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Is it selfish to cheat?

Cheating in a relationship is a complex issue with no simple answers. While some view it as an unforgivable betrayal, others may see certain situations where it’s understandable or justified. This article will examine if cheating is inherently selfish or if there are times when it may not be.

What is cheating?

Cheating involves being emotionally or physically unfaithful to your partner. It means engaging in romantic behaviors with someone else that violate the boundaries of your relationship. This could include:

  • Having an affair
  • Kissing or flirting with someone else
  • Sending intimate messages or images
  • Engaging in sexual activities with someone else

Cheating damages trust, hurts your partner, and can destroy relationships. However, the reasons people cheat are complex.

Why do people cheat?

There are many possible reasons someone might be unfaithful:

  • Seeking emotional or physical intimacy they feel is lacking in their relationship
  • Feeling bored or restless in their relationship
  • Seeking attention, excitement, or validation from someone else
  • Wanting to feel desired
  • Acting out of anger, resentment, or revenge
  • Lacking strong boundaries around fidelity
  • Opportunity – being attracted to someone outside the relationship

While unacceptable, some of these reasons are more understandable than others when looking at cheating as selfish or not.

Is cheating always selfish?

Ways cheating is selfish

In many ways, cheating is a selfish act:

  • Puts your needs and desires first, ignoring your partner’s feelings
  • Breaks trust, violates agreed boundaries
  • Risks destroying the relationship you have
  • Can deeply hurt your partner emotionally
  • Betrays your partner’s love, care, and commitment to you
  • Avoids dealing with issues in your relationship directly

When you cheat, you’re prioritizing your wants over your partner’s well-being and the health of your relationship. This disregard for your partner’s feelings and the commitment you’ve made is inherently selfish.

When cheating may not be selfish

However, there are some contexts where cheating may be more understandable:

  • Emotionally distant partner – Your needs for intimacy, affection, and attention aren’t being met. Repeated attempts to address this are ignored. Cheating provides this emotional connection you’ve been missing.
  • Abusive relationship – Your partner mistreats, controls, or psychologically harms you. Cheating provides comfort or escape. It can be an attempt to regain control or autonomy.
  • Sexless marriage – Despite efforts to revive intimacy, your partner consistently rejects physical affection. Cheating allows you to meet sexual needs and feel desired again.
  • Terminal illness – Your partner is terminally ill. As their caretaker, the dynamic has shifted to patient and nurse. Cheating allows you to feel like yourself again and have fun.

In these situations, cheating may be driven by unhappiness, loneliness, or despair more than selfishness. It can be an attempt to meet basic human emotional or physical needs long neglected in the relationship.

Other considerations

There are a few other factors that influence how selfish cheating is:

  • Premeditation – Was it an impulsive “mistake” or calculated betrayal over time?
  • Covering it up – Did you confess honestly or hide the truth from your partner?
  • Remorse – Do you take responsibility and feel genuine remorse for the pain caused?

More premeditation and deceit add layers of selfishness versus an impulsive act confessed honestly with deep remorse.


Cheating often arises from self-centeredness and is a betrayal that causes significant pain. But there are some contexts where it may be driven by unfulfilled needs, loneliness, and despair. Factors like honesty and remorse also play a role. While unacceptable, cheating isn’t always simply a selfish act. It’s complex with many nuances. Life and relationships are messy – there are rarely simple rights and wrongs. With empathy, even unacceptable acts can be understood, if not excused.