Menstuff® has compiled the following information on cheating - why we do it -- and how to recover.
Rethinking infidelity ... a talk for anyone who has ever loved
It's tough to get a handle on how many of us are having affairs, given the inherent secrecy.
Note that the above adultry statistics of the
prevalence of affairs were made more than a decade ago; so
based on changes in society during the intervening years,
the current percentage of the population who have had
affairs is probably somewhat HIGHER. For instance, the
continuing increase of women in the workplace and the
increase of women having affairs on the Internet means that
the numbers for women having affairs is probably similar to
those for menabout 60%.
Infidelity is one of the most wrenching experiences a couple can endure. It can destroy families, crush spirits, and break quite a few plates. It causes pain not just to the betrayed, but usually to the cheater as well.
So why do people do it? Experts say that the reasons fall
into two main categories. The first has to do with the
relationship -- there's either an emotional disconnect or
the couple's sex life isn't satisfying to one partner. The
second reason has nothing to do with the couple. Rather, one
partner simply wants the excitement of an affair, needs an
ego boost, or just feels entitled to have more than one
sexual partner. "Sometimes, you find someone who has a good
sexual relationship with his or her partner and yet has an
affair because sex is so important to them that they look
for it wherever they can," says Mira Kirshenbaum, PhD,
author of Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay (Plume, 1997)
and The Emotional Energy Factor (Delacorte, 2003).
It's not uncommon for husbands or wives to suddenly find themselves in 'puppy love' with someone new. But before you take it from emotional to physical, consider this marriage expert's advice.
Most people think it will never happen to them: falling for someone outside of their marriage. The fact is, new flames (whether its just a crush or an infatuation) take many married men and women by surprise.
If someone new has your attention, it can be all too tempting to act on your impulses. But before you take that step into infidelity, ask yourself some key questions to help you answer the big one: Should I cheat? Your answers may encourage you to seek marriage counseling to resolve those emotional health issues that made this new person desirable to you in the first place.
Flirt with these ideas before you stray:
Am I really falling in love?
You said your vows and meant them, but here you are, falling for someone else. Whats next? Infidelity is not inevitable. I would say that the person who is lured by romantic love needs to slow down, not make any rash decisions, and begin to appreciate the power of the chemistry of romantic love, says Westport, Conn.-based marriage and family therapist Janis Abrahms Spring, PhD, author of After the Affair: Feelings of Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful. This other person may be a better partner for them, but often feelings of love can deceive as much as they inform.
She advises being skeptical about the promise of this new love: Statistics argue against its survival. For example, while half of all first marriages fail, subsequent marriages are actually even more likely to fail.
Should I tell my spouse?
There are advantages and disadvantages to revealing a secret like this and people really need to review them for their own situation, says Spring. Obviously, if you decide to leave the marriage, you will have to communicate why. But if all you have right now are some strong feelings for someone else, sharing them with your spouse at this stage could cause tremendous hurt and a possibly needless loss of trust. A more effective approach, says Spring, is for you to seek personal or marriage counseling to try to figure out what is driving your attraction and address any relationship issues that may have led you to this attraction.
Should I stay or should I go?
Before you venture into infidelity or dissolve your marriage, consider Springs conclusion after many years of working with couples dealing with affairs: Another reason why those second marriages fail is because people take themselves with them, she says. They havent learned lessons from the first marriage so they take the same missteps into the second. They havent taken responsibility for how they poisoned the first marriage.
Spring points out that there are certainly marriages that cannot continue, especially those that involve physical or verbal abuse or those in which one partner has an addiction for which he or she refuses to seek treatment. However, in situations where one spouse suddenly believes he or she has just met his or her soul mate in a new love interest and leaves the marriage for that person, that straying spouse may simply be avoiding accountability for his or her own failings as a partner.
If I stay, can I still keep the new person in my life?
If your answer to the should I cheat? question is a resounding no, then Spring counsels cutting off the source of your attraction completely. This means no personal contact, no letters, no emails not even a friend status on Facebook.
As long as you are e-mailing or chatting in some way with this person, they are going to drive a wedge between you and your partner, she says. Despite your best intentions, the hard work of repairing your marriage will never be able to compete with the fantasy of that illicit relationship. Take a tough stand this might even mean leaving a job or a department within your organization if the new attraction developed through work and once youve cut that person out of your life, ask your spouse to go into therapy with you. You dont have to say youve fallen in love with someone else, but you can say youve started to have feelings for people and that thats when you knew you were in trouble, Spring says.
Can I have a trial run with this new person?
Taking a few weeks to get to know this new person is a very common temptation, says Spring. People fool themselves into thinking that they would be able to see the flaws in their soul mate with just a little one-on-one time. Not so, she says. When people spend time with their lover, its like a honeymoon, she explains. The reality of this other person probably wont set in until well after a divorce is final, which, she says, is bound to happen if you take off for a while with your new love.
Your first priority is to be fair to your partner and yourself. Chances are, you have a partner who really wants to have a good marriage with you and who doesnt know youre as unhappy as you are, she says. If you find yourself very enchanted with somebody else and are thinking of leaving, I would suggest hitting the pause button and trying to understand what your yearnings are all about.
Remember, infidelity can have lasting ill effects and
should not be entered into lightly. You owe it to yourself
and your partner to first give marriage counseling a shot
if not only to help you stay faithful, then at least
to understand whats making you look elsewhere.
In general, men are more likely to cheat for more superficial reasons, like the need for excitement, while women are more likely to stray if there is serious trouble in the marriage. But those lines are blurring, says Nancy Glass, PhD, author of Not "Just Friends": Protect Your Relationship From Infidelity and Heal the Trauma of Betrayal (Free Press, 2002). "In the past, there were significant gender differences," says Glass. "The traditional male affair that was primarily sexual is changing because more men are having more emotional affairs (meaning their feelings for the "other woman" go beyond just sexual) with coworkers. Meanwhile, women are having more sexual affairs," says Glass. One reason: Women now feel more entitled to enjoy their sexuality, so if sex with their husband isn't satisfying they are more likely to look elsewhere than their mothers and grandmothers would have been.
Another trend: With more men and women working together side-by-side, as peers, there's an opportunity for deep emotional connections that didn't exist in previous generations. "You always had the boss who ran off with his secretary, but now I see many men who are in good marriages and are not traditional philanderers who form these deep friendships," she says. "They cross these lines and become more emotionally intimate than they are in their marriage. If there's some sexual attraction and chemistry, that's all you need for an affair."
Although affairs can and do happen to "good" marriages,
in general an affair is a signal that something is awry in
the relationship. "There are some cases when someone is just
having sex with different people out of a need for variety,
but most people really think before they go off in that
direction. If you have a good relationship, you're less
likely to jeopardize it," says Lonnie Barbach, PhD,
co-author with David Geisinger of Going the Distance:
Finding and Keeping Lifelong Love (Plume, 1993).
A one-night stand or a fling is significantly different from a long-term affair, says Kirshenbaum. "Many flings are essentially experimental. Someone finds something missing in their relationship and checks out what it's like to be with someone else. It turns out to be not-so-great, and they end it. Surprisingly, if no one finds out, often no harm is done. A long-time affair is a sign of a deeper rift -- it's more likely to be found out, and it's more likely to cause more damage to the relationship when it is found out."
We're stressing marriage here, but cheating also happens within unmarried relationships. Is it the same? "If there was no implicit promise of exclusivity, there's no violation," says Kirshenbaum. "But if dating is exclusive and there's a sense of moving toward a commitment, then it can be as big a betrayal as cheating during marriage."
The problem, of course, is that many unmarried couples don't ever sit down and declare a relationship exclusive, or not. And that omission can be the cause of serious pain. "Infidelity can have just as devastating an effect when one person thinks they are committed and one doesn't," says Barbach.
An affair in a dating relationship is also more likely to
be the beginning of the end. "Some people cheat as a way of
leaving a relationship. They set up the next relationship
before they leave the last," says Barbach. "That's different
from the person who cheats while maintaining the dating
relationship -- this person is much more likely to cheat
Which brings us to another point: Should you confess? In general, it's best to be honest, but our experts agree that there are circumstances when a spouse can spare his or her partner that information. "If a spouse has been suspicious and confronts him, he should confess," says Glass. "But if the spouse has no idea, and the betrayer takes responsibility for working it out on his own, he sometimes doesn't have to cause that kind of chaos," says Glass.
But once a confession is made, Glass says, absolute full
disclosure is essential, and the cheater should own up to
all affairs that have occurred during the relationship.
Can you rebuild trust after an affair? Absolutely, say our experts. Not only do most marriages survive an affair -- many come out stronger than ever. "I've seen many relationships that were much better after the affair, because up until then the couple wasn't dealing with their real issues. Dealing with the affair helped them communicate on a much deeper level," says Barbach.
"The affair is a symptom," says Bonnie Eaker Weil, PhD, author of Adultery: The Forgivable Sin (Hastings House, 1993) and Make Up, Don't Break Up (Adams, 2000). "But the good news is, it's a symptom you can fix. It's a wake-up call."
Building back trust is a long, slow process, but it can be done, says Kirschenbaum. "It's like carrying a bowling ball upstairs one step at a time. One slip and it rolls all the way to the bottom again."
Where to start: Stop playing the blame game. As difficult as this might be for the betrayed, he or she has to stop labeling her spouse as the bad guy. Instead, both partners need to understand what was going on for the other person. They should look at what precipitated the affair, and what each partner needs to do to make it different.
That's not to say that the cheater is off the hook. The cheater needs to do everything possible to make the other person feel safe -- whether that means handing over all credit card statements, providing cell phone and beeper numbers, or making frequent check-in phone calls. "The best thing that a cheating spouse can do is give his partner as much access as needed," says Glass.
The cheater must also be willing to discuss the situation as much as the betrayed spouse needs. Typically, the adulterer doesn't want to dwell on the incident, but the partner can think about little else. "For the betrayed partner it's so traumatic, and they frequently have flashbacks," says Glass. "So it's important for the unfaithful not to be impatient or think they are doing it to punish them."
Weil offers her clients some specific exercises for healing. In one, the betrayed spouse gets 10 minutes a day to "lash the lover" -- to scream and yell and otherwise vent his rage. This enables the betrayed to get out those ugly feelings, while the cheater knows there's a time limit -- which is essential. "If you lash out too much, it contaminates the relationship and brings the person back to the affair," says Weil.
To provide more security, she also instructs adulterers to say "I have had no contact" to their partner every day. This provides a clearly articulated answer to those vague fears that nag the wronged spouse.
Finally, Weil tells cheaters that they must do penance by taking on a chore that is normally not their responsibility, like washing the spouse's car or cooking dinner each night. "Penance should last for as long as the betrayed spouse needs," says Weil.
Of course, credit card statements and clean cars are only part of the equation. To really build trust, the betrayed needs to know that the partner definitely won't cheat again. But how to know? There's no guaranteed sign, but our experts agree that the overall pattern of the spouse's behavior is a good indicator. "The issue is, 'Am I married to a liar?,'" says Glass. "People who have affairs lie about them, but the majority of these people don't lie about other things."
Kirshenbaum agrees. In her 25 years as a couples therapist, she has discovered a reliable rule of thumb: "If someone cheats once, a couple can definitely recover if they both sincerely want to rebuild trust. More than once? It's a lost cause."
Most couples do recover -- and usually emerge closer than
ever. "Couples who learn how to work through it together
really have a special relationship because it's like going
to hell and back," says Glass. "This is a couple who know
each other on a very deep level, and that can make the
marriage very strong."
Opportunity makes the cheater.
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