Have you ever met a woman whose husband cheated and you thought, “She’s amazing. How could someone cheat on her?” Women who are beautiful, intelligent, put together—it’s easy to wonder why men cheat on them. Well, it’s no one’s business, but still, we convince ourselves there must be something else going on behind closed doors. Maybe she’s not as great as she seems.
The thing is, it doesn’t matter if she’s great or not. It’s often not about her. So then what made it happen? What led to the point where the man who vowed to be faithful decided he wanted to be with someone else, even if for one night? Here’s why men cheat, boiled down to one reason.
It’s negative comparison.
Sure, some women might say, “You know why men cheat? Because they’re jerks.” But that’s not going to get us anywhere. You could list the most common complaints of men who commit adultery, like being sexually unsatisfied, but you can also find countless husbands who are in the same “unsatisfied boat” and don’t cheat. In most cases of adultery, the final straw—that thing that sends a man over the edge—is negative comparison.
He cracks another woman up and thinks, “My wife never laughs at my jokes, but she does.” Or when he’s home, his wife expects him to help around the house, but the woman he’s befriended at the office is totally chill. “She’d never harp on me about taking out the trash.” In these situations, it doesn’t matter how great his wife is. She’s going to lose to a fantasy scenario every time.
But let’s back up. What got him to this point?
Does a happily married man walk around thinking about how much better life would be with another woman? Probably not. Usually, there are issues in the marriage that lead one partner to feel devalued or lonely. These negative feelings repeat over time, leading to negative comparisons. The more negative comparisons you use, the more likely you are to believe you’ll be happier with someone else. There doesn’t even need to be a “someone else” in the picture yet.
Hear this: This doesn’t mean it’s the wife’s fault. Sometimes a man starts this downward spiral into negativity simply because he and his wife are not communicating, or because he’s tired, stressed, or unfulfilled. The negative comparison is an escape from reality.
But how does he go from thinking another life would be better to actually trying it out?
When men start to spiral downward and fall into a habit of negative comparison, they also begin to focus on their wives’ negative traits. And here’s the kicker: These could’ve at one point been neutral or even positive traits. What was once “I don’t go to church, but I admire that my wife cares about her faith” can turn into “She spends so much time at church. She cares more about people there than about me.” The more times a man circles around negative thoughts about his marriage, the more often negative comparisons are triggered—and the window for potential cheating opens wider.
Psychologist Shirley Glass explained it with a walls and windows example in her book, Not “Just Friends.” Typically, married couples keep a window open between them while erecting walls that protect their privacy from the outside world. When partners reverse walls and windows, it starts the betrayal ball rolling. A man will open a window to a new woman, sharing intimate thoughts with her. Then he will put up a wall around this new relationship to protect it and keep it a secret. At the same time, he’ll begin talking negatively about his wife and putting up walls in his marriage. Because he’s keeping secrets, he feels distant and will stop trusting her, ironically. The stage has been set for an affair.
So what can a woman do?
Whether your husband has cheated or you’re fearful that he will, there’s hope. You can’t control your husband’s mind and force him not to think about what life would be like with another woman, but you can seek help in addressing the issues that lead up to that dangerous habit. Avoiding conflict and pretending like everything is OK is not the answer.
A licensed therapist will provide tools and insight to help you communicate with your husband and get to the core issues in your marriage. If he’s willing to go with you, that’s even better.
Here’s a challenge for you: Without unloading on all guys everywhere (or your husband), what’s your take on why men cheat?