Studies universally suggest that somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of people in committed relationships sexually cheat on their spouse or significant other. Of course, in today’s world of chat rooms, webcams, instant messaging, and instant pornography, the concept of cheating is, in the minds of many who do it, somewhat malleable and easier to deny than in the past, when cheating meant actual live physical contact.
So in consideration of our evolving Internet definitions and experiences of cheating, it is likely that 10 to 20 percent number is an underestimate.
While our cultural stereotypes tend to focus on men stepping out on their wives or girlfriends, the fact of the matter is almost as many women are unfaithful as men. It does take two to dance the infidelity tango. Some women stray sexually when seeking some form of deeper romantic connection or emotional support seemingly missing in a primary relationship.
But many others will cheat for the very same reason most men do: they just want more or better or different sex.
What does it mean exactly for your wife or girlfriend to be unfaithful in today’s digital world? Is physical contact necessary, or does a webcam mutual encounter with someone half a world away count equally? What about pornography, still or moving? Intimate chat room discussions that evolve into a coffee get-together? Mutual masturbation with web cameras on Skype?
In so many ways, it’s a new and confusing world. That said, after working with hundreds of betrayed spouses and their ultimately remorseful mates, the answer to the question of what defines infidelity remains as clear to me today as it was when Monica Lewinsky first stored away that stained little blue dress. Infidelity is the breaking of trust and the keeping of secrets in an intimate partnership. It’s the unknown thing that your partner would never believe you would keep secret.
In other words, with sexual infidelity, it’s more than the cheating itself or any specific sexual act that causes the deepest pain to a betrayed spouse or partner. It’s the betrayal of relationship trust by consistent lying that causes intimacy to crack wide open. Thus we respond to the sexually addicted client who insists on continuing to act out with every justified reason, “Feel free to chat online with other women, complain about your marriage to old girlfriends on Facebook, and hook up with women from Craigslist. Just make sure you run the agenda by your spouse first. If it’s OK with them then it’s OK with me.” In this way trust can be maintained, though few of my clients took me up on this suggestion.
Signs of Female Cheating
Because women (and men) who cheat cover up their actions with endless mistruths (many told to themselves), it is difficult to know if your wife or girlfriend is being unfaithful. Statistics tell us that she’s more likely to tell her friends than you. Most often all you have to go on is little more than a gut feeling that something is wrong, and a lessening of her time, interest and availability for you. Below are some common signs of female cheating. While one or two of these signs alone might have little meaning, a longer list may well mean trouble ahead.
1) She has a sudden need for privacy. She may start password protecting her computer or hiding her cell phone and credit card bills.
2) Her formerly regular work habits change. If her job hours are suddenly erratic, or she seems to be putting in longer than normal hours, it may be an indication that she is carving out time for an affair.
3) She spends a lot of time online. Excessive computer use can be an indication that she is carrying on an affair via webcam, chat rooms, or social media. Such an affair could be purely online; it may also involve meeting in person.
4) Her phone use is suddenly secretive. The ins and outs of most affairs are conducted via the phone, especially cell phones. If she is conducting whispered conversations, taking her phone into another room to talk, or hanging up when you enter a room, you may have reason to worry. If you still have a land line, you may experience hang-ups when you answer.
5) She is suddenly more attentive and accommodating than usual. This may indicate feelings of guilt on her part, or an attempt to distract you from her infidelity.
6) She seems indifferent about her life and your relationship. If she is bored with you, your kids, your home, her job, and her hobbies, it may mean she’s found something more exciting. And that something could be another relationship.
7) She has become more focused on her appearance. If she is spending more time in front of the mirror, styling her hair differently, shopping for new clothes, wearing sexy underwear, buying new perfumes, and going to the gym, it’s not a good sign.
8) She is spending more money than usual. If you want to play, you’ve got to pay. Traditionally, men spring for dinners, hotel rooms, and expensive gifts, but affairs are pricey for women, too. Facials, salon hair extensions, silk underwear, and personal trainers don’t come cheap.
9) She habitually lies to you. If her stories about where she’s been, whom she was with, and what she was doing consistently don’t add up, it’s possible she’s attempting to cover up her infidelity. Sometimes you just have to trust your gut on this.
10) Her friends treat you differently. If she is cheating and her friends know, and they usually know long before you do, they will treat you differently. It’s possible they will lie to cover up for her, even if they feel badly for you. They may also be less inclined to socialize with you and your wife or girlfriend as a couple.
11) She no longer talks about her favorite male friend. It is perfectly normal for women to have male friends. If she talks about them, you’re fine. If she stops talking about one of them, it’s a good indication their relationship has changed. It’s possible they’re no longer pals. It’s also possible they’ve taken the friendship to another level.
12) Your sex life has changed. If she is no longer interested in sex with you, it could be an indication she’s getting her needs met elsewhere. Conversely, if she is suddenly more sexual with you, or more adventurous with you, it may mean her libido and sexual repertoire have been expanded through infidelity.
It can be an unbelievably painful experience to learn of a loved one’s cheating. While her infidelity may reflect unaddressed problems in your relationship, it is more likely that she has lifelong challenges with relationship intimacy and deepening commitment, which are the kinds of issues that can often be successfully treated in good couples’ therapy.
Marital and couples counseling can for some turn a relationship crisis into a growth opportunity, while for others it can help process a long overdue good-bye. If it turns out she is a sex or love addict, as many cheaters are, she will need specialized individual treatment as well.
Woman looking through blinds photo available from Shutterstock.