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.
- In the largest most comprehensive poll of its kind in 1994, Edward Laumann and colleagues found that 20% of women and just over 31% of men in their 40’s and 50’s reported having sex with someone other than their spouses.
- Young and Alexander in their 2012 book, The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex and the Science of Attraction accept a rough estimate of 30 to 40 percent infidelity in marriage for men and women.
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.
Based on interviews with 200 cheating and non-cheating husbands, M. Gary Neuman, author of The Truth About Cheating, reports that only 8% identify sexual dissatisfaction as the reason for their infidelity.
A Rutgers study reports 56% of men who have affairs claim to be happy in their marriages, are largely satisfied and are not looking for a way out.
An Overlooked Reason
I suggest that one overlooked reason that men find themselves in the midst of an extramarital affair is that men don’t talk!
- Thanks to their biology, neurophysiology, culture and psychology most men rarely express worries, emotions, sexual issues or physical concerns about themselves, to friends, family, or colleagues, much less to their partners.
- As the show, “ Married Men Don’t Talk” suggests, men will talk about everything from kids to sports but they don’t discuss marital issues.
- In their research on men who stopped seeking sex from their partners, Bob and Susan Berkowitz, report that 44% said they were furious, felt criticized and insignificant in their marriage; but would not or could not talk about it with their partners.
- M.Gary Neuman found that 48% of the men he interviewed reported emotional dissatisfaction as the primary reason for cheating. The men reported feeling unappreciated and wished that their partners could recognize when they were trying. They did not talk to their partners about this.
The rationale I have heard from men and found corroborated in the research is that:
- They fear talking will only cause more anger and rejection
- They anticipate that if they start talking about issues in the marriage, their wives won’t stop talking–a reality that may simply reflect the clash of gender differences in handling stress.
- They fear hurting their partner with their honest feelings.
- They feel self-conscious about performance issues and unwittingly send a message of avoidance, disinterest or rejection.
- They silently blame their partner for boring sex but don’t consider verbalizing ways of enlivening the love life.
- They don’t read the non-verbal cues or consider the cues they are sending.
- They see the defensive posture their partner takes—not as a cover for her feelings of rejection; but as anger and accusation.
- Paradoxically, they see themselves as protecting themselves, their partner, and their marriage with silence.
As such, many married men are emotionally alone. Unlike women who turn to other women to vent, garner support, and hear other perspectives and feelings— men too often “ suck it up”, remain locked in their perspective and can’t find a way to speak about what they need. This leaves them vulnerable to the attention, affirmation and complication of an affair.
Do they look for the affair?
Some men never stop looking for the affair – they are serial cheaters whose affairs have nothing to do with relatedness to another, intimacy, sharing, pain or silence–They connect as conquest to bolster a well hidden but fragile ego.
Over 60% of men who have an extramarital affair, however, say they never seriously imagined themselves doing it until it actually happened.
Men Cheat with Women They Know
- Reflective of the fact that it is not just about sex, affairs often start with people who are known already as colleagues or friends. More than 60% of affairs start at work.
- Suddenly the man is faced with someone who responds to him with time, attention, interest, soul sharing and appreciation. Given the connection for men between thinking about sex and arousal, the positive attention of a female friend is easily eroticized and the temptation is great. It seems so much easier.
The Sexual Fix
In many cases, once the sexual interest is acted upon and the infatuation tripped, there is such a flood of neurochemistry that judgment is clouded with denial. There is the illusion that the affair can go on forever and exist side-by-side with marriage and family. Nothing will have to change–It always does.
But if Only My Wife…
Men often wish to hold on to their marriage by trying to find in their partner what they are finding in the affair. Given they are not sharing what they feel or need, their partner has no idea that the rules have changed. What the man often misses (true also of women in affairs) is the fact that he is acting differently to this outside person in a way that he has not been able to do in his marriage.
Affairs End Painfully
- Inevitably, affairs are uncovered and many people suffer.
- In his research, M. Gary Neuman reports that 68% of men described feeling guilty after the affair.
- Relationship expert Charles J. Orlando, author of The Problem with Women…Is Men, suggests that while men might have liked the affair for a time, they tend to despise themselves after their indiscretions. “After all, he’s betraying another human being who he claims to care about, so that takes its toll on every part of his psyche.”
- In the aftermath of an affair and in the crisis of a potentially lost marriage, men need the benefit of support–be it a group, therapist or counselor– to self-reflect, to find the words, to examine his behavior, feelings, relationship with his spouse, his affair and his marriage.
- The betrayed spouse needs support and help in dealing with the trauma of infidelity, the loss of trust, as well a reconsideration of her marriage, feelings, needs, sense of self and relationship with her partner.
Repair and Renewal
- Sometimes affairs result in divorce. Statistics from 2004 suggest that 27% of divorces are due to extramarital affairs.
- If both partners want their marriage, however, a marriage can survive an affair. Many partners have journeyed through the guilt and pain to mutually repair and renew their marriage.
If a man can find the feelings and words to engage with his partner in a process of apology and forgiveness,if he can speak and listen, reconsider the mutual rejection and anger, clarify the sexual needs and trust the love —he may well have a marriage he can speak about.
On Tuesday October 15, 2013 at 7PM EST, Dr. Suzanne Phillips will be offering a free Psych Central webinar on “Understanding and Enhancing Sexual Desire in Your Marriage.” If you would like to hear this, the link for registration is https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/390203343