Over the past few years, I've witnessed a growing number of married couples in my fortysomething peer group calling it quits. Not surprisingly, infidelity is a factor in many of these breakups. What is surprising is that it's the women -- not the men-- who are cheating.
Although recent high-profile scandals have involved cheating men (think John Edwards, Anthony Weiner, Arnold Schwarzenegger), a study out of Indiana University finds that women today cheat at about the same rate as men, and that the number of unfaithful women is growing. The study showed that 19 percent of married women and 23 percent of married men reported cheating, statistics that reflect a closing of the cheating gender gap. (Note: These numbers are probably on the conservative side because they reflect the percentage of people who admitted to cheating. Presumably, the numbers of unfaithful partners is higher.) Research from the 1990s found that only 10 percent of married women reported being unfaithful. According to these numbers, female infidelity may one day rival or even surpass male cheating.
Another interesting fact? According to the study, the most common age for women to have an affair is 45. For men, it's 55.
The reasons for cheating are many. Take Diane, a 46-year-old mother of two who has worked full time while raising kids:
"My husband and I were so busy with work and the kids that our life together had slid into the background. It became all about 'who's doing the laundry' and 'who's picking the kids up from daycare.' I needed confirmation that I was still sexy and that other men found me attractive."
This rise in female infidelity is a change from what I saw growing up in the '80s. In those days, it was the man who cheated. In many cases, this pattern held true: Husband cheats on wife with secretary; husband leaves wife and kids near-broke; husband starts new family with younger wife.
My girlfriends and I observed the devastating effects of divorce -- which left families in financial and emotional ruin -- and vowed that we would never let it happen to us. We worked hard in school, went to college and grad school, and pursued careers so that we would never have to be financially dependent on a man.
So why do I look around me and see so many women repeating the mistakes of their fathers? Why are they willing to risk everything -- their marriages, homes, even their children -- for a romp (or two) in the sack with another man?
Is it a midlife crisis? A feminist assertion of independence and power? Or perhaps a "Fifty Shades of Grey" phenomenon where women are craving steamy "chocolate hot-fudge brownie" sex over the "vanilla" flavor they've had for years with their husbands?
According to Carolyn*, a 44-year-old mother of three, "Sleeping with another man awakened things in me that I hadn't felt in years. When I was with him, I felt like I was doing something just for me. I was sick of living for others. It wasn't hard to keep the affair secret from my husband because I travel a lot for work."
While there are several factors that contribute to marital infidelity, there are a few unique reasons women in their 40s cheat. Here are the top 10:
Bottom line? Female infidelity is on the rise. When you add up all the reasons that women cheat, it's usually her heart -- or ego -- that needs healing. Not her libido. A few tips? Keep the lines of communication open with your spouse. Look for the warning signs. And get help from a good marriage therapist before it's too late.
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* Names have been changed to preserve privacy.
Samantha Parent Walravens is the author of TORN: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, chosen by the New York Times as the first pick for the Motherlode Book Club.
Follow Samantha Parent Walravens on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@nosuperwoman