Common Reasons for Marital Infidelity
#27 of 100
Reasons People Defend As Normal Aren't Always Healthy
One of the biggest reasons for infidelity in American marriages is a stereotype that men are unfaithful and women are upset about it. Truth is, men get just as upset about it and women are as likely to do it, but married women get stuck in this saintly role and men as sinners -- and then a lot of people get hurt.
That stereotype about men that we're always willing to drop our pants at the slightest chance of getting sex, even bad sex, even from unattractive partners but especially from attractive ones, is part of the mainstream view of how men's minds work. We're supposed to think about having sex all the time, every thirty seconds. And be doing everything possible to get it at the expense of any other pursuit in life.
Regardless of the fact that most healthy adult males really can't manage to do it more than once or twice a day and when young, maybe three or four. If you're successful at getting laid, then you can rapidly reach a point where what you can get is much more than your body can handle. But we're supposed to be Superman in that regard and ready to go at any moment, at the slightest opportunity.
On the other hand a disturbing statistic came up in the other direction -- that a lot of married people, who do have a steady monogamous partner whom they can trust not to have an STD and who did at least at one point love them -- actually manage to have sex only about once a month? That this gets taken as normal?
To me that's a sign that something's seriously off in the marriage and partners have forgotten they're lovers, forgotten that being married isn't just about doing the dishes and taking out the trash and supporting the kids. Granted, when the kids are babies you may both be longing to get eight hours of uninterrupted sleep as a higher priority than squeezing in a quickie. But this goes on for years.
Men do suffer for it if they do not relieve the pressure of their body needs more often than once a month -- at least a couple of times a week at a low-healthy average, maybe three or four in a well-balanced marriage. If that sounds like a lot, maybe cultural expectations about marital sex as unexciting and a dull obligation are interfering with both partners' pleasure.
I have seen both men and women fall into an ugly pattern of "married" stereotypes where they take their spouses for granted and cease doing anything remotely seductive toward them, especially once kids come along but sometimes as fast as right after the honeymoon. They stop ever dressing up and going out on dates to share an exciting romantic evening.
My daughter and son in law are an exception. They go out pretty much weekly even when money's tight, though what they do on their outings may vary depending on immediate finances and at least once a month I'll see my daughter in a slinky dress, it could be the one she still gets into that she bought as a high school senior and my son in law spiffing up with a nice shirt and cool jacket and they stay out till one in the morning. I watch the kids.
Every time they date each other I smile and know they're going to stick it out. And know that their having Grandpa in the house to be home with the kids and save them the cost of a babysitter is a vital, valuable, essential part of their lifestyle and this family's harmony. When they are getting along well with each other the kids behave better, the animals behave better, the food's better and the chores get done with fewer complaints.
Most people seem to grow up with the idea that people who are married pick on each other all the time over petty things whether those are shared responsibilities or just personal habits and tastes. It seems normal to hear a husband or a wife start criticizing a spouse's taste in music or movies and make cruel jokes about it that they never would about a friend, or tell embarrassing stories about their spouses or complain about them to perfect strangers.
Yet this person who's acting like your worst enemy, someone that if you weren't married you'd be making polite excuses and maybe even join a different club to get away from them, is expected to be sexy to you? No wonder they only do it once a month.
It's not easy to approach someone romantically if the last thing you heard out of his or her mouth was how stupid you are for liking your favorite music or how horrible you are for not doing X chore exactly on time the way it was supposed to be done and you know the whole long laundry list of personal complaints so well you could recite it.
This does not give the impression she wants you in her arms being the big man and sweeping her away to rapturous intensity.
So even at the moment she does, he's hiding in the other room playing a computer game where at least the orcs just try to kill you and you can kill them back.
Infidelity can often be prevented by building a good strong intimate relationship and keeping up the romantic intensity after courtship.
Invert normal custom and add consideration to your day to day activity without any expectation of sexual reward. Just treat your partner better than your friends or your acquaintances or even the people you are trying to sell people to. Hold your tongue on criticism and especially on quick accusations of malice without proof. There's nothing dumber than saying "Did you throw out my favorite shirt? I know you hate it and I can't find it" only to check your old never-unpacked gym bag and find it wadded up and dirty from the last time you went to the gym. It feels so stupid.
But how many men make that accusation anyway and reject her, assume guilt until innocence is proved and then never apologize?
Or women. That could be the favorite teapot instead or that dish her aunt gave her that she loves and he hates. That could be anything.
These are the types of things marriage counselors bring up when couples finally get tired of the misery and go to see them. They're basic. They're as common as the common cold. The social pressure on men to prove their manliness by getting sex from any female they're attracted to -- and the irresistibiltiy of someone single who does not know he's married and is responding in her terms to a guy who's just acting like he's courting and being very nice, that return to the attitudes of courtship is the allure of infidelity.
Starting over when you've already been burned is a lot harder. The memory of those unjust accusations and familiarity of every little thing that drove you nuts is a hard thing to overcome. But you once loved that person more than anyone else on Earth and that can be rekindled -- but it's better to keep it burning all along than to let it get to the point of Normal Misery.
There's also a widespread feeling that Jealousy is Okay.
The worst cruel things anyone does get justified by "He was just jealous" or "She was just jealous." Whether that's jealous of a resource or a talent, or jealous that your partner will wander, that can create maddening behavior like constantly checking up on your partner and supervising every aspect of his or her life.
I think that jealousy provokes infidelity many times as the person just gets tired of the unjust suspicions and then meets someone who treats her or him better, like they were treated during courtship.
There are married people who get jealous if a spouse masturbates -- when they have just refused sex to their spouse. That's unreasonable. Masturbation is the spouse being faithful and taking care of his or her own needs alone rather than bother a partner who isn't in the mood. They can't hold it forever -- and a month is too long and causes genuine health problems for males. It causes some health problems for women too, although women seem to adapt better to long periods of celibacy.
I've heard people complain because spouses had wet dreams that weren't about them, as if your spouse is even supposed to control what comes up during dreams. Most people aren't lucid dreamers and most lucid dreamers don't do it every time they dream. Dreams come from the unconscious and if the body's deprived of sex, it will provide some sexual material whether that's a random dream partner or a movie actress or someone they know who in real life is out of reach. It's just a dream, get over it, don't hold people responsible for dreams and other things they don't control.
That shuts down intimacy fast.
If you want to keep your spouse faithful, be nice to your spouse day to day. Be appreciative of every cool thing about them and lighten up about the things that bug you, then take your time working out what's serious enough to discuss and choose a good time when neither's stressed to deal with just that issue without bringing up the laundry list of everything they ever did wrong in their life. Resolve conflicts, don't just get resentful and do nasty passive-aggressive things to get back at them, that just turns into a vicious cycle.
Try to identify all the circular arguments that come up and can never be resolved and work out solutions that leave both parties at least livable compromises or arrangements. Get creative on the solutions, something out of left field may make both parties happy.
Put in the time to resist conformity and the pressure to be normal.
Put in the time to discuss family patterns and understand cultural differences. Some family patterns are abusive and can carry on for generations -- and you can't see it till after the wedding because people get this tape in their heads of how to act when married from how their parents acted. If you marry someone from a dysfunctional background, get a counselor at the first sign of trouble because you will need help, both of you, to create new patterns from the ground up.
Dysfunction is so epidemic this is almost everyone when you count the marriages that have one emotionally abused partner and one who wasn't. Many have two dysfunctional patterns colliding and without help, without counseling, they will just repeat every misery both of the miserable couples who spawned them came up with.
It's socially acceptable to abuse your spouse emotionally, both have to fight the cheap trick of getting sympathy for a rotten marriage and admit that it takes some relearning to build a happy one. It takes going outside the norm. It takes looking beyond television sitcoms for how people get along -- I have seen horrible patterns treated as normal and funny in sitcoms and taken as normal... and lived out by their fans.
Infidelity is usually a late symptom of a bad relationship. Deal with the problems at the early ones and it's less likely to happen.
If there are long separations, keep contact and be a bit more forgiving about possible infidelity in the absence because a lot of people just turn to whoever's nearby on a temporary basis -- and your stand-in isn't as important as you are when it's caused by a separation. It's that other person who's being used as a stopgap and isn't as important as you are.
Some couples survive infidelity and grow stronger.
Other times, and this is horribly common, infidelity happens as vengeance for some other cruelty. For not getting any share of the joint spending money. For having to do too much and get too little appreciation. For being constantly insulted. For any of the bad treatment that common everyday "normal" behavior visits on unsuspecting spouses by stereotype -- the anger is real but instead of actually fighitng, which didn't end it, or counseling, which might, the angry spouse gets back at them by infidelity.
Or it can start with jealousy and unproved (maybe unreal) infidelity followed by vengeance infidelity because the person who got suspected got too mad and decided to get back at the partner who was supposedly unfaithful.
Either way it's usually not its own cause and not an isolated thing. It comes out of a long period of personal cruelty and personal disconfirmation and most of the time people don't know what hit them -- or comprehend the difference between how this new interest treats them and how their spouse does, that the difference is the new one is sympathetic and interested and supportive while the spouse is critical, cold and often deliberately malicious.
You can't control what another person does. It does not work. Ever.
You can decide how you will behave and be choosy who you settle down with -- and discuss issues before tying the knot. You can work out things like where and how to live and how you treat each other in the morning and get in the habit of sorting out conflicts in a way that's mutually satisfying and not too painful.
This is not the same for everyone.
A good friend once said compatibility rests on both partners having the same style of conflict resolution. If two people both hate suspense and love quick screaming arguments with a passionate conclusion in the making-up, their pattern works for them. It may be annoying for the neighbors but they're both happy -- but if a screamer gets together with a sulker, both are miserable, one because she has to always hold her tongue and the other because he never knows when he'll be screamed at. Gender is irrelevant, these conflict resolution styles go across gender lines.
I'll only be happy with another slow quiet reason it out in long discussions partner who hates being screamed at or sulked at, who's willing to bring things up and take the time to sort them out very gently without hurting each others' feelings. But that's me. It's so not everyone.
I wasn't unfaithful in my relationships but they broke up anyway and one of my partners was unfaithful in a truly hilarious way -- we went back and forth on this seesaw about it because I believed open relationships were fine but didn't believe in double standards. So if my partner wanted to have an open relationship, cool, we'll have an open relationship and I'll date outside too. There was no malice in it. I honestly didn't care and thought monogamy was a little easier.
But one of the reasons that partner left me was that I wouldn't get angry or hurt when it came up. I didn't get jealous and so my partner felt unloved because I knew that if I had reason to fear being abandoned it didn't have to do with some other competing person on the horizon so much as our not being happy together.
Jealousy can lead to it. Jealousy can cause the very thing it fears most.
So be good to your spouse and if that's really too hard, go to a good marriage counselor and find out why. It may make your life a lot happier in ways that go far deeper than preventing infidelity. It may end the headaches and stomachaches at the breakfast table too.