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Conquering a cheating heart

“Today” contributor Dr. Gail Saltz shares some insight on why men and women cheat and what you can do if your partner has an affair.
/ Source: TODAY

It seems that every study has a different set of numbers on cheating, but the one consistent thing is men cheat more than women by almost two to one. Although men have not cornered the market when it comes to philandering. The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago published a survey this year with this finding: 12 percent of women cheat, while 22 percent of men cheat. Why do men and women cheat? And what can you do to heal those painful wounds? Contributor and psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz looks at these issues in a special series on “Today.” Read her thoughts below.


Statistics on how many men cheat are hard to come by because, let’s face it, most men do not want to come clean on this subject. However, figures range from 22 percent to as much as 70 percent. Any way you cut it many men are straying from monogamy.


Based on studies men appear to be more sexually motivated to have an affair than women; women appear to be more emotionally motivated. So for instance men are motivated by a desire for sexually experimenting and for having the rush associated with “new sex.”

This is their way of prolonging indefinitely the early and intoxicating phase of infatuation in a relationship. They also do it for control and power in the relationship. If he is having an affair with no promise of commitment, then he controls his level of vulnerability in that relationship. Some men cheat, in fact, to avoid any real intimacy. Intimacy scares them, so they distance themselves from the intimacy with their wife by cheating on her and they also never get that emotionally involved with their lover. This way they never have to trust, rely on, feel hurt or angered by their partner. This kind of man probably also greatly fears conflict.

Many men strike up an affair when they start to feel the fear and loss that comes with aging. To run from the terror that they are not so young and invulnerable, they have an affair to deny the aging and all that it means and find something or someone “young and new.”

Biologists believe that men are motivated to cheat by the Darwinian instinct to spread their genetic seed to more mates (whereas women would want one mate in order to get protection and support), however, the fact that women are slowly catching up to men in their participation in affairs gives this idea less credence and suggests that the differences have had more to do with society’s lack of comfort with women expressing their sexual desires.

Psychologically men who cheat are often the children of an adulterer. They are repeating what 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 longer term lover and the affair that is the method of exit from the marriage.

Not all affairs happen because the marriage is bad or in trouble. However, a conflict ridden marriage will certainly be at greater risk.

Many women mistakenly believe the mistress must be more attractive then 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. Both of these factors can really be protective against an affair.

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 but you will be sorry! Affairs hurt everyone, including in the end the one who cheated. You cannot keep both women so you will be distressed at some point.

If you sense your partner may stray, then get moving on protecting your union. Ask him more of what he wants from you, both sexually and emotionally. Tell him what you really love about him.

If you are the cheater, it goes without saying that you must give up your lover, however difficult that may be. Then apologize 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. You should also figure out why you slipped. Is it an old childhood hurt, fear of growing old, loss of communication with her?


Men have not cornered the market when it comes to philandering. Estimates on women who cheat range from 12 percent to 50 percent. 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, 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 than 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.


Once a cheater, always a cheater

There is such a thing as the serial cheater, the person who for their own psychological problems (can’t stand to be intimate) needs to keep moving from partner to partner, but this is more the exception than the rule. Most either cheat for long periods of time, or one night stands, but not repetitively.

In order to get over it, you need to know every detail of the affair

You need to know the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘did you love her?’ of the affair in order to have a packaged story that you can digest. But knowing how many times they did it, and which position, and which hotel room is just feeding the flame and will only make it more difficult to move on and forgive.

Cheating means your marriage is bad

It can, but cheating often results from some psychological conflict unresolved on the part of the cheater, i.e.: a woman whose father was rejecting may chronically cheat with older men in order to get the approval of her father.

She was after him, so it’s not his fault

Don’t blame someone else. He should be responsible for his own actions.


What to look for if you suspect your partner of cheating:

1. Acts distant

2. Works late hours

3. Wants less sex

4. Mentions new person a lot

5. Is angry, or overly nice

6. Sudden interest in appearance

7. Has new behavior

8. You keep explaining to yourself they would never cheat


1. Forgive, but don’t forget:

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, understanding what happened, and what needs to change, you have to try to forgive him and his betrayal and move forward.

2. Have a support system:

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.

3. Tell him you want to stay together.

Despite your anger, tell him you want to stay with him. Don’t let him just go off with her. 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.

4. 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 about 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.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York’s Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.”