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The real reason ‘happy’ married people cheat is so surprising

Monogamy. It’s the number one commandment of any good marriage, right? We pledge not to look at another or touch another for the duration of our (hopefully) long wedded lives. But what if there were another option?

Renowned sex therapist and expert Esther Perel gave an amazing TED talk recently that was released to the public today. In it, she speaks of infidelity and why people cheat. And the reasons have almost nothing to do with what we have been taught. See below:

As Perel says in her talk: “Monogamy has nothing to do with love. It’s all about whose children are those and who gets the cows when I die.”

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Mindblowing, right? And yet, so true. What if everything we know about marriage is actually not based in history or in family values, but in what the last 50 years has brought us? In other words, we used to marry early and die young. It used to be a property exchange. And we used to be virgins. Now we come to marriage for love. Most of us have slept with at least one other person. And we promise to stop doing that. But is it really monogamy if we have been with others before?

And then once we are married, there is a whole other dark truth to marriage. Cheating is rampant. Depending on your definition of “cheating” (anything from sexting to kissing to sex), 26 to 75 percent of people are “cheating.”

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Perel says people who cheat might very well be happy in their marriage. They might very well be in love and believe in monogamy. But there is something else at play in most affairs. A longing for emotional intensity and a “wish to recapture lost parts of ourselves… it isn’t so much that we are looking for another person, as we are looking for another self.”

She hits the nail on the head. The few experiences I have had with infidelity in terms of seeing people cheat and such have mostly had to do with that. Perel says: “Death and mortality often live in the shadow of an affair… will I ever feel that thing again? Some affairs are an attempt to beat back deadness and an antidote to death.”


As we age and form families, we lose that sense of ourselves as sexy, passionate individuals. We may be happily married and we may have good sex with our spouses, but there is still something missing. It’s us. It’s our old selves. It’s nothing they have done.

And the irony is, sometimes an affair is exactly what a marriage needs Perel says. The fear of loss, the terror at the thought of losing one’s beloved spouse, sometimes brings that old spark back. Hello passion. Hello hot sex. So is Perel pro-affair? Not exactly. But she’s not against it, either.

There are many ways to betray a spouse. An affair is one. But so is withholding sex. Part of being in a a marriage is having sex. We would all do well to remember that. The person who cheats is not automatically a cad. He could just be looking for a part of himself that’s been dormant for decades. Who can blame him?

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