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Advice given to those experiencing the effects of an extramarital
affair, differs substantially depending who you are . . .
Are you the person having or considering having an extramarital affair?
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Do you suspect or know that your partner or spouse is having an extramarital
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General information about extramarital affairs
1. extramarital affairs advice advice about Why Do People
This is often the first question people ask when they
learn of their partner's or spouses extramarital affair. the answers they
come up with are usually based on personal blame. They blame themselves,
their partner, their relationship, or the third party. They see it strictly
as a personal problem, a personal failure of the people involved. This
is a very simple explanation for a very complex question.
Usually there are three different kinds of forces that
are working together:
1. Forces within the individual that pull them toward affairs
Attraction: sex, companionship, admiration, power
Excitement, risk, or challenge
Falling in love
2. Forces within the individual that push them toward
Desire to escape or find relief from a painful relationship
Desire to fill gaps in an existing relationship
Desire to punish one's partner
Need to prove one's attractiveness or worth
Desire for attention
3. Societal influences:
Affairs are glamorized in movies, soap operas, romance
novels, and TV shows of all kinds. Public disclosure of public figures
having affairs is headline news because we are fascinated and titillated
by hearing of others' affairs.
People are bombarded with images of women as sex objects
in advertising and marketing campaigns. Over and over, the message to
men is that the good life includes a parade of sexy women in their lives.
Women inadvertently buy into this image and strive to achieve it.
The lack of good sex education and the existence of sexual
taboos combine to make it difficult for most partners to talk honestly
As teenagers we get conditioned in deception when it
comes to sex—engaging in sexual activity while hiding it from our
The code of secrecy is a major factor in affairs because
it provides protection for the person having affairs and leads them to
believe they won't get caught.
Bottom Line: There is no ONE single reason a person has
an affair. There are usually many reasons, including some of the forces
that pull them toward affairs and some of the forces that push them toward
affairs, combined with the influence of the general factors in society
that contribute to affairs.
2. Who Has Affairs?
We tend to think that only bad people have affairs or
only people in bad relationships. But no one is immune from an affair.
Monogamy is something most people say they believe in
and want for themselves. Every survey ever done on this question shows
a high percentage of people think monogamy is important to marriage and
that affairs are wrong. But a belief in monogamy as an ideal doesn't prevent
large numbers of people from having extramarital affairs. Most people
don't intend to have an affair and most people don't think it will happen
to them—but it does.
Bottom Line: No one is immune from having affairs disrupt
their lives or the lives of those they care about; they happen to all
kinds of people, in all walks of life.
3. How Prevalent are Affairs?
Conservative estimates are that 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women
will have an extramarital affair. These figures are even more significant
when we consider the total number of marriages involved—since it's
unlikely that all the men and women having affairs happen to be married
to each other. If even half of the women having affairs (or 20 percent)
are married to men not included in the 60 percent having affairs, then
at least one partner will have an affair in approximately 80 percent of
But we need to take a closer look at the statistics on
affairs to determine what they can contribute to an understanding of our
sexual patterns. While affairs happen in non-marital, "committed"
relationships as well as within marriage, most of the statistics deal
only with "extramarital" affairs. These statistics began with
Kinsey's reports in the 1940's and early 1950's. Kinsey's samples included
5,000 men and showed that by age 40, 50 percent of the men had experienced
extramarital sexual intercourse. Kinsey's original samples of 6,000 women
showed that by age 40, 26 percent of the women had experienced extramarital
Later studies dealing exclusively with men indicate a
continuous increase in the number of men having extramarital affairs.
The increase for women having affairs has been even more significant.
Some of the statistics, both for men and for women, are extremely high
and legitimately debated, but many people question any statistics on extramarital
affairs, arguing that statistics are unreliable and confusing and that
no one knows precisely how prevalent affairs are. While there are slight
differences in the estimates based on clinical studies and questionnaires,
the bottom line is compelling in showing an extremely high (and rising)
incidence of extramarital affairs.
Why it helps to know about the prevalence of affairs:
For the person who knows their spouse has had an affair and is still trying
to understand why, acknowledging the prevalence of affairs in our society
can help them put it in a more realistic perspective. Understanding just
how many others face the same situation (regardless of who they are or
who they're married to) can help break the sense of being so alone, isolated,
or "singled out" for this experience. It can help overcome the
feeling of "why me?"
People who have not yet faced this issue, either in their
own lives or with their friends or family, would do well to start with
a realistic picture of the frequency of affairs in society as a whole.
It's not that the sheer frequency means it will happen to any specific
person, but it does say a lot about the kind of support to expect from
society for remaining monogamous vs. having affairs. We need to make a
commitment to face the reality of affairs and address the issue in a more
responsible way, both individually and as a society.
Bottom Line: Most of us expect monogamy to be a normal
part of marriage or any committed relationship. The reality is that monogamy
is not the norm.
4. Is Monogamy "Natural?"
People often get caught up in a debate over whether
people are naturally monogamous or naturally have affairs. That's a useless
debate, as was clearly expressed by Jessie Bernard in her classic work,
The Future of Marriage:
"Millions of words have been used to document both
the naturalness and the unnaturalness of monogamy. The question...is,
actually, unanswerable. We will never know if there is anything intrinsic
in human nature that limits the ways the sexes can relate to one another
because no one has ever survived outside of any culture long enough to
teach us. Human nature seems to be able to take almost any form of marriage—or
unable to take any form."
We can only understand monogamy and affairs in a societal context, in
terms of the attitudes of society as a whole. Normally, when we try to
understand why affairs happen we look only at the reasons why a person
might want to have an affair, such as the excitement of sexual variety.
But this doesn't explain why affairs happen. People may want to have affairs
for a wide range of reasons, but their decision to act on those desires
is affected by the values and actions of those around them.
Affairs happen in so many marriages that it's unreasonable
to think they're due solely to factors within each marriage. Whatever
the personal factors involved in affairs, they are more than outweighed
by the significant, powerful, and pervasive societal factors. We have
a responsibility to learn more about our role, individually and as a whole,
in supporting the societal factors that contribute to affairs.
Bottom Line: Debating the "naturalness" or
"unnaturalness" of monogamy is a way of avoiding dealing directly
with this issue. Regardless of whether or not it's "natural,"
it's happening; so starting from there, there is much to learn.
5. How Can Affairs be Prevented?
Prevention is possible only through a commitment to
Honesty, not a "promise" to be monogamous.
Definition of Honesty: not withholding relevant information.
What won't work:
Couples can't avoid affairs by assuming monogamy or even by promising
monogamy without discussing the issue. And they can't avoid affairs by
making threats as to what they would do if it happened. Either of these
paths creates a cycle of dishonesty. In either case, people don't feel
free to admit being attracted to someone else. If they don't admit these
attractions, then they won't admit being tempted. If they don't admit
being tempted, then they certainly won't admit it if and when they finally
act on the attraction. The effect on the relationship is to cause it to
be filled with jealousy and suspicion, as well as making it less likely
that it will be monogamous.
What will work:
On the other hand, by specifically making a commitment to honesty, both
partners realize that attractions to others are likely, indeed inevitable,
no matter how much they love each other. So they engage in ongoing honest
communication about the reality of the temptations and how to avoid the
consequences of acting on those temptations. The effect on the relationship
is to create a sense of closeness and a knowledge of each other that replaces
suspicion with trust, making it more likely that it will be monogamous.
Why honesty works:
The process of discussing attractions actually decreases the likelihood
of acting on them, because it focuses on the potential problems of acting
on them; whereas when a person is tempted to have an affair, their private
thoughts usually dwell only on the potential pleasures. There's an added
fascination and excitement about feelings that are kept secret as compared
to those that are acknowledged and discussed. Shedding the cold light
of day on secret desires goes a long way toward diminishing their power.
Who can use this process?
This process of acknowledging attractions and discussing how they are
to be handled is one that both married and unmarried couples need to address
prior to any problem with affairs. Constantly wondering and worrying about
this issue creates a strain between partners that may prevent their developing
a sense of trust in each other. They need to talk through their feelings
about monogamy and attractions to other people on an ongoing basis as
their relationship develops.
Bottom Line: There are no guarantees. The issue of monogamy
is never settled once and for all. It requires ongoing honest discussion
of the issue. This makes it possible for a couple to feel they really
know each other, making it more likely they can trust that they won't
deceive each other, thus preventing affairs.