The Real Reason Millennials Cheat Is Because They're Stressed AF About Life

by Kristine Fellizar
Ashley Batz/Bustle

People will cheat for a number of different reasons. But if your early 20s was filled with heartbreak caused by unfaithful exes who didn't seem to know what they wanted in life, you're by no means alone. As a new study published in the Journal of Sex Research found, people in their 20s cheat because they haven't figured their lives out yet. In other words, you can think of it as a "side effect" of growing up.

Lead author, Jerika Norona, a graduate student at the University of Tennessee and psychology intern at the San Francisco VA Medical Center conducted a study of 104 heterosexual adults with an average age of 22. All participants admitted to cheating on their partners in the past six months. Participants were first given a paragraph to read on how common cheating is in order to make them feel more comfortable with sharing their own stories of indiscretion. Then, they were asked to take a survey on their current and past romantic experiences, their attachment styles, and why they chose to cheat on their partner.

Some people in their 20s may use cheating as a way to find independence as adults.

According to the study, infidelity in this particular age group is prevalent because of some "developmental needs" that need to be met. For instance, some people in their 20s may use cheating as a way to find independence as adults, while others use cheating to find interdependence in their relationships. In other words, they kind of know what they want when it comes to love and life. However, they don't really know how to achieve it, so they do what they can to try and figure it out. Unfortunately, cheating just happens to be one way they go about it.

Is This A Valid Excuse For Cheating?

"The findings seem valid," International Dating and Relationship Expert, Megan Weks tells Bustle. "Exploring different partners is how one learns to create criteria for what truly works for them. I can easily appreciate how people in their 20s are struggling to find themselves, however this is not an excuse for cheating on a partner."

According to the survey, 76 people cheated for "interdependence" reasons, such as feeling a lack of intimacy in their current relationship (i.e. feeling unloved, having poor communication, and lack of spark). So they looked to fill those needs elsewhere. Another 21 people felt their need for independence was the primary reason for cheating. For instance, one person felt that their partner was holding them back from living their life. So, they cheated on them. Alcohol consumption and looking for a thrill were just a couple other reasons given. But that's not all.

Attachment Styles Can Also Determine Why People Cheat

The study found that people who avoided getting too close were more likely to believe that their partners weren't meeting their needs. On the other hand, people who worried about losing closeness with their partners, were more likely to push their partners away by saying they weren't being given enough space. According to individual and couples therapist, Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, here's how attachment styles can determine whether or not someone is likely to cheat:

  • If you are secure, you feel confident in yourself and your relationship. There will not likely be any trust issues and communication will be open and honest.
  • If you are anxious–preoccupied, you may be less likely to cheat because you will have difficulty being present in any type of relationship.
  • If you are dismissive–avoidant, you are likely not making your partner a priority. You're probably shutting them out and not being there for them. You may feel uninterested or bored, which can cause you to look elsewhere for stimulation.
  • If you are fearful–avoidant, you will have difficulty expressing your wants and needs. If this happens, your needs may not be met simply because you aren't stating them and you may look elsewhere to get your needs met.

Again, none of this may be a valid excuse for cheating. "If you're going to cheat on your partner, you're not ready to have a solid relationship," Weks says. "It's a fear-based approach to hold onto someone while you're still trying to figure things out. It's unfair and hurtful. Although it can feel scary to be alone again, you will find what you're really looking for if you take the risk and step out of your relationship."

The last significant relationship I was in ended completely when I found out my boyfriend of almost a year had another girlfriend. Looking back, I should've believed him when he told me he wasn't good enough for me. But at the time, I knew he going through a bunch of things. So as someone who cared deeply for him, I tried my best to do everything I could to erase any insecurities he may have had about me or us. Trust me when I say, you really don't want to waste your time with someone who's still trying to figure themselves out.

When you get cheated on, it's so easy to obsess over all the things you possibly did wrong. But as this study shows, it really isn't you. Plus, if you're looking for a solid relationship, you want someone who has their sh*t together. Not someone who's still kind of trying to figure it out. If anything, you should take comfort in the fact that it's not going to be like that forever. As you get older and get to know more about yourself and what you need in your life, you're much more likely to find someone who's just as mature, well-adjusted, and ready to be in a relationship as you are.