Male Infidelity

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How Should We Define Infidelity for a Man?

How do you define infidelity for a man? Is it sexual activity outside of a committed relationship? Or is it withdrawing from the committed relationship? Is there a difference? Women tend to think that there isn't. Men know that there is. Sex and commitment are different things to a man.

And there is another contender for a kind of infidelity, "emotional infidelity," having heart to heart talks with someone of the opposite sex other than the spouse, at least if it gets to the point of it interfering with the relationship. Prohibition of "emotional infidelity" is an asymmetric burden on men.  A woman can be emotionally intimate with any number of female friends. A man can be emotionally intimate with only a few special male friends, who typically number in the low zeros.

Before we go on, we need to pause for a definition of infidelity. The definitions that apply to men in relationships are marked in yellow.

infidelity — definition

  1. marital disloyalty; adultery.
  2. unfaithfulness; disloyalty.
  3. lack of religious faith.
  4. a breach of trust or a disloyal act; transgression.
Here we are interested in the forms of disloyalty of a man toward a woman.

Understanding Infidelity 

 "Love you, honey. Nothing personal," could be the slogan for males.

There is evolutionary pressure for men both to be committed to their families and to be promiscuous at the same time.

There is evolutionary pressure for men to be committed to their families. It takes a lot of energy to raise children to successful adulthood, so his commitment increases the chance of his genes being passed on to future generations.

There is evolutionary pressure for men to be promiscuous. A woman can have at most about one child per year, no matter how many lovers she has. A man can have any number of offspring. Any tendency of a man to have sex with more than one woman can increase the presence of his genes in the gene pool, and that is precisely what evolution selects for.

Notice, this is the result evolution selects for, but it doesn't say anything about the mechanism by which it is achieved. We'll look at that below.

Also, evolution does not require men to be promiscuous. It just makes it attractive.

This is not comfortable news for wives and girlfriends in our society in part due to our serially monogamous culture. You suspect that if he is being sexually unfaithful, he is withdrawing his commitment from you to give to someone else, and you can be pretty sure that the other participant in this infidelity, the other woman, is campaigning for just that.

Sex is extremely personal to you, and you cannot feel how it cannot be for him, but for him, commitment is one thing, and sex is another. This makes it difficult even to define commitment for a man.

Infidelity meaning

What does his infidelity mean?

There is the question of whether he was trying to send you a message. A woman who worked in an escort service once was hired merely to lounge around the pool at an apartment complex. She got to hear a loud argument and see a woman storming from his apartment carrying a suitcase.

However, men hardly ever want to send their partners a message. They strongly prefer she not hear anything about it at all. If he cheats, "It's not you. It's him."

Why are men unfaithful?

According to their reports, the broad reasons that men stray are 

  • They crave "variety"

  • They are bored with being faithful

  • They are unhappy with with their mates

  • They are having difficulty dealing with their relationship

  • They are success-oriented

Variety. There can be two meanings for "variety." It could be interpreted that he'd like more kinds of things in bed, and this would certainly help. But many of the men who say they "need variety" are referring to needing more than one women.   Women tend to hear this and think, "What a flimsy excuse!" But "I need variety" is a mechanism evolution selected to promote promiscuity. This is what the result of evolution feels like. Sex and love are different things for a man. 

Boredom. "Boredom" could mean the same as "I want to try more things in the bedroom," but it could also mean that he enjoys the adventure of an affair. Men are biologically programmed to take risks. Hunting large animals with pointy sticks is risky, so males evolved to be bold. Risks are thrilling.

The thrill of the hunt translates into conducting an affair. There are the risks of approaching a new woman. There are the consequences if it becomes known to the wife. The risks make him feel alive.

Unhappiness with their mates. This comes in many varieties. Often a wife lets herself go after marriage. According to one report, women gain an average of 15 pounds after marriage. Also being run ragged by child-rearing doesn't leave much attention for maintaining her appearance. 

His wife may not be as interested in sex as he is. It is not only sex, but intimacy he is missing. Men are not permitted emotional intimacy — talking about emotions is not sufficiently manly. Men mainly get their needs for closeness satisfied by physical closeness. (We have a page discussing why men hide their feelings.)

A wife who doesn't understand him can drive him away. In our society, many women don't accept that males are different from females. Women think men could behave like reasonable human beings, which is to say like women, except they are being willfully obstreperous.

For example, women ask, "Why do married men look at other women?" not realizing that it is a conditioned reflex that men are not always even aware of. A woman who gets irate about this makes life unbearable for her man.

A nagging wife, a wife who belittles him, a wife who is always telling him "what his problem is," a wife who wants to change him is more than sufficient cause for him to seek the companionship of someone who appreciates him. Here's what Kara Oh says are three ways you can destroy love and drive your man away:

You will find more of Kara Oh's videos in our minicourse on Understanding Men. Sign up in the side bar.

Difficulty with the relationship. Maintaining relationships requires skills that men do not automatically acquire. It tends to involve talking about their feelings, and guys have been taught not to talk about their feelings, preferably not to feel their feelings. They may not know what they are feeling about the relationship, but they do know that something is wrong.

Success. Testosterone drives men to succeed and to do what is necessary to succeed. (Asking whether it should be done at all doesn't contribute to success, so the question is suppressed. But that is another topic.) This contributes to promiscuity in two ways: One is the success of  the conquest. It is confirmation that he still "has it."

Also, just as women are viewed as sex objects, so men are viewed as success objects. Attracting women is the result of and a sign of his success.

You might ask of the highly successful male, "Why is he so motivated?"  Socially, it is for status and the things that come with it, but consider other mammals, like elk. There is no question about why elk males compete: the dominant male gets the females. Evolution selects for the males who succeed. Then ask again, "Why do men struggle to succeed?" Mightn't it be the same reason? A successful man may expect to have many women. He feels he has it coming — and natural selection would agree.

Forgiving Infidelity

What if your man cheats? What does it mean? It is not a simple matter with sexual infidelity. Meaning comes from other things.

If he says it was only physical, he is probably telling the truth. Needing a deep, spiritual relationship would not help propagate a males genes in the gene pool.

If he has had sex with a prostitute, that in itself is not a threat to his commitment to you; although, the utter humiliation of it all and the major risk of STDs are more than sufficient grounds for you to end your relationship.

A young prostitute expressed her amazement to an older one, "I can't believe they give me all this money just to have sex with them?"

"They don't," the older woman said. "They give you the money to go away afterwards."

Similar reasoning applies to one night stands or flings. He might leave one relationship for another, but not for nothing — unless he feels the relationship is pretty awful.

What about a longer term affair? Both you and the other woman are in competition for his commitment. He is not being fair to at least one of you. It's a hard problem to decide what to do and to do it.

Be aware that both you and the other woman are thinking like women, and he is not. Both of you are assuming monogamy — that he will naturally choose just one of you. But it is possible that he is much happier with both than with either alone. Over half of the world's cultures make provision for that possibility; although our North American anglo culture with its serial monogamy does not.

But in a larger sense, you are always in competition. Fairy tales end at the wedding, but life doesn't. We will look at some techniques for preventing infidelity later, but if you want his total commitment to your relationship, you need to make sure the relationship is satisfying to him. There are two elements to that: understand and accept him as a man and exhibit what Kara Oh has named feminine grace.  

Should You Forgive Infidelity?

It is never easy if you are a victim of infidelity. Trust is at stake and if it is abused it is very hard to gain it back. Being cheated on by your partner is a huge betrayal thus making it difficult to decide whether you should forgive your partner or put an end to your relationship. Before you make a decision, think of what the consequences might be. If you decide to forgive, then you must learn to open your heart once again. It is not easy. But if you really want your relationship to continue, you have to give your partner another chance. You will never see his sincerity unless you give him that chance. 

Here is what Kara Oh says about deciding whether to stay or to leave:

You will find more of Kara Oh's videos in our minicourse on Understanding Men. Sign up in the side bar.

Here are a few guidelines suggested by a woman on the Tips What Men Want team to aid you in your decision: 

  1. Evaluate your partner’s character and personality – If he had cheated on his ex before going out with you, then you should consider the fact that he might do the same thing for you. However, people change and so can your partner. If you notice that he manages to resist temptation while having in a relationship with you then he might be worth fighting for.

  2. Investigate the reasons why your partner committed infidelity – If your partner is unstable, then the act of doing infidelity is understandable. If not, then there is definitely an important reason why he cheated on you. If your partner really loves you, and you have experienced his love, then ask your partner why he did it. Whatever his reasons, learn to listen and evaluate clearly. You know your partner better than anyone else, so you should know whether he is telling the truth or not.

  3. Evaluate how you are as a partner – Most Americans are sexually active. They like it even better if their partner is creative and inventive in bed. If you know how to satisfy your partner both emotionally and sexually then infidelity will not occur. Men are different from women when it comes to dealing with emotions. Women can express themselves freely compared to men, so it will be up to you how you should deal with your partner. Men hate it if women always undermine them. This is also one factor why they commit infidelity. They want to look for a woman who will appreciate them and feed their egos. If a woman knows how to take good care of her man, her man will take good care of her.

  4. List the pros and cons – Is it really worth ending your relationship with your partner and sacrifice all the good times the two of you shared? Once you have made a decision, you must learn to stand firm on it. Divorces are messy. There are estates to divide, custody of children, and emotions to consider. So be sure in your decision.

  5. Evaluate your partner’s apologies – You might be able to forgive your partner but forgetting the experience is very hard to do. There will be times that you will question your partner’s motives. Trust will never come easy for you because you have already been betrayed. But if you really see that your partner is doing his best to undo his mistake, then learn to heal the bitterness in your heart. With the bitterness gone, rest assured that everything can fall into place the way it was before the infidelity happened.

How to avoid infidelity

Some wives try to prevent infidelity by preventing their husbands having any time alone with another woman. This is very difficult to arrange, given that men typically go outside the home to gain an income. Also, it creates an oppressive environment that may in itself make him want to escape.

A milder version is to try to prevent him from getting into situations with an erotic or an emotionally intimate component.

Actually, given men's programming for variety and need for intimacy, it might work better to go the other way and supply those needs in a safe way.

For a variety in physical intimacy, you could try something like contra dancing: In my area, Denver/Boulder, maybe 50 to a hundred women show up on a Friday evening, and an equal number of men. During each dance, each man in the contra line dances with each of the women. They look in each another's eyes, hold hands, place a hand on the shoulder or around the waist — half way up the twelve steps of physical intimacy — for all of four seconds at a time — sometimes six seconds. That may sufficiently satisfy his variety needs with much too little time to establish a deeper emotional connection. (Contra dancing has another advantage: it's just walking. It's very easy to learn.)

Similarly, "small group ministries" in churches are discussion groups that provide a safe environment for exploring feelings (one of the rules is confidentiality). They provide a safe setting for emotional intimacy. The social environment makes it a lot less dangerous than people spending time alone. It's probably better not to be in a group together with your partner — there's an urge to answer questions for the partner and prevent real sharing. 

Men's intimacy needs can also be met to some degree through camaraderie, working with other people on the same projects. Working on projects together, especially volunteer projects, can build a connection, and provide a safe context for meeting more of his intimacy needs.

And one way is to use the fact that male sexuality is not strictly personal. Men respond not to an individual, but to The Feminine. Part of this is physical beauty, but a large part is what Kara Oh calls feminine grace, a comfort, a being-at-home as a woman, and as yourself.  When you act with feminine grace, men experience a kind of awe. The best sources I know of for learning and using Feminine Grace are Kara Oh's books. There are links to them in the sidebar.

The best way to prevent his infidelity is to exhibit feminine grace. 


See our pages to learn more about men's intimacy needs and men's commitment.

Don't think that he is thinking of being unfaithful simply because he looks at other women. That's simply a conditioned reflex, and if you keep breaking into whatever is going on to berate him on what he isn't even conscious of, he will find you a serious pain. Learn more on our page Why Do Men Look at Other Women?

Look for ways to meet his needs for intimacy and "variety" in safe contexts.

Don't try to use sex to manipulate him. Whenever you withhold sex, for any reason, you are betraying his trust. Sex is not something peripheral. Sex is central to his need for intimacy.

Repeat the twelve steps of intimacy as part of your lovemaking. People who do seem to have stabler marriages than those who don't. Perhaps it gives him a chance to experience the hunt again.

You need to respect and admire him. Whenever you belittle him, you are driving him toward someone who appears to value him.

You need to be attractive in appearance and personality. Acting with feminine grace leaves him in awe of you and bonds him to you. Using your feminine grace is the central theme of Kara Oh's book. You can be reading it within five minutes. Click here to download Men Made Easy now .

Respect the confidentiality of what he has disclosed to you about his emotional life. Don't repeat his confidences to anyone.

When you are what he needs and admires, you won't lose his commitment. 

Take our free mini-course on Understanding Men (sign up in the sidebar) to gain a better understanding of what your man needs, or to get all the information immediately, read Kara Oh's Men Made Easy. Click here to download Men Made Easy now .