Infidelity is one of the most distressing things you can experience in a relationship. Everyone knows this. And yet, men and women continue to cheat all the time: A recent YouGov poll revealed that a full fifth (21 percent of men and 19 percent of women) of the American adult populace has cheated on a partner. (And that doesn’t account for those who have cheated but will never, ever admit it—a figure that even science can’t measure.)
But the question remains: what drives these people to cheat? Common knowledge might suggest it’s nothing more than pure carnal desire, but, oftentimes, the situation is far more complex. From financial stability to personality deficits to—and surely this will be of zero surprise—childhood environment, there are countless factors. Here’s what the experts suggest looking out for. And for a real-life story about infidelity, see what happened when a Bride Read Groom’s Cheating-Related Texts Aloud at Her Wedding.
1. There’s Sizable Income Disparity
According to an intriguing American Sociological Association study from 2015, people are more likely to cheat when their partners are doing better than they are, financially speaking. “You would think that people would not want to ‘bite the hand that feeds them,’ so to speak, but that is not what my research shows,” said Christin L. Munsch, the study’s lead author and assistant sociology professor at the University of Connecticut, in a press release. “Instead, the findings indicate people like feeling relatively equal in their relationships. People don’t like to feel dependent on another person.”
2. They Want To Be A Better Partner
A study conducted by Alicia Walker, a sociologist and the author of Secret Life of the Cheating Wife, found that women may cheat on their partners to become—get this—better partners. Study participants who cheated said that getting their rocks off elsewhere made them better partners because they didn’t resent a spouse for not putting effort into their s** life.
3. They Have a Suspicious Partner
“We can’t go on together, with suspicious minds,” sang Elvis back in 1969. The King had it right—and, if you’ve been cheated on before, it’s especially understandable that it left a mark. But constantly suspecting that your partner is up to no good is likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“If you start questioning them about whether or not they are cheating, confronting someone with no proof will make them uncomfortable and put them on the defensive,” spiritual counselor and relationship expert Davida Rappaport told Bustle. “Once you start doing that, your partner may decide to cheat after all, simply because you are treating them as if they were cheating.”
4. Infidelity Runs In the Family
A study published in 2017 revealed that people whose parents cheated were twice as likely to cheat on their spouse than those whose parents had been faithful. The authors noted that “parental infidelity sends memorable messages to offspring about the greater acceptability of infidelity,” messages that are “internalized and used to construct offspring’s belief systems.”
5. A Big Birthday Is Approaching
A 2014 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that people were more likely to cheat in the years before a new decade (i.e., 29, 39, 49, and so on). It turns out that the likelihood of a man committing adultery increases with age, especially once they hit a point at which they feel like it’s their last opportunity to sleep with other women before they’re officially decrepit.