Marital Affairs Are Not Fair
Most married couples claim to believe in the
value of monogamy, but a sizable number of married men and women stray
from the fold. Various estimates, including those of Masters and Johnson,
suggest that anywhere from 26 to 66 percent of married American men and 18
to 69 percent of married American women have had extramarital affairs. The
wide ranges in these figures alone would seem to indicate that lots of
folks are at least thinking about it, though perhaps not admitting it.
Various other imprecise estimates abound:
The Kinsey Report estimated that 33 percent of divorces have an infidelity
component to them. Author Susan Barash, in her book “A Passion for
More,” estimates that 60 percent of all American women will have an
affair during their marriage. Playboy magazine breaks it down by year;
they estimate the odds that a married wo-man will have an affair at 1 in 8
before two years of marriage; 1 in 5 thereafter. Meanwhile, they rate the
odds that a married man will have an affair before two years of marriage
at 1 in 7; 1 in 4 between years 2 and 10; and 1 in 3 after 10 or more
years of marriage.
Dr. David Barash, in his book “The Myth of
Monogamy,” estimates that 30 to 50 percent of married women and 50 to 80
percent of married men have had affairs. I suppose you can pick your own
personal favorite as to the statistical probability, but do you think anyone
tells the truth in these surveys?
There is no question in my mind that the
greatest difference between men and women in the motivation for having
affairs is that men tend to seek mainly sexual variety and excitement.
Women, on the other hand, look primarily for emotional returns. Women
embark upon extramarital affairs for numerous reasons, of course, but the
vast majority of those wives who are unfaithful explain their motivation
in terms of a search for heightened emotions and intimacy in the face of
being emotionally dissatisfied with their husbands. Whereas a “fling”
undertaken by a husband may not necessarily threaten a marriage unduly,
the more “seriously seeking meaning” affair undertaken by a wife may
indeed be a far more serious and problematic issue for the marriage —
and a stronger predictor of divorce.
Affairs are not fair. There is an innate deceit involved in extramarital dalliances, and
that deceit breeds numerous and often unanticipated complications. If a
person’s extramarital activities are discovered — which happens in a
surprisingly large number of cases — there is a sizable risk that this
will seriously undermine the trust and intimacy of his or her marriage.
Nor do affairs come cheap. Time magazine
recently tallied the average cost of a 4-month extramarital affair
(including getaways and gifts) at $20,639. Meanwhile, Time estimated the
legal fees for the average divorce filing at $5,025, thereby (I presume)
allowing their readers to make their own informed choices.
Many psychologists feel that a prolonged
extramarital affair is almost always an indicator of a conflicted marriage
(although some psychologists will allow that an occasional one-night stand
or short-term extramarital affair can sometimes be viewed as a harmless
transgression). Oftentimes, a decision by one spouse to divorce or
separate comes as an outgrowth of a commitment already made to some other
third party. This is usually an indication that one party left the
marriage psychologically a long time ago.