From King David in Jerusalem to Kathryn Hepburn in Los Angeles, Prince Charles in England, Bill Clinton and Jon Edwards in Washington, D.C., Eliot Spitzer in New York and this week, Governor Mark Sanford, in South Carolina, infidelity has been a consistent part of our history. Infidelity is much more common than we like to believe. It is also no longer primarily the province of men, as women, statistically, are catching up fast. Equal opportunity, indeed.
Infidelity is neither solely men’s domain, nor is it an indication of a bad marriage. It is definitely not a sign that the marriage is over. In fact, most marriages survive infidelity and affairs. Many actually thrive. None of the above-mentioned high profile marital affairs ended up in divorce.
Humans have long been titillated by the extramarital transgressions of the high and mighty, from emperors, queens and presidents, to evangelists, politicians and movie stars, as well as our co-workers, friends and families. The theme has threaded itself throughout history, art, literature and, certainly, through politics and Hollywood. Moving this trend into high gear is none other than the internet, where couples meet and mingle frequently, anonymously and sometimes perfidiously.
INFIDELITY: MYTH VS. FACT
Myth: An affair always indicates serious problems in the marriage.
Fact: Not all affairs are created equal. Some who engage in affairs report high marital satisfaction. Others report that the affair has actually spiced up their marriage. I (OZ) have identified more than a dozen reasons why people commit affairs. One of the strongest risk factors for infidelity, researchers have found, exists not inside the marriage but outside; opportunity.
Myth: Most affairs lead to divorce.
Fact: OResearch has shown that more than 75% of marriages which experience infidelity stay intact.
Myth: Lack of sex at home is the main reason for infidelity.
Fact: Again, one the strongest risk factors for infidelity does not come from within the marriage (for instance, a bad marital relationship or lack of sex in the marital relationship). Rather, the risk arises from outside the marriage with the presence of outside opportunities.
Myth: Infidelity is not normal.
Fact: Infidelity has been recorded in almost all societies, and in quite a few cultures it is the prevailing norm.
Myth: Infidelity is rare in the animal kingdom.
Fact: Only 3% of the 4,000 species of mammals are genetically pre-programmed for monogamy. Humans, doves and swans are not among the faithful 3%: however, the flatworm is.
Myth: An affair inevitably destroys the marriage.
Fact: Many marriages survive affairs and emerge stronger than before.
Myth: Western culture supports fidelity.
Fact: Western culture gives lip service to fidelity, but actually supports infidelity through its obsession with sexuality in the media, on the Internet and through role modeling by celebrities.
Myth: People’s attitudes toward infidelity are consistent with their behavior.
Fact: A striking paradox is that, while 90% disapprove of extramarital relationships, almost half of couples have sometimes been in such relationships.
Myth: Men initiate almost all affairs.
Fact: Unlike in the past when women could lose everything, including their lives, for being “unfaithful”, infidelity has become an equal opportunity venture in the West. Women are catching up rapidly as they are working outside the home, are less dependent on men for physical and financial support, and spend a lot of time social networking online.
Myth: Disclosure of the affair to the betrayed spouse is essential to healing the marriage.
Fact: Therapists must conduct a careful risk-benefit analysis before encouraging or insisting that clients disclose their affairs. Each case is different and should be understood within its own context. Some affairs are best kept secret.
Myth: Full disclosure of all the details of the affair to the betrayed spouse is essential to regaining trust.
Fact: This moralistic-puritanical view of affairs can be very destructive. Giving the partner X-rated details of the affair can be haunting, traumatizing and can fuel obsessions.
Myth: Couples therapy is the best approach to dealing with an infidelity crisis.
Fact: No one approach is best. Therapists must take into consideration the type of affair, personalities, culture, etc., when constructing a treatment plan. A moralistic judgmental attitude can be harmful.