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Health & Sex

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Why We Cheat

Infidelity is a hot topic of conversation, but being faithful does have its merits.

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If fidelity is a matter of skill, then why are some talented and others terribly clumsy?

People who enter into long-term monogamous relationships, and who really keep their promises, "tend to be very healthy mentally," Peter Kramer, MD, tells WebMD. Kramer, a psychiatrist, is the host of The Infinite Mind on NPR and author of Listening to Prozac, Should You Leave? and most recently, Against Depression.

"There are lots of things that they're not, and that makes it possible for them to do this thing that may be in some ways difficult," he says.

Don-David Lusterman, PhD, a marriage and family therapist and author of Infidelity: A Survival Guide, says he thinks some people who cheat are what he calls "pursuers," who are also called womanizers when they are men. "They tend to require great numbers of conquests and they perceive them as conquests," Lusterman tells WebMD. "I see that as a developmental flaw in an individual, as opposed to an affair frequently being a function of some disruption in the couplehood. They're very different things."

In clinical terms, he says, pursuers often have a narcissistic personality disorder. They crave and demand affection and attention but are not able to return it in kind.

Those who aren't pursuers may be susceptible to an affair because they are not aware that something is amiss or lacking in the relationship. Given the attention of another man or woman, "they just suddenly feel more special," says Luanne Cole Weston, PhD, a psychologist and expert moderator of WebMD's Sex Matters® message boards. "They ceased to feel as special in their own first relationship."

Others are well aware of their frustration and they actively seek what they want outside the relationship. "I do hear some variation of that quite frequently," Priya Batra, PsyD, a women's health psychologist in the Kaiser Permanente health care system, tells WebMD.

The proverbial midlife crisis can be another trigger for cheating, "And then you have the younger person who hasn't tasted enough of everything who maybe committed prematurely," Weston says.

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