According to a recent study published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy just this month, 41% of marriages are impacted by emotional or physical infidelity. Additionally, 74% of men and 68% women report that they would have an affair if they knew they would not get caught. Since these statistics are self-reported, the actual numbers could be higher.
What is infidelity? Why is it so common?
What does it mean for you and your marriage?
According to licensed marriage and family therapist, Judy Rader, “Infidelity is the breaking of an emotional and/or physical relationship boundary. “When most of us think of infidelity, we think about physical infidelity - having a one-night stand or a prolonged physical relationship with someone other than the person to whom we are married."
The actual definition of infidelity, however, extends well beyond this. Emotional infidelity, which involves redirecting emotional intimacy away from the marital relationship to something or someone else, can be every bit as devastating as a physical affair. Emotional infidelity can involve developing a strong intimate relationship with someone else that you see in person or interact with virtually.
It can also refer to developing a profound relationship with pornography as a substitute for physical or sexual intimacy with your partner.
Regardless of the form, what is common about all forms of infidelity is that they generally represent a break down of the marital relationship. Whereas many an angry spouse may argue that infidelity was what destroyed their marriage, the reality, according to Sam Margulles Ph.D, Esq., is that most marriages are in the process of eroding long before any infidelity takes place.
Why is infidelity so common?
Why are so many marriages afflicted?
I have surfed the Internet out of curiosity to see what others are writing. There are, of course, many opinions on the topic.
Here's what I found about why infidelity is so common:
“Lack of integrity”
“Because people are jerks”
“People do not know how to make commitment”
While reflective of the anger that commonly accompanies infidelity, these responses do not really explain why people stray from the marital commitment. In my experience as a Divorce & Relationship Coach, I have found that people want to have intimate connections with others and want to live in integrity with their values. Something deeper is going on.
Let’s look at some of the possibilities as to why partners stray:
Maintaining intimacy in a marriage requires a deep commitment and on-going attention. Marriage has tremendous rewards, and they do not come simply because two people keep rings on their fingers. Would we expect to get more physically fit just by maintaining a gym membership if we never actually worked out? Maintaining intimacy in a marital relationship works the same way.
One reason people are unfaithful in a marriage is because daily life gets taken over by to do lists, and rarely is “time for intimacy” on the list. A couple gets out of “intimacy shape.” Longing for true emotional connection and intimacy, one partner or both seeks it somewhere else where it seems to be more available.
Shame and sexual insecurity impact the ability of a couple to maintain and grow a healthy physical relationship. While sexuality seems to be flaunted everywhere in our society, the fact is that many people lack sexual confidence. One or both partners may be uncomfortable or awkward sexually and feel too ashamed to talk about it. Eventually one partner seeks sexual fulfillment elsewhere.
Partners begin to grow apart and cannot find their way back to each other, so they seek connection someplace else. Let’s face it, if you get married in your 20’s or 30’s, marriage “for life” could mean 60+ years together. People are bound to do a lot of changing over the course of those 60+ years. Some couples figure out how to grow together and keep finding their way back to one another while other couples grow farther apart. Often times, an affair becomes a wake up call to their diminishing connection.
Coping with Infidelity
So, what does all this mean for you and your marriage?
To be clear, this is not a comprehensive list of reasons why people stray. Nonetheless, it does address key factors that affect many long-term marriages. Additionally, while infidelity reflects an incredibly deep violation of marital trust, it is usually a symptom, and not the cause, of a distressed marriage.
It is a red flag, waving in the air that screams, “This marriage is not healthy right now. It is time to pay attention!”
Once you can hear this message, then you have the opportunity to make a choice.
· 1) Our marriage is not working, we both take responsibility, and we want to try and fix it, or:
· 2) Our marriage is not working and one or both of us feels that we are not best served by staying married.
The important thing is to hear the message, make a conscious choice, and seek the support of professionals who can help you navigate through the next phase in a healthy way.
Divorcing? Listen in and feel supported. Healing the Hurt of Infidelity
About the Author
Adina Laver, M.Ed, MBA, CPC, is a divorce and relationship coach who works with clients who are in the process of separating, getting a divorce, or are in any other way undergoing a significant change or transformation in their lives, and who want to engage in this experience consciously and with integrity. Follow Adina at