The 3 Personality Types Most Likely To Cheat (And The Most Common Reasons They Do It)

Board-Certified Behavior Analyst By Carmen McGuinness, EdD, BCBA-D
Board-Certified Behavior Analyst
Carmen McGuinness is a board-certified behavior analyst, acceptance and commitment therapist, and the author of three popular academic books for families.
The 3 Personality Types Most Likely To Cheat (And The Most Common Reasons They Do It)

In Gallup polls, 91 percent of responders report that infidelity in a marital partnership is morally wrong and 64 percent say they would not be prepared to forgive their partner if caught in an extramarital relationship. And yet, 54 percent of Americans say they know someone who has an unfaithful spouse.

Research in the field of infidelity reveals that there are three distinct personality types correlated with a higher likelihood of cheating: sociopaths, narcissists, and lonely-hearts.

Psychopathy is the tendency to disregard the moral code and the rights of others, acting purely on one’s own behalf.

Experts disagree about whether or not the distinctions between psychopathy and sociopathy are significant enough that the terms can't be used interchangeably. In broad terms, psychopathy is considered a more severe form of sociopathy that exhibits more symptoms. All psychopaths are sociopaths, but not all sociopaths are psychopaths. That said, the traits shared by psychopaths and sociopaths are the traits that make both types more likely to cheat: a disregard for social mores and the rights and feelings of others, and a failure to feel remorse or guilt.

Psychopathy has a strong correlation to infidelity, with a 95 percent likelihood that a psychopath or sociopath will engage with other sex partners outside the marital relationship. Psychopaths also tend to have a higher number of lifetime sex partners. Sociopaths are better able to separate love from sexual activity. And they are more willing to engage in behaviors involved in an unfaithful relationship or lifestyle, like prolonged periods of lying.


In contrast, narcissism is hallmarked by grandiosity and conceit.

That the narcissist believes they are better-looking, smarter, fitter, and more worthy than their spouse leads them to believe they are entitled to cheat. And that they believe they are better-looking, smarter, fitter, and more worthy than their affair partner may lead them to believe they are entitled to use him/her exclusively for their own sexual pleasure.

Interestingly, though they may get up to the same unsavory social behaviors, sociopaths and narcissists are two very different fellows.

That handsome narcissist across the coffee bar is likely to be somewhat neurotic, with a deep underlying lack of confidence, stemming from an insecure attachment to the primary caregiver in early childhood. Under their confident exterior, they may secretly suffer from excessive worry, guilt, and anxiety. Meanwhile, the smooth-operating and deceitful sociopath two seats over is much more detached, resulting from an avoidant attachment to his primary caregiver, if they had one.

People with avoidant-attachment style have trouble getting close to, trusting, and relying on others. They actually seek out relationships that are more likely to be distant and less emotionally demanding. Their early bonding experience likely involved a distracted or dismissive authoritarian parent who failed to satisfy their needs. As a result, they seek comfort from those who are less intimate and committed in their relationships. That’s their skill set. An extramarital relationship perfectly avoids the threat of intimacy in a sexual relationship, whereas the narcissist actually craves and longs for the intimacy that was lacking in his insecure early attachment to his parent, and may very well be lacking in his current relationship with his wife.

Studies show that both the sociopath and the narcissist have more-lenient attitudes toward infidelity than does the typical Gallup responder.

They are more permissive about sex, have a greater desire to have casual sex, and are more willing to engage in sex without emotional commitment. They tend to be dominant in their relationship with their spouses, have a higher propensity for sexual excitation (referring to how often and to what degree one becomes sexually excited), are sensation seekers (referring to both exciting and possibly dangerous situations), and score higher on psychological measures of impulsivity, or the inability to control one’s actions.

The marital relationships resulting from the early bonding patterns of sociopaths and narcissists tend to include poor problem-solving patterns, a lack of coping skills, little consistency, low mutual respect, and poor communication skills. In addition, satisfaction of time spent together, satisfaction with physical appearance, and social prestige are all lower in marriages containing either sociopaths or narcissists.


The lonely-heart is a much broader and perhaps more interesting category.

Among a sample of 100,000 subjects, boredom was the reason given for infidelity by 71 percent of unfaithful men. Additionally, people married to partners who are emotionally unavailable, or have difficulty enjoying intimacy, may find that their emotional needs can be met in an extra-marital affair. Communication skills (the way in which partners share information, thoughts, and emotions by verbal and non-verbal exchange) is one area of emotional availability that impacts the likelihood of an unfaithful liaison, and correlates with a sense of belonging within the partnership structure.

Not surprisingly, the data show that couples who have fewer and or less intense positive sexual interactions are at higher risk, as are those who report low sexual satisfaction. And in this case, contextual factors, such as having friends or family members who cheat, having access to valuable alternative sex partners, and frequent, secret visits to sexually explicit websites may increase the likelihood that a lonely spouse will make the decision to engage in extra-marital sex.

Whether sociopath, narcissist, or lonely-heart, unfaithful partners are more active in the summer months. Studies show that there is as much as a 60 percent increase in extra-marital relations from May through September. So, don’t wait to diagnose him before you move to another seat in the coffee shop. In fact, just go to another coffee shop altogether.

Want more insight into your relationship? Find out the things you should always be selfish about in your partnerships and the questions that could keep your marriage from ending.

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