Why Do Spouses Cheat?
Infidelity: Experts Say Men Want Sex, Women Want Emotional Support
Why do we cheat on those we love? Infidelity and marriage is like the chicken and the egg conundrum. Some say infidelity is one of the main reasons why marriages break up. It’s right up there with money troubles. Others say affairs are not the problem or the reason why couples divorce. Rather they are a symptom of other systemic problems in the union.
So, which is it?Both, say the experts. Affairs are the problem and symptom. “Let’s put it this way, when there is a marital problem there are only so many ways to handle the problem,” said LeslieBeth Wish, 60, a psychologist and social worker based in Sarasota, Fla., who has been counseling couples in relationships for more than30 years. One way they choose to handle marital unhappiness is to have an affair. So now the affair has become the problem.”
But if affairs are indicative of deeper issues within a marriage, they are not the only indication. In fact, stepping outside of the marriage is only one way to handle unhappiness and lack of fulfillment in a marriage. According to Wish, there are other ways, known as dormant structures, in which we handle those problems, such as compulsive behaviors such as drinking, excessive shopping, or gambling; incessant arguing with our spouses which can lead to domestic violence over-involvement with the children even depression which allows one to opt out of making adult decisions. Another very popular method is called emotional distancing.
“That’s when no one talks. No one talks about the 500-pound gorilla in the room. They don’t talk about what they should be talking about. It’s basically a family that doesn’t rock the boat,” she said. Another way is for someone to have an affair. It’s an escape valve, an extra exit door that leads to only to corridor because it is not a real exit.”
While most therapists agree with Wish, that affairs are just the symptom, some disagree, adding that not every affair is an outcropping of marital unhappiness. According to research by the late Shirley Glass, a psychologist known for her insights, writings and study of the topic of infidelity, many an affair stems from a so-called perfect marriage. It is really a myth that infidelity is a sign of a bad marriage,” said Michele Weiner-Davis, founder of www.divorcebusting.com and author of several books about marriage/relationships, whose practice is based in Boulder Colo. and Woodstock , Ill. She interviewed a huge percentage of people who had affairs who said their marriages were not bad. They actually had nothing to complain about.”
But most therapists do believe that it is a symptom of a bad marriage. From my perspective, maybe 30 to 40 percent of the time, there are not significant problems in the relationship. But I am not a researcher and not a clinician. When I counsel people, I tend to see the problems that might have led to the affair.”
Given that, why do people cheat on their spouses? There are lots of reasons but probably the most common reason, is that people feel the need to be appreciated and have attention,” Weiner-Davis said. So often our busy lives we take our spouses for granted, we start out thinking the world of them. But with careers and children, our day-to-day existence gets pretty mundane.”
Others agree.Attention, said Alice Aspen March, a Los Angeles-based author of “The Attention Factor,” is the only reason for cheating. In a marriage, you can tell someone you love them all day long verbally but if you don’t demonstrate love, they don’t feel it. It’s like the drunk at the bar telling everyone, ‘I really love my family.’ But he’s not home with them is he?”
And attention many times translates directly into sex. Married sex is different from dating sex,” said Tina B. Tessina, 64, a Long Beach, Calif.-based psychotherapist and author of “Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage (Adams Media 2008)”. If you don’t know how to make that transition, if you are expecting it to be automatic the way it was in dating, you are bound to be disappointed. A lot of couples don’t know how to have sex and intimacy, and that leaves a gaping hole. That hole is a temptation to fill it with someone else and going back to the dating type sex that you already know.”
“And maybe it just boils down to that. Sex. Why do people have affairs? If you want the opinion from a guy with a lot of degrees but who has gotten his doctorate on the streets, I’ll tell you,” said Thomas Martin, president of Martin Investigative Services, a private investigative service based in Long Beach, Calif. Guys want to have sex. Women need to be loved and emotionally given encouragement.”
While Martin admits that he isn’t a psychologist, he used the cumulative data gleaned from more than30,000 marital surveillance cases of men and women having affairs conducted over the past 38 years of his career to compile the book, “If You Only Knew (Griffin Publishing).”
I don’t want to make it oversimplified but it’s all about sex. I’ve caught some very famous men in the act. And when I ask them, they say, ‘I just wanted to get laid. But I do love my wife.’ That’s what the guys tell me. It’s just sex…When I ask the women, ‘Why did you do it?’ and they always say, ‘Because my husband wasn’t giving me the emotional support I need,'” said the 61-year old former federal agent with FBI.
Believe it or not, Martin’s theory has some validity in the therapeutic realm. One spouse is often more highly sexed than his spouse. The person with lower desires simply doesn’t get how spouse wants to have sex even when they are not getting along. She doesn’t get the meaning or importance sex plays to the other person. In this case, the person with lower desire controls the sexual relationship,” Weiner-Davis said. The person wanting more sex meets a person or people eager to have sex, and it’s a compelling attraction. Often that leads to a physical affair.”
“Men are pretty wired for physical gratification,” Tessina said. And that is one of the things that goes wrong. Women brush away the sexuality and the man goes elsewhere. Conversely, if the man is neglectful affection-wise, she will stray.”
Simple as that. But does that explain the one night stand? Some people just make crappy choices,” Weiner-Davis said. You know, you’re at work, there’s a staff meeting and everyone goes out for drinks afterward. You have one too many, flirtation leads to a one night stand. It’s not like there is something wrong with the marriage. It’s just bad judgement, and acting on inhibitions that were lowered because of alcohol. The spouse often feels bad about it.”
What is the lure of the one night stand? “The adventure, the novelty of someone new. Sometimes it’s the conquest and acting out mischievous behaviors that can be quite exciting. It’s the danger that excites some people,” said Jay Granat, 55, a couples counselor in private practice in Riveredge, N. J.
One night stands also seem to be the venue of choice for those who have hidden or not come to grips with their sexuality. A number of my patients have had affairs with people of the same sex,”Granatt said. Some are bisexual but are committed to their hetero marriage. Some are homosexual and don’t want to come out of the closet. It affords them an outlet to be who they are sexually.”
Or it could be to satisfy curiosity. There are some people who did not have sexual partners before marriage and they are just plain curious what it is like to be with someone else,” Weiner Davis said.
Unfortunately, there are people in this world that just can’t be monogamous. Call them players, if you will, but they will not change, no matter how hard they try. It is not a result of problems in the relationship; you just picked someone who is used to having sex with anyone, who likes to mess around and that is going to keep going. And there isn’t much to do about it,” Tessina said. Those are the ones where affairs create the problem in the marriage.”
It doesn’t matter who they are married to. They can’t be monogamous with anybody. One patient of mine over the past 20 years, he must have had 70 or 80 affairs. That is an extreme,” Granat said. Then there is the person who has a paramour for years. Some people want to keep the family intact and want to have a lover, in addition. They need more than one person to have sex with. I have had men and women both say they don’t feel they can be monogamous. And they might have feelings for both of those people ” the legal spouse in one way and the paramour as well.”
Being chronically cheated on is nothing new to Holly White Valliant, who has so much experience that she considers herself an expert. She was first cheated on in third grade when she had her first crush on a boy. I looked up and Tracy was sitting on his lap. I can still see her sitting on his lap,” said the 42-year old publicist and literary agent from San Diego, Calif. From third grade on, it was cheating, cheating, cheating. I thought it was a game you could win. So I started to play, too.”
But she found out after much experience that deception, while it might be the ultimate revenge, is not a victory. I thought I could outdo them. But I was wasting my time… I would go to the edge. It’s not worth it.”
She finally hung up her cheating spurs and is now married, but her experiences of being lied to have left many lessons, the biggest of which has to do with herself. Everything that happened to me, I walked into it with both feet. It’s all about wherever your level of self-esteem is. It’s all about self-esteem,” she said.
Or put another way, boundaries. For every relationship where there is a chronic cheater, there is another spouse who knows it is happening at some level,” Weiner-Davis said. Say it is the guy who is cheating, and she knows it, she has a choice: She can try to get him to change, and if that works, God bless them. If doesn’t work, she can decide to get out. It’s about her boundaries and self esteem. Or she can decide that his need to have affairs comes from his insecurity and has nothing to do with her, and she stays.”
Marriage is a package deal. It’s not just the other person. She may decide that finances are important, he is a good father, or whatever. But I have known women who have made the choice consciously to just look the other way and they are not miserable. I think it is an individual choice. If you are miserable, get out.”
But while chronic cheaters may not want to change, most sex addicts do. While many confuse the two categories, psychologists say that those who continually need the validation of varying affairs and conquests are not necessarily addicts. Sex addicts could have one or more disorders, or be the victims of past sexual abuse that has basically predisposed them toward their dysfunction. In other words, their actions are out of addiction rather than choice. Chronic cheaters, on the other hand, choose to have multiple affairs.
“I once counseled a guy who had a 10-year affair in his 11-year marriage. He was having lots of sex at home and lots of sex at work with this other woman. In between, he was masturbating several times a day to point of sheer pain, and he felt he couldn’t stop. Unless he was having sex, it was on his mind,” Weiner-David said. I don’t think people choose that lifestyle. In the DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] it is not considered a diagnostic category. But whether here is technically an addiction or not, I feel people don’t choose that lifestyle.”
Some might say they have a narcissistic disorder or borderline personality disorder. You might see that addiction with people who were sexually abused, or abandoned by a parent,” Granat said. They have this emotional vacuum that they are trying to fill up with relationships.”Sex addicts oftentimes need to seek help from12-step programs and get counseling to control their addiction. But experts say it can be controlled, and sex addicts can lead a monogamous lifestyle, which many want.
While for most, an affair can be an unfortunate outcropping of dissatisfaction in the marriage either emotionally or physically, or the lack of needs being met, or boredom, or just plain stupidity and curiosity, for others, affairs can be a branch to jump to. For some, the marriage is already over in their minds and they need to gain the strength to leave.
“Sometimes people have affairs as a stepping stone out of the marriage,” said Weiner-Davis. They find another partner to link up with to reassure themselves that there are other people out there. It gives them more confidence to get out of the marriage. A lot of people won’t leave a marriage until they have somebody else.”
And every once in a while, an affair actually does and can lead to a happy ending. There are people who are married to a very decent, very nice person and for whatever reason either they married too young, married for the wrong reason, married during a time in their lives when they shouldn’t they discover that this is not the right person for them,” said Wish. And they have an affair with the person who is the right person. And then they get divorced and marry that person. It does happen, you know.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Thomas Martin, president of Martin Investigative Services, a private investigative service based in Long Beach, Calif., says his 38 years as a private investigator has given him a birds eye view of affairs and cheating spouses. He even wrote a book about the topic that is posted online at www.investigatorconfidential.com, with a chapter devoted specifically to determining if your spouse is cheating. We have done a lot of high profile cases but the bulk of our clientele is the everyday hardworking person,” said the 61-year old former federal agent with the FBI. The average case is wrapped up in four to eight hours. Here are some statistics based on his cases.
1. A total of 80 percent of those who have hired Martin Investigative are women and 20 percent are men.
2. A total of 65 percent of the women who have caught their husbands cheating, divorced them.
3. A total of 100 percent of all men who have caught their wives cheating have divorced them.
“It’s a guy thing. When your wife, your significant other has been soiled by another man, you cannot handle it,” he said.
4. Most men are easily caught in the act because they take throw caution to the wind in acting out their affairs.
“It’s all ego. About 80 percent of the 25,000 men who we had followed were caught so easily. Many men don’t think that their wives will call a PI and have them followed,” Martin said.
5.Out of all their cases, about three percent have been with same sex partners.
Women really Internalize this. I tell them, “You didn’t make him gay or bisexual,'” he said.
6. Eight clients have died from AIDS contracted from their cheating spouses.
The first thing I tell them once they are done crying is, “Get your ass to the doctor,'” he said.