).

The parent investment model explains that men and women have differing investment time and energy towards offspring (Shakelford & Buss, 1997). Men provide semen and are not directly attached to offspring. Therefore, men can continually procreate without any consequences. Women, however, invest nine months of prenatal nurturing, a time where the woman is bound to the child.

Evolutionists talk about trade-off that both men and women make when raising children (Van Anders & Watson, 2006). Men will invest in offspring provided the female is the best in their proximity (Digrotas & Barta, 2001). Therefore, the male trades off mating effort for bonding behaviour. However, investment decreases if the possibility of mating with better females arise (Shakelford & Buss, 1997). Women will trade off their bodies for incubation if the male is best to provide and protect (Elmslie & Tebaldi, 2008). These strategies provide gender differences in motives towards infidelity.

Basically, men are more likely to cheat because they are biologically programmed to spread their seed for greater reproductive success (Barta & Kiene, 2005). Women on the other hand may cheat if a male of higher status and power is presented (Shakelford & Buss, 1997). This assumption expresses an opportunity-based motivation, where humans are biologically and instinctively driven to seek the best for themselves and the reproductive success of their off-spring.

Evolutionary theory relies on biological mechanisms to validate and explain the innate drives within humans. Testosterone (T, male sex hormone) can explain males' mate-seeking behaviour, dominance and competitiveness (Goldely, & Van Anders, 2010; Van Anders & Dunn, 2009). Men have acquired these behavioural tendencies to better their chances of survival and reproduction. Higher testosterone increases these behaviours and these behaviours increase testosterone (Digrotas & Barta, 2001).

Males with higher T are more likely to be single, cheat and have a higher sexual drive (Goldely, & Van Anders, 2010). Van Anders and Watson (2006) found that males in relationships had lower T levels than those cheat, were single, and have high sexual drives. Evolutionists would also suggest that men with higher T are biologically driven to compete, and gain higher status (Ganzaga, Turner, Keltner, Campos, & Altemus, 2006). T levels have been recorded higher pre-match, in tennis players who won matches (Van Anders & Dunn, 2009). Neave and Wolfson, (2003) found that football players had elevated T after winning a match than before the game. These effects were stronger if the competitiveness was facilitated in familiar grounds. T and competitive behaviours are also raised in mate seeking situations. Roney, Mahler, & Maestripieri (2003) found that men conversing with women had higher T and displayed “show off” behaviours towards women, if they saw the conversation as an opportunity for sex.[explain?]

Males are not as animalistic as they once were; the mind also influences the factors which T is so closely associated with (Elmslie & Tebaldi, 2008). Not all men with high T cheat and not all men with lower T stay committed (Van Anders & Watson, 2006).

Elevated T has been supported in its advantageous role considering sex, attraction, competition and dominance. However, those with lower T in relationships are also the ones who cheat (Goldely, & Van Anders, 2010). This may be due to the feelings T produce, which motivate men to cheat. Feeling dominant, and “like a man” are some of the things men report on T replacement therapy (McIntyre, et al 2006). Shakelford and Buss, (1997) found that men who committed infidelity were motivated by the need to feel physically desirable and dominant. Therefore, it may be the masculine feelings associated with elevated T that men are after. This need/ feelings based approach can be further supported. As McIntyre, et al. (2006) found, men in relationships in which they had high sexual focused thoughts (those who were simply thinking that infidelity was possible) had higher T levels than those who where ostracised by their partners for having such views.

Not all men with high sexual focus reported infidelities; rather, higher relationship satisfaction was reported when partners understood their high sexual drive. This may be due to less perceived constraint. For example, Rhoades, Stanely and Markman, (2010) found that perceived constraint was negatively related to relationship stability, meaning those who felt less confounded by partners within a relationship, reported more satisfaction and likelihood of continuous commitment towards partners. This exact point is depicted in the 2011 movie “Hall Pass”, where wives gave their husbands the freedom to satisfy sexual drives outside the marriage, only for the men to realise all that they are satisfied with is at home waiting.

Women on the other hand, are conflicted between either better genes or better providing. The evolutionary theory suggests that better gene mates will always prevail in the conflict. However, in contemporary Western society, it is not uncommon to see a woman with an older, wealthier man. An example could be Hugh Heffner, a wealthy senior citizen, known for his sexual prowess. Arguably, a male much younger and fitter would provide better genes than Hugh Heffner, yet many young women find him attractive. Additionally, Elmslie and Tebaldi (2008) found that women with high financial success still wanted a partner with equally high or higher success financially, suggesting that genetics are not the strongest motivators for partner-seeking or infidelity.

According to the evolutionary theory, the woman’s view is passive in mate selection[factual?]. No biological/hormonal evidence supports their motive, unlike that for men[factual?]. Although oxytocin is a hormone related to bonding and nurturing, evidently OT is higher in women. Based on this theory, females are also motivated to cheat to better procreate. This would suggest that cheating should not occur once a woman has encountered menopause as they have no chance of reproductive success (Elmslie & Tebaldi, 2008). However, postmenopausal women have admitted infidelity (Locker, et al., 2010). If the biological drive is not there for these women, they may be motivated to cheat by their needs.



The second theoretical approach is the needs theory. In this approach, one may be more driven to cheat depending on whether their relationship needs are fulfilled (Shackelford, Besser & Goetz, 2008). Relationship therapists argue that infidelity occurs due to a lack of emotional fulfillment within the relationship (Clair, 2005). This can be explained by the investment model of relationships. This model suggests three variables which influence relationship commitment (Digrotas & Barta, 2001). These are: satisfaction (how satisfied one is with their relationship, higher satisfaction, higher commitment); alternative quality (possible alternative partners, better alternative, less committed); investment (one’s losses if the relationship ends). People are more likely to cheat if relationship satisfaction is low, better alternatives present themselves, and if they are not heavily invested in their relationship (Digrotas & Barta, 2001).

The three investment model variables have been consistently supported when asking individuals what motivated them to cheat (Shackelford, Besser & Goetz, 2008; Drigotas & Barta, 2001). Le, Korn, Crockett and Loving, (2010) found that these factors involved in relationship commitment (satisfaction, alternative quality, investment) predicted physical infidelity when couples where separated for a three month period. Those lower on needs satisfied were less invested and turned to alternative people to satisfy needs.

The investment model explains what motivates people to cheat. People are driven to seek satisfactory relatedness, affiliation and companionship (Clair, 2005). Problems with this needs theory is that it assumes people weigh up satisfaction, alternatives and investment in a rational manner (Digrotas & Batra, 2001). However, not all people are rational and people in the same circumstances can think or behave differently (Clair, 2005). One could have great satisfaction and realise the losses they may face if they cheat. However, given a particular situation where a person is seduced or in proximity of a better alternative, one may not bring relationship satisfaction and investment to mind fast enough to resist cheating (Barta & Kiene, 2005). This model[which?] heavily relies on the perceptions of one’s relationship, with little emphasis on individual differences (Digrotas & Barta, 2001). This does not mean that unfulfilled needs don’t drive people to commit infidelity. Rather, more should be considered regarding the unique differences between people (Orzeck & Lung, 2004). For example, two people could be equally satisfied and invested in their relationships, but why does one person cheat if they love their partner the same amount? Nevertheless, all people have needs and for people to feel fully satisfied with their relationships, it is understandable that people seek those who best satisfy their needs. After all, the person you find could be the one with whom you spend your life. [explain?]



Two people within a relationship could have very different views and moralities reflecting their individual differences. Looking at how individual differences influence infidelity, researchers have studied the big five personality traits. The big five factors are: Neuroticism Extraversion Openness Agreeableness Conscientiousness

Barta and Kiene, (2005) found, those who reported infidelity were more likely to measure high on extraversion, openness, neuroticism and low on agreeableness and conscientiousness. Whisman, Gordon, & Chatav (2007) further supports Barta and Kiene’s results by finding similar correlates between the five factors and infidelity. Shmitt, (2004) tested the big five among 10 world regions. Irrespective of culture or nationality, people who admitted cheating were more likely low on agreeableness and conscientiousness.

Personality can give insight into what characteristics contribute to the likelihood individuals commit infidelity. However, the personality traits do not provide understanding of direct motivations underlying one's drive to cheat (Barta & Kiene, 2005). The less conscientious individual could simply be motivated to do as he/she desires, regardless of others, whilst the less agreeable people may be motivated to rebel against compliance. The neurotic could feel vulnerable and anxious if their partner is not constantly around, therefore motivating them to seek comfort from another, outside of the relationship [explain?]

Barta and Kiene (2005) investigated the relationships between people’s motives for infidelity and their personality. They found neglect to be a motive of those high in neuroticism (feeling vulnerable within the relationship). Extraverts, particularly women, endorsed a dissatisfaction motive which could relate to extraverts needs for sensation seeking and social excitement. Lastly, those who had a combination of low agreeableness and high neuroticism endorsed anger (noncompliance and vulnerability) as their motive for infidelity. [explain?]

Depending on individual differences, people can be motivated by needs, emotions or revenge. These motivations have been described by those questioned on what would motivate someone to cheat. Shackelford and Buss (1997) asked participants to think of reasons why one may cheat. Participants endorsed anger, dissatisfaction, neglect, revenge and vulnerability as motives behind infidelity. What is further interesting about personality is that out of the theories discussed, personality is the only one which can reverse the results. Meaning that, a partners’ personality can influence a person to cheat. Supporting this, Shackelford, et al, (2008) questioned, whether or not a partners’ low agreeableness and conscientiousness influences a person’s likelihood of cheating in the following year of marriage. They found that, the respondents who rated their partners low on agreeableness and conscientiousness where less satisfied with their marriage and self-reported more likelihood to cheat.

Within the motivational research on infidelity, there is a lack of a multi-dimensional model which explains all the variables which could contribute. Batra and Kiene (2005) conceptualised a model involving personality, perceived opportunity, relationship satisfaction, and sex drive. To date this model has not been tested or manipulated in anyway. Infidelity research still focuses on the rate at which cheating occurs and relationships break-up. More needs to be considered in terms of motives and the three theories discussed should be simultaneously analysed.

Staying committed


Driven to seek the best – If evolutionary theory contributes one solid argument that relates to today, it is that people are programmed to seek the best opportunity or partner. Understand that a single person did not make the rules, if it is true that we are driven toward what we perceive as best, we should not be ashamed of that. After all, a perceived better opportunity maybe in front of one’s face (possibly a one night stand) nevertheless, a person nowadays has the opportunity to take time out and weigh up what really is best. The drive may be in us all, we all may feel arousal towards another outside our relationship. But this arousal does not mean that we are inclined to act. The drive shows that we can be aroused, which is essential for relationships. Drives can be redirected, manipulated and withheld, so if your view of infidelity is negative but you question yourself because you feel arousal towards a non partner, don’t be ashamed, take a second to think and possibly redirect arousal toward your partner. [explain?]

T is key


If the main drive for men is Testosterone[factual?] (important for mating and competition) and men feel more masculine with higher levels of T, then the direction[explain?] of this drive may be the key. Based on the research within the discussion of evolutionary – T theory; we now know[factual?] that:

  1. higher T levels makes men feel more masculine and dominant
  2. T levels rise when competition or perceived sexual opportunities are present
  3. men take T to feel “like a man”
  4. Today’s man has the cognitive functioning to think before acting on impulse.

With this, what could a woman do to reduce the possibility of man acting on biological drives by cheating?

If increased T is what makes a man feel good and T increases success in mating and competition, it is T that a partner could target. Roney, et al. (2003) concluded that men who perceived conversations with women as a sexual opportunity showed increased T levels and displayed competitive behaviours. The perceived opportunity increased competitiveness. If you as the partner provide novel sexual interactions to be perceived as sexual opportunities, it is likely that your partners’ innate competitiveness will emerge, further elevating[say what?] T. Frisby (2009) found, couples engaging in sexually flirtatious behaviour did so to maintain excitement within the relationship. One male participant commented that flirting provided feelings of competitiveness. Gonzaga et al (2010) found, biologically, sex hormones such as T are increased when couples engage in sexually flirtatious behaviour.

Considering you are the source of such feelings and T spikes, your partner will be more likely to act out his sexual desires with you. If Increased T facilitates men feeling masculine, the increases you encourage will be attributed to you, meaning, your partner will attribute you to feeling “like a man”. Therefore you, rather than an outside partner, will be seen as not only the competition (encouraging your partner to gain) but, also the one who facilitates feelings of masculinity.

Wear RED! Red, is a colour that has empirically shown associations with lust, sexual desire and romance and increased T (Neave & Wolfson, 2003). In the name of attraction, Elliot and Niesta, (2008) found that men rated women more attractive when wearing red, however, the men were unaware of the red being the effect. [explain?]

Get in-touch with your masculine side


As suggested by evolution theory[factual?]:

  1. women are motivated to cheat by the potential partners’ characteristics rather than their own characteristics
  2. these particular characteristics are, dominance, good genetics, strength and high social status
  3. within the parental investment assumption, women are motivated to seek these characteristics to assure security and protection whilst the woman is pregnant
  4. because of their high investment in reproduction, women are more selective than men.

If women are more selective in the mating game, looking for a male with the highest status, providing/protecting qualities, then this is what men could work on to lessen the chances of their partner going astray[explain?]. Even with the difference in opportunities for women to have high social status and providing qualities[grammar?]. Buss (1994) asked occupationally highly successful women what their mate preferences were and what qualities the desired in men. He found that all the women preferred men who have high status, intelligence, and income. Gangestad, Simpson, Cousin, Graver-Apgar and Christensen (2004) found that, in terms of mate preference, women preferred men who were dominant and assertive, however, also caring and considerate. Men, carefully consider how to acquire these skills in effort to keep female partners faithful. [explain?]



It is normal for people to weigh up situations in order to avoid pain and gain satisfaction. Ask yourself, were you satisfied at one point in the relationship? Would it be right to assume that if satisfaction was there, that it can be regained? How would one find the answer to this question?

Clair (2005) suggests, when people weigh up costs and benefits related to relationships and infidelity, they do question why they aren’t satisfied anymore within their relationship. She goes on to say, that those couples facing relationship troubles best sustain commitment through communication. Allen, Rhoades, Stanely & Markman (2010) found that dedication to the relationship was a strong predictor of relationship stability. If you feel dedicated to the relationship, however, unsatisfied, talk to your partner about your thoughts and feelings. Elmslie and Tebaldi (2008) found that one’s rationalisations and free will can overcome biological urges and impulses. Therefore, one can choose to abstain from temptation and express needs to his/her partner before infidelity occurs. [explain?]

Male motive


Men cheat through the need of sex. Males are more likely to interpret partner communication in a sexual desire way. If men talk lust, they respond to lust (Elliot & Niesta, 2008). Otto, et al. (2008) found that men reported great satisfaction and intrigue towards their partners if they flirted with teasing of sexual fantasy and willingness. One man reported “I met the girl of my dreams (laughs)! I feel marvellous. If I met a girl like that, about her I would feel absolutely marvellous.” These men also rated the sexually assertive women most satisfying in sexual encounters. [explain?]

Cuddles and bubbles


Women are more likely to cheat to satisfy emotional needs related to bonding and care. Frisby (2009) found that men who conveyed romance through sexual communication did so to assure their partner that they are desired and “the only one”. Women also said that the romance was what got them in the mood for sexual intercourse. Women seek the closeness and intimacy that comes with sex (Clair, 2005). Learn to be more attentive to your partners’ emotional needs. Don’t neglect her, especially straight after sex (Ganzaga, et al., 2010).

Mention of these sex differences in needs, does not imply that these needs are stringent and only apply to each sex exclusively. Women to seek male typical needs as men also seek female typical needs (Frisby, 2009)[grammar?]. Rather, men’s brain cells fire quickest when sex is mentioned and women appreciate a cuddle (Ganzaga, et al, 2010). Make her say... [explain?] [explain?]



Each model [which?] of infidelity shares the agreement of a cost–benefit analysis[explain?]. Therefore, people will be more satisfied and less likely to cheat if the benefits of the relationship outweigh the costs. Each person within the relationship has influence on this analysis. If you don’t want your partner to stray, do what is in your power to lessen the chances.

People reading this may disagree as they feel their giving enough and they shouldn’t have to go out of their way to lessen the chances of infidelity. Their partner should be morally strong and care about them even if they’re not being the person they first met. This is understandable, of course your partner should display those qualities and this paragraph does not intend to say that your partner will be unfaithful, rather, make it easier for him/her to be motivated to come home to you at night. After all, if you as the partner have power struggles (low on agreeableness/conscientiousness) about satisfying your partner the best you can… ask yourself, why are you with them if they’re not worth the effort? Furthermore, if you value yourself, you should take the time out to better what you can to be the best male/female or the only option leaving no better alternative. This is not just to keep your partner, but to be the best within any situation of life. be the best YOU can be! [explain?]



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