real life

The real reason people cheat.

In the wake of the Ashley Madison hacking scandal, men and women around the world are all struggling with the same question: What makes people betray their long-term partners?

Esther Perel is the author of the infamous Mating in Captivity and one of the sanest (albeit controversial) voices on couples and sexuality.

She’s always believed affairs are less about how much you love your partner – or even a reflection on how good your sex life is – and more about a very human desire for excitement that’s lost when we settle into a routine.

Marriage and love comfort us and give us much-needed security, she says. What long-term relationships don’t tend to offer is sexual charge.

She’s right, of course – married couples are always moaning about sex.

 “We’d stay in bed for hours on end. That’s what weekends were for. Why can’t it be like that ten years on?”

“I want the sex we had at the start. When we did it five times a day, up against the fridge, on top of the coffee table.”

I’d also like all of the above (two happy years in) and I’d also like the physique of a Victoria Secrets model, Kim Kardashian’s credit cards, to spend most of summer with my bum velcroed to a sun bed in the south of France and a nice, big roof terrace added to my flat.

Thing is, I don’t expect any of these things to happen because I’m a sensible adult with realistic expectations.

“human brain and body aren’t designed for sustaining the type of sex and love we all seem to think is possible long-term.”

I know from years of studying sex and love that the human brain and body aren’t designed for (and actually aren’t capable of) sustaining the type of sex and love we all seem to think is possible long-term.

We want the throw-each-other-around-the-bedroom in a frothy, lust-fuelled state to last forever.


It doesn’t and it won’t.

Our current perceptions on long-term love and sex are more than a little ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’.

The odd couple boast about still being driven mad with lust 20 years in and people prick their ears up even though there’s never any proof.

It’s rubbish.

“I don’t know any couple who are ripping the clothes off each other’s bodies ten years in.”

I don’t know any couple who are ripping the clothes off each other’s bodies ten years in (and don’t bother writing to tell me you’re the exception because I simply won’t believe you!)

My theory on affairs is that we’d all be far less tempted to have them if we adjusted our expectations of long-term sex and made them more realistic and achievable.

If we’d accept that sex with the same person over time necessarily changes into something that’s less frenetic, quieter and, by the way, often more efficient those ‘This isn’t what it’s supposed to be like! It must mean I don’t fancy my partner’ niggles would stop.

If we knew leaving one partner because we ‘don’t fancy them anymore’ for someone wildly exciting is pointless, because we’re only going to end up at the same place again, wouldn’t we be less tempted to do it?
Listen, no-one’s denying the fierce, heart-palpitating, loin-burning feeling you get when you first meet and sleep with someone isn’t achingly delicious.

But so is being in love and happy with someone you have history with, someone who knows you and cares for you and is going to be there for you no matter what.


No-one’s denying there’s a trade off.

“No-one’s denying there’s a trade-off.”

If you want monogamy, you both make a deal: ‘In order to have this deep bond with you, I’m prepared to do without that thrill of the chase’.

Our bodies might wholeheartedly embrace the concept of separating love and sex and having a brilliant long-term relationship and sneaking sex on the side as a perfect scenario.

But our hearts want something else: few people want to share someone they love physically with someone else.

So here’s what you’re really in for long-term.

Most long-term couples have sex about once or twice every two weeks. Sometimes it’s gobsmackingly good (usually after lots of alcohol), often it’s ordinary but satisfying, sometimes it’s a chore and now and then absolutely the last thing you feel like doing.

That’s real sex.

Then you both either snuggle up or if it’s the weekend, get up and wander into the kitchen to see what the kids are up to or to read the papers over lunch in the pub, have lots of lovely wine and fall asleep in front of the telly.

That’s real love.

Let’s stop chasing fairytales and be content instead.

Read more:

Today, the Ashley Madison hackers released the names of a whole lot of cheaters.

“He cheated. But it’s easier to stay than to leave”.

10 suburbs in each state where people are most likely to cheat

Why do you think people cheat?