Question: What proportion of marriages suffer infidelity?
Answer: It depends on what the definition of infidelity is but some say it is as high as 70%! And it is not just men having the affairs either. Now that women are less dependent on men, and have just as many opportunities, a similar proportion of women are now being unfaithful in marriages too.
Imagine when you got married, that rather than expect you and your partner to forsake all others, that instead, you promised to try to be faithful. Imagine that you also accepted and understood that infidelity was a likely possibility. Going into marriage with this mindset would protect us from the disappoint of your spouse being unfaithful.
Having different thinking about affairs can mean that we take affairs less personally as we realise that we are all capable of adultery, and most relationships succumb to this.
Why are affairs so common? It’s not you!
Affairs tend to happen when one partner is dissatisfied with their life. This can often happen in the context of new children, struggling with career, a family death or some other transition (for example, children leaving home).
An affair can allow people to feel good about themselves in some way. Possibly re-connecting with their sexuality, someone admiring them again, or feeling useful.
Life can be so tiresome and difficult, everyone is likely to have a period when they feel down, low in confidence and/or bored. If at this point, you are lucky or unlucky enough to meet someone who you are attracted to and connect to, you will be vulnerable to have an affair.
Most common reason for affairs
A large study found that a lack of sexual satisfaction in your primary relationship is the most common reason for an affair. Few things make us feel more desired than sex. Think about when you were first having sex with someone you loved and how exciting it was, how much effort you put into being sexy and desirable, and how you stop that once you are busy and comfortable in your marriage.
Both women and men who enter into affairs are hoping to improve their sex lives. They can still love their spouses and may enjoy many other mutual activities but, for whatever reason, the sex is not working out for them.
Sex is often important as it as an opportunity for intimacy. This is often more important than sex. Intimacy is a moment when people are deeply connected and allow a deep affection to pass. We are hardwired to need touch. Lots of studies show that without touch our physical and mental health suffer. It is such a fundamental necessity that it has been found that the brains’ of children who are never held, do not develop properly. A lack of intimacy is the other most common reason for having an affair.
Falling out of love with your partner or falling in love with someone new is a relatively rarer reason for an affair. In fact nearly all affairs end within 4 years. By this point the cheating spouse will realise that their new lover also has needs and sides which are less desirable. The individual will also realise that the inadequacy that the cheating spouse felt with their own life, needs more than sex to fix.
Is a relationship salvageable after an affair?
The short answer is yes. Many couples report that their relationship actually improved after an affair.
For a marriage to withstand infidelity, several things must happen:
- The person who has been unfaithful must feel remorse to have hurt their spouse. This does not mean that they have to regret the affair. Often it is reported that the affair was an alarm bell about the dissatisfaction in their lives and relationship, which allowed them to address and improve their relationship.
- The person who has been cheated on needs to also get their confidence back and reconnect with aspects of their lives which make them feel good an energised.
- Discuss what the affair has meant for you both but avoid talking of the intimate details. What part did you both play?
- Allow time for forgiveness and to change, both as individuals and a couple.
Getting your confidence back after the affair
Be honest with yourself – In what ways have you let yourself down in the relationship? Did you give up too much of your own needs to look after others. What makes you feel excited? What parts of your identity (no matter how embarrassing) would you like to get back in touch with.
Exercise – We know that exercise produces endorphins. Being healthy is also a way of caring for yourself. Exercising regularly is an accomplishment and a routine, both things again help with confidence. Don’t try and do an exercise you hate every day, instead try and do something you enjoy for 5 minutes a day, even if you think it is a faff to get ready for 5 minutes. Over time, you will find that you can increase the amount of time easily, and it will feel a lot less like work.
Try a new look – Another way to invest in yourself is to try a new look both in your own appearance and for your home. Think about how one of the first things to go when we feel down is our self-care. Consequently we end up feeling even worse about ourselves. So don’t just live in your joggers and put on an outfit you have always felt good in.
Try things that make you uncomfortable – Building a new identity after an affair will involve all kinds of discomfort as you will have to try new things while your confidence is low. However, you will soon find that it gets easier to try new things as you learn that you can do it and even enjoy them.
Be prepared to fail – There will be times when you will not enjoy things and that is ok. It is part of the process. Being disappointed at times will also have happened the last time you were discovering new people, places and activities, when you were a teenager or young adult.
Focus on making friends – Reconnecting with friends will help identify new parts of your identity, as others will see you and appreciate you differently. This is especially important if you do decide to leave you marriage.
Many newly singly people try to jump back into finding a new partner. This means that most social interactions you will have end in failure as you can’t hit it off romantically with everyone you meet. Moreover, you need time to rediscover the person you want to be and the person you don’t want to be. The person you will become will want someone different and better suited to the person you are when you are feeling low.
There is no point going through all that heartbreak just to marry the same kind of person and having the same kind of marriage so start enjoying this new period of self-discovery.
Dr Isabelle Hung is a co-founder of divorceclub.com and clinical psychologist. Having got through her own divorce just three years ago, she is now remarried and happy to report that divorce really is an opportunity for growth and positive change.