Infidelity is the action or state of being unfaithful to a spouse or partner. It is clear from historical accounts that it’s something that people have done for centuries – most likely ever since one person started committing to another.
But that does not make it any less devastating and shocking with an immense negative impact on people’s mental health. Infidelity causes intense anger and ongoing distress, not only for those directly involved but also for those around them, especially if there are children.
There are in fact different types of infidelity, including having a sexual, romantic, and/or emotional affair. A sexual affair is the one that usually has the most damaging impact.
It is also the one with the most obvious consequences. Infidelity is the reason for more relationship break-ups and divorces than anything else.
In fact, close to 55 percent in a survey of 441 people on infidelity said their long-term relationship immediately ended after they were found out or revealed to their partner that they had cheated. In a recent Gallup poll, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Americans stated they would not forgive their spouse for cheating on them and so would seek a divorce.
“I’ve always been very interested in understanding how sex contributes to relationship satisfaction and mental health,” says Lindsay Labrecque of the University of Colorado Boulder’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. “We know infidelity impacts relationship satisfaction.
“It’s the most common reason given for divorce or separation and it’s a difficult issue to treat in therapy. A better understanding of all the issues related to extramarital sex may help improve treatment.”
What percentage of people cheat on their partners?
Approximately 15-20 percent of married couples cheat on their partner at some point. Two to four percent of spouses even admitted having sex with a secondary partner in the preceding year.
When it comes to who cheats the most, there is a difference between men and women. According to the Institute for Family Studies (IFS), around 20 per cent of married men said they had cheated on their partner compared to 13 percent of married women.
Men from the age of 30 onwards are more likely than women to cheat in a marriage. But women aged from 18 to 29 are moderately more likely than men of that age group to cheat while they are married.
Men are more likely to cheat on their spouse on more than one occasion and with more than one other person. Married men are about 25 percent more likely to have a one-night stand than women.
Regarding both sexes, the majority of married people who cheat are aged between 50 and 60. They are most likely to have been married for 20 to 30 years.
Statistics for unmarried couples who have an affair are more difficult to find. But a 2018 study of unmarried men and women found that 44 percent of them had been unfaithful.
Who are people most likely to cheat with?
Biological anthropologist and bestselling author Dr. Helen Fisher’s research discovered that 60 percent of single men and 53 percent of single women admitted to trying to get a person away from their steady relationship in order to get together with them. This is most likely to be a friend, neighbor, or work colleague.
According to research from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, more than half (53.5 percent) of the Americans they studied who’d had sex outside of their regular relationship said they had cheated with someone they knew well. The rest were such as someone they’d seen or got to know at the gym or sports center, on social media, while socializing, or through a dating app.
A big gender difference is that men are much more likely to cheat on their partners by paying for sex. University of Colorado Boulder’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience researchers found it was around ten times more likely that a man would pay for sex than a woman.
Why do people cheat on their partners?
There are some common themes regarding infidelity and why people do it. Reasons people cheat in their relationship include:
1. Sexual dissatisfaction. Absent or dissatisfying sex life is the reason most commonly cited by men for cheating, but it is also given by women too.
2. Lack of commitment. If one partner senses the other is not as committed as they are it can lead them to start looking around. Perhaps they sense that their partner is going to leave them or that if they wanted to buy a home together or start a family, their partner would not want to make that sort of commitment. Maybe they just see that they are the one putting the effort in, they are the one who is always giving to the partnership – and this acts as a warning sign that the relationship’s future is viewed in a different way by their partner.
3. Little emotional intimacy. This could also be termed emotional neglect; feeling undervalued and unappreciated; a lack of fondness, care, and affection. These are the needs of everyone. If they are not met, it can lead to someone looking elsewhere. So it may be that an emotional affair starts – but this is also how many sexual affairs have started out. It can be that couples just drift apart. For instance, it could be that one starts recovery and several years later has gone on a spiritual journey while the other remains stuck in a much more material world… Then, perhaps there is the seeking or finding of a new soulmate. Prior to this, there has often been a breakdown of any healthy communication around these basic but essential needs in the relationship.
4. Craving excitement. Boredom in a relationship – and/or life in general – can lead to infidelity. So the spark may have fizzled out in the long-term relationship, everything just seems too drab. Perhaps the couple feels more like business associates as they just seem to talk so often about finances. Boredom in a relationship can always be worked on, but sometimes it seems the sure-fire quick fix is to have an affair or a one-night stand. Or it might be such as that someone is doing a job they find excruciatingly boring. Then the chance to start something that’s going to be exciting with a co-worker comes along – and the thought that they won’t dread getting up in the morning so much or at all moves them towards starting an affair.
5. To end a relationship. Perhaps the person who starts an affair does not have the courage to verbally end the relationship. Maybe they have decided they just do not want to be in any relationship. Cheating on their partner is an almost certain way to bring a relationship to a swift end. “I wonder whether married individuals who have extramarital sex with partners such as a close friend or co-worker are choosing such partners as a commitment to form a new relationship and by proxy, to leave their marriage,” says the University of Colorado Boulder’s Lindsay Labrecque. “These partners possess or provide inherent qualities including emotional intimacy, closeness, friendship, support – and choosing to have extramarital sex with a partner with these qualities may reflect a preference for a committed and/or intimate extramarital relationship more so than a partner paid for sex or a casual date.”
6. Aging. Having an affair or sex outside of a long-term relationship is a classic sign of someone who’s having a midlife crisis. In most instances such as this, the cheating will be with someone who is younger. Body image frequently plays a part in this too. An affair or casual sex happened because someone who feels they are looking older in some way wants to prove to themselves that they are still attractive (outside of their regular relationship). As well though, a partner can blame their cheating on their partner “letting themselves go”. Perhaps the partner has personal hygiene issues or has deteriorated physically due to lifestyle choices. So their partner no longer finds them attractive – and that can lead to infidelity.
7. Physical health issues. Sometimes infidelity occurs because one partner starts to have chronic pain or gets a disability. Sexual problems, such as vaginal dryness or erectile dysfunction, can also mean that physical needs are not or cannot be met. As unfair as it might seem, it can be behind some instances of infidelity.
8. Opportunity. Sometimes it is that work or such as one partner having to spend long periods away for another reason – for example, caring for an elderly parent – can lead to straying. It can mean that for both partners there is more socializing or just more times that they are on their own as if they are single.
9. Financial and material gain. Some affairs happen because a partner meets someone who woos them with material things. They may get swept away with things such as elegant gifts, riding in a fantastic car, visiting a swanky home, or staying in top-class hotels. It seems like a dream world compared to the regular and possibly drab life they had.
10. Loneliness. This is often connected to unresolved historical things such as childhood trauma – loneliness or feeling alone is another way of describing disconnection from other people. For this reason, it is more likely to become an obsession with someone else, perhaps even a behavioral addiction to sex or relationships. Feeling alone and disconnected is an intense inner pain and people will try anything to make it go away.
11. Mental health issues including addiction. If one partner starts suffering from such as bipolar, depression, anxiety, or an addiction, it can put great strain on any relationship. This can lead to infidelity. Or perhaps someone who is struggling thinks an affair might help them feel better.
12. A means to escape. Having an affair can be a means of ending an unpleasant relationship.
13. Low self-esteem. If someone has low self-love and self-esteem, an affair can be a way they seek to boost their sense of self. It never works because self-love and self-esteem have to come from within.
14. Revenge. For various reasons, including that their partner cheated on them or they suspect them of doing so, infidelity can be a form of revenge or “evening things up”.
In order to keep a romantic relationship healthy, it is useful to know these common themes behind infidelity. That’s the best way to avoid it happening.
But if it does there are ways of working out the relationship. In some instances – with guidance from someone with expertise in these matters – it can actually lead to a more healthy relationship.
Our friendly experienced team has treated people with all emotional issues and relationship problems. Call us today to discuss how we could help you or someone you know.
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