Beyond Infidelity

The way the media covers these family tragedies makes it seem like everybody out there is cheating on their spouses.

Alex & Cynthia Rodriquez. Christie Brinkley & Peter Cook. Madonna & Guy Ritchie. If you went by the celebrity tabloids, you’d think that divorce and infidelity is the American Way. Maybe there are few readers out there who have not heard, in excruciating voyeuristic detail, the lurid details of the extra marital transgressions of Alex & Peter (you’re probably better off).  The way the media covers these family tragedies makes it seem like everybody out there is cheating on their spouses.  Actually, fewer than 20% of people that are married reported sexual infidelity.  Unfortunately, my guess is that number is going to rise dramatically in the next decade.  Although we have finally figured out that having oral sex is actually having sex, the definition of what specifically constitutes marital infidelity continues to evolve.

Having an affair used to be defined of having sex with someone other than your mate.  At the Smart Marriage conference last week, many of the workshops addressed the changing views of what exactly is cheating on your spouse.  What is becoming accepted knowledge among those who work with couples, infidelity is not only about sex but also about trust, betrayal, and marital disloyalty.  For instance, while nothing physical might happen with someone at work, if you’re sharing intimate hopes and dreams with your colleague during lunch instead of your spouse at dinner, you’re cheating.  “Innocent” flirtations with the opposite sex often cross the line and online conversations with strangers on the Internet threaten marital stability.  All this might sound strange, but, if you think about it, what makes your relationship with your partner special isn’t only the sex — there’s a lot more to it than that.  Same goes for other relationships in your life — you’re not friends with someone only because you carpool together or because they always complement your clothing.  We all know that relationships are more complex and nuanced than that.  The bottom line is that when you share an intimate moment with someone who isn’t your partner, you’re cheating.

Another disturbing finding confirms the notion that bad marriages do not make affairs but affairs make bad marriages. A new study that was  published in June [Do you know by whom?] reported that only 25% of men said that they had severe marital problems before the affairs. The study found that couples that experienced infidelity in their marriage reported no signs of unhappiness or hostility and had more positive than negative interactions with their spouse.  Infidelity does not only occur in unhappy marriages but occurs more often when there is a lack of connection between partners.  Our level of attachment to our spouse is a much better predictor of infidelity than the perception of marital happiness.

The good news is that you can “affair-proof” your marriage by keeping the connection passionate in your relationship.  No matter how difficult it is, make time for you and your partner to spend time together alone.  Go on dates.  Talk on the phone during the day.  Take a weekend out of town.  The more that you talk with your partner about what is important to them the less likely that they will share those thoughts with someone else.  If you have any other ideas about how to stay close to your partner, I’d love to hear them.