Holy Cow! Go to www.ehow.com and there’s an article explaining how you can cheat on your spouse! Have we really gone from the point where the how-to’s and thrills of having an affair were subterranean whispers uttered with shame and pain, to the point at which having affairs has become somehow normal enough to justify the existence of an online manual? Cheating and affairs are complicated business and take on all forms, ranging from the repeated conquests of a sex-addict to the avoidance of that terrifying confrontation with mortality known as the mid-life crisis, to a desperate attempt at self-healing by a beaten down partner with low self-esteem — and let me assure you that doesn’t even cover it all.
Question after question to Dear Abby's with Ph.D.'s read; “Is it really wrong to cheat if it’s just sex?” “Is it really wrong to cheat if he’s just fulfilling an emotional need?” “Is it really even cheating if we’re online and playing fantasy characters?” Is it wrong? Well yes, technically it’s wrong — all of it. If you make a promise to be faithful to, or exclusive with someone and you break that promise, (behind their back no less) — it’s W-R-O-N-G. Have a look at the 3rd grade social-skill manual and you may recall that breaking a promise you made to a good buddy can land you all alone at recess time fending off some nasty stares. “Wrong” isn’t the question though, and to me the cheater is not the automatic villain in this equation; the question that begs an answer in every single one of these scenarios is: “What is going on in the relationship that makes you want connection, support, friendship or sex from a friend, stranger or computer generated character — and makes it too frightening to confront your partner?” And guys, if it’s just sex — is it worth the risk? Maybe.
Regardless, we as a culture seem to be obsessed with cheating and affairs. Whether we’re riding the wave of righteousness that comes with bashing the cheaters (think John Edwards and his cancer-stricken wife), or reveling in the victories of the “cheatee” as they re-group and “get their groove back”, (think Jennifer Aniston), we are mesmerized and titillated again and again. And the most titillating arena of all appears to be the workplace. But why? Well, for the cheater, it’s just too easy and for the cheatee, it’s just too worrisome because that’s where your partner has the most regular contact with potential competition. Excuses practically fall in your lap. The late night projects, the long lunches, and the out-of-town conventions. And then there are the particular emotional elements that brew between co-workers. It’s in the commiseration: about your abnormally harsh or incompetent boss; about the stumbling blocks of getting ahead; about the spouse at home that doesn’t get you. It’s in the thrill of a shared victory and the tenderness of shared vulnerability brought on by defeat. And it all conspires to flood the brain with those “happy” neurotransmitters that bring you back into contact with your sexuality and make you feel intense connection and vitality — phenomena you either never experienced with your spouse or did once experience, but has now completely dissipated.
Here are some interesting factoids about affairs in our culture today. Because most people are too ashamed or too frightened to report accurately, there is a wide range when it comes to survey results.
1) According to some, more men than women cheat, however other estimates say that the numbers are about the same. And though you might expect younger men to be quicker to stray, younger women are as likely as younger men to be unfaithful (womansavers.com).
2) While one expert estimates that approximately 60% of men and 60% of women have affairs, by self report, a mere 5% of men and 3% of women actually admit to infidelity (Associated Press).
3) There is reportedly evidence which indicates that use of the internet for porn or online flirting can lead to decreased inhibition, accelerated intimacy, and hyper-sexual online behavior which, in turn, leads to real-life infidelity.
4) Almost 80% of couples who stay together after an affair report being unhappy. (The Impact of Extramarital Relationships on the Continuation of Marriage).
5) Two out of three women and three out of four men admit they have sexual thoughts about co-workers, (Playboy Magazine).
6) 75% of men and 65% of women admit to having sex with people they work with (Playboy Magazine).
7) Because of the anonymity, affordability, and accessibility of Internet sexual resources, the computer can accelerate the transition from "at risk" to "addicted", as well as the progression of sex addiction in those with a history of prior sexual compulsivity (Cooper et al Survey).
8) Affairs affect one of every 2.7 couples, according to Janis Abrahms Spring, author of "After the Affair".
9) As reported by the Washington Post on March 30, 1999, referencing Ms. Spring’s book, nearly half of all affairs last less than a year and very few last more than 4 years.
10) According to a study done by Dr. Jan Halper, men who cheat rarely marry the woman with whom they have the affair — even if their marriages dissolve.
The best word to the wisest? Whether or not it’s time to get out of your marriage or relationship, and whether or not you really did fall head-over-heels in love, one thing is sure — unless you become addicted to another, (ahem), substance to keep them there, those “happy neurotransmitters” are always going to recede and you will be left with the bare bones of the relationship. That doesn’t necessarily mean that this new relationship is destined for failure, but it does mean that you need the 3 C’s — coping skills, the ability to communicate and the desire for a commitment, no matter who you’re with! "Love is blind”, as they say, and our lovers may look like super-heroes today but guaranteed they will look like regular old civilians with the passage of about 18 months. Remember this when you’re tempted to stray.
Laura Grashow Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who has been working with children, adolescents and families for over 15 years. She specializes in relationship issues, parenting, divorce, and child development. For more information, see Dr. Laura's website.
Plus, check out Laura's new book "Dating the Older Man." It is the ultimate comprehensive guide to coping with large age differences in love relationships. In today's world, factors such as high divorce rates, plastic surgery, increased life span, internet dating, and even Viagra are making older men more available and more attractive choices for younger women. Get great practical answers to real problems and dilemmas- including issues relating to blended families and how to be a step-parent. The book is a veritable "how to" for relationships packed with great strategies and is an invaluable resource for women in the modern dating world.