Who are the married women that cheat on their husbands? They are your neighbors, your friends, your coworkers. They go to your gym. They shop at your grocery store. They are the women you see every day who seem to have it all. So why are they cheating? Statistics tell us that 65 percent of married women cheat — but what does that really mean? Author Diane Shader Smith was invited on the "Today" show to talk about her book, "Undresssing Infidelity: Why More Wives Are Unfaithful," where she reveals the fascinating results of her research and provides an up-close-and-personal look inside the marriages and affairs of 12 women — from Midwestern moms to Manhattan execs — who chose to cheat. Here's an excerpt:
No one sat with me before my wedding and had “the talk.” The talk where your mom, or your big sis, or your shrink says:
You’re about to marry a man who is good-looking, and tall, and kind, and smart, and he’s going to be dedicated to the welfare of your children, and he’s going to do everything he’s supposed to do, and he’s going to do it on time, and he’s going to show up to your marriage every single day and every single night.
But you know what? One day you’re going to be in the supermarket and you’re going to accidentally bump into a can that’s going to topple a whole stack of other cans and you’re going to squat down and pick them up, and there’s going to be a man helping you because it’s such a mess. And he’s going to smile at you, and you’re going to smile back. And it’s going to feel really good.
Or you’ll be having some work done on your home and the contractor will be with you every day. One day he’ll walk through your kitchen and see that you’re growing African violets on the windowsill and he’ll bend over to look at the flowers up close and he’ll tell you they’re really pretty. Those flowers are important to you. You’ve put a lot of time and effort into them. But nobody has ever noticed those flowers. Not your kids, not your husband. But the contractor does.
You’re going to start smelling cologne from outside your marriage.
It might happen at a meeting. You make a comment and a coworker says, “Wow, good idea. I never even thought of that.” You feel validated. Camaraderie at work is very seductive. You might be lured by a scent, a glance, a smile, or a remark. You don’t dare acknowledge what’s happening, or it will stir up feelings — feelings you never expected to have after you walked down the aisle.
I’ve been married for sixteen years to a man who is loving, intelligent, kind, and handsome — a man who doesn’t deserve to be cheated on. But through a series of events, I found myself dangerously attracted to another man.
Because of my own mixed feelings of attraction, guilt, and longing, I became fascinated by in the inner workings of extramarital affairs. I began asking questions: Are there any circumstances that would justify an affair? Are there men who deserve to be cheated on? What if your husband cheats first? What if your emotional needs aren’t being met, or the passion is totally gone? Is having an affair equivalent to marital suicide? I realized that to get the answers I wanted, I didn’t need to talk to a shrink or read a self-help book — I needed to talk to the women who had done it. I wanted to know what these women gave up, what they’d gained, and if they would do it again.
So I started talking to women about their perception of the breakdown of fidelity in their marriages. I listened to them, and I recorded their stories on audiotape. The first thing I found out was that most women want more from their husbands than they’re getting.
Angie wants her husband to turn off the TV and listen to her.
Meg loves to dance. It makes her feel young and special. She begs her husband to take her dancing, but he never does.
Lila has a husband who thinks he can control her. Not true.
Nancy’s husband thinks she doesn’t like sex. Also not true.
Susie is the butt of her husband’s nasty remarks. In public. Every time they go out.
And so on, and so on. The complaints were endless. After a while, they started to blur.
Then I met Maria, and discovered a whole new side to the story. Maria was unique. She cheated because a handsome man had cast his eye upon her, leaving her heart aflutter. And then there was Talia, who was just bored. Nothing was particularly wrong at home — but the thought of kissing someone new was oh, so exciting.
Is it wrong to yearn for that feeling?
Over the years, I’ve talked to women who have regrets, women who would give anything to go back, women who want to share their stories in hopes of preventing other women from feeling the devastating after-effects of an extramarital affair.
I’ve also talked to women, such as Maria, whose affairs didn’t cause them any anguish, didn’t lead to divorce, didn’t end in doom and gloom; women whose affairs were fulfilling relationships that had nothing to do with their marriages; women who didn’t want to leave their husbands because they enjoyed married life; women who wanted to stay because of their children; and women who were still enjoying their husbands and their lovers.
Their stories seduced me, leaving me envious of their ability to throw caution to the wind and curious as to how they did it — why they did it. A woman who engages in extramarital sex puts her own needs and desires before her husband’s, a concept many women, myself included, find both baffling and compelling. When it comes to extramarital attraction, there’s often an inner battle between the angel and the devil — between the “want to” and the “ought to.”
Should we indulge our desire to spend time with a man who stokes the fire that had been banked, a man who simply looks good, smells great, and flatters our egos? Or should we focus our attention back on our marriages, those loving relationships so bogged down by the typical stresses of daily life that passion and sex take a backseat to mounting orthodontia bills, mortgage payments, and endless household chores?
Can a marriage that starts with love, sex, and passion endure the weathering of time? In talking to these women, I learned that every woman thinks about leaving her husband. Or cheating on him. At least once. A woman who says she’s never thought about these things is either not married or in denial. Or she’s too afraid to admit it. Married women of all ages have emotional and sexual needs, and if their needs aren’t met at home they’ll seek fulfillment elsewhere.
Why does a woman cheat? How does she keep her marriage intact? How does she face herself in the mirror each morning? Who is she thinking about when she makes love to her husband? What does she tell her children when she’s not there for them? How does she endure the guilt of deception and how does she cope with the fear of discovery?
There are no simple answers, but the women I spoke with did their best to address these questions. I learned that the reasons women cheat are as varied as the women themselves. Not only were their stories different, so were their accents, their style of dress, and their socioeconomic status. I wanted you to meet these women and know them as I did. But to protect their identities, I have masked their names, hometowns, and family lives. In the editing of these stories, I have occasionally clarified areas that, in the telling, seemed vague or imprecise. I have generally kept the women’s own language and vocabularies intact to retain the spirit and attitude of these amazing women.
We can learn from these women if we’re willing to ask questions and listen to their answers. It’s time to start a dialogue.
Excerpted from “Undressing Infidelity: Why More Wives Are Unfaithful” by Diane Shader Smith. Copyright © 2005 by Diane Shader Smith. Published by Adam Media Corp. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.