How common are affairs and why DO THEY happen?

Infidelity is such a hot topic now due in part to the Ashley Madison scandal. Sex is one of our most basic drives. It is your commitment to what monogamy means between two people that interrupts the otherwise natural drive to pursue many sex partners throughout your life.

Let’s get a few of the common statistics out of the way: In the United States, it is estimated that 30 to 60 percent of all married individuals will engage in infidelity at some point during the marriage. Since most people will have several sex partners before marriage, it is assumed that this explains the increased likelihood for those individuals to have affairs after marriage. Just as the online world has made shopping for practically any item as easy as a keystroke, the online world makes infidelity as easy as online shopping. And it isn’t just men; as women develop greater financial independence, they are more likely to have affairs.

“…30 to 60 percent of all married individuals will engage in infidelity at some point during the marriage.”

The Ashley Madison scandal demonstrates the pervasiveness of the pursuit of private “no strings attached” liaisons. Affairs and betrayal of trust happen often. However, the emotional devastation for BOTH married partners and the repair of the relationship after the affair ends are being explored through research and knowledge.

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New theories explain some fascinating underlying causes of infidelity. The death of a parent can shock someone into feeling their mortality. That adult child wants to feel alive and believes the passion of an affair will give them what they are looking for. The loss of a job, the failure of an important financial investment, the realization that the success you’d always assumed you would achieve will not come to pass–any of these may be the motive behind infidelity. If a husband’s job success or career reputation is surpassed by his wife in ways that were never expected, the man’s insecurity may drive him to seek validation from another “adoring” woman. Tragically, the diagnosis of a terminal disease can be a cause for infidelity. Facing the responsibility of a first child can trigger this response. Most of these examples are rarely communicated in the first shock of the discovery of the affair. Separation and divorce may occur before either partner can discover any of these underlying causes of the infidelity.

Yes, the simplest reaction to the trauma of the discovery of infidelity is to rush to divorce. Although this response may satisfy the initial anger and wish to punish the unfaithful partner, this may not be the best choice for the long term, particularly when children are involved. It takes a moment of consideration to admit that the affair is probably a symptom of a larger problem in the relationship.

If the problems that led to the affair are not examined within the couple, this pattern will most probably be repeated in the next relationship. Learning skills for lasting intimacy, deeper trust and more effective communication within the couple happens only with the work necessary to learn those skills. Admission of weakness, fear, insecurity and trauma that may lead to affairs often seems harder to face than the fury of the betrayed partner.

The next time a friend tells you that they suspect their partner is cheating, maybe “dump the dog” isn’t what you should advise. Infidelity is proving to be a much more complex phenomenon, and worthy of understanding with the intent to save the relationship, rather than just heaping on with the old habit of changing partners in the hope of getting a better one next time.

Dr. Tiger Devore, known as Dr. Tiger, is a clinical psychologist, AASECT Certified Sex Therapist and media expert on sex and relationships. But most important, he is a person who cares with over 25 years of practice and expertise working with women and their specific issues.