couples

Why do women cheat? A psychologist and relationship expert explains.

If you ask people in relationships the worst thing their partner could do to them, most would probably say cheating.

The betrayal of trust as a result of finding out your spouse has been having an affair or being unfaithful is devastating, can result in the breakdown of a relationship or marriage and lead to serious long-term self-esteem issues for the person cheated on.

But most of us would know someone who has taken part in infidelity, and if it happened to be someone in your inner circle or family, I’m sure you can vouch for the fact that they’re not a terrible person. In most cases, they are just a person who made a mistake.

What most people struggle to understand is what actually leads people within relationships to make these mistakes, and if you’re in a relationship where your partner has cheated, how to overcome the betrayal of trust should you choose to stay together.

A study conducted by Relationships Australia earlier this year found that in many relationships, cheating is a result of emotional disconnection. In fact, 52% of male respondents and 60% of female respondents labelled this as the main cause of infidelity.

In the same study, the majority of women involved said the reason they cheated was for ’emotional satisfaction’, rather than physical.

Kristen Stewart & Robert Pattinson
Kristen Stewart reportedly cheated on Robert Pattinson with director Rupert Sanders in 2013, before the two split in 2014. Image: Getty.
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Consultant psychologist and relationship therapist, Sian Khuman, said the reasons women sought emotional or physical satisfaction outside their relationship was down to a number of factors.

"In many couples, one party seeking something secret outside a relationship, whether it's emotional or physical, damages the bond between two people who have made a bond together, and causes a feeling of betrayal," Khuman said.

"The general factors within the relationship are that the couple has turned away from each other, or there is conflict, so one partner goes outside for comfort and support around them."

"It could also be that they have certain types of sexual desires they want out of a relationship and they feel ashamed about to ask, or one person in the relationship doesn't want to be in it anymore, or it could be that they've started to build a relationship with a new person and they start to focus on the external person more, which leads to the relationship breaking down more."

Khuman added that in some cases, mental health issues could be at the root of the problem.

"Issues like depression for example lead people to find solace or to deal with that outside the relationship," she said.

While these factors aren't specific to men or women who cheat, Sian said that in some studies women have been found to "under report" because of deep-running stigma.

"Often when they have qualitative studies where they ask people directly, it's women who under report,"Khuman said.

"In society it's much more acceptable for a man to cheat than a woman, which is why we see this trend."

While there are many different types of cheating that can be classified as either emotional or purely physical, Khuman says the internet has made it easier for people to cheat.

"Cheating has changed. Before the internet, before this connected world we live in, there was much more physical cheating that went on, where people had to go out and have sex with someone or have an intimate relationship," she said.

"Now there's so much more access to other people, so there are much more men and women entering online relationships outside of their own. Things like people who have never met each other having phone sex, online relationships developing or people sending photos to people who aren't their partner."

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"There's also more access to forums people can connect to for certain fetishes, which if they're kept as a secret can be seen as an infidelity."

Khuman added that this increased access to other people and enrichment of information on sex and relationships has also been instrumental in helping start a healthy conversation within couples, conversations which professionals within her industry are aiming to encourage.

"What's good about this is that there is more acceptance talking about sex than there has ever been in relationships, and there a number of sex and relationship therapists talking about how we can help couples to open the discussion about different sexual desire so they don't need this infidelity."

She said with this openness and acceptance of the changing face of a traditional relationship, there will hopefully be people beginning to accept that a "normal relationship" no longer exists.

"There is no set gender role within a relationship, and there is no such thing as a normal relationship. Every relationship is different and we're seeing things change in every domain. People want different things out of a relationship now which is where you see relationships becoming more open in many senses."

"If you have more of an open relationship where you can tell your partner what your inner desires are and things that excite you, rather than be ashamed of them, it can actually be an opportunity to create a more passionate, secure bond."

will-smith-jada-pinkett-smith
There is a long-running rumour that Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith have an open marriage, which could be the secret to their success - they've been married for 20 years. Image: Getty.

So how can a couple recover from cheating?

Khuman has seen a number of marriages and relationships recover through relationship and sex counselling. She said if the infidelity is dealt with carefully, relationships can even become stronger after a partner has cheated.

"It's absolutely possible, but it needs to come from both people wanting to recover," 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 together to discover some of the contributing factors. That doesn't mean that the person who has betrayed isn't responsible, but usually there were other things in the relationship that need to be addressed that weren't, and instead one of the parties went outside the relationship."

"There's a healing process and repair process that needs to happen before moving forward. The couple needs to ask how they want their relationship to look, what they need to change, or what to include or expand on to allow them both to be included, to be their authentic selves and act with integrity going forward."

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