If only all extra-marital affairs had such happy endings as those I've recently read about -- case in point, the young couple in Elizabeth Bernstein's "Back to Happily Ever After" in the Wall Street Journal on May 1st. But the truth is, there are varied ways in which these trysts play out and affect a marriage and there are plenty of unfaithful husbands and wives floating around. According to my research, wives are as engaged in these extra marital affairs as are husbands -- even if in our society, we like to think otherwise.
Female infidelity is a topic that I have been researching since the early nineties. In my ongoing study, I've found that more affairs are happening later in a woman's marriage and a woman's reasons for having an affair both concur with and are distinct from a man's reasons. According to my research:
*Wives say their sex lives have dwindled
*Women are out in the workplace and have the opportunity to meet other men
*Wives feel neglected by their husbands and their lovers makes them feel special
*Women have access to men through the Internet (old boyfriends as well as new acquaintances)
*Women unexpectedly fall in love with someone else
Of the wives with whom I've spoken, close to half believe that the 'other man' can actually help them to stay in an unhappy or suboptimal marriage because they find their happiness with the lover. This group of wives who remain with their husbands feels more in touch with their desires in this extra curricular relationship than in their marriages and they no longer feel that life is passing them by.
There are wives who tell me that the affair is the one part of their lives that they can control and in this way they are empowered. And then there are wives who report that they feel more balanced in their marriage because of the affair. This faction of women, approximately a third of my interviewee pool, describe themselves as a good wife, a good mother, a successful career woman and a good lover. These relationships with the 'other man' satisfy some wives for years and become a way of life.
More than half the wives I've interviewed describe the lover as a vehicle through which to understand what is missing in the marriage -- and wives in this situation may give up the affair with a renewed commitment to the marriage. Others use the lover as a bridge to leave the marriage, although not necessarily for this person.
My study indicates that:
*70 percent of wives say the 'other man' is the opposite of their husbands
*40 percent view the lover as an escape
*Over 60 percent of women will engage in an extra marital affair (including an affair of the mind and a cyberspace affair) at some point in their marriage
*65 percent of interviewees report that sex is better with the lover
*90 percent of wives say they never imagined that they would have an affair
What remains so striking to me about women who choose to engage in affairs is how they use the affair to better understand themselves and their marriages. These women may be convention-bound, dedicated wives and mothers, but they seek the affair nonetheless. In this way, the affair represents a form of exploration, and the consequences seem of less concern than the chance to have the experience.
Below, test your knowledge of celeb affairs that ended in divorce: