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Affairs have suddenly popped up in the national conversation, and honesty — who doesn’t like a good open discussion about the dishonesty of infidelity?

OK, well maybe it’s just me …

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, a pal of Donald Trump’s, recently suggested in a conversation slamming Hillary Clinton about Bill Clinton’s affairs that “everybody” commits infidelityaffairs

That’s an interesting comment coming from the party of “family values” (or maybe that’s just how you feel because, you know, you yourself have fooled around).

In any event, saying “everybody” cheats seems to be a stretch; while it’s hard to get an exact number of people who are cheating because it’s all self-reported (and you have to think that those who are lying to their spouse are probably not going to be totally honest when it comes to a poll on infidelity), some studies indicate it’s about 20 percent of married couples while others suggest it may be as high as 60 percent to 70 percent. Not everybody, but a lot nonetheless.

Which is why therapists like Esther Perel, author of Mating In Captivity, and Tammy Nelson, author of The New Monogamy, suggest it’s time to rethink infidelity.

How some affairs start

People cheat for all sorts of reasons. And we know that a certain percentage of people who engage in infidelity say they have happy marriages. Still, it would be interesting to know how some affairs start. So I was interested in reading a new study that looks at exactly that.

According to the study, there were a few things going on:

  • Dissatisfaction and hopelessness in the marriage
  • A value of novelty and passion in romantic/sexual relationships
  • There is a sense of deserving sexual satisfaction
  • The spouse and self are viewed as fixed characters
  • Lack of curiosity for the spouse as a subject
  • An experience of passion overtaking and overriding one’s judgment
  • The affair is not recognized as an affair until after it begins
  • Divorce is not considered a real option

This is hardly rocket science. As study author Nicolle Zapien states:

The current structure at first glance is not particularly surprising and seems intuitive — one is experiencing an unsatisfying marriage, has a desire for passion and novelty, and begins a passionate affair with a stranger. It reads like the plot of a romance novel. However, the current structure is not experienced as a familiar plot, leading to an affair, by the one who begins an affair; instead it is surprising and later confusing.” tweet

In other words, the person who ends up cheating didn’t actually plan it, and the “moment that it is considered ‘erotic,’ named ‘sexual’ or therefore ‘an affair’ occurs after a clear and embodied sexual act (e.g. a kiss, going to a hotel with the intent to have sex).”

That certainly seems to fly in the face of what most of think is going on when infidelity occurs; how can someone not see that his or her behavior — flirting, sexting, sneaking around, etc. is a recipe for trouble? Wouldn’t it be inevitable? Not to say that some affairs aren’t planned. It’s just interesting to see how some people never saw it coming (but I’ll bet if their spouse knew what they were doing, he or she would!).

OK, the study was really limited, just three people — this is not comprehensive. It references similar results of another study, of four women in the Bible Belt who had affairs, and yet that, too, was extremely limited. Limited or not, however, it at least forces us to acknowledge that for a certain percentage of the cheating population, affairs “just happen.”

What about opening up the marriage?

What I find interesting is that the discussion of opening up the marriage — what we present as a viable option in The New I Do — was quickly rejected: “I knew that he couldn’t handle it if I actually said, ‘I want to see other people,'” one woman says.

That’s too bad because as much as we may know our partner and what he or she might say, we might want to consider giving him or her the option to be an active participant in what happens within the marriage regardless. That’s the part of cheating that hurts the partner; excluding us from our own marital destiny (and the lying, obviously). Of course, suggesting that we want to sleep with someone else — and hopefully granting the same privilege to our partner — can create all sorts of problems we may not want to deal with. So many of us just choose to do the “easier” of the scenarios: cheat.

Recently the Guardian ran an article on how to cope with a sexless marriage. It was the usual response — be patient, be kind, seek help, etc. — with tips on how to “bring back intimacy.” None of that is wrong per se, but those tactics can only go so far. This week, the paper ran some selected comments by readers — because there were many — on what it really feels like to be in a sexless (by their definition) marriage. They are as painful to read as the ones readers have posted on The New I Do website and on this blog. If the only options are to suffer, divorce or cheat, well, who’s really the “bad” guy or gal in the scenario?

Obviously, not everyone who has an affair has a sexless marriage and obviously not everyone who has a sexless marriage cheats. And, sorry Rudy, not “everybody” cheats. But every committed couple right now, married or not, might want to have a conversation about monogamy, define infidelity and determine what their options might be should their sexual needs ever differ. Or, they, too, might find themselves surprised and confused one day.

Interested in opening up your marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

4 Responses to “How do affairs start?”

  1. Jono says:

    I have had a couple of “almosts”, but for numerous reasons could not go through with them. As far as opening up the marriage goes, it might be a good idea, but how do you bring it up after just being friends for decades? With closeness and intimacy being gone for so long I don’t know if it’s possible. It would be just as difficult to bring up the topic of divorce. What do you do when you are both senior citizens?

  2. James says:

    Affairs happen and for the most part it is very simple as to why. The person with the lower sex drive ambles their way through life having sex with their partner as little or as often as they see fit. Mr and Mrs Bloggs have a sex life that centres entirely around what makes one person happy. For the unhappy one there is a take it or leave it attitude. The partner with the low sex drive doesn’t have a care in the world as to what the physical effects are of being constantly deprived, the desperation it can cause nor do they have any understanding of the massive and I mean massive emotional effect of being pushed away constantly by their partner is. So for the most part it is really simple to guard against an affair. Consider your partners sex drive. One person will have to be sympathetic that sex will never happen as much as they would like but the other also has to make an effort to at least meet their partner half way. It’s called COMPROMISE and usually relationships involving a willingness to compromise…..LAST! Or… continue to shut them out for weeks on end and take your chances. Hedge your bets on the silly idea that no one else will ever see the same qualities in your partner that led you to decide to want to be their spouse. Take that chance that no one else will ever try and move in and offer your partner what you are failing or unwilling to. Hide behind your status of having a lower or low sex drive and claim you aren’t in the mood, have a headache, too tired and this meaning you couldn’t possibly spend 15 minutes exploring the physical side of a relationship.
    When you habitually deny your spouse this you cause a chain of emotional suffering that equals if not surpasses the hurt of someone cheating. Often your partner will have been suffering in silence for years and……that’s when people are susceptible to going over the side. But hey, at least when you split you can blame everything on your now ex-partner for having an affair and act like the victim.

  3. You are referencing my study above (Zapien, 2016) and using a poll to ask people who have had affairs to tell you their motivations. The reasons we can’t just ASK people how their affairs begin is because of hindsight bias, social desirability bias and participation bias (read my methods section before taking it out of context). Sexuality research, when done responsibly and well, is actually difficult business and blogging about it in this manner really erodes the main point. We use qualitative case studies to analyze from a psychological perspective what people can’t admit to others or even themselves. If you want to do a poll and think that your quantifying what people actually say from your not so random blog sample, then at least be responsible and cite my study properly and also state the limitations of yours.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles

      Thanks for commenting Dr. Zapien. There is nothing scientific about the polls on my website, they are not presented as such and I don’t report their results as such (or at all, actually). Since the majority of my readers are women, especially young women, I would get a highly skewed result if I did. But I do like to write about interesting scientific studies I come across, as I did with yours in this blog post (and I believe I cited your study properly), and my thoughts about them. And that’s all this blog is — opinion, not fact, not advice, no agenda. I believe my readers understand its limitations.

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