, Gloucester, MA

March 15, 2013

Marital infidelity: Why men and women cheat

Personal Matters
Susan Britt

---- — June works for a major corporation. She’s been married 23 years. She has also been having an affair with her male secretary for four months.

Tom and his wife have been married for nine years They have three children. Tom learned two weeks ago that his mistress of five years is pregnant with his child.

Rob works as a salesman and has to travel frequently. He has remained faithful to his wife of 18 years. His wife, however, has had three affairs.

Candace and her husband have been married for a year. She learned recently that he has cheated on her with two people: one a woman, and the other, a man.

Decades ago, in the early 1950s, when the controversial Kinsey Report reported the prevalence of extramarital affairs, the number of husbands estimated to be unfaithful to their wives was about 50 percent. The number of wives who had affairs was estimated at about 26 percent.

Later studies done by sex researchers Nass, Libby and Fisher showed some very different figures. While the number of men now estimated to have extramarital affairs has increased to about 70 percent, and the number of women now thought to be unfaithful to their husbands is a close 50 percent to 60 percent.

Why have the numbers increased so dramatically for women? Cultural changes have had a major impact. Years ago, after World War II, most women did not work outside the home, and men drove the family car to work. There were fewer practical opportunities for women to have social contacts that could lead to affairs. Husbands and wives also lived in a society in which the double standard prevailed — “boys will be boys,” but women were expected to be “innocent” and “ladylike.” Socially acceptable sexual roles and options were quite different from today’s.

Yet, this same society, in which half the men and a quarter of the women revealed they were cheating on their spouses, still had expectations that marriages would endure. Men were often excused for their behavior, while wives, in particular, were expected to “suffer in silence.” There was very little public outlet for an exploration or expression of feelings. As a result, spouses often ended their sexual relationships with their unfaithful partners, and continued in platonic marriages. As a consequence, they often suffered from depression and low self-esteem.

However, despite the changes in sexual mores that exist, I have found that most of the clients I see, of either gender, still take a naïve “it will never happen to me” approach to the spectre of marital infidelity. Their wishful thinking, unfortunately, belies the reality of the statistics.

Public openness about infidelity has changed in that there is more acknowledgment today that it exists, and should be dealt with in a non-secretive way. Spouses of both sexes are more insistent on going into counseling to deal with infidelity. At the same time, today’s men and women are also less willing to remain with unfaithful spouses and more marriages damaged by infidelity end in divorce.

In my next column, I will focus on the specifics of what happens to marriages devastated by infidelity.

Based in Rockport, life coach and psychotherapist Susan Britt, M.Ed., a former university director of counseling and career services, teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship conflicts, clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at and by telephone 978-546-9431.