Tiger's Tale -- The Wages of Cheating

What made Tiger Woods cheat?

December 18, 2009, 6:37 PM

Dec. 21, 2009— -- On the surface it seemed that Tiger Woods had it all: a beautiful wife, two healthy children, wealth and unparalleled professional success.

But his admitted infidelity, which recently came to light, suggests something was missing.

"We find someone like Tiger Woods to have this great, glamorous life, but typically these people have a tremendous amount of distance from their wives and families," says M. Gary Neuman, marriage counselor, rabbi and author of The New York Times best-seller "The Truth About Cheating."

Their fame and success only "feed their infidelity," Neuman adds, making them feel powerful and invincible -- like they can get away with anything."

According to Don-David Lusterman, a psychologist and author of "Infidelity: A Survival Guide," Woods, with his apparently repeated infidelities, also fits the archetype of a womanizer.

According to Lusterman, a womanizer or "Don Juan" is a man who "has probably always objectified women and uses a woman as a quick fix for his ego."

"This is probably a man that shouldn't have married in the first place," he says.

But infidelity is certainly not a crime exclusive to the rich and famous nor, contrary to popular belief, is it predominantly a man's offense.

"To say that this is a man's problem is not true," Lusterman says. He sees about equal amounts of male and female infidelity in his practice, and while the terms "womanizer" and "Don Juan" may apply only to men, he says, " I do treat some women who are 'Donna Juanas.'"

Whether superstar or Joe Schmo, cheating is an unfortunately common issue and one that often leaves those cheated upon haunted by the question why.

ABC News contacted marriage counselors and relationship experts to shed some light on the psychology of cheating why we do it, why we think we can get away with it, and what makes us stick around (or split) when it happens to us.

Why Do We Cheat?

There are many factors that lead people to cheat whether emotional, physical or circumstantial.

But surprisingly, the majority of the time it's not about the sex, Neuman says.

From his research on faithful and not-so-faithful men, he found that 8 percent of cheating men said that sexual dissatisfaction at home was contributing to their cheating, while 48 percent said the No. 1 reason given for cheating had to do with emotional dissatisfaction in their marriage.

What's more, 88 percent of men who cheated said that the woman was not-better looking or in better shape than their wives.

According to Neuman, the idea that being beautiful and great in bed will guard a woman against cheating is a myth. Instead, the cheating has a lot more to do with disconnection.

"We focus on the sex when we should focus on letting the emotional energy flow outside the marriage. The sex is just a symptom of taking the emotional connection further."

Most cheating stems from feelings of insecurity or vulnerability in the marriage that make an affair seem like an appealing escape, experts say.

"People aren't prepared for how lonely and misunderstood they can feel in marriage," says Janis Abrahms Spring, a clinical psychologist and author of the best-selling books "After The Affair" and "How Can I Forgive You?"

At that moment of vulnerability, if "someone comes along that says 'You're gorgeous and wonderful' and makes you feel a hell of a lot better than your marriage is making you feel," it can be easy to fall into an affair, Lusterman says.

"Often the attraction is not to this person, but to the way unfaithful partners experience themselves in the affair: the attention, the adulation, the excitement," Spring says.

"At some point [the cheater often] realizes that the affair won't work, and they come back to the marriage," according to Lusterman.

Unfortunately, this wake-up call often occurs after the cheater gets caught.

The Psychology of the 'Hurt Party' and the X Factor

Often, cheaters don't take into account what Danine Manette, criminal investigator, infidelity expert and author of "Ultimate Betrayal" calls the "X factor."

The X factor is the unknown reaction of those the cheater hurts in his or her transgression.

Cheaters get caught up in the thrill of the affair and fail to realize the impact their actions will have until it is too late, Manette says.

The "hurt parties," as Spring calls them, often feels "crazy, helpless and alone" after an infidelity, and the result of these emotions can be more than just emotionally damaging.

As a criminal investigator, Manette sees the repercussions of the X factor daily, whether as property damage from a jealous lover or a double-homicide -- as she is working on currently.

"I see the seedy side of infidelity ... fights, tearing up the car of the other woman, [or] trying to run someone over," Manette says.

Referring to the rumored physical violence between Tiger Woods and his wife, Elin Nordegren, following the discovery of the affair, she points out "if she did chase him with a golf club, the fact that he didn't retaliate keeps this case off my desk."

And even if the situation doesn't turn violent, the healing ordeal -- especially for the hurt party, is a long and arduous road, experts say.

"A burnt finger remembers the fire," Manette says, "when they look you in the eye and lie to you over and over again, effortlessly, it makes you question your entire reality. You carry the [suspicion of infidelity] ... whether warranted or not, to new relationships."

"It takes a lifetime to build trust, a moment to tear it down, and about another lifetime to rebuild it," she says.

How to Heal (And When to Cut and Run)

"There's no easy way to move on -- you can only move through the trauma," Spring says.

The decision to stay has to be a "thoughtful, self-interested decision for both people," she explains.

"There has to be tremendous remorse, but remorse is not enough," Neuman adds.

"If couples are going to rebuild their marriage, the unfaithful partner [must be] willing to look deeply into themselves and understand why they cheated so when they say I'll never cheat again. It's not just a verbal reassurance," according to Spring.

All this, of course, is assuming that the hurt party is willing to stick around.

In the case of Tiger and Elin, it looks like remorse may not be enough to save their marriage.

Tiger has apologized publicly multiple times, and in a statement last week he said he needed to "focus [his] attention on being a better husband, father and person."

But after reports of Nordegren consulting a divorce lawyer, a source close to Nordegren told ABC News that "the divorce is 100 percent on."

But alimony and broken hearts aren't the only things that can come out of infidelity.

The experts point out that cheating can be a catalyst for growth and result in a better, stronger marriage in the long run.

"People are faced with crisis and there is an opportunity there," Spring says, for each party "to understand for the first time what it truly means to love and to be loved by their partner."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events