In the United States, it's a common saying that "honesty is the best policy." But research suggests that the average American lies one to two times a day – in fact, one study even found that about 60% of its participants couldn't make it 10 minutes without lying. Although some of these moments might constitute mere fibs, dishonesty and infidelity between couples can cause serious, long-lasting damage to the relationship. About 20% of married men and 13% of married women have cheated, according to the Institute for Family Studies, and yet so little is known about what happens from there.
In search of answers, we surveyed 441 people who admitted to infidelity with their partners. We asked them how long it took to tell their significant other plus why they cheated and how their partner reacted once they found out. Keep scrolling to learn more about how these intense dynamics played out.
Prevalence of Cheating
Previous studies have suggested that around 20% of married men and 13% of married women cheat. But how many people in relationships overall are also engaging in infidelity? Based on our survey data, just under half of individuals – 46.1% – cheated in a relationship. One in four people said they cheated and admitted it to their partner.
Certainly, this phenomenon of cheating and hiding transgressions from partners is more than an issue of a moral code; dishonesty between romantic partners can lead to very real emotional distress and grief, financial hardship, custody battles, and even the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Telling the Truth
There are various degrees of telling the truth, and some simply don't believe in the concept of "lying by omission." We asked a group of individuals when they decided to tell their partner about their infidelity, plus how accurately they recounted the cheating. Interestingly, there were no significant differences between genders. Nearly half of all men and women who admitted infidelity generally told their partners about it within the first week. However, the length of the wait largely depended on whether the survey participant was in a relationship or married. More than half – 52.4% – of those in a relationship told their partner about the infidelity within a week, compared to 29.2% of married respondents. At the same time, about half of married respondents – 47.9% – waited six months or longer to admit their infidelity, compared to 20.4% of those in a relationship.
When it came to describing their cheating in detail, respondents most commonly selected kissing and sex. However, when we asked our respondents about what acts they committed and then admitted to, they were the most likely to be honest about sex. Of the roughly 65% of respondents who had sex outside of their relationship, 93% admitted doing so. In fact, people were more honest about having sex with someone else than kissing someone else –only 73% of those who kissed someone other than their partner admitted to it. In general, respondents were the least likely to admit to a cheating incident that resulted in pregnancy or spending money on the "other" person. Alarmingly, only 53% of individuals who contracted a sexually transmitted disease from cheating told their partner about it.
Using condoms or other forms of contraception is important for preventing unwanted pregnancies, let alone protecting others and ourselves from sexually transmitted diseases. However, cheating can lead to hurried or unanticipated sexual encounters, which increases the risk of either of these unfortunate outcomes. Our survey results suggest a disturbing number of people do not use protection while cheating. Only about 60% of men and 58% of women did so, along with 64% of individuals who identified as "in a relationship." Even worse, 60% of married cheaters did not wear protection during their acts of infidelity.
Being honest about infidelity is, no doubt, a moral high ground, but that doesn’t mean it’s free of consequences. Our survey data suggest that more than half of relationships – 54.5% – broke up immediately after one partner admitted to cheating. Meanwhile, 30% of these relationships attempted to stay intact but resulted in a breakup later on.
Nevertheless, outcomes varied significantly depending on the cheater’s gender. About 20% of female cheaters were still in their relationship, compared to about 10% of male cheaters. Meanwhile, 22% of male cheaters said their partner immediately ended the relationship upon learning of the infidelity, compared to nearly 11% of female cheaters. Overall, relationships were more likely to break up after an incident of cheating than marriages – and predictably, long-term affairs led to a higher rate of breakups.
Why are cheaters admitting to their infidelity if it frequently leads to breakups? Our survey of 441 cheaters suggests that guilt was the greatest driving factor. Less than half of respondents cited this as a motivating reason for admitting their cheating, while nearly 40% said they "weren't happy and needed to [let their partners] know" or "thought [their partner] had the right to know."
Guilt, as it turns out, is a complicated factor when it comes to telling the truth. Men were more likely to admit to cheating over feelings of guilt than women, who tended to admit it in the event that they were not happy with the relationship. Only a quarter of married cheaters said guilt contributed to their decision to tell the truth, compared to roughly 53% of those in a relationship.
It's well-known that regaining trust is no easy task, especially in the case of infidelity. Not only has a cheating partner potentially put their significant other at physical and mental risk, but also conventional wisdom like "once a cheater, always a cheater" ring constant doubt in those who have been betrayed. We wanted to investigate how those in a relationship attempted to rebuild trust after cheating had entered the fold.
Our data suggest that 61% of marriages and 47.5% of relationships implemented rules after the cheating incident, such as letting one partner look through the other's phone (55.7%); avoiding certain friends (48.5%); putting limitations on going out (43.3%); allowing one partner to access the other's social media (39.2%); and ending the other relationship (30.9%). These rules varied somewhat among genders – male cheaters were more likely to have limitations put on going out or sex withheld from them, while women cheaters were more likely to have their phones monitored or avoid hanging out with friends.
Understanding Dishonest Deeds
Infidelity can be devastating, and it far too often wreaks damage to one's physical and mental health. Lifelong trust issues, rock-bottom self-esteem, and a lack of knowledge or agency over one's health are all known parts of the fallout. To better understand the dynamics behind dishonesty, we surveyed 441 individuals who cheated on their significant others and ultimately told the truth about it. In the process, we uncovered a stark reality: Even "honest" cheaters who have admitted to their infidelity can leave out key, consequential details.
We at Health Testing Centers recommend that individuals in relationships of any kind regularly get checked for sexually transmitted diseases and infections. Know the truth – and protect yourself. Visit Healthtestingcenters.com for more details.
We surveyed 441 people who cheated on their significant other and admitted to it. Out of these respondents, 44% were men, and 56% were women. Around 80% were in a relationship, and 20% were married. Our ages ranged from 18 to 70 with an average age of 35 and standard deviation of 10 years. We initially surveyed people on whether they cheated, but only continued to survey the 441 respondents who admitted to cheating on their significant others to explore this specific topic more deeply. Some limitations of this survey-executed campaign include telescoping, which may apply to those who are recalling many years, selective memory, and exaggeration. We also recognize that there is bias because of answers that may be more socially acceptable for our survey respondents to give. We did not statistically test our data nor did we weight our data in any way. This is an exploratory project about what happens to those who cheat and admit to it.
Fair Use Statement
Cheating, unfortunately, isn't an uncommon occurrence, and admission of cheating might be even less rare. If you'd like to share our study on these juicy admissions, you can share for noncommercial purposes only. Don't forget to link to this study when you share, though, so we can get some credit for our work!