When it comes to infidelity, men and women are becoming more alike. While most couples never cheat, women are catching up to men in terms of those who do, though their reasons are typically different.
The General Social Survey of the National Science Foundation found in 2010 that 19 percent of men had been unfaithful at some point, a drop from 1991's 21 percent. The number of unfaithful women, on the other hand, increased from 11 percent in 1991 to 14 percent in 2010.
Other studies have put the range of infidelity for men as high as nearly one-fourth and women up to one-fifth. They all seem to agree, said a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, that "any such survey is asking for confessions from people who are presumably lying to their spouses." They posit infidelity is undercounted.
"The emotional toll is horrendous and the relationship is never the same; it creates lots of problems," said Dylan Thrasher, life and relationship coach in San Diego. "When couples try to work it out, it seems it's never truly forgiven and always comes up at some point. 'If they did it before, they might do it again.' "
The best bet, he said, is to "never put themselves in situations that are compromising and never let it get that far. Couples need to make sure they're really connected and really talking."
There are differences in individuals' definitions of "cheating," said Kristin Hodson, therapist/founder of Salt Lake-based The Healing Group, who wrote the book "Real Intimacy: A Couples Guide to Healthy, Genuine Sexuality." While virtually everyone recognizes sexual intercourse as cheating, many don't consider an emotional relationship or even one involving passionate kisses to be infidelity. She disagrees. "I think they still damage. They are disrupting the baseline of trust. Would you be doing whatever you're doing in front of your spouse?"
Even flirting online with an old flame or similar behavior risks relationships and long-term happiness. "I think it pulls the heart and mind away to somebody else. You stop investing or doing the work you need to make your relationship great," she said.
Ironically, one of the most respected sources of information on numbers and trends regarding infidelity comes from an organization created to help people cheat. The online community regularly surveys its own members to learn about infidelity, and noted universities rely in part on its research.
Its founder, Noel Biderman, author of "Cheaters Prosper," told the Deseret News that though no one is immune, there are demographic "hot spots." A 39-year-old man is four times as likely to cheat as a man at 38. "Affairs are often part and parcel of self-reflection," he said. "Men tend to become self-reflective on the eve of their 40th birthday." Men over 65 often seek affairs, while women that age don't.
He said women didn't start cheating in higher numbers until they entered the work force, where they had more opportunities to meet people and take business trips. More financial independence plays in, too. Often, he and others said, things that better life, like higher income or wider networks, also provide more temptation.
Another change is an increase in married women looking for single men, mirroring what's portrayed in Hollywood as "aspirational relationships."
Why people choose infidelity varies. Research says men are more likely to pursue illicit relationships for sex, while women are more often drawn to an emotional appeal. They want to be desired. "There was a point when they were adored, put on a pedestal, brought flowers, told they were beautiful, proposed to. Now life is more mundane. … We see the search for excitement and romance is where it starts."
People pay attention to each other's physical and mental aspects as they fall in love. But being sexually, socially and emotionally compatible matters, too, said Thrasher.
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