How Do Men Cheat? Here's How


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    Part 1 of 2

    Cheating is one of the most difficult problems a couple can experience. Every week I work with couples where one partner has cheated. Recently, I received a request from a woman asking me the question, “How do men cheat?”

    As the wife of a cheating man, she wanted help understanding how this level of betrayal can happen.

    How do men cheat and why does it happen?


    These are fair questions and are probably asked by every woman whose husband has cheated. If only there were an easy, tidy answer.

    While easy and tidy aren’t adjectives used when discuss how men cheat and why, there are some important things to understand when it comes to cheating.

    Below is what this wife asked and the explanation I gave her.

    How Cheating Happens

    Reader Question:

    Kurt can you write an article to help shed some light on the common questions/issues faced by the women who are left disillusioned by an affair. For example, how do men cheat? There is little written about what the affair partner goes through that can help betrayed partners understand what they are faced with on a daily basis - their partner's changes in personality, attitude & behavior.”

    My Response:

    How can someone change seemingly overnight?

    Let me start by saying that partners don’t change overnight – no one does.

    Your partner has been changing for some time, you just haven’t recognized it.


    The same answer goes for understanding how men go about cheating. The changes that occur that open the gates to cheating typically happen slowly over time too.

    Most likely the reasons you didn’t see the changes earlier is a combination of,

    • Your partner’s effort to hide them

    • Lack of attention to the signs

    • Denial or ignoring the clues that may have been there

    • Being distracted by the busyness of life (kids, work, home life)

    • Lack of communication and connection

    Again, remember that these things didn’t happen all at once – they happened gradually, bit by bit, and by the time those changes are recognized they're also very significant.

    Think of it like your hair going grey.

    Hair doesn’t turn grey overnight – it happens little by little. By the time it’s noticeable there are many, many grey hairs. They’ve been accumulating overtime, yet it can seem like you wake up one day and all of the sudden they are staring back at you in the mirror.

    No matter when you recognize it, the most important thing is deciding what to do next.

    The biggest question to consider when you’ve been betrayed through cheating is why you didn't see the signs earlier, or, probably more accurately, how you managed to ignore the clues.

    This can be a tough one to hear, but it’s true in every situation.

    If you look closely enough you’ll see that there were signs – trust me, there are always signs.

    This doesn’t mean you’re responsible for his bad choices, but it does mean that if either of you had addressed those signs and the other issues in your marriage when they first began, you both may have been able to stop things before they got to this point.

    It’s So Cruel - How Can They Cheat And Not Care?

    Let's look at 5 common questions I get asked.

    How can someone who loved & respected you have no care, compassion, empathy for you or your situation?

    First, just like the initial question, there is no switch that flips making a person who once felt love and respect to being okay with hurting you so badly by cheating.

    They’ve been slowly disconnecting and pulling away from you for a while. This disconnect makes it easier for them not to have any feelings about their behavior.

    Second, part of the way our minds deal with behavior that goes against our belief system is to disconnect from rational thought and normal feelings.

    We often describe this as compartmentalizing.

    In other words, we separate ourselves from those thoughts and feelings.

    So, how do men cheat?

    One of the ways is by compartmentalizing their thoughts and feelings about cheating, pushing them aside or burying them, and then convincing themselves that it’s got nothing to do with their spouse or marriage.


    I actually have a friend – a woman – who had a man she worked with show up at her apartment one night with flowers. This man was married, supposedly happily, and yet he’d convinced himself that pursuing her was okay.

    He arrived at my friend’s door and explained this to her feeling fully comfortable with the decision he’d made. My friend told him that he was deluding himself and sent him on his way.

    Obviously, there were issues in his marriage that hadn’t been addressed, and he’d compartmentalized the idea of having an affair so that he didn’t have to feel he was doing anything wrong, or contributing to their problems and making them much worse.

    Lastly, another mental strategy is justifying the behavior with something their spouse has done and therefore in their minds making cheating acceptable.

    How can they be so cold towards you?

    They’re cold because the compartmentalization technique (described above) their brain is using to manage the cheating behavior results in having no feelings.

    They know deep down their behavior is wrong, but by disconnecting themselves from you, physically, mentally, and emotionally it’s easier for them to avoid the normal feelings connected with wrongdoing, like guilt or remorse.


    This also helps prevent second thoughts, having any thoughts about you, or caring about your feelings.

    How do they deal with the fact that they've hurt another?

    The short answer is that they don’t. This is another part of how men cheat.

    Most often cheating partners deny the idea that they’ve done anything that’s wrong or hurtful. After all, if it had nothing to do with you, how could it hurt you?

    And it’s easy to think that you don’t have to deal with something that’s not a reality to you.

    Another technique that many cheating men use is blame shifting.

    In other words, it’s your fault because you,

    • Weren’t affectionate enough

    • Were too busy with the kids, your job, parents, etc.

    • Didn’t want sex enough

    • Were cold or nagged him

    • Didn’t appreciate him

    • Didn’t show that you loved him

    The list could go on and on.

    In their minds they’re not the one doing the hurting, they're the one who was hurt. They use the rational that they’ve been wronged to justify their wrong behavior, which from this point of view can now be defined as right.

    How can they turn their backs without an explanation knowing how much it pains another?

    Turning their back is easy when, as I said above, they deny the pain they're causing and believe their cheating is justified.

    Remember that they've also disconnected mentally and emotionally from you, and thus they probably don't recognize or care about your pain.

    How can they leave without trying to fix a marriage or end respectfully?

    Fixing a marriage first requires acknowledging that there are troubles.

    If cheating men are using some of the above coping mechanisms (or all of them), then they’re either denying the problems or blaming them on their partner. Particularly the most hurtful one of all - their cheating.

    Fixing a relationship also requires change.


    Most of us don't like change and cheating men in particular typically don't want things to change. They like the thrill and enjoyment the cheating relationship brings. It allows them to escape from the reality of their life and the problems that come along with it.

    What To Take Away

    Answering the question, “How do men cheat?”, is at once both easy and complicated.

    Psychologically it makes sense, but logically it's very confusing.

    If you’re partner has cheated, remember:

    • The changes that occur in a partner who cheats don’t happen overnight – they’re gradual and have been happening for some time.

    • There’s never a justification for betraying your partner.

    • Cheating is a symptom of bigger problems in your relationship.

    • You aren’t responsible for his bad behavior, but the problems in your marriage were created by you both and fall on both of you to solve.

    • Compartmentalizing and blaming are common techniques for trying to justify cheating.

    If you're the partner of a cheating man, hopefully these answers will begin to help you make sense of how it is that men cheat.

    Editor's Note: This post was originally published May 29, 2013, updated on June 4, 2019, and updated again for accuracy and comprehensiveness.


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