3 Ways That Parenting Stress Can Drive Partners To Infidelity

Parenthood is tough, and unmet expectations can lead parents down a slippery slope.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | March 08, 2024

Being in a long-term pair bond and having children has long been considered a fundamental feature of an enriching life. Fulfilling relationships and children are known to significantly increase individuals' life satisfaction. But people tend to paint a rosier picture than what their reality might be. Though meaningful, these bonds can turn sour in the absence of sufficient effort, time and communication.

Children place a heavy demand on all the resources a person needs to function—including health, sleep, time and finances. Childcare responsibilities, depleting resources and the incomparably difficult experiences that come with the territory of parenthood can lead one down a dark path. Sometimes, partners attempt to fulfill their needs outside their relationship through emotional and sexual infidelity.

Indulging in infidelity as a parent has a severe impact on the partner as well as the children. It has the potential to plunge one's family into emotional turmoil and erode trust and familial bonds. Why then, despite its deleterious effects, do people still cheat on their partners and jeopardize their "white picket fence" life?

Here are three reasons why people indulge in infidelity after having children.

1. They Experience A Loss Of Identity

Becoming a parent entails a dramatic change in the roles one is expected to play. People find themselves becoming more connected to their parental identity. Time that used to be spent on hobbies, dates and bonding activities is now majorly spent on child rearing activities. The new roles take such a predominant place in their lives that partners might even start seeing each other through this lens, often referring to each other as "mom" or "dad" for their children.

Research finds that while parenthood can bring meaning and satisfaction to a person's life, it can also lead to parental burnout. Stress, fatigue and a decreased ability to satisfy one's own needs can hamper one's sense of identity.

Parental roles seldom factor in the effort required to nurture the connection and intimacy between partners. Being solely recognized by the role of a parent can make one feel as the other pieces of their identity are slowly being sacrificed. This might explain why people try to rediscover their independent, free-spirited self by connecting with individuals other than their partners. The affair can make them feel that they don't have to put anyone else's needs before their own and can enjoy being their old self again.

2. They Feel Neglected And Disconnected

Parenting and maintaining a romantic relationship simultaneously overwhelms one's financial and psychological capacity. Often, limited abilities and time constraints lead to one of these aspects being ignored in an effort to stay afloat. Understandably, quality time with the partner and their needs tend to get neglected in the course of making a living and raising children. The neglected partner can then feel invisible within their own family.

A 2023 study concluded that individuals who felt neglected, stressed and perceived a lack of communication were more likely to be unfaithful to their partners. Individuals who wanted more love from their partners and felt less satisfied also showed higher chances of being unfaithful.

The emotional strain of parental burnout and feeling disconnected from one's partner seems to encourage infidelity in an attempt to feel seen.

3. They Suffer A Decline In Sexual Intimacy

Children take a toll on the sleep, time and energy of couples which can negatively impact their sex life. A 2022 study found that couples reported several sexual concerns after becoming parents—mismatch in sexual desire, low sexual desire, changes in frequency of intercourse and energy for sex.

Additionally, attempting to juggle a hectic lifestyle leaves fewer opportunities for sexual intimacy between partners. A study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy concluded that individuals who were dissatisfied with the amount of sex and intimacy in their relationships were more likely to cheat.

A declining sex life can leave people craving for more. They might resort to infidelity to satisfy their sexual needs and enjoy the pleasurable thrill of being spontaneous and reckless with someone new.

Finding a compatible partner and having children together is a desirable life goal for many, yet they risk this dream by being unfaithful. A deeper understanding of the motives behind infidelity can help develop ways to protect one's relationship from disaster. It's important to create moments of bonding and have regular check-ins about each other's needs and desires to create a relationship that can withstand the practical challenges of parenthood while keeping up with the delicate dance of sexual desire.

Wondering how susceptible you are to cheating on your partner? Take this psychological assessment to find out: Propensity Towards Infidelity Scale

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