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Why are men unfaithful? Do they stray because of sex or is cheating a sign of a deeper problem in the marriage? Is there anything that can be done to ensure that your husband will stay faithful? In his new book, “The Truth About Cheating,” family counselor M. Gary Neuman shares the results of his extensive research on cheating husbands and faithful husbands. He reveals how to spot the signs of infidelity and what women can do to prevent it.
Warning bells, cheating signals and lying signs
You may have heard how to tell that a man is cheating, or maybe you can imagine what the signals might be. But I want to explore not only the signs that a husband is cheating, but also the signs that he is about to cheat. Here are the main clues you want to be acutely aware of.
“I read a book that gave me tons of signals that a man was cheating, but it was frankly overwhelming. When I spoke to my sister and dearest friends we all decided that so many applied to all of us, we didn’t know what to believe.”
Robin was 47 and had two teenage daughters. Her husband was 53 and had recently bought a black convertible, started working out, ran his first marathon, and dyed his hair. Robin was convinced by the book she read that these were dead-on signals that her husband was cheating. But when she approached him he was emphatic that it was untrue. She didn’t know what to believe. After all, she figured men do hit midlife and do some interesting things. Was it possible that her husband had decided to be healthier and enjoy life a bit more as part of his midlife crisis without cheating at the same time?
My research asked men to detail the warning signs they thought they gave their wives that hinted or told them they were close to an infidelity. I then asked them for warning signs that they were involved in infidelity. Both lists were quite similar, with only a couple of differences.
He spends more time away from home
Fifty-five percent said more time spent away from home was a sign that they were close to infidelity, and it went up slightly to 61 percent when they were involved in infidelity. What’s quite fascinating is that the majority of the men started spending more time away from home before they cheated. This warning sign and the ones below indicate not only that your husband is cheating but are also a precursor to his cheating. If you can catch the signs in time you might avoid the pain of infidelity and be able to repair your relationship. It’s equally telling that during the affair 61 percent of the men spent more time away from home. Sometimes men will tell their wives to trust them because “I could cheat during my regular day if I wanted to.” Although it’s true that you can’t possibly keep tabs on your husband’s whereabouts during the workday, it still seems that cheating men find extra time to slip away from home, and not just during work hours.
When you start to notice that your husband is spending less time at home, watch out and find out what’s going on with him. It’s worth discussing and trying to get him to articulate any dissatisfaction he may have in his life that causes him to want to spend less time at home or what new development has caused this sudden wanderlust. Remember, it’s not proof that he’s cheating, but it’s pretty clear that he’s close, and there should be no waiting on talking about changes to make your marriage better quickly.
right/msnbc/Sections/TVNews/Today show/Today Books/TodayBooksRELATIONSHIPS/2008/SEPTEMBER/TruthAboutCheating.jpg259390000right#000000http://msnbcmedia.msn.com1PfalsefalsePepe told me he saw his mistress on his way home from work almost every day. She lived only a few blocks away so he could see her whenever he left the house. He’d go out on weekends to play softball and get there late after seeing the other woman. He’d offer to go grocery shopping for his wife so he could grab an extra half hour with his mistress. His wife never knew and still doesn’t.
“I was like a thief sneaking around. My wife never realized I was away as much as I was. I think we’d become so different anyway, our lives were somewhat different. She didn’t want to watch me play softball and was happy if I’d leave to food shop.” Pepe didn’t think he was a great thief but felt his wife wasn’t looking at the most obvious signal reported in the research. He was finding more and more excuses to be away from home. “Toward the end it got so ridiculous, like I wanted to get caught, that I told her I was going to play golf. I didn’t even own clubs and she was just too distant at that point to ask what was going on.”
You have sex infrequently
The number two signal isn’t surprising although the numbers are: thirty-four percent of men reported diminished sexual activity as a sign they were close to infidelity, and it rose 43 percent once the infidelity was under way. Again, it’s noteworthy that 34 percent saw diminished sexual activity as a warning sign before any infidelity, telling you again that you can catch some of these signals before an affair or even unhappiness sets in. I did find it curious that only 43 percent said it was a signal of actual infidelity. You’d think there’d be a higher number if they’re already having sex outside the marriage.
It could be that they weren’t having so much sex before, so it wasn’t much of a change once the infidelity began.
Jorge highlighted this idea for me. I asked him how he could not have had any change in sex at home while he was cheating. He explained that he had sex about once every three weeks with his wife. When he was cheating, he still maintained the sex at home. “I didn’t want to do that to my wife, but if we stopped having sex completely, she would’ve become suspicious. I didn’t know what else to do.”
Fifty-seven percent of cheating men will cheat and yet not have less sex with their wives, although the usual frequency could be once every couple of months in many struggling marriages. However, diminished sexual activity was still a large number, telling us that maintaining sexual consistency and frequency is essential for a healthy marriage.
He avoids contact with you
The next signal was “avoidance of contact (cell phone calls),” at 29 percent and dipping slightly to 24 percent once the infidelity began. The contact you have with your husband during the day, even if it is about the ordinary business of life, still helps you develop a general awareness of each other. His avoidance of your calls or desire not to spend time with you points to a desire to disconnect, whether he is conscious of it or not. Stay connected with little calls to say, “Hi, I love you” and “How is your day going?”
He criticizes you more
“More criticism of wife” scored 25 percent but dipped to 19 percent once the infidelity began.
Stephanie didn’t understand what was going on. “He used to love my cooking. My mother was Italian and he’d be proud of my ethnic dishes. All of a sudden, he was tired of my food and wanted me to ‘mix it up’ a bit. I was insulted but I tried other things and he seemed okay. But then he started on me for how I was spending the money. Ever since we were married I took care of the finances because I have an educational background in finance. Now he was questioning me and looking over my shoulder. Suddenly, he didn’t like the way I was putting away our savings, and we had a huge fight over all of the changes he demanded.” Six months later Stephanie discovered her husband was cheating and funneling money to help out his mistress.
He starts more fights with you
Twenty percent said they started more fights with their wives. Notice that criticizing their wives and starting more fights can be seen as very similar signals. Put them together and you have a large portion of men who were more harassing to their wives.
Most cheating men spent more time away from home, avoided contact, and had less sex with their wives. These signals represented in changes in behaviors (and remember, they’re only significant if there are changes in these areas) seem to indicate that the warning signals will be about your husband disconnecting from you. When you feel your husband has changed into a person who is disconnected from you, it’s a sign of impending danger to your marriage.
Listen closely — he may tell you about the other woman
One final note is not something in my research, but a signal I’ve noticed many times in my work. Often, your husband will begin talking more and more about a woman, usually a colleague in the office or organizational board. He’ll tell you they had lunch or ran into each other somewhere else and that her family went to such and such a place for vacation and her kids loved it. Your husband thinks you guys should go there for your next vacation. Since he hasn’t had sex with her he’s not hiding the relationship with her. But as he becomes friendlier you need to remember that most cheating occurs with friends, not one-night stands just for sex. So your husband might be telling you about his potential mistress straight to your face. He may even want you to meet her. Beware of admiring comments and begin to consider what needs to happen in your marriage so that your husband seems as excited to hear your ideas as those of his newfound friend. How does this woman seem to make him feel?
Quick action program: Change the cheating signals
We’ve discovered from cheating men the signals they give when they’re getting ready to cheat. It’s in your interest to be well acquainted with them and to take action as soon as you recognize any of them. Ask yourself these five questions: if the answer is yes to any of them, consider what you can do to immediately change the circumstances.
1. Is my husband spending more time away from home?
What can I do to make him want to spend more time at home? (This is not to say it’s all on you to fix the relationship. But you want to consider how the two of you can get along better at home so that it is a place he isn’t beginning to avoid. Also consider the calmness of the home. If it is hectic with the children, consider how to change that and ask him to take a role in it. )
Discuss with him what he’d like to do along with you to make the home a happier place for both of you.
2. Are we having less sex?
Consider initiating more often.
Ask him for help with home duties so that both of you can create a calmer, happier atmosphere and have more energy for intimacy.
Arrange for a night at a hotel without the children. Upon returning home, discuss how the two of you can add more lovemaking into your regular life.
Consider what will add to your enjoyment of making love.
3. Is my husband avoiding my calls?
Consider if you’re calling him about things that can be annoying for him to deal with during the day.
Ask him to commit to weekly time when you can sit with each other and discuss important issues that need to be resolved together.
Consider making calls just to remind him how much you love him and look forward to seeing him and making love.
Request that he call you with similar messages to those you’ve sent him.
4. Has my husband been more critical of me or started more fights with me?
Discuss with him how he can speak to you in such a way as to make suggestions without being critical.
Talk to him about complimenting you and how both of you can focus more on each other’s positive traits.
Jane’s story: A wife and two lawyers
Jane was pregnant when she noticed the difference in her husband, who was a lawyer. They had shared a wonderful relationship in the first years of their marriage, but then things began to change. The changes were subtle for a long time, and frankly, Jane admitted that she rationalized all the signs away. After all, due to a complicated pregnancy, sex was difficult. She had convinced herself he was being thoughtful not to push the sex issue for many months. She didn’t want to think anything of the cell phone that once lay on the dresser but now was always being recharged in the car.
She couldn’t believe it when the words slipped out of her mouth during her ninth month. She remembered being more shocked than her husband when she asked, “Are you having an affair?” It was almost as if she had to say it without thinking, because to think and ponder it would be too painful. She was relieved when her husband not only denied it but was so taken aback that she knew it was an outrageous thought to him. “Are you kidding me? What could possibly tell you that?” He even went on to explain that he wanted to change whatever it was that was giving her doubts so that she would never have to live with that fear and concern. She continued with a sigh of relief as the conversation quickly turned light and chatty.
She outlined the phone in the car, his lack of initiating sex, the times she couldn’t reach him on his cell. He lovingly held her hand, explaining that he was in court much more these days and was unable to answer his phone, plus the phone often didn’t work in the courthouse, but from then on he ’ d call her right back as soon as he was outside the courthouse. He explained that he thought sex was off the table and didn’t want to bother her to “take care of him.” He said he’d bring the phone in if it would make her feel better, but it was just so much easier to leave it in the car and never be interrupted with work calls at home.
Jane was so happy that she told him to leave his cell in the car and they worked out a cute signal for sexual contact, with no hard feelings if she wasn’t up to it. “And I know now I was being silly and very hormonal,” she said. “Just call me whenever it’s good for you. I don’t want you to feel any pressure through the day to have to look for my missed call. Just get back to me now and then without worrying about me when you’re on your way to court or something important like that.”
Still not adding up
Things changed a little after that. There was one time he initiated sexual contact, and he did bring in his phone a couple of nights. But the baby was soon crying at short intervals throughout the night, and it wasn’t until the baby was four months old that Jane broached the subject again. She knew she was overtired, stressed, and hormonal. But she talked to her mother and they agreed something didn’t add up. Jane had received a cell phone bill that usually went to her husband’s office but was forwarded to the home when there was a week’s worth of renovation going on at the office. A lot of mail had shown up that day, and Jane later learned it was a mistake made by the new secretary.
Jane opened the bill and found out that her husband had been in contact a great deal with someone at a number she didn’t recognize. She cried for hours until his return home that evening, when she immediately confronted him.
“He was so cool and, if you can believe it, warm. He laughed and said that he could understand how it looked so bad but that it was a law office he’d been doing a lot of business with lately. He explained that although he talked to various lawyers there, he made calls through the switchboard number since that was the one he had committed to memory and he got connected to whomever he needed to speak with. I called the number in front of him and sure enough it was a major law firm in town. I felt like a fool. ”
One Wednesday night, she met a former colleague of her husband at a charity dinner. “He told me that he was so sorry to hear about me and my husband but that I must be happy that at least it’s all out and over. When I looked curiously at him, he realized he’d stuck his foot in his mouth. But he had no choice, and besides, it seemed like he felt bad for me.” After a year, Jane finally heard the truth. Her husband had been cheating on her with a female colleague at the large firm he’d been calling so much. It seemed that everybody knew about it, and some people even assumed they were together at times. Jane was livid and, promising not to reveal the source of the information, contacted her husband.
“I just wanted the truth. I mean, he owed me that at the very least.” Jane’s husband flatly denied it all, explaining that he did know that woman and did have to work with her intensely on some cases, which may have been misinterpreted for something more. Today, he is living with the other woman and still claims that the relationship was never more than professional until after the separation.
Everyone knows lying is wrong, yet it seems almost everyone does it in some fashion. The lie “I’ll call you” is so popular today that I think some have confused it as a substitute for “good - bye.” Lying diminishes trust and distorts reality.
When we are lied to we can begin to feel like we’re the crazy ones. We want to believe the ones we love; we want to depend on others to present the reality for us, because we are so reliant on our world being consistent and having a predictable outcome.
Naturally, you know that people, perhaps yourself, will lie if (a) you will be criticized if you tell the truth, or (b) you won’t get caught. Still, we hope that those who love us — especially our children and spouse — will be honest even if doing so results in criticism and angry responses.
Why do cheating men lie? Prepare to be surprised. I’ve sat across from some fantastic liars who are not necessarily pathological — just really good liars who lie for understandable reasons. Men seem to believe that telling the truth about cheating is a really bad idea. They’ll lie to their wives, marriage counselors, and parents.
There’s a true story about a married man in court who denied even knowing a certain woman. The wife’s attorney repeatedly grilled him, making sure the man testified that he had never seen the woman before in his life. It was only then that the attorney brought out multiple pictures taken by a private investigator of this man spending lots of time with the very woman he denied knowing. Satisfied, the attorney asked the husband how he could lie to the court. The man responded, “I didn’t know you had the pictures. ”
This scenario seems to depict the typical cheating man — lie until you can’t lie anymore. And then lie some more. Once a man tells the truth about cheating, life changes dramatically and with lightning speed. He loses, and losing doesn’t come easy to any man. Plus, now he has to be more emotional. He’ll have to be apologetic, feel true sadness for what he’s done to you, feel like you now have the right to stick a video camera on his forehead to know his every move. So let’s weigh the options for your husband. Lying seems to win out.
What about love?
But what about love, you ask? What about his desire to truly connect and love you and get past this and grow from it even and work to make things better? Keep in mind that this man has cheated on you, which indicates some lack of love, a disconnect, feeling lost, and a dissatisfaction with you and the marriage. Emotional talk is not as comfortable for your husband as you might think. Like most men, he’s been taught his whole life to be cognitive and logical. Under these conditions, lying wins out.
I’m quite fascinated by the distortion of reality and find it maddening for women I’m trying to help in my practice. Like Jane, these women become consumed by the need to know what’s really going on. Once the lies begin, it’s an excruciating road to ever trusting their husband again, assuming he finds a way to be honest. And there is no easy answer. The best I can give is that ultimately we trust our spouses because we feel connected enough in the relationship that we’d feel the slightest pulling away and can learn to reel things back in. Too often, couples just allow things to continue to disconnect and don’t have a mechanism for reconnecting and making things better before they get out of hand. Even after cheating, this process is the ultimate healer. All the apologies in the world won’t protect a marriage.
A commitment to keep constant tabs on the relationship and doing what it takes to keep it working for both of you is the only answer.
Do you think your husband would tell the truth if confronted about cheating? Let’s see.
My research went to great lengths to pinpoint the percentage of cheating men who lied about the affair.
The results were scary. Fifty-five percent of cheating men have never told their wives about the affair, either because the wives have never asked or because they continued to lie about it even after their wives had evidence of the other relationship. Specifically, 28 percent never told and were never asked, while 27 percent lied even after their wives had some evidence of the relationship. Another 14 percent lied until their wives had evidence. Twelve percent told their wives after being questioned multiple times, 12 percent told after being questioned the first time, and a measly 7 percent told without being questioned. This means that only 31 percent told their wives because they were questioned.
Bottom line: if you’re expecting your husband to be honest with you about his cheating — you’d better buy a lottery ticket. Too many wives have felt like they’re being tortured when they sense something is up and are repeatedly convinced verbally from their husbands that they are way off. Being told to your face that your perceptions are completely wrong and rebelieving and trusting your husband’s words when your heart and gut are telling you another story is absolutely tragic. There is no word to describe the experience of being lied to by the one person you chose to commit to for the rest of your life. And your husband has turned out to be a convincing liar, which just makes you think about how much you really don’t know this man with whom you’ve shared everything, the most intimate parts of who you are, parts of yourself no one else may ever know.
Where cheating men meet the other woman
Where does your husband pick up a new friend who could threaten your marriage? The number one place is the most obvious to me: work. Forty percent of the men in my research met the other woman at work. This suggests that you should keep very aware of who your husband is hanging out with at work. In my more than twenty years of helping couples, the identity of the mistress has rarely been a surprise to the wife when that mistress was met through work. That’s often because the husband would speak of the other woman at some point, raising an eyebrow for the wife no doubt.
Listen carefully when your husband tells you that he and what’s-her-name are working on a project together. The other woman’s name will pop up from time to time and you should take that opportunity to seriously consider where your marriage is. That’s the time not to delay any changes you’ve been wanting to make in your relationship.
Instead, you should go full throttle in doing so. And it probably requires an open conversation with your husband about the rules of your marriage. You don’t have to jump all over him and make him recoil from your distrust. You only need to use what’s-her-name as a catalyst for a clear discussion about what your husband will agree to do and not do — stay late for a meeting if it’s only the two of them, travel together to conferences, have dinners out to discuss a project, and so on.
Beyond that, be aware not to talk a lot about how you and your husband are going to get closer. Just keep the conversation to agreeing on some rules for this new relationship. Then take heed and discover what you can do to create the kind of positive changes you’ve discussed with as little conversation as possible.
It’s not enough to regularly send your husband off into a world you know nothing about and expect all of his energy around it to just stay still. He may look for someone else to connect with about it, and that may be the first step toward trouble. Realistically, I’m not suggesting that you become a sports fanatic. However, don’t be so sure that you can’t learn something about your husband’s world that will at least allow you to talk with him about his interests. Should he always be going to professional sporting events without you because you just don’t enjoy them? It depends on how many of these events he’s going to. Consider these two factors:
How often does this interest take him out of the house?
How much does he discuss it with others?
For example, he watches football every Sunday at home with his two buddies while you pipe in now and then. Okay, he’s home and he’s not into it all week long, at least not beyond a comment here and there with his friends. Compare that with him going to a lot of games and having conversations throughout the week with buddies and listening to sports talk radio every chance he gets. He’s found something he’s passionate about and it absorbs a large part of him. Why wouldn’t you want to get in on that? Why not learn about it so that you can connect to him about it all? Let him teach you and you’ll spend quality time with him communicating with you about it. When you think about it that way, it sounds better than being forced to watch smelly men jump around and cheer at stupidity. If he keeps seeing another woman at the game and starts having fun discussions with her, even if he’s already met a woman at work and can have a great time talking sports with her, there’s a piece of him that you’re missing. You can reel in that piece of him and enjoy the process of connecting even if it’s about a topic that is uninteresting or silly to you.
Naturally, you’d like the same from him — a healthy desire to get involved with something that is of interest to you. And he should. You have a better chance of that if your marriage is one where you have shared your interests and moved in a direction to become involved in each other’s interests. Taking the first step will add to your fun time with your husband and encourage him to do the same for you. Even if he doesn’t reciprocate, you still gain the connection and protect your marriage more.
Seventeen percent of cheating men met the other woman in the neighborhood. Felipe was a cheater who met the other woman while they were doing charitable work together. “It was so pathetic how my wife kept pushing me into joining this neighborhood charitable group, thinking it would make me a better person, and that’s where I met her. It was true that I almost always thought about money and needed to get some perspective, but being pushed into something like that wasn’t going to work. My wife didn’t come with me, because she had friends who insisted that she was always leading me too much and I needed to learn to do good things on my own without her help. ”
One last noteworthy piece of information regarding where these husbands met the other woman: only 3 percent reported meeting the mistress on the Internet. Keep in mind that about half of the men in the study responded to the questionnaire online, meaning they were capable Internet people. Still, although many cases could be made for how the Internet disrupts marriages, it does not appear to pose the biggest problem of your husband meeting someone online and having that lead to sex.
How long did it take to get from meeting to cheating?
Hal spoke candidly to me about his infidelity. “Julie and I had been boyfriend and girlfriend in college so when she moved back into town we got together at first to talk of old times. That was my first mistake. It was strange to think that the woman I was cheating with knew me longer than my own wife. I don’t know why that meant so much to me, but it did. It still took me almost three years after her return before I cheated on my wife. So it must’ve been technically fifteen years that I knew her. ”
Here’s the good news. The reason I talk about listening for the name of the new woman at work or at the ball game is that you will likely have some time to work on your marriage before anything awful happens. As much as you may worry about the one-night stand, only 6 percent of the cheating men had sex with a woman after meeting her the same day or night. Twenty-seven percent had sex within one month of meeting this other woman, which sounds very quick but will still give you some warning. But 36 percent of the men waited more than a month and up to a year before having sex. All told, 69 percent of the men said they had sex within one year of meeting the woman. It’s scary to think how quickly things can deteriorate, but now that you’re educated in what you can do about preventing it and how you can be aware of it before the worst strikes, consider yourself empowered to take the lead and create a solid marriage.
Quick action program: Get involved in his work and play lives
Seventy-two percent of cheating men met the other woman either at work or through an activity of personal interest, so learn as much as you can about these two areas of your husband’s life. They represent major parts of who he is, and he puts enormous energy into both.
Become a part of that energy.
1. Get involved in his work.
Have daily chats about what went on.
Show genuine interest in details about his day. There’s an old saying, “If you want better answers, ask better questions.” Find out some details about his work (projects, deadlines) and also ask about office politics and gossip. This will help you know his surroundings at work and give you an emotional sense of it.
2. Get involved in his hobbies.
Familiarize yourself with his interests so that he can converse with you about them. Otherwise he will keep all of that positive energy for others.
Become a part of it. You don’t have to demand that he never watch another ball game, go jogging, or attend charitable organization meetings without you. But there is no reason why you wouldn’t want to play a more active role by being present more than you have been. Perhaps if you open yourself to his hobby, you will feed off his energy and you’ll have a collective interest that can only increase your friendship.
Why do men cheat?
Sept. 22: TODAY’s Amy Robach talks to M. Gary Neuman, author of “The Truth About Cheating,” about why some married men are unfaithful.
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See the signs: How to know if he’s straying
Quiz: Is he cheating on you?
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trueH6falsetrue1Why you want to know asap if your husband is cheating
There is a severely complicated issue around lying that many people miss. Usually, as my research shows, there is lying and it continues for a period of time. It’s during this time that the ability to ever repair the relationship diminishes. Cheating is more than the cheating itself. It’s also about the lying. A man who tells his wife about the cheating without putting her through months of painstaking torturous confusion trying to figure out what’s going on is a man who has a better chance of repairing his relationship. For every lie that is avoided, there is a greater chance of success, because it is the lying that causes wives to feel as though they can never trust their husband again.
Just cheating is bad enough. But if a man finds himself lost and comes to his wife and says “I (or we) need help” after his wife has been lied to straight into her eyes, she has the unfortunate task of not only getting over the affair but also figuring out whether she and her husband can repair their marriage. She worries about whether she will trust that he won’t cheat again and lie over and over about it.
If a husband hasn’t lied to his wife and they’re able to work things out, she’ll be able to trust that if she ever asks him when she finds him pushing the marital boundaries in any way, he’ll be honest with her. Believe it or not, that can make all the difference in whether a wife will ever feel good about her marriage again.
Unfortunately, if your husband has cheated there’s a 93 percent chance he’s not going to tell you (and an 81 percent chance he won’t tell you even after you initially question him). If your idea is to keep badgering him about it until he cracks, guess what? Bad, bad idea. The longer you continue that process of feeling that something is going on and waiting for him to come clean while he continues to lie to you, the farther away you are from being able to repair your marriage.
If you feel he is cheating and he denies it, take action — check cell phone bills and e-mails, ask friends or relatives you can trust if they’ve heard anything suspicious, or hire a private investigator — for your sake and for the sake of your marriage.
Excerpted from "The Truth About Cheating" by M. Gary Neuman. Copyright (c) 2008. Reprinted with permission from John Wiley & Sons, Inc.