Marital Affairs Are Not Fair

By: Bradley Coates
Special to the
Oahu Island News

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.

Bradley A. Coates, J.D., has been a practicing divorce attorney in Honolulu for over 25 years. He has been selected as Honolulu’s Best Divorce Lawyer and is the founder of Coates & Frey, Hawaii’s largest family law firm. Mr. 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. This article contains only general information and readers should seek appropriate experts for each individual case and/or fact situation. Phone: 524-4854. Also visit the firm’s web-site at