I get this
question from clients all the time: Why are their so many extramarital
Let’s start by taking a look at the evolutionary biology. Social
scientists believe humans are designed to pair-bond for just long enough
to produce an offspring and allow that child to reach an age of
independent mobility (about 5) before the parents move on to new partners.
Secondly, we should probably realize that the Western ideal of monogamy
isn’t exactly the norm in other cultures, nor among humans or animals
overall. It’s estimated that fewer than 5 percent of all mammals are
monogamous and that 84 percent of the world’s cultures allow polygamy.
Factors: Successful “Type A” men are more likely than others to have
extramarital affairs. People who live in big cities (usually on the East
or West coasts) are more high-risk than small-town or rural types. Middle
age/midlife crisis men are high-risk, as are those who drive expensive
sports cars. People who are “love junkies” and indulge in affairs for
sex tend to be more self-centered, so they are obviously problematic.
Often, the arrival of a new baby in the house will trigger a time when
many men stray.
often start with co-workers. After all, affairs often spring up out of
random, accessible or opportunistic scenarios. Estimates are that 7
million Americans begin romances at work every year.
marriages are twice as likely to break up. These certainly abound in
modern American society; it is estimated that 14 percent of currently
married men and 22 percent of women haven’t had any sexual relationships
in the past year.
Various imprecise estimates abound as to the sheer numbers of extramarital
affairs. Based on my professional experience, the most realistic-sounding
figures are those cited by Dr. David Barash in his book, “The Myth of
Monogamy.” He estimates that 30-50 percent of married women and 50-80
percent of married men have had affairs. About 25 percent of men and 15
percent of women who have affairs have had more than four.
Causes: Older wives and younger husbands often seek affairs for the same
reason, emotional intimacy. Younger wives and older men are usually
looking for sexual variety or sexual adventure. They generally do not want
to intentionally destabilize their marriages, however.
The No. 1
reason men have affairs is sex. The No. 1 reason women have affairs is to
seek enhanced emotional returns or to build self-esteem. Men value the
quality and quantity of their sexual relationships while women value
communication the most.
Half of the
men and 65 percent of the women who admitted having extramarital affairs
attribute their cheating to the fact that they were unhappy in their
Tip-Offs: Any one of these behaviors or circumstances can signal the
presence of an affair: His credit card bills no longer come to the home;
she starts reading magazines or books on topics that didn’t interest her
before; changed sleep patterns (going to bed earlier, pretending to be
asleep or staying in bed longer than usual); changes to prior sexual
routine (more/less or more varied sex); or you notice that the adjustments
on the passenger’s side car seat have changed.
Typically, adulterers don’t believe they will get caught, and most
don’t. Female adulterers are much more likely to end up getting
divorced. Affairs usually trigger a far more serious scenario for the
woman. Often, her “too-proud” husband will divorce her just out of
sheer machismo. Conversely, if a wife finds out her mate has strayed, she
is more likely to still try to hang in there and “save the marriage.”
It is very
unusual, in fact, for an affair to break up an otherwise healthy
relationship. The newer the marriage, however, the more likely it is to
collapse under the weight of an affair.
percent of all spouses who learned about an affair found out about it from
their partner (most spouses confess their first affairs). Twenty-five
percent learned about it through the uncovering of some outside evidence
(computer trails), and 7 percent learned about the affair from someone
else. The odds that a spouse will leave a marriage for an extramarital
lover are low (less than 10 percent).
It can take
1-3 years for a marriage to recover from an extramarital affair, but it
isn’t all bad times. Rebuilding a relationship is easiest if you can
focus on the future. Couples often comment that the first few years after
the affair were great. It was a time when they were keenly aware of what
they had almost lost, and they treasured one another and their
relationship more than they had in many years prior to the affair.