Married people who cheat have no regrets, new study finds

Yahoo UK digs into how this latest study compares to other research on affairs.

Man and woman lie in bed as study finds people who cheat don't regret it
Many married people who cheat don't regret it, study finds. (Getty Images)

Most married people who cheat on their spouses have no regrets, a new study has found.

Instead of feeling guilty, the research found that those who cheat find the affair “highly satisfying” and say their infidelity didn’t hurt their otherwise healthy marriages.

The research was carried out by Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences using a sample of 2,000 Ashley Madison users - a website that facilitates extramarital affairs.

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Those who took part in the study were generally middle-aged men who reported high levels of love for their spouses but half said they were not sexually active with them.

"In popular media, television shows and movies and books, people who have affairs have this intense moral guilt and we don’t see that in this sample of participants," study author Dr Dylan Selterman says.

"Ratings for satisfaction with affairs was high – sexual satisfaction and emotional satisfaction. And feelings of regret were low. These findings paint a more complicated picture of infidelity compared to what we thought we knew."

two young people kiss under the covers
Cheating on your partner doesn't mean you don't love them, the study found. (Getty Images)

Sexual dissatisfaction the main reason for cheating

The study found that the top reason why people cheat is sexual dissatisfaction, and less common reasons include desire for independence, sexual variety, fundamental problems in a relationship, and a lack of love or anger towards your spouse.

Participants sought affairs because they wanted novel, exciting sexual experiences, or sometimes because they didn’t feel a strong commitment to their partners, rather than a need for emotional fulfilment.

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"People have a diversity of motivations to cheat," Dr Selterman adds. "Sometimes they’ll cheat even if their relationships are pretty good. We don’t see solid evidence here that people’s affairs are associated with lower relationship quality or lower life satisfaction."

Researchers say monogamy can be tough

The research is proof that maintaining monogamy or sexual exclusivity especially across people’s life spans is "really, really hard", adds Dr Selterman.

“People just assume that their partners are going to be totally satisfied having sex with one person for the next 50 years of their lives but a lot of people fail at it," he continues. "It doesn’t mean everyone’s relationship is doomed, it means that cheating might be a common part of people’s relationships."

older man and woman in bed
Nearly one in five Brits have cheated on their partner. (Getty Images)

Nearly one in five Brits have cheated on their partner

A YouGov poll from 2010 found that nearly a fifth (19%) of Brits have cheated on their partner, but that most people regret it. The survey found that 37% of those have cheated once, 21% twice, and 8% of men and 5% of women have cheated more than 20 times.

The majority of respondents (47% of men and 58% of women) cited an unhappy marriage as the reason for their infidelity. A separate YouGov survey from 2022 found that 78% of people think that cheating on someone is a good enough reason for divorce.

Cheaters often feel less guilt for cheating again

While many married cheaters may not feel regret when cheating, they also tend to feel less guilty the more times they cheat.

A 2017 study from the University College London found that someone who has cheated on their partner once is likely to do it again and each time they do so the amount of guilt they feel decreases.

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"The findings uncover a biological mechanism that supports a ‘slippery slope’: what begins as small acts of dishonesty can escalate into larger transgressions," the study said.

A relationship can survive cheating - but it isn’t an easy process

"This isn't a decision that should be rushed, both parties should take their time to consider the reasons why the affair happened, whether forgiveness is possible, but also whether the cheating party is actually looking to end the relationship as a whole or truly has the commitment going forward. Many may ask for forgiveness only to do it again," Clarissa Bloom, relationship expert at The Stag Company says.

"If you both decide to step forward with fixing the relationship, you then may want a specialist counsellor to unearth the root of the problems. Normally there are some key reasons that need to be addressed by both parties, such as a lack of affection, low self-esteem or stress in their lives. This can be a chance to tackle the issues of the relationship and fix any issues between each other, it can actually result in a much happier relationship."