Mind of the Cheating Lover

People who cheat in a love relationship have a particular kind of psychology. There are four basic components: what they’re afraid of, what they’ve learned in the past about cheating, their limited ability to be intimate in love, and their personality.

These four components are always present in the psychology of a person who cheats regardless of gender. All four of them are required for cheating to be an option in a love relationship.

Let’s discuss each one of these in turn. My objective is to bring this love-life problem into focus for both the people who cheat and those who are the victims of cheating.

What The Cheater Is Afraid Of:  All cheaters are afraid of losing control and being destructively ‘hurt’ in a love relationship. The intimacy and need in a love relationship naturally creates feelings of vulnerability that are intolerable to the cheater.

A tolerance for vulnerability in love is required to have a deep and committed love relationship. Otherwise, a person becomes defensive and seeks ways of avoiding and limiting the intimacy and vulnerability they are feeling.

A person with fears of intimacy could find any number of different ways, including over working or making themselves unavailable, to control the vulnerability they are feeling. The cheater characteristically uses a ‘triangle’ to accomplish this defense against vulnerability.

A triangle involves splitting an emotional commitment into two love relationships at the same time, hence the triangle. So a cheater would reduce the vulnerability by keeping two lovers at the same time effectively controlling the level of intimacy in both relationships.

Generally speaking, people who are afraid of intimacy and emotional vulnerability have had some experiences earlier in life that taught them to be wary. It’s safe to say, such a person was disappointed by love at some point in the past and is now reluctant to let go and enjoy a deep committed love relationship. Of course, this kind of self-knowledge is usually not in awareness while defensive cheating is going on.

What The Cheater Learned In The Past About Cheating:  As a general principle, what we think, feel, and do in our love-lives is a consequence of what we have learned about love earlier in life. There are a couple of different ‘lessons’ cheaters often learn about love that promote a cheating lifestyle. One of them involves lessons taught by their culture.

There are different cultures in the world that directly or indirectly teach that cheating is an acceptable way to live. Usually there are accompanying ‘rules’ concerning how a person should cheat and how a person should react to the cheating if encountered. For example, I have worked with men who told me how their particular culture taught them to cheat on their wives.

That cheating was ‘expected,’ however it should be hidden in order to avoid open conflict. In some cultures, cheating is expected and condoned, so much so that if it doesn’t happen a person can be the subject of criticism and judgment.

The love-life culture in the USA is largely based on the value of monogamy. Marital fidelity is expected and divorce can be the consequence if it is broken. A problem naturally arises for trans-cultural people who get married, for example in this culture while under the psychological influence of their culture of origin.

Expecting a wife or a husband to accept a lifestyle that would have been acceptable in the culture of origin now in a monogamous culture can produce painful experiences of conflict and confusion that are difficult to resolve.

The other love-life lesson that cheaters often learn occurs in another social context, the family of origin. Chances are that the cheater grew up in a family where infidelity occurred or was condoned in some way. Children observe the lifestyle of parents and elders in the family.

They often identify with what they see and hear as a source of love-life learning. A cheater growing up in a family where cheating was practiced, by one or both parents or others in the family, would perceive cheating as a normalized or expected thing to do in a love-life.

This type of love-life learning is powerful and difficult to change. The only hope of change occurs when what was learned earlier in life creates so much emotional pain and crisis that a person is forced to consciously re-evaluate what was learned about love.

The Cheater’s Limited Ability To Be Intimate in Love:  Most cheaters have no idea of what it means to ‘work’ on a love relationship. Love relationships require work to remain healthy and to grow. Once the ‘honeymoon’ is over, the differences of personality that will naturally occur when two people are in a love relationship bring friction or disagreement, visibly or hidden.

If you expect to work on your love relationship you expect these differences and you’re prepared for them when they occur. To work on love means you are prepared to communicate about love-life problems as they emerge in the relationship.

You create with your lover a way to solve these problems before they fester and destroy the intimacy in your relationship. Like any other work, your competence improves with dedication and practice.

The cheater has never formed the value of working on a love relationship. When work is not an option, there is only defensiveness and distance. For some cheaters, cheating becomes an option at the point when work on the relationship would be necessary.

At the point when vulnerability is felt and the necessity of open communication for the purpose of repairing differences or some other problem in the relationship is at hand. When you don’t work on a love relationship, the issues that divide and complicate do not go away.

The emotions they create do not go away either. They can be temporarily put aside and the business of daily living substituted. Now the issues that divide are underground and allowed to grow in the dark. Like a physical infection, what develops can ultimately threaten the life of the relationship.

For some cheaters, rehabilitation starts when he or she realizes that cheating limits the love that is possible in life. This usually occurs after several painful relationship failures. Understanding and learning how to ‘work’ on a love relationship is a vital part of that rehabilitation.

The Cheater’s Personality:  This last component of the cheater’s psychology is the most troublesome. I know it’s hard to generalize about individuals, but I think it’s useful to get some sense of the cheater’s personality. Cheaters have a belief that ‘they can have what they have, while they get what they want.’

It’s a variation on have your cake and eat it too theme. Let’s add a little bit of a belief in immediate gratification and a big dose of dishonesty. In some instances we have to add a bit of arrogance and ego, and now we have a general representation of the cheater’s personality.

The rest of the cheater’s personality is made up of defensive reactions, justifications, excuses, and rationalizations for what they do. The most troublesome part of this personality is the dishonesty. You see, dishonesty is toxic to love and personal growth. In fact, it’s one of the psychological reasons people get sick. If you’re dishonest to others you have to be dishonest with yourself, there’s no other alternative.

You can’t be honest in one place and dishonest in another. Like pregnancy, you’re either pregnant or you’re not. You’re ether honest or you’re not. Honesty invites and promotes intimacy. If you are honest with a lover, he or she can locate you emotionally and love you.

If you’re not honest, people can’t find you and they can’t love you, the real you that is. You can’t love you either, but that’s beside the point for now.

You can see why honesty is so important in the rehabilitation of a cheater. Well it’s important for another reason. To keep a ‘promise’ you have to be honest. A commitment in a love relationship is a promise of love. You promise the person you are in love with that you will love him or her exclusively.

To keep a promise of this kind you have to be honest. You are a person of honor or honesty. What this means is, if you fall out of love you have to be direct and communicate the fact that you no longer love your lover.

The need to cheat no longer exists, your need for love has been integrated with honor. If the person you loved is no longer loved, you release him or her and continue searching for a more fulfilling lover.

This is an act of love. The final act of love you give to your lover before you let him or her go. In this state of mind it won’t be long before love finds you again. No one has been cheated.

Commets? Welcome. Dr. T. Jordan

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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.


  1. Andie on February 13, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    I think in the area of personality you are dead wrong. Sometimes people are so vulnerable so shy so wounded that when they are shown any kind of attention they go for it in order to just be liked.

    • Dr. Jordan on February 13, 2013 at 2:18 pm

      Thank you Andie for your comment. After a little reflection, I can see what you mean. Some people ‘cheat’ because they are so ‘needy’ that when shown a little attention, like you said, they go for it. Being liked is the motivator, it doesn’t matter where they get it. How about this: Some people cheat out of a belief that they shouldn’t have to be limited by a commitment and others cheat out of neediness? There might even be a few more dynamics going on. You’ve helped me understand that my view of the personality issues was a bit too narrow. Thanks. Dr.J.

  2. Vanessa Loud on April 24, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    Interesting but I find that people cheat because they are in the wrong relationship. Usually they are not sexually compatible and are to frightened to leave and be on their own. Normally, they have a devoted partner who fulfils every other part of their life such as a woman who cooks every meal and would never cheat on him.

    • Dr. Jordan on April 27, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      Thanks Vanessa for your comment. Unfortunately we’ll have to disagree. I think if the issue was just sex it would be a lot easier to fix. Triangles form because people don’t know how to fix a relationship problem or they (as you said) are too afraid to. But the issue is commitment. Most cheaters I’ve ever spoken with had lots of sexual desire for the person they marry or commit to but over time the relationship changes and accumulates a lot of unresolved issues that breakdown communication and destroy their sex life. To work on a relationship takes courage, tolerance, and patience. This is also what it takes to keep a commitment in a love relationship. Dr.J.

      • aguy on February 23, 2015 at 10:45 am

        Hello, good reads on your site. I would like to say i greatly disagree with this “I think if the issue was just sex it would be a lot easier to fix”. Sex cannot be “fixed”. If one person likes it 10 times day and the other 1x a month. There is no fix. psychological issues can be worked on sex can go to therapy but it’s never fixed. Sex is something that takes lots of skill to do right and so far in much of society it’s never a focus point for a person to improve on. People just believe being naked is enough. No complaints about anything else you have some very insightful idea’s. Yes i know 2013 but hey it’s the internet.

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