A society of adulterers?

When I wondered aloud, "Is infidelity a sin whose time has come?" my colleague retorted, "It never left!" Indeed, the string of politicians, sports figures and movie stars cheating on their wives is an endless parade of mea culpas.

"Why do men cheat?" I asked Dr. Ruth Westheimer, psychosexual therapist, as faculty and fellows gathered for the Yale commencement this year. Her voice escalated. "It’s not only men! And put an exclamation point there. I have nothing more to say."

Just an hour earlier, a young National Guardsman told us that infidelity was on the rise with military wives. He said, "We now have a coed Army, and wives know that when their husbands are in Iraq these guys are going to cheat and so they do it also."

Despite what we hear about infidelity, the last major survey in 2006 conducted by Pew Research, an independent think tank, found that 88 percent of 1,502 persons said that a married person having an affair is morally wrong.

Good statistics about infidelity are dated. The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy in 2002 cited a study identifying some 15 percent of wives and 25 percent of husbands involved with extramarital affairs. Today numbers quoted are much higher, particularly after adding 15 percent of Internet users involved in "online infidelity," undocumented numbers involved in emotional cheating with people they meet on the job, and Web sites that cater to "married but cheating" clientele. And guys, the word is out about Mistress Day, Feb. 13.

What concerns me is the effect of infidelity and divorce on children. A new Dutch study reported on the effects of divorce with 2,149 boys and girls from 10 through 15. The Journal of Marriage and Family noted that girls, though not boys, were at high risk for depression in adolescence.

With the damage that infidelity does to families and children, I thought the "sin" and dishonesty might be peaking and leveling off. A February article in the Journal of Sex Research was discouraging. The team is developing "a scale assessing sexual deception practices." As if it wasn’t bad enough that students are lying about being faithful, 31 percent lied about the numbers of previous partners, and a whopping 69 percent failed to disclose having the human papilloma virus.

Dr. Ruth emphatically reminded me of her concerns about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and AIDS. "Just watch. The numbers are going to start going up again," she said.

His and hers reasons that spouses cheat are similar: lack of intimacy and emotional fulfillment, the need for attention, a change in physical appearance, unkind words, and most especially, lack of communication. However, when infidelity is discovered, women tend be more forgiving than husbands, who are generally too angry to reconcile.

Does religion help? Only for those attending church and not just parroting pious words. A new study from the Fuller Theological Seminary reported on 1,439 married participants. They found that those who talked "religious importance" but did not attend church regularly were more likely to have an affair than the churchgoers.

"I am no longer naive enough to think that marriage is made in heaven," said Rabbi Carl Astor, of Congregation Beth-el in New London, Conn. At a recent wedding he told newlyweds and guests, "It takes hard work, flexibility, honesty, and forgiveness." The forgiveness factor is always something most people would rather forget.

W. Curt LaFrance, M.D., a Brown assistant professor of psychiatry and neurology, sees a simple biblical solution. Paraphrasing Ephesians, he said: "Husbands love your wives. Wives respect your husbands."

Nonetheless, often infidelity becomes an irreconcilable difference, and women and children lose out financially. John Skeele, who is with a national mortgage group in McLean, Va., pointed out that "in a divorce, a couple has to set up two households on the income that used to support one."

Mindful of the economics of divorce, one woman we know of was determined to keep her marriage afloat despite a cheating husband. Taking a creative approach, she shocked him into resolving their differences. Just before he returned from a business trip, she posted a large sign on their front lawn. When he arrived back home, he found himself face to face with the words: "House for Sale — Husband Included."


Rita Watson is a daily blogger at www.ritawatson.com.


  1. dbumRob

    As long as we keep laboring under the restrictive and inflexible dogmas about love and marriage brought to us by the narrow minded judeo-christian framework, we will continue to have a divorce rate as high as it is, and continue to judge sex “adultery.”

    Current models, which are centuries old, are so obviously in need of fixing that it amazes no one that is mainstream is saying how unevolved our relationship concepts are.

    Monogamous marriage is but one idea that works for some. And the laws in this country, and the resulatant taboos we keep alive, need to change to reflect the reality of differing relationship styles and models.

    And Dr. LaFrance seems to forget that the divorce rate even in the Bible Belt states is as high as the national average and any other state in the union. And that the sexual practices of certain religious right leaders, are a representation of the streams of enegy in the flock. In the thirteen years I spent among them I saw it as the never ending struggle.

    As long as we keep this old framework, remodeling will never work. And we desparately need it.

  2. Sandra Price

    The problem is not Adultery!!! It is the problem of American individuals who cannot take an oath on the bible and keep it. We have over 500 members of Congress who put their hands up and take an oath to protect and serve the Constitution. That lasts as long as it takes to return to their offices and check their messages.

    We see it daily in our individual homes when the religous folks take an oath on the bible to swear to the fidelity of the marriage ceremony. What a load!

    We all pay a price for adultery and 20% of the American people are carrying a sexually transmitted disease. We even see the destruction of our American government when we elect a born-again christian who took the great oath to the American White House and then crapped all over it.

    It is time we put this third element of our minds out of our lives and when we make a promise we do it as individuals not some minor facet of God’s imagination.

    Our species no longer has respect for anything other than greed and the taking from others the glory of success.

    I find it hilarious that the religious right refuses to accept gay marriages when half of their own end up trashed. Are we even aware of what an oath means? Why do we even bother? Is it just to give grounds for divorce?

  3. bjiller

    “Emotional cheating” hogwash.

    This whole idea of “emotional affairs” or “emotional cheating” is hogwash. I guess if I confided in my male friends but not in my now-ex wife, then I’m having an “emotional homosexual affair.” If there’s no sex, there’s no cheating. I’d be interested in Dr. Ruth’s take on this.

    This is just a way that disgruntled spouses can blame the other for the failure of the relationship and give them an excuse to go for the gold in the divorce.

    Other than that, interesting article.

  4. Sandra Price

    I guess the word fidelity is in the eye of the beholder. what about the oath our politicians take to uphold the consitution? Is that like a minor problem too?

    We are at a time in our elections where everything that can be said of another will said over and over. Obama has been reported to have had an affair…..John Edwards was reported to have had a child out of wedlock and now Bubba is back in his old ways. I give them the same attention as I did when McCain was supposed to have fathered a black child.

    I shun them all but it is a warning that both parties will pull out all stops at this time and if our candidates can’t stay out of trouble then somebody will report it.

    We have only 5 months left and is it too much trouble to ask our two candidates to play by the rules?