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Why do powerful men cheat?

  • Dr. Alduan Tartt is a psychologist and relationship expert
  • He says men who cheat fit a certain profile when it comes to looks, travel and money
  • Men in high-ranking positions often fit the same profile, hence the cheating, he says
Why do powerful men cheat?
Alduan Tartt

‘People in power cheat more,’ expert says

David Petraeus breaks his silence to HLN’s Kyra Philips. Read her full description of their conversations right here.

Editor’s note: Dr. Alduan Tartt is a psychologist and relationship expert based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the author of “The Ring Formula: How to Be the Only One He Ever Needs.” He is on Twitter.

In light of the latest extramarital affair involving former CIA director and retired Gen. David Petraeus, it’s a good time to explore whether men of power are more likely to cheat and why.

Among American couples, 20-40% of heterosexual married men will have an affair in their lifetime. Why? The general consensus is that there are two pathways that lead to the majority of extramarital affairs: Sheer opportunity and marital problems.

Let’s address the opportunity pathway first. According to Washington, D.C.-based psychologist Barry McCarthy, it’s the biggest factor in affairs: How people vary in access and desirability to others. In summary, men who are more likely to cheat on their wives have the following profile:

  1. High income
  2. Extensive travel
  3. Routine interaction with highly appealing and desirable people in professional settings

Hence, men in power have more opportunity, structure, and temptation to cheat than other men do.

Now, let’s address the relationship between marital problems and extramarital affairs. Marriage and relationship expert John Gottman indicates that cheating has a predictable process and occurs in stages versus all at once. His latest book, “What Makes Love Lasts: How To Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal,” explains the stages as follows:

Step 1: Emotional distance
Men in power tend to work and travel a lot. It’s not at all uncommon for a celebrity, a high-ranking government official, or a corporate CEO to spend an exorbitant amount of time away from home. While this may equate to increased profits in the office, it’s bad for the marriage. All relationships require quality time in order to create and maintain emotional connection. Without it, every relationship is more susceptible to extramarital affairs. 

Step 2: Meeting someone new and sharing your world
More times than not, an innocent work relationship develops into more than that as increased time is spent together. Over time, the dreams, feelings, and desires that would typically be discussed with one’s wife are revealed to the special friend because she is around more. Eventually, an emotional connection is formed.

Slideshow: 11 politicians caught in cheating scandals

Step 3: Keeping secrets
The husband returns home and when his loving wife asks about his day, he fails to mention that he shared a coffee with his special friend again. He figures, “Why bring up something that is only going to start an argument for no reason.” The affair is beginning but neither party is quite aware of it yet.

Step 4: Trashing your partner
Eventually, the work couple spends so much time together that the man opens up about the problems in his marriage. By now, his wife is complaining -- and rightfully so -- telling him how he is failing as a husband, father, lover, etc. He reveals marital problems and negative characteristics of his wife to his special friend and opens his relationship house to an outsider.

Step 5: Negative comparisons
Eventually, the husband begins to compare what life would be like with his special friend and, for the first time, his wife loses. He may even fantasize about what life could be like if he left his wife. Would the sex be better, would he have more fun or less conflict when he returns home from work? He hasn’t taken any action yet on his thoughts but he is getting closer.

Step 6: Crossing the line
Usually small boundaries are crossed when one party gives the other a kiss on the cheek, a series of flirtatious compliments, looks, texts, etc. -- and both allow it. Before you know it, the dam crashes and a full-fledged affair is occurring right before your eyes.

So, what can we learn from the Patraeus affair? Quite simply, extramarital affairs occur when men spend too much time at work and not enough at home, have pre-existing marital problems, and grant personal access to attractive colleagues instead of their wives.

Remember -- a happy wife is a happy life, so spend your time accordingly.

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