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What is the cheater’s high?

What causes the cheater’s high?

The “cheater’s high” refers to the rush of excitement and dopamine that an unfaithful partner may feel when cheating on their spouse or partner. This high is brought on by the taboo, risky, and novel nature of the infidelity. When someone cheats, they are often seeking an adrenaline rush and thrill that is missing from their regular relationship. The secrecy involved in planning a tryst and sneaking around to meet the affair partner can be exciting. Then when the affair occurs, the sex and emotional intensity provides a dopamine flood in the brain’s reward pathways. This gives the cheater an intoxicating high, not unlike the high from taking addictive drugs.

Some key factors that contribute to the cheater’s high include:

– Taboo/Forbidden acts – Doing something society deems unethical or immoral can provide an adrenaline rush.

– Novelty – Having sex with a new partner triggers dopamine, whereas sex with a long-term partner does not provide the same neurochemical hit.

– Impulsivity – Those prone to impulsive behavior may find the excitement of an affair hard to resist.

– Self-deception – Cheaters may use rationalizations to justify their behavior and avoid guilt.

– Attention/Ego-boost – Cheaters often enjoy the attention and ego-boost of having a person other than their partner desire them.

– Escape – Cheaters may use affairs to escape or cope with issues in their primary relationship.

What are the stages of the cheater’s high?

Experts have identified several distinct stages that characterize the neurochemical high a cheater experiences:

Anticipation Stage

This is the thrill of the chase, when the cheater first spots a potential affair partner and fantasizes about the possibility. Flirting and testing the waters can evoke the initial rush. Dopamine starts to flow in anticipation of the forbidden fruit.

Courtship Stage

During the courtship stage, the cheater begins laying the groundwork for the affair through things like exchanging numbers, private messages, lavishing attention on the prospective affair partner, and planning secret rendezvous. The clandestine nature of these actions is exciting.

Sexual Stage

When sexual intimacy first occurs, the cheater experiences surges in dopamine and other pleasure-inducing neurochemicals during the act. There is often intense passion and rapid bonding with the new partner. The cheater may perceive this as love.

Maintenance Stage

To sustain the high, the cheater must work to maintain the affair by continuing sexual meetups and the cloak-and-dagger routine. Over time, the dopamine hits tend to diminish.

Decline & Collapse

The high eventually plateaus and then fades, as the affair becomes routine or the cheater gets caught. Withdrawal from the high leads to depression, anxiety, and irritability.

Does everyone experience the cheater’s high?

While many unfaithful partners report feeling the cheater’s high, some personality types are more prone to affair addiction and the neurochemical rewards of infidelity:

– Thrill-seekers – Those drawn to high-risk behaviors crave excitement.

– Narcissists – Cheating provides validation and ego-stroking.

– Borderline or antisocial – Impulsivity and lack of empathy facilitate cheating without remorse.

– Addicts – Cheaters may compulsively chase the neurochemical high.

– Avoidants – Cheating provides an emotional escape for those afraid of intimacy.

However, even people not characterized by these traits can experience short-term chemical rewards from an affair. The high is not sustainable long-term for most people though.

What are the stages of a cheater’s high?

There are several distinct stages that characterize the neurochemical high of an affair:

Anticipation Stage

This initial rush comes from the excitement of spotting a potential affair partner. Flirting and testing the waters provide a thrill.

Courtship Stage

Planning the affair evokes dopamine – exchanging numbers, private messaging, lavishing attention on the prospective partner, and making secret plans.

Sexual Stage

When sex first occurs, a flood of neurochemicals causes intense passion and rapid bonding with the new partner.

Maintenance Stage

Continuing the affair produces smaller neurochemical rewards over time. More work is required to sustain the high.

Decline & Collapse

The high fades as the affair becomes routine or the cheater gets caught, leading to withdrawal symptoms.

How long does the cheater’s high last?

The duration of a cheater’s neurochemical high varies based on factors like:

– Personality – Narcissists and addicts tend to chase the high longer.

– Age – Younger cheaters may sustain it longer.

– Opportunity – Ease of keeping affairs hidden impacts longevity.

– Relationship issues – Satisfaction level in the primary partnership affects duration.

Research suggests the average affair lasts about 6 months before the neurochemical rewards diminish and reality sets in. This honeymoon period mimics the chemical highs of new love. Over time, the affair becomes routine just like a marriage.

While some serial cheaters can sustain the high by finding new affair partners, most eventually experience a crash. The high lasts longer when the cheater keeps getting away with it. Getting caught quickly ends the euphoria.

What happens when the cheater’s high ends?

The cheater’s neurochemical rush cannot be maintained indefinitely. When affairs become routine or get exposed, the high evaporates. This leads to:

– Withdrawal – Cravings for the neurochemical rewards and mood crashes.

– Depression – As serotonin and dopamine plummet.

– Anxiety – Fears of being caught or abandoned.

– Irritability – Lashing out due to loss of the high.

– Emptiness – Lost sense of direction after the thrills end.

– Regret – Remorse often sinks in after the affair fog lifts.

To cope when the high ends, cheaters may:

– Seek new affair partners

– Become clingy and desperate with their affair partner

– Return to their primary relationship with renewed hope

– Fall into severe despair and self-destructive behaviors

The crash after the high ends can be psychologically and emotionally devastating. It takes work to rebuild depleted neurochemicals.

Why do cheaters crash when the high ends?

There are a few key reasons cheaters often experience a crash when their neurochemical high dissipates:

– Withdrawal – The brain has become dependent on the dopamine rewards of sneaking around and illicit sex. When this is suddenly gone, withdrawal kicks in.

– Tolerance – Over time, the brain adapt to the excessive dopamine and requires more to get the same high. Affairs eventually lose their kick.

– Secrets revealed – Getting caught or confessing collapses the house of cards built on lies and ends the thrill.

– Guilt sinks in – Without the affair fog, feelings of remorse and shame typically flood in.

– Emptiness – The cheater is left feeling directionless and unsatisfied with their stale marriage.

– Loss of fantasy – The idealized lover and fantasy world of the affair are gone.

Essentially when the neurochemical party ends, the hangover and devastation quickly set in. It takes time to rebuild normal dopamine levels.


While the anticipation of pleasure drives an unfaithful partner during their “cheater’s high,” this neurochemical rush is temporary and leaves long-lasting relationship damage. because the intensity cannot be sustained for good. Understanding the psychology and stages of the cheater’s high can hopefully prevent people from chasing this ultimately destructive and fleeting euphoria. Investing in an honest committed partnership may not offer the same cheap thrills, but it builds much more sustainable satisfaction.