Their decision to cheat comes from the desire to experience the love and affection they expect to receive from their wives, but has faded over time. After years of enduring those unmet needs, infidelity became a way for them to be doted on while not having to give up a partnership that still means the world to them.
Sex naturally plays a role in the decision as well, as 76% of the men in this sample report being in a sexless marriage. However, where their own orgasms and sexual pleasure motivated women, hearing praise for their sexual prowess made men feel worthy and manly. To them, their wives treat sex as a chore and lack all enthusiastic about it. Men internalize that disinterest as “I’m not good enough” and “I’m a disappointment.” They feel undervalued not only as a sexual partner but as a person. Their outside partners function as the person to whom they go for that praise and recognition. And more often than not, just one “monogamous” affair partner is all they need, unlike many women, who prefer to maintain several concurrent affairs.
That is not to say, though, that the decision to cheat functioned as the first step men took when they felt unsatisfied in their marriage. In fact, these men spent years speaking to their spouse about what was and wasn’t working for them, and asking how they could improve, but weren’t given a substantial answer – or much acknowledgment, in many cases.
Articulating that feeling of under-appreciation and asking, “Why aren’t you interested in me anymore?” can be a very hard thing to do. And when you pass that hurdle and then face a spouse who simply turns a blind eye, is the next step to file for divorce and upend your life? That’s not an option for many people, whether it be financial restraints, children, or knowing it’s not worth it to end a marriage over one missing component. As one participant told me, “I decided my marriage had too many great things about it to end things because of the lack of intimacy.”
“[My outside partner and I] know that we do not desire a change in our primary partners. We are not ‘in love.’ We enjoy each other, thank each other, and go back to our lives. My wife is my best friend. I enjoy her immensely. Our personalities match well. Our goals are well aligned, as I believe are the goals of my outside partner.”
These men were in real pain before they decided to cheat, both from the neglect they were facing and the realization that the reality of marriage didn’t line up with their expectations. For many, part of that pain persists knowing that the woman who’s now satisfying their needs isn’t the one woman they ultimately want that satisfaction from their wives.
Would these men be happiest with just their wives? Contrary to the common “men can’t resist temptation” narrative, yes, they would be (most men actually enjoy monogamy and are often far less interested in the idea of an open marriage than women are). But circumstances change and reality sets in. Infidelity works as a viable path for them to preserve their happiness and ultimately their marriage.