Whether you call it cheating, unfaithfulness, adultery, an affair, or marital infidelity, it causes devastating pain and major crises in marriages. Surprisingly, half of marriages survive infidelity and some even get better. Infidelity spurs 50% of couples who experience it to reassess their marriages and make changes, often with the help of counselors. About 15% of wives and 25% of husbands cheat.
Causes of Infidelity
The causes of infidelity are numerous and can be simple or complicated. Affairs occur in both happy and unhappy marriages. Usually, both spouses are responsible for the situation. The causes of infidelity include: a mid-life or pre-midlife crisis, low self-esteem, lack of love and attention given to a spouse, anger, boredom, marrying too young, peer pressure, the existence of an opportunity, disappointment in the marriage, sex addiction, as a way to leave the marriage, and even family expectations!
Types of Affairs
Sometimes adultery is due to an addiction to sex or romance. A new relationship provides passion, excitement, danger, sexual highs, romance, and either greater self-esteem or shame. Some affairs are due to men who believe that extramarital relationships are something they are entitled to by gender. There is little or no guilt felt by these husbands and their birth families sometimes condone their behavior. There may be peer pressure as well. Other unfaithful spouses are driven by mid-life crisis (i.e.; fear of aging), anger toward the spouse for real or imagined wrongs, boredom, or disappointment in the marriage or the problems of living. These affairs often happen only if an opportunity presents itself. The newest type of infidelity is one in which the participants weren’t searching for an affair, but got involved in a friendship at work or on the Internet that turned into an affair. This type of relationship includes emotional intimacy, secrecy and lying, and sexual feelings and actions. There may be peer (societal) pressure to participate in this type of affair as well. The most serious type of affair is the one in which a married partner falls in love with someone outside the marriage, either unwittingly or as an excuse for leaving. This type of infidelity causes the most destruction of marriages.
Consequences of Infidelity
The consequences of infidelity include: divorce, depression, loss of trust, persistent anxiety, and an overwhelming feeling of loss. Many innocent spouses experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. Consequences of infidelity may also encompass obsessive thoughts about the details of the infidelity, suspiciously watching for indications of infidelity, “fight or flight” symptoms, anger and accusations, and flashbacks.
Results of Infidelity
After infidelity occurs, the partners must decide whether to save the marriage or separate and divorce. Each spouse may want a different outcome. Counselors and psychologists will work with couples to assist them in making a decision and implementing it. Negative emotions and symptoms must be addressed and a “safety zone” established. An atmosphere of honesty must be established with the spouse, while all contact with the partner in the affair must be stopped. The story of the affair must be told and its impact on the marriage addressed. Planning for the future of the marriage leads to healing, and, hopefully, forgiveness. Failing that, a divorce will take place. If a marriage survives infidelity, it will become stronger and centered on the couple, not just on children; the dangers and temptations of infidelity are understood and addressed in order to avoid it; and the couple develops trust, renewed commitment, and shared responsibility for the ongoing success of the marriage.
Learn about emotional infidelity here.