Research varies in the study of infidelity. When researchers send out questionnaires. asking men and women if they have ever cheated, men seem to brag about their supposed infidelities. But women minimize, lie and cover up their affairs. Social anthropologist Helen Fisher says this is for a good reason – women have traditionally suffered more than men from the revelation of infidelity. Women can lose their children, their financial support and even risk domestic violence as a result.
Almost half of those in committed relationships cheat at some point. And a staggering 98% of people have fantasies of people other than their mate. With the prevalence of social networks like Facebook, it is easier than ever to act out those fantasies, either online or in real time.
Interestingly, people rarely leave their spouse for the person they are cheating with. And for those that do, there is a very high divorce rate; over 75%, probably because it is hard to trust a person who was willing to cheat on their partner, even if it was with you.
So, if affairs don’t really work, why do people have them and can they be prevented?
Contrary to popular belief, affairs do not always happen when people are unhappy in their relationship. Steve Stosny, therapist and author, says that eighty percent of affairs happen because of opportunity.
If this is true, then it doesn’t matter how often you have sex with your spouse or whether or not you take out the garbage, your marriage is at risk for infidelity. Cutting out friends of the opposite sex doesn’t work, nor does restricting time on the internet.
And affairs don’t always happen to the people who are morally ‘wrong’. In 2004 82% of respondents to a survey said that affairs were always wrong. And yet one study shows that up to one-half of married women have at least one lover after they are married before the age of 40. So someone must be the “type” to cheat, even if they think they’re not.
Preventing infidelity may be as simple as – and this seems obvious – telling the truth. Peggy Vaughn, author of the Myth of Monogamy, says that in order for couples to avoid an affair they first have to accept that it is natural and normal to be attracted to other people. And if you find yourself fantasizing about someone other than your spouse, you should tell. That means being honest about your feelings, not using the specific details to hurt your spouse, but open and honest about your concerns before they turn into something more.
Tell them what you appreciate in your marriage with them and what you long for. Have regular, open conversations and share your feelings.
If you’re like most people, you may find the idea daunting at best. And yet it is easier to be honest with your partner if you have agreed that this is the rule for your relationship. Communication about honest attraction or feeling for another should be viewed as normal and not threatening unless it is kept under wraps. It is only then that the fantasy becomes something larger than life, and may lead to sneaky behaviors and hiding it. This is what leads to cheating, Vaughn says.
Next time you meet someone attractive, appreciate them too, but make sure you keep the communication open with your partner. Check in daily about how you are doing in the relationship. Make it a priority, and then enjoy each other and be kind.
You may find that you are one of the lucky ones to be in a committed monogamous relationship with your very best friend.
Tammy Nelson, PhD is a sex and relationship expert and the author of Getting the Sex You Want; Shed Your Inhibitions and Reach New Heights of Passion Together, as well as the upcoming book The New Monogamy; Erotic Recovery After Infidelity