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Why do men cheat in relationships? An expert explains.

In every relationship, there are deal breakers.

Things that are considered unforgivable; the cause of irreversible damage.

For many, that deal breaker is infidelity.

We’ve previously explored why women cheat in relationships, but when it comes to men, are the factors the same?

According to research conducted by Relationships Australia, perhaps not.

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A study from earlier this year found that the most common reason for infidelity cited by men was sexual satisfaction, rather than emotional as it was for women.

However, the same study also found that emotional disconnection played a huge part, too. In fact, 52% of male respondents and 60% of female respondents labelled this as the main cause of infidelity.

Interestingly, while both men and women reported that they believed emotional disconnection was a reason for seeking satisfaction outside the relationship, the second most commonly cited reason by men was feeling unappreciated at home.

CEO of Relationships Australia, Elisabeth Shaw, said situations where a man had cheated in a relationship were mainly “opportunistic”.

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"Trends have been fairly consistent, with many affairs quite opportunistic (for example at work) and compartmentalised - not being seen as a threat to the primary relationship in terms of the risk of leaving to go to that person," she said.

In other words, studies have found that infidelity involving the male in the central relationship was usually a "one-off" for sexual satisfaction, and men felt they were able to stop the affair before it developed further, causing the primary relationship to break down.

"Research has started to indicate that about 30% of affairs are simply pleasure seeking and for their own sake, rather than indicating an issue with the primary relationship," Shaw added.

She also said that throughout her work, she had seen some "key points of vulnerability" for men, who typically strayed from the relationship "around points of commitment, pregnancy, or mid-career/teen years."

While men were typically unfaithful for physical reasons, more women tend to seek emotional satisfaction outside the relationship, so Elisabeth said it's common that men find it harder to forgive a woman for cheating.

"I see both (men and women) suffering in similar ways, but in the couples I have worked with, men can find it harder to get past it," she said.

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But she added that with professional help, if both parties are willing, it is possible for a relationship to recover.

"Often it requires professional help with an experienced couple counsellor. This helps to steer the difficult conversations while the storm is navigated. By both addressing the terms of the affair itself (and they come in different forms and with different effects) and establishing a process of healing, the couple can start to look more broadly at how their relationship became vulnerable to this, and what led the individual to make the decisions taken."

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In some cases, she said, both men and women even feel the relationship can be stronger after cheating.

"Many couples have said to me that they will never be pleased that it happened, but that they believe their relationship is stronger as a result of the work they go on to do…if they can tolerate it.

"Regaining trust takes time. It is all about the work the couple goes on to do, and how they are mutually reassured that they are reconnected. The hurt person also has to agree to take the risk to reconnect and continue in the relationship, as much as it is about the other changing their ways."

She added that when entering a relationship with a person who has a history of infidelity, making sure you know they've 'worked on themselves' after their past relationships is the best way to approach it.

"You need to know if the person has done some work on themselves and feel and sound stronger in their self understanding, knowledge and maturity. A person who is blaming the other as the reason for the affair, as if they were driven to do it, is less of a good bet. It’s always a choice, and there are other better choices."

Consultant psychologist and relationship therapist, Sian Khuman, also from Relationships Australia, said that in some instances where men have cheated, it has been due to them feeling ashamed of certain sexual desires.

"Often, if someone is feeling as though their sexual desires aren't being met and they feel they can't communicate this to their partner, they will look outside the relationship to get it."

"(We) do a lot of work in couples to encourage them to express their fantasies and open up their relationships sexually to avoid infidelity from happening."

"In the past, this has been common with men, but there are women who struggle to voice their sexual desires in the relationship, too," she added.

Sian said, just like Elisabeth, it is possible to move on if both the man and woman are willing to address the factors which may have contributed to the infidelity.

"Couples do it all the time," she said.

"The person who has betrayed needs to take responsibility for it, and the couple needs to review what was happening in the relationship prior to the cheating, some of the contributing factors or what wasn't being communicated."

She said while this can be tough on a couple, and can take time, it can help both couples look internally if the same problems arise in the future.

"There's a healing process and repair process that needs to happen, then moving forward, asking 'how do we want our relationship to look? what do we need to change, include or expand on?'," she said of the steps.

"This will allow them both to be included in what is going on within the relationship, for them both to be their authentic selves so they can act with integrity going forward."

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