Yes, the results of the “anonymous” polls and the historical court records are in, cheating on your spouse (sometimes called “irreconcilable differences”) is today more popular, perhaps run-of-the-mill and even expected, more than ever in our societal facade of til death do you part! Why? Why in the early, middle, or latter years of a long-term commitment do two people wonder away from each other emotionally, mentally, and/or sexually from lifetime vows, promises, and contracts? How many acclaimed cinema films tell the truth about love, dying love, love rediscovered, or mistaken naïve love despite the noble vows, promises, and contracts?
A May 2016 New York Magazine article says women now “cheat” or have extramarital relations as much as men always have throughout cultural history with their mistresses, concubines, courtesans, and harems, but fortunately with much fewer severe consequences.
It is, perhaps, another milestone in the march to equality. Women and men are now taking an equal-opportunity approach to extramarital hanky-panky. A report out of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University found that, for the first time in modern history, women are cheating at nearly the same rate as men. Another study, published in the National Opinion Research Center’s 2013 General Social Survey, found that while the percentage of men who admitted to infidelity has held constant over the last two decades, the percentage of wives who reported having affairs rose almost 40 percent.
Another recent study found that some women are genetically predisposed to “extra pair bonding,” euphemistically speaking. Men don’t have this gene.
But the prevailing theory is that modern marriage is what’s killing marriage — that the more deliberation women put into whom they pair up with, the more willing and motivated they are to make a move when something’s not working.
Women now are more aware of the alternatives to monogamy and more inclined to demand to have all their needs met. That’s because happiness is such an important part of marriage. Fewer women are marrying out of need; instead, they’re marrying to please themselves. But that also means when they’re dissatisfied with something they feel justified to go elsewhere.”
I would argue quite earnestly on the validity of one claim the article made. It says “The crazy part, [Rebecca] elaborates, is not the apparent epidemic of adultery, but that it’s the women who seem to be fueling it.” I disagree. As the popular and truthful cliché goes it takes two to tango — that is, consensual tango. Thriving and loving lifetime marriages are a 50/50 responsibility as well as a 50/50 risk or reward, no more, no less… always. Is that not the correct definition of full and true equality? And using the description “epidemic of adultery” is unnecessarily harsh when an action/behavior is a choice, not a contagious virus which is not chosen. Last I checked, adultery is a human choice.
What is wrong with having dreams and hopes in life? Isn’t it inherently and socially accepted, even encouraged, for a man or woman to “have it all” in a lifetime monogamous marriage? The article later reads:
Lauren, 41, admits she wanted it all: “the best friend, the domestic partner, the professional equal, the lover,” she says. She had two out of four when, some eight years and one baby into her marriage, she began sleeping with a co-worker — a guy who was more her professional equal than her low-earning husband, who’d largely given up on his career. “A healthy attraction to a person does demand you have a little bit of intrigue and imbalance, which in male-female-empowered relationships is not a priority,” she says. “Wanting some hetero-normalcy isn’t something people want to talk about, not in that bougie Brooklyn world I live in. A lot of women I know stick with it and suffer through it even as they have that fantasy of being with someone who is their equal, or even their superior.” — New York Magazine article
The journalist Alyssa Giacobbe reports the very real and justified anger of a husband who has been deceived and cheated-on sharing two examples of his public shaming of the unfaithful wife. But once again, if one is expected to impeccably honor their words, vows, promises, and contracts, then it applies equally to both husband and wife. Yet, examining our human social, patriarchal history doesn’t quite bear that ideal, does it? What I found very comically intriguing in Giacobbe’s report was what Dr. Ian Kerner, a sex and relationship psychotherapist, had found in his decades of practice:
When the woman strays, there’s anger, yes, but there’s also much more interest from the [husband] than there ever was to collaborate and talk and work it out, [while the wife has been having an affair with] some douche bag down the street. — New York Magazine article
The husband erroneously thinks it is a phase she is currently going through and will pass like a common cold. Many men rarely ask, Might it have something partially to do with me, or a LOT to do with me!? What a novel question! But to be fair, a novel question for either spouse. And why does it take something so painfully dishonorable or negligent by both spouses, and so late in the infection, if you will, in order for a sudden inspiration “to work it out” and improve, to be a better husband or wife? Why the delay?
Most or perhaps many of the stories of marital struggles and/or infidelity are quite familiar to you the readers I’m sure, and among your social or job circles, possibly within your own family or your own past relationships or marriages. Cheating is honestly not uncommon (to utilize a juxtaposition here 🤭) despite those appearing as “civil” marriages that underneath are hush-hush and closeted. It is however, unsurprisingly, a long distorted and ‘mystified’ result frequently manifested by limiting, proprietary, phobic or paranoid protective (hyper-jealousy), verbally silent, and repressive structures in those marriages. Furthermore, one should never presume that one’s own marriage or long-termed relationship is forever immune to such changes, possibly major surprises and challenges, when humans and circumstances are constantly fluid, moving and changing. I purposely emphasize this to my own heterosexual gender fooled into thinking that a socio-religious contract is unbreakable or unsinkable! Many old and ancient marriages — including those of our grandparents, great grandparents, etc. — simply remained intact due to the potential hardships the woman faced having to survive solo as a divorcee, even harder if publicly labelled an adulterer. Not so for the man.
With all of the above said, known, or unknown — intentional distortions, deceptions and mystifying of cheating — is there more to it, something mainstream traditional society has not considered, or is too afraid to seriously consider for far too long? I think so.
I suggest that the old, antiquated, mainstream construct of marriage, in particular monogamous marriage, was never ideal or realistic in the first place. Traditions that fail to evolve and adapt eventually die-out. Therefore, there are a number of reasons (supported by continued, advancing sciences) for our apparent(?) rise of marital cheating. I will list just five important reasons and the last two are critical to understand, possibly requiring our acceptance and embrace if you are a strong advocate for total marital monogamy. If so, if you believe lifetime monogamy is the best or only marital setup, then put on your thickest battle armor and prepare for years of relentless, 24/7, 365 days of acute alertness, attentiveness… never letting your guard down. Warning! Keeping a lifetime monogamous marriage/relationship in tact, much less thriving, is and will be a visible and sometimes invisible struggle upstream against natural (rarely against immoral or evil) forces everywhere. And even if you foolishly believe you have been victorious, sometimes your “enemy” is in and has been in your encampment for a long time and you did not notice. Faulty intelligence is ever-present, anywhere at anytime. That is simply human nature.
Nevertheless, for those who believe in Walt Disney-style eternal love and romance with one person their entire lifetime, it can be done. I have 3-4 different married aunts and uncles who have done it for 50-60+ years. They all have one thing in common: societal remoteness. In other words, they are quite recluse when it comes to daily social engagement; it’s very infrequent. Think about that.
To the five contributing factors of marital cheating. The first three reasons are summarized from Dr. Susan Whitbourne’s excellent report on PsychologyToday.com. The fourth reason is summarized from Ker Than and LiveScience.com. And the fifth and final reason below is from yours truly. I feel it is an overlooked or badly ignored factor in an already maligned, faulty, antiquated marital construct. Hence, I list it last.
These spouses are seeking emotional intimacy and understanding they feel they are not experiencing in their primary relationship or marriage. Feeling appreciated and valued on a regular basis is an integral component in marriage if it is to last lifetimes. The precise details of this dissatisfaction can and do change over time for various reasons. The priorities of partners/spouses change and fluctuate over time, for example, when children enter the picture. Or a residential move or job-relocation occurs. How attentive we are to those fluid changes and what actions we take (or not take), verbally and non-verbally, will also dictate or influence future solutions and/or behaviors.
This is the most common reason cited by clinical-counseling studies. I find this very interesting for two reasons. One, I discuss below in Mammalian/Primate Biology; it’s a natural biological force in 97.9% of humans, for a segment of humans it is a raging force relative to their sexual organs and hormonal makeup, starting as an embryo and genetically from their parent’s families and ancestors. Let me say this though.
Humans want to improve and/or explore their natural sexual desires. Medically, this does not generally decrease until a person’s late 40’s or 50’s, later if they lead a healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, participants in these studies cited desires to experience additional sexual encounters with non-partners or outside of their spouse. This number is typically and predictably low due to societal pressure of it being unacceptable, historically of women, as if a marriage was NOT 50/50, but 30/70 or 20/80… where the woman either was expected to have the lowest desire for good/great sex or the higher expectation of responsibility of always pleasing the husband! HAH! Yeah, riddle me that one.
Dying Love and/or Redefined Love
This is a lower cited reason in clinical-counseling studies probably because love is difficult for many people to unanimously define. Today, it is indeed more complex socially (vs. biologically) than it was 100, 500, or 1,000 years ago. Overall, the studies suggest that deeper emotional and sexual intimacy are more compelling reasons for extramarital behaviors. They both can be simultaneous expectations or demands too, not necessarily one or the other. And falling in love with someone new is not often cited as the driving force for infidelity. This might be because keeping an affair secret often requires a sometimes exhausting amount of preparation, forethought, juggling of schedules, physical, mental, and emotional energy, and the careful explanations (disinformation, deception) for activities “without” the spouse and/or kids involved. When a cheater’s secret lover usually only comprises maybe 5% to 20% (give or take) of the cheater’s realistic available time in a day or week (factor in children), there is little to no time for deeper definitions of love to develop. Not in a reasonable, sane(?), stable fashion.
I want to quote one of the paragraphs in the PsychologyToday.com article and invite commentary on its validity:
The findings also show that a substantial group of people who engage in extramarital affairs are pretty good at shifting the responsibility away from themselves. Many claimed that the decision to enter into the affair was a mutual one, that their affairs were justified, and that they felt no guilt.
My contention with these spouses claiming the decision to enter into the affair was mutual, I would immediately rephrase by adding and asking “Was it a verbalized mutually understood decision!?” In other words, penetration was consented to? What type of penetration? What about fellatio or cunnilingus? And often the real biggie, what about emotional attachment or love? Allowed? Disallowed?
Why should these liberties or boundaries not be openly discussed, negotiated at anytime in a healthy marriage? Better still, BEFORE the wedding day! More on this later in my last reason for cheating while married. And when should guilt and remorse be genuinely felt and expressed by the cheater, or should it at all? Is this the popular PR counter-move of turning oneself from a villain into a victim while portraying the true victim into a villain. We see this save-face tactic too often in politics by officials in power positions or celebrities in the public eye. The tactic does have its successes, though warped as they are. Take Tiger Woods or President Trump as two prime examples. Both are
blindly adored by their fan-base despite their adulterous habits.
In the end, should any of these conditions, reasons, or results be the standard, the higher road? I don’t think so. I think it all stinks, or they set themselves up for future repugnance of the most vilest stench, if I can be frank!
We humans, us Homo sapiens, are unequivocally lifetime members of the aquatic and terrestrial animal kingdom on Earth. We all share the same origins, period. DNA sequencing has put to bed any slight, wild doubts, misconceptions, or ill-founded blatant denial that this is not true. Much can be learned about ourselves by studying and thoroughly understanding animal mating behaviors. Let me begin this section by quoting a portion of Ker Than’s article from LiveScience.com:
Of the roughly 5,000 species of mammals, only 3 to 5 percent are known to form lifelong pair bonds. This select group includes beavers, otters, wolves, some bats and foxes and a few hoofed animals.
And even the creatures that do pair and mate for life occasionally have flings on the side and some, like the wolf, waste little time finding a new mate if their old one dies or can no longer sexually perform.
Staying faithful can be a struggle for most animals. For one, males are hardwired to spread their genes and females try to seek the best dad for their young. Also, monogamy is costly because it requires an individual to place their entire reproductive investment on the fitness of their mate. Putting all their eggs in one basket means there’s a lot of pressure on each animal to pick the perfect mate, which, as humans knows, can be tricky.
Our closest relatives, or cousins you might say, are the bonobos and common chimps of the Hominidae family of which we also belong from 4.5 – 5.5 million years ago (click here). We share 99.6% of their DNA. I likely do not need to go into the mating and social behaviors of the Bonobo chimpanzees; it is well-known. Read this article if you are unfamiliar with their distinguished behavior and social structure.
As it turns out, the neurotransmitter chemical dopamine is heavily linked to sexual and emotional love. But news flash, it isn’t that simple. Dopamine does not distinguish between monogamy or non-monogamy as some biased experts may claim. In the animal kingdom as well as with humans, individual, familial, diet, exercise, and the social dynamics surrounding those components play a significant part in levels of dopamine production just as much as sexual and/or emotional situations do. According to Healthline.com, there are 10 natural methods of increasing healthy levels of dopamine. No surprise, of those 10 ways, frequent exercise is one. Now, how many various ways can we humans regularly, erotically exercise? Exactly. By the way, emotional exercising is a part of exerting ourselves physically and/or mentally. Hence, how many different ways can we exert and challenge ourselves and our partner/spouse, or significant other(s), mentally and emotionally? I can name a minimum of five ways! Not all discomfort or nervousness is bad or life threatening in moderate, short-term amounts.
Like many different animals in their natural habitats and social environs, we humans also require regular mental, emotional, and physical stimulation in order to live, thrive, grow in strength, i.e. 3-part strength, and pass on the best possible genes and lifestyle to our descendants. That said, why then are cheaters labelled with or risk such distressing, troubling, negative feelings and connotations after engaging in extramarital affairs? Again, it is not so simple.
Poor, Ambiguous, or Impeded Unreserved Communication
These marital situations are not simple primarily because of one initial reason: communication. Communication between cheating partners or spouses typically has not been open, voluntary, articulated well or accurately to reflect behavior, honest in other words, and therefore not well understood or erroneously understood by the listening, inquisitive, attentive partner/spouse. These ideal, lofty components of a happy, thriving, intimate relationship or marriage are an essential foundation for a long-term commitment to one person, much less a lifetime commitment. Why?
Because everything about humans change, evolve over time and the circumstances around them, e.g. family, careers, finances, ups, downs, health, births, deaths, and a plethora of societal and regional variables are constantly in play, whether weekly, monthly, annually, or longer. The only setup where these variables and components have little effects on a relationship or marriage is if the couple are consistently recluse, or lacking in those aforementioned healthy emotional, mental, and physical exercises. In those recluse cases, the “changes,” the “fitness” tends to be slower (non-existent?) due to much less diverse stimulation and exertion. You don’t know what you don’t actually experience or push yourself to achieve. You are unable to honestly say you have it best if you haven’t tasted the joys or pains of many bests and disasters. Many!
Therefore, everyone should always ask themselves, monitor attentively, maintain attentively their committed relationship, by gauging its health and asking… how freely, how proactively, how accurately, honestly with no reservations or shame or fear of shame do we both vulnerably express ourselves to each other? How often does this intense, safe level of intimate communication/expression occur between us? If your answer is not at all, or not so much, or could be better, or all of these above case studies of cheating spouses and victims admitted the same, examined the same, then the likely conclusion is that they, yourself, and your partner/spouse have poor, ambiguous, or reserved, impeded (greatly impeded?) communication with each other.
That silent, distorted, secret or fearful relational environment becomes a nitroglycerin catalyst for much bigger problems and less time to redirect or solve if allowed to fester. In today’s mainstream, traditional, moderate relationships/marriages dishonorable cheating apparently then becomes one of the most common (easier, quicker?) reactions or results of poor, ambiguous, or impeded unreserved communication. The quick fix that doesn’t really fix at all.
What do all of you think? Why has “cheating” become more popular, more accepted, fashionable? Is there an easy or easier preventative measure to be implemented? Let me know in the comments.
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always
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