What Thrasher has found most among couples where one cheats is resentment that has not been addressed. And social circles have changed so many people "no longer have a group of friends saying, 'don't cheat.' "
Sometimes, life seems to get in the way of couples, said Dr. Tina Paone, founder and clinical director of the Counseling Center at Heritage outside of Philadelphia, which specializes in marriage therapy and children's services. While sex drives some illicit relationships, the spark that starts an affair is just as apt to be an emotional need that's not being addressed, she said.
"There's some sort of problem within the relationship that is causing one to seek other connections. Instead of working within the relationship, the easy answer is to go outside," she said. If abuse drove it, the relationship can't be mended. Often, though, couples choose to try to overcome infidelity. "It can be a moment that causes everyone to come together and work on it. It really depends on the couple," she said.
Counselors agree that communication is more than the key to healing, it's the key to preventing infidelity. It's where couples in counseling typically need the most work.
"I always tell clients the grass is always greener where you water it," Hodson said.
Seattle therapist Christopher Franklin said an astonishing number of affairs are driven by sexual addiction, which thrives in American culture on readily available porn, ease of communicating online and less restrained cultural expectations. Behaviors once seriously shunned now draw shrugs.
One issue in fidelity is "how socially acceptable sexualizing women in general has become. It is pervasive in our culture," he said. "It sets up an environment where it's acceptable to use sexuality as a leverage on both the male and female side."
No good news
There's no upside in an increase in infidelity, he said.
Humans have a deeply rooted need for intimacy, said Franklin. Research says that early on, couples are biologically programmed to overlook a partner's flaws. Men tend to attach to a woman's looks, while a woman may view a man's confidence, status and abilities as signs he will love, protect and cherish her. The need for intimacy creates a high degree of trauma when it's violated.
"A lot of people I work with develop post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms as a result of affairs. … It's very damaging to people."
Like other experts, Franklin believes recovery is possible. "You can become healthier in a relationship than you have ever been, but there are scars and there will always be a certain degree of pain associated with the memory, a certain degree of naive trust that's permanently lost," he warned. "That part that never questions a partner because there was never a reason to — that is lost forever."
Our culture has sold a picture of what love looks like that contributes to the problem, too, said Franklin, who believes we are predisposed to have stars in our eyes. Media peddles the notion that "the ideal relationship is one that looks like the early stages of a relationship all the time. If my relationship loses that, I must be with the wrong person. It makes an affair much more tempting when you think you have the wrong person. In reality, you haven't mastered moving out of immature intimacy into the mature part that requires you to learn to love your partner once and for all."
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