Evolutionary theory, gender differences, stereotype, media myth and cultural expectations invite us to recognize that men have more sexual desire than women both in frequency and intensity, are wired to have many partners, have more difficulty with monogamy and that as such, married men are more likely to have affairs than married women. The reality is that while married men have more affairs than married women –The difference is not that great.
The other reality is that while extra-marital affairs by definition involve a romantic and emotional relationship that has a sexual or sexualized component, research suggests that sexual drive is not the primary reason married men have affairs.
What is “Hooking-Up”?
Hooking up is defined as a sexual encounter including everything from oral sex to sexual intercourse, between two people who are strangers or brief acquaintances without commitment or expectations and usually lasting no more than one night.
According to a 2013 article, published in the Monitor of the American Psychological Association, between 60-80% of college students in North American report having had a hook-up experience. Research from different authors interviewing college men and women corroborate these numbers; but suggest that the misconception that “ everyone else” is doing it, media coverage, alcohol and fear of being left out of the social scene may actually fuel the trend.
The reasons for hooking-up and the benefits and risks involved, are a function of who is reporting and whether the disclosures by men and women about hooking-up are public or private.
A recent article by Kate Taylor in the New York Times, “ Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too” reports on hooking-up” by woman at the University Of Pennsylvania. Both the title and the tenor of the article suggest that women are choosing “ hooking up” as a functional choice to find sexual gratification without the hassle or time commitment of being in a relationship. Implied is the message that now women have taken back control of the sexual arena. They, like men, are free to choose uncommitted sex because their goal is a great resume—not a great relationship. The expectation is that when their career is all set, they will meet the right man.
The other side of hooking up is described by Laura Sessions Stepp in her book, Unhooked, Donna Freitas in her book, The End of Sex, and even by Kate Taylor in the end of her New York Times article. It is the personal and private disclosure by women and men of compliance, regret, discomfort, guilt, and opting out by many after hooking-up.
While most partners want someone to care if they run away with the neighbor, using jealousy to evoke a sign of love from a partner, or feeling jealous of your partner’s interest in something or someone other than you—takes its toll.
Often confused with envy which is the emotion you feel when you want something someone else has (car, wife, job) jealousy is the apprehension or fear of someone or something being taken away from you.
Helen Fisher, author of Anatomy of Love, describes jealousy as a combination of possessiveness and suspicion. She reports that studies of men and women find that neither is more jealous than the other, but that they react to jealousy differently. Whereas women will feel it, overtly showing indifference (often with verbal digs) but hold on to a relationship, men will leave a relationship to save face or become reactive. Male jealousy is a leading cause of spousal homicide cross-culturally.
Clearly, despite the anthropological consideration of jealousy as necessary for early man’s survival, or its equation with love in medieval poetry, in the day-to-day life of couples, jealousy threatens connection and reduces happiness. “A nationwide survey of marriage counselors indicates that jealousy is a problem in one third of all couples coming for marital therapy.”
Recognizing The Threat of Jealousy
Because some of what we do is not always conscious and we are often unaware of the impact of our feelings, words and behavior on our partner, it is worth checking out the role of jealousy in your relationships.
An extensive study by Tim Wadsworth, including 27,500 men and women aged 40-80years in 29 countries and using the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors, found a relationship between frequency of sexual behavior and happiness. The more sexual frequency—the more reported happiness.
While this study confirmed the findings of earlier large sample studies with regard to the correlation of frequency of sexual activity and happiness, Wadsworth’s study added another dimension. He found that when respondents compared their frequency to the sexual frequency of others, their happiness decreased or increased depending on whether their frequency was lower or higher than others in their reference group!
What Does this Imply?
If we consider statistics as starting points for thinking, than these findings invite self–reflection and mutual consideration of sexual satisfaction and social comparison for ourselves and with our partners.
The Frequency Factor
There clearly is evidence that when we control for age, physical health, gender, educational levels etc. sexual activity is associated with well being and happiness.
But is the happiness from sexual activity only a function of frequency?
Yes and No. When you work with couples and look at the findings from other couple studies it seems that active ongoing sexual connection does matter; but, it is more complicated than just numbers.
Most couples know the positive sounds of silence–the mutual experience of sharing time and space together without needing words. Be it walking the dog together, cooking side by side or listening to music–it is the silence of connection and love.
Many couples also know the silence that reflects tension, conflict or disconnection. Unable to speak beyond the necessities of daily life, these couples report, “ We just don’t talk anymore!”
If we recognize “ talking together” as a metaphor for the communication of confidantes, the special interest of partners and the pillow talk of intimates, then we understand that this is a silence that can start to feel emotionally deafening.
Why do couples who once had so much to say end up feeling this way? Is it inevitable as time passes in a marriage? Is there a way back?
Years together need not result in negative sounds of silence.
Yes, events can disrupt harmony and patterns can erode vitality, but if couples are curious rather than blameful about the silence between them, they may find some reasons and remedies to speak together again.
If we look closer at those partners who end up sitting in a restaurant with nothing to say, painfully aware of the couples happily chatting around them, we find that partners are often unaware of what they may be doing or what has happened to shut down the verbal connection.
Here are some possibilities:
While the definition of intimacy may vary depending on the relationship, it is generally felt to be the “ authentic” connection between two people. As such, the connection reflects a mutuality of loving feelings shared and expressed in thought, affect and behavior.
A host of factors including safety, trust, effective communication and sexual exclusivity have been identified as important for intimacy between partners.
Less discussed and perhaps surprising, is the importance of the “capacity to be alone” in establishing true intimacy.
What Is The “Capacity To Be Alone?”
Why Is This an Asset To Intimacy?
You won’t have to be what someone else wants or needs you to be.
You don’t have to cling to someone to avoid abandonment or avoid someone for fear of rejection.
Neurochemistry supports …
You read my emails?
I can’t report every move I make in the course of a day.
Why can’t I check out my high school girlfriend on Facebook?
When it comes to relationships, partners often underestimate the importance of privacy and the danger of secrecy.
Privacy in relationships reflects trust and enhances intimacy. Secrecy in relationships impairs trust and impedes intimacy.
What is Privacy?
Privacy is defined as the state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people. It is the state of being free from public exposure and attention.
Why We Need Privacy As Individuals
Psychologically, we understand that whereas secure attachment is key to early development, the growing capacity of the child to internalize this attachment and to separate–to have room to be, to play alone, to have private thoughts, to have space, to develop an authentic self–is crucial.
Why We Need Privacy In Relationships
As adults we continue to need different degrees of privacy to re-charge, regulate stress and nurture a sense of self–be it a solitary hobby or reading the paper alone.
We also need intimacy. We need to be and share with another, to be known by them in a way that no one else knows us.
Boundary Changes in Relationships
As such, in committed and intimate relationship, our individual boundaries of privacy change. In most cases, we choose to share bedrooms, sex, money, food, pets, chores, vacations, confidences, fears, and hardships– the best and worst of ourselves–with another. We also share a respect for each other’s privacy.
Disclosure Expectations in Relationships
While one partner may be more disclosing than the other, we can’t expect to hear or share every thought, action, urge or memory of our partner. In a trusting relationship, we have neither the need to check each other’s phone, emails, mail or daily moves, nor the obligation to disclose all. If we enjoy such sharing, it is mutual sharing that fuels our connection.
When thinking about privacy in a relationship it is worth considering:
We have once again been faced with a high profile marriage scandal. This time the lovers included the CIA director, a married and much decorated military officer and his biographer, a married women, herself an Army Reserve intelligence officer.
What is predictable is the media focus on the man. In this case the articles addressed the question of military code of conduct, possibility of security breaches, the explanation of male infidelity in terms of power and narcissism, and the apology and compassionate sentiments to the betrayed wife.
What is curious is how little focus was given to the married woman in this affair. Other than a redundant account of her school success and running time, she was rarely seen as more than the idealizing audience to the man. There seemed little interest in her motives and even less in addressing the broader question- Why do married women have affairs?
Perhaps we don’t ask the question because culturally we prefer not to know the answer. After all, with matters of infidelity, the stereotype is of the married man in an affair with an unmarried female. In the case of married women the presumption is that women are more monogamous then men. They are – but not as much as we may want to believe.
Having worked for many years with men, women and couples trying to hold on to marriages, recovering from betrayal or caught up in the pain and passion of an affair, I suggest …
It can also be just as shocking to observe the public interaction of a couple only to wonder, “Why are these people together?”
Having worked many years with couples, I’ve come to understand that no one but the partners involved really know the differences in the private or public versions of their relationship.
While some differences in the private and public versions of a couple’s relationship are inevitable and even desirable, differences that cause or hide pain, rejection and disdain are destructive.
How different are the private and public versions of your relationship?
In this fast paced world of expectations, social media, instant communication and blurred public and private lives, it’s worth accessing whether the differences in the public and private versions of your relationship are desirable or destructive.
The Private Version
Are you trusted confidantes?
Can you hold on to your relationship ties despite outside family demands?
Do your friends know how important your relationship is to you?
The Public Version
We all have a public version of our private self that is adjusted to fit the role, demands and expectations of our public lives. While your public “image” might be at times very different from your role as a spouse or partner, it shouldn’t disqualify it. In the …
When you take into account the effort, the planning, the stolen moments, the affection, the creative communications and the anticipation of connection – you have to wonder what having an affair with your spouse could do for a marriage.
The likelihood is that it will do great things.
Having an affair with your spouse is something I have recommended to couples for years. It is an antidote to what Esther Perel describes as “Mating in Captivity,” the neutralizing of connection, the tendency to take each other for granted, the need to prioritize the kids, the jobs, the house, the money…. over the romance.
Does having an affair sound irrational, unlikely, possibly erotic and without guarantees? Yes. That’s the nature of affairs…only this one has a real chance of a happy ending.
What Do You Need to Have an Affair?
Here are the ingredients for having an affair – Do you have anything to lose?