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Cheating, The Truth of Infidelity

By on August 22, 2017
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If you’re among the many couples who feel like you’re barely hanging on in marriage, the sobering truth is that you’re not alone. Particularly if cheating is involved.

At least 60 percent of married couples will experience infidelity at some point in their marriage, says Dr. Willard F. Harley Jr., a licensed psychologist in Minnesota and author of the best-selling book His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage.

All kinds of reasons exist for this, many of which sound textbook in their familiarity—couples experience periods of sustained stress, exhaustion, or separation due to family needs or career obligations. Husbands and wives don’t feel satisfied with each other or deeply connected. People endure longstanding dullness or even deadness in their relationships. Men and women wrestle with boredom, loneliness or unmet needs. Life feels tedious and hard, and a titillating experience beckons.

A Kinder Way of Cheating?

Unfortunately, knowing in theory all the right answers when it comes to why people cheat hasn’t stopped unfaithfulness from occurring.

In a large online survey, 68 percent of women said they’d have an affair if they thought they could avoid getting caught, says Dave Carder, a licensed marriage and family therapist in California and author of Close Calls: What Adulterers Want You to Know About Protecting Your Marriage. Increasingly, it seems like personal integrity is taking a backseat to fear of exposure.

Sexless Marriage?

Within Christian circles, where strict monogamy is publicly lauded, our private sexual ethics have nonetheless become clouded. Consider the porn factor. Millennials have grown up in a culture where the average age for children to be first exposed to pornography has crept younger and younger (today it’s at age 11). By high school, 90 percent of boys are regularly viewing porn, says Laura Gallier, author of several books for children and teens on sexuality. Additionally, an internal poll among Rice University students revealed one in five females says she is addicted to pornography, Gallier says.

“For married couples where one or both people bring into the relationship a past experience with porn, sex often becomes something other than a beautiful thing,” says Cheryl Scruggs, co-founder with her husband, Jeff, of Hope Matters Marriage Ministries in Texas.

The Changing Face of Infidelity

The coming of age of Millennials, in fact, has introduced a new wave of cultural realities that have impacted the causes of infidelity throughout the past 15 to 20 years.

Take, for instance, the fact that young women married seven years or less are one of the fastest growing demographic groups committing adultery. These are women who either didn’t grow up with a dad in the home or never had a healthy relationship with their father or stepfather. “They’ve never had a male mentor,” says Carder. “So there is a huge hole in most of these women’s hearts. A man comes along—many times an older man—and begins listening to them, and they just cave.”

Among both Millennials and Gen Xers, Carder points out, another reality is that 50 percent of this married demographic are children of divorce. “They haven’t seen a model or a practice of healthy, lasting marriages set before them,” Carder says. “If it gets bad, you cut and run.” They also carry with them attachment injuries from a mom or dad who abandoned them or broke up the family. Carder notes that these injuries demonstrate themselves in a marriage in three ways—the spouse either becomes too clingy, too cautious (afraid to get too close because they might get hurt), or too chaotic (too restless to be tied down or commit long-term).

Within Christian communities, it’s also striking to note that relationships among young marrieds are particular fragile during the early years of starting a family. (Fifty percent of all first-time affairs by husbands occur while the wife is pregnant or during the first year after delivery, Carder notes.)

Millennials, who are entering marriage in their late twenties or early thirties, are also now doing so with much more extensive sexual histories (an average of five or six past partners). This places weighty expectations of sexual satisfaction on their married partner that the relationship cannot often sustain.

“Many of these past sexual experiences were physical infatuations,” Carder says. “And when you’re infatuated, it’s like sex on cocaine. Marital sex never compares over time with that. Never.”

Instead of learning to stoke the fires of healthy sexual tension (flirting, teasing, and enjoying the slow build-up that leads to fulfilling sex), these couples are coming into marriage with a past mindset that said: Sex is about hopping into bed as soon as possible. This might never happen again, so I better take advantage of it right now. So sex within marriage quickly becomes a chore.

Social media has also flung open the door wide to the ease in which people can engage in emotional affairs. Old infatuations can be instantly triggered through connecting with past boyfriends or girlfriends. “Those former experiences and feelings are still stored in the brain.” Carder says. “A man might see a woman on Facebook that he liked in college. It doesn’t matter if she’s put on 80 pounds. It’s the memory she generates. He desires connection with her.”

“The vast majority of affairs—I’d say 95 percent—occur without planning or intent,” Harley says. “Affairs usually start with a friendship. You find yourself attracted to another person, not necessarily sexually. You just like the person. You get along really well. Then one thing leads to another and eventually you develop an attraction and the affair becomes sexual.”

When couples face fidelity, the injured spouse is always bewildered by how his or her partner could have entered into a sexual relationship with someone else. The answer is, “Because we’re wired for it,” “We have an instinct to sexually connect. And our instincts will lead us into a whole lot of trouble if we don’t take extraordinary precautions.”

The precautionary measure is that married individuals should not have close personal relationships with people of the opposite sex. “This person shouldn’t become your buddy or someone who’s going to be there for you when you need a sympathetic ear or help with a favor,” he says.

Quite often, it’s those kind of friendships that can quickly blossom into emotional affairs.

“Men and women are working together, serving together, going to the gym together, and practicing hobbies and interests together more than ever before. “With these kind of relationships,  people move from  ‘external professional’ to an ‘internal personal’ relationship. And when you step over that threshold, you’re entering into risky business.”

For someone who’s wondering if they’ve entered into an emotional affair, Ask yourself these introspective questions: Has this become a mood-altering experience for you? Does seeing this person or receiving a text or tweet from them improve your mood? Are you dressing in ways to get noticed? Are you engaging in personal conversations? Are you also trying to hide or deny those communications, knowing that if someone realized how much the relationship was having an effect on you, you’d be in trouble?

Is this strong stance against opposite-sex friendships a ridiculously strict idea? The response is this: If you were to have an affair, it would be the most devastating experience in your spouse’s life,” he says. “It rises to the level of losing a child, of having your house burn down, or of losing a limb. It’s that bad. So for something that devastating, extraordinary precautions are reasonable.”

The Aftermath of Infidelity

It is important to note that 95 to 98 percent of affairs do not last. “They die a natural death, understandably, because it’s something that’s been done in secret and it’s done great harm to your spouse and children. “People end up feeling guilty and that generally has a negative effect on the affair itself.” (For the 5 percent of affairs that do end up leading to marriage, only 30 percent of those relationships survive for five years.)

The idea that cheating offers escape, relief, and lasting pleasure is heaping loads of turmoil on marriages today. At the end of the road, the truth to be discovered about infidelity is the same of all paths that lead us away from the light. In darkness we lose ourselves. Deceit overwhelms. We forget who we are and to whom we belong: Christ our beloved. If we’ll listen, he will gently remind us that there is a thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy marriages. But he comes that we may have life and have it abundantly.

adapted from

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