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When men have affairs, they tend to be motivated by sex — new sex, more sex, different sex. Women cheat for many reasons: companionship, romance, more security, and, of course, sex. But are men’s motivations really that simple? No. Even for men, cheating is far more complex.
Studies show most men who cheat want to experiment sexually and experience the rush associated with “new sex.” This is their way of prolonging indefinitely the early and intoxicating phase of infatuation in a relationship. But men also have affairs to either avoid intimacy, recover their lost youth, or escape an unhappy marriage.
Men who fear intimacy will have affairs to maintain power in their relationships. If a man doesn't commit to his lover, he controls his level of vulnerability. Some men cheat in fact to avoid any real intimacy. Intimacy scares them, so they distance themselves from their wives by cheating on them and they don’t get emotionally involved with their lovers. This way they never have to trust their partners or rely on them. This kind of man may also fear conflict.
Then there are men who will strike up an affair when they start to feel the fear and loss that comes with aging. They realize they are no longer young and invulnerable, so they have an affair to deny that they are getting old. Finding someone who is “young and new,” makes them feel more youthful.
Biologists believe men cheat by the Darwinian instinct to spread their genetic seed to more mates (whereas women would one mate to get protection and support). However, since more women are cheating, this suggests that they felt societal pressure in the past to suppress their sexual desires. There also may be another reason men are more likely to stray: environment. Psychologically speaking, men who cheat are often the child of an adulterer. They are repeating behavior that they know and looking to correct that feeling that no one ever loved only them.
Not all affairs are created equal. There is the one-night stand, the long-term love affair, and the tryst that serves as a way to end a marriage. Not all affairs happen because the marriage is in obvious trouble or bad. However, a conflict-ridden marriage will certainly be at greater risk. Many women mistakenly believe the mistress must be more attractive than she. Actually, this is not often the case. It seems to be the wish for newness and variety, as well as the particular man’s psychological needs and vulnerabilities that is more the motivator. While a marriage might not be bad, it can still lack honesty and active communication.
Adultery need not be the end of a marriage, though it certainly is one heck of a wake up call. If you are contemplating an affair, then there is no question you will be SORRY! Affairs hurt everyone, including you. You cannot keep both women, so you will be distressed at some point. Don’t leave yourself in susceptible situations, such as when alcohol is involved.
How to save your marriage
For the cheater:
- You must give up your lover. This will not be easy. You will have to grieve the loss of her as well as the loss of the feelings associated with having someone completely attracted to you and the excitement of forbidden sex. You can never restore your marriage and the trust of your spouse without immediately breaking off your affair.
- Apologize (profusely) for the hurt to your spouse. You have devastated her, ruined her trust and made her feel like she is nothing. Acknowledge her feelings and how sorry you are you did this.
- Figure out why you slipped. Is it old childhood hurts, fear of growing old, loss of communication with her? Work to understand how you ended up here in the first place so you can prevent it from happening again.
- Work to regain the trust. Now is the time for complete honesty!
- Be open, be true and give it a lot of time. Slowly you can make it back.
For the betrayed:
- You won’t forget but decide to forgive. When you are wounded by betrayal it does stick with you. However, to save the marriage you must work toward forgiving him. After the apologies, understand what happened and figure out what needs to change so you can forgive him and move forward.
- Get family or friend support. It’s a bad time and the person you would usually turn to is the person who hurt you. So recruit siblings, parents and friends to be your shoulder. Tell him you love him.
- Don’t let him just go off with her, but tell him he has to give her up or there will be no you. Then let him know that you really do love him despite your anger and hurt, and that you will try to make it work.
- Don’t punish him forever. You want to spend a lifetime with him, but it can’t be a lifetime of anger and guilt. At some point, you must stop asking the details and telling him what a horrible jerk he was or it will poison any chance at happiness and he will find another lover.
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Women can be cheaters too
Men have not cornered the market when it comes to philandering. Women tend to be motivated to cheat by more emotional factors than men. Women are really looking for communication and emotional intimacy in the new bond. They want to talk to someone who makes them feel important, cared for, secure and understood. Many women cheat out of feelings of insecurity over their abilities and their attractiveness. Some women feel lonely within their marriages and want to connect to someone who will be affectionate and attentive.
Anger and disappointment with their spouse often spurs a woman to seek another man. She may specifically look for a man who makes more money or has a better job. Or this may just be a means of punishing her husband for not giving her the emotional attention she craves.
The search for feeling sexy, playful and less sexually inhibited may also be the start of an affair, especially if fears of aging and loss of attractiveness are bothering her. Psychologically women who enter into affairs with men who are 10 to 20 years older than them may be looking for affection from a father who never gave it to them. If their father was gone, neglectful or angry a lot she may crave that paternal attention and seek it in an affair. Sometimes women who struggle with depression start affairs to push away the depressed feelings and be swept up in romance.
Most women will say that while romance is important to them and they care for this lover that they are not actually in love with him. While sex does happen, sharing confidences ranks high in importance. Women often choose to cheat with married men. It seems safer in terms of sexually transmitted diseases, concerns over having the man reveal the affair and not having too much time or effort asked of them.
Full-time working women are more likely to cheat then stay-at-home women and their lover more than half the time comes from work. This is partially due to opportunity but also has a lot to do with feeling that the man is interested in what she thinks about and who she is. Sometimes women cheat because they believe it will somehow help their ailing marriage. This is a MYTH. In fact, the excitement of new romance often makes their marriage seem even more drab and horrible and they really want to leave. Generally speaking women are less likely to jump into an affair. Many women have known their affair partner for at least a few months and have contemplated having the affair for weeks.
Getting over the affair when a woman cheats requires the same kind of work as when a man cheats … but the job is harder. In general, men are less forgiving of their wife cheating than wives are about their cheating husbands. Overall, only about a third of marriages survive affairs. It is hard to forgive, redevelop trust and make your marriage a more intimate and satisfying one but it can be done. Some couples find their marriage is the best it has ever been after repairing from an affair.
How to save your marriage:
- Ending the affair. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. You must end the affair and tell him you want to make the marriage work. Don’t overdo the details. Tell him who, where, how long, why and who else knows. Don’t tell him the gory details. This will only fester in his mind and pain him (unnecessarily) forever.
- Figure out why you did it. What is lacking in the marriage? What drives you to search for love in wrong places? What made you risk it all? Then address these things with yourself, with your spouse and possibly with a therapist.
- Repair the marriage. Trust, passion, open communication and respect. These all must be regained and worked hard on. Sometimes a marriage counselor can really help.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: If you sense your partner may stray, then get moving on protecting your union. Ask him more of what he wants with you, sexually and emotionally, don’t let him hang out with her without you, don’t stay at home angry and pouting and giving him both opportunity and impetus. Tell him what you really love about him.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie,” by Dr. Gail Saltz. She is also the author of "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts," which helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.