Should Serial Cheating Be the End of Marriage? a Tale of Infidelity
“When your lover is a liar, you and he have a lot in common, you're both lying to you!”
― Susan Forward, When Your Lover Is a Liar: Healing the Wounds of Deception and Betrayal
I was recently approached by a friend in a dilemma. Her husband is a serial cheater. Throughout their long marriage he used his business trips as an opportunity to get some on the side. He never admitted it and she never asked, but she knows. With their children grown up and with the sort of introspection that arrives with middle age, she is now contemplating changing the status quo and confronting the cheater. What was a silent, even convenient, at times, pact is no longer acceptable to her.
My friend is an accomplished professional, financially independent, and has maintained her looks as she approaches 50. I asked her if she was prepared to leave him.
“Absolutely not! I just want him to stop cheating” she said emphatically.
Here is the deal: Men cheat. Men cheat more than women, it’s a fact. Richer, older men cheat more. Having kids makes no difference to the rate of cheating. And the main reason men cheat? Dissatisfaction with their sex lives.
Nothing makes this more evidently clear than this priceless scene from Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall”:
In split screen Diane Keaton’s character is talking to her shrink, while Woody Allen’s is speaking to his.
Psychiatrists: How often do you sleep together?
Him: [lamenting] Hardly ever. Maybe three times a week.
Her: [annoyed] Constantly. I’d say three times a week.
According to research conducted at the Kinsey Institute in Indiana, people under 30 have sex 112 times a year on average (over twice a week), but that frequency declines to 86 times a year among 30-39 year-olds, 69 times annually for those aged 40-49, and roughly 52 times yearly for couples in their fifties and beyond. A separate survey from the Institute of Family Studies clearly demonstrates that as the frequency of sex in the marriage goes down men have more affairs and women have less.
In yet another survey, 40 percent of the men who had extra marital affairs were in search of novelty while a close 38 percent wanted more satisfying sex from a lover.
I asked my friend if she was willing to have sex 3 times per week in a novel way. She was not so sure about that.
My friend is lucky in her misfortune, even if she does not see it that way. The biggest problem with cheating on a spouse is not necessarily the sex itself, but rather the betrayal of trust it causes. This painful breaking of trust in many cases proves too much to get past and more often than not, it results in divorce. In her case, it looks like her husband is looking for a sexual outlet without the expectation of continuity and over the years she has allowed it to happen safe in the knowledge that he will return to her. She had implicitly agree, to let sleeping dogs lie but now she wants to wake them up.
My initial reaction was that she, of all women has the background to move on with her life. Being financially independent and with her children gone she could leave the cheater and seek a more fulfilling relationship. But clearly this was not at all what she is after. She wants to reform the cheater.
After giving her question some more thought, I advised her to talk to him about it. The essential element of her situation is that her marriage has worked for years . She chose to ignore his indiscretions while he implicitly agreed to return to her after his short “business trips”. They both trusted in this agreement. That said, things have changed and even if she stays quiet, her husband may decide to give up the pretence of keeping his affairs secret. At the same time, she is clearly re-examining her decision to ignore his indiscretions. With their kids gone their relationship has to stand on its own strength. Can it survive on its own right without the distraction of a house full of children? What is the new basis of their lives together?
Once the cat is out of the bag, she cannot control how he will respond or what steps he will choose to take, but, clearing the air with a cool head is sensible. After hearing each other out they may decide that the current arrangement should continue unchanged, or, they may go their separate ways.
There is even a chance that their relationship and sex life will emerged improved and revitalised once they understand their individual needs and how to fulfil them.
“The only people that can't handle the truth are those that suffer so much anxiety that they will live in denial, in order to prevent their illusion from being destroyed and feeling more anxiety.”
― Shannon L. Alder