Extra Marital Affairs:
Causes, Frequency and Aftermath

By: Bradley Coates
Special to the
Oahu Island News

I get this question from clients all the time: Why are their so many extramarital affairs nowadays?

Background/Biology: 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.

Risk 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.

Affairs 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.

Sexless 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.

Frequency: 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.

Underlying 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 marriages.

Behavioral 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.

Effects: 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.

Sixty-six 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.

Bradley A. Coates, J.D., has been a practicing divorce attorney in Honolulu for over 25 years and has been selected as Honolulu's best divorce lawyer. Coates wrote an award-winning book, “Divorce with Decency: The Complete How-To Handbook and Survivor’s Guide to the Legal, Emotional, Economic, and Social Issues,” now in its second edition. Mr. Coates can be contacted by phone: 524-4854 or online: www.coatesandfrey.com.