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Why Women Cheat

Most women have affairs for very different reasons than men.

Is It in a Woman’s Genes?

The theory that adultery is "natural" for men, fulfilling their Darwinian need to spread their seed, has been around a long time. But the connection women look for when having affairs may have evolutionary roots as well.

The theory, Fisher says, is that from the earliest days, women paired with a primary mate to have children. But as women went out to gather food, they slept with other men, creating an insurance policy to have someone who would help rear children and provide resources should their mate die.

"Women who slept around collected more meat, protection, and resources from their lovers," Fisher says. "She might even have an extra child to create more genetic variety in her lineage; if some children die, others will live on."

That theory is controversial and can’t be proven or disproven eons later. But experts say that women's motivations to have affairs are typically more than sexual. That's not to say that some women don't have affairs just for the sex or that sex wasn't important. But in general, women's motivations aren't just about sex.

“I don't think women are doing it because they want to have more sex. But I don't think they mind if they get it," Reilly says. "It is not really about sex per se as much as the experience of being with somebody."

Jumping Ship

Diane left her marriage emotionally long before she had an affair. She says she was living with a lot of disillusionment in a disappointing, sexless marriage.

"You feel the loss of your dreams and hopes and how you thought things would turn out," Diane says. "I was very lonely; I could never understand the concept of being lonely in a marriage until it happened."

Diane began to flirt with other men to get attention, but she never considered having an affair. After a business trip with a friend turned romantic, she began a long-term affair, a path she admits she was likely on anyway as her marriage dissolved.

Using another partner to transition out of a bad marriage is one of the common reasons women have affairs.

"They are on a sinking ship and use it as a life raft because they don't want to just jump into the cold water," Reilly says.

She also sees some women have affairs during periods of vulnerability or life change, like when a child goes off to college or after a job loss. They may see it as a form of comfort during upheaval.

Another common reason is a cry for help in the marriage. One of Reilly’s patients had an affair, ended it, and then told her husband as a way to point out they were in more trouble than he thought.

Reilly says her clinical experience has shown that affairs are almost always caused by problems in the marriage. Therapy may be helpful to avoid going down that path.

"People have affairs because they are looking for something," Reilly says. Although she sees a number of couples grappling with infidelity, "more people come to me [before it happens] because they want to save their marriage."

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