Infidelity Prevalence, Trends and Prevention-A Research Review
D. Charles Williams, Ph.D.
Psychologist and Marriage & Family Therapist-Athens, Georgia
Author: WHAT’S DONE IN THE DARK: Affair-Proofing and Recovery from Infidelity-
A Self-Help Guide for Couples www.whatsdoneinthedark.org
How common is infidelity?
Infidelity has probably existed for as long as “the world’s oldest profession.” The prevalence of infidelity has long been a topic of speculation by many authors, and the focus of numerous research studies over the years. Some authors maintain that unfaithfulness occurs in marriages at a rate of over 50%. Many controlled studies estimate that somewhere between 20-40% of married couples will experience infidelity (11,19). National surveys estimate that sexual infidelity hovers around 21-23% for men and 15-19% for women. When emotional affairs or inappropriate physical contact is involved, those totals can increase by 10-15 % for men and women (22,25,32). The percentage of wives having affairs rose almost 40% during the last two decades to approximately 15% in 2010, while the number of men admitting affairs held constant at 21% (25). Between 1991-2006, the most dramatic rise in infidelity has been in men ages 65-90 due to accessible treatment for ED (28).
It is also estimated that approximately 2-4% of men and women will be unfaithful in any one year period (34). Persons in dating and cohabitating relationships have a higher probability of cheating on their significant other than married couples(1).
What are the current predictable trends that occur around infidelity?
Infidelity is reported to be the most common cause of divorce behind incompatibility, alcohol abuse, drug problems and growing apart emotionally (5). Approximately 17-20% of all divorces in the United States are caused by infidelity (15). Individuals who travel frequently for their jobs are the most affair-prone, perhaps because of opportunity and the anonymity afforded (1). Infidelity displays a seasonal pattern that peaks in the summer months (1).
Those who have been previously divorced, ironically, tend to have a higher likelihood of unfaithfulness (36). Men, managers and executives, southerners, occupants of large cities, African Americans and those who have had a number of prior sexual partners also seem to be more prone to infidelity (25, 36).
Approximately 65-70% of couples who experience infidelity stay married. Half of those couples restore a more intimate relationship that becomes stronger than it was before the affair (32).This is most likely due to their seeking professional help. Approximately only 10% of individuals who have affairs together ever marry each other. Up to 75% of those who do marry one another after an affair, eventually end up divorced themselves (19, 32).
Individual Characteristics That Increase the Probability of Infidelity
So who is more prone to having an affair?
Socially dominant males who are affluent and possess high resources are more inclined to be unfaithful according to the research (17, 21). Men who have a higher propensity for sexual excitation, who are more impulsive, and who have a tendency to engage in regretful sexual behavior during negative affective states are more affair-prone as well (22). Men who have cheated before are at an increased risk of future infidelity (7). According to Ashley Madison.com, men are more susceptible to cheating at ages 29, 39, 49, and 59 especially if they are facing personal milestones in their lives. Visiting sexually explicit internet websites is a factor that contributes to an increased likelihood of seeking other partners outside one’s marriage (30, 38).
The probability of sexual infidelity increases for women who have had a higher number of lifetime sexual partners, who cohabitated with their current partner prior to marriage, and who have been sexually abused during childhood. Infidelity is also greater for women who are remarried relative to those who are in their first marriage (36). The probability of infidelity in women decreases with age, higher education and religiosity (1).
Individuals who have a history of anxiety, depression, psychological distress, low self-esteem and an insecure attachment orientation have also been found to be more susceptible to extramarital relationships (13,14,23). Problem drinking, alcohol dependence and illicit drug use are correlated with a higher incidence of infidelity (5).
History and past familial influences can have a strong effect on future high risk behavior. A high number of previous sexual partners as well as parents who have been unfaithful increase the probability for future infidelity (31,35). Infidelity in one’s family of origin has been found to increase the probability of future impropriety in other family members. Parental infidelity was determined to potentially double the rate of probable future unfaithfulness in adult children compared to those who had not been exposed to this (9,33,37).
Relationship Issues Contributing to Infidelity
What problems in a marriage make a couple more prone to infidelity?
Infidelity is both a cause of marital distress and a consequence of problems in a marriage (29). In other words, marriages that have unresolved issues in them are more susceptible to affairs. However, the occurrence of infidelity brings about a great deal of marital distress as well (22).
Couples who have a lower level of positive interactions and experience a higher level of negative and invalidating interactions are generally more affair-prone (3). Those who are low in marital satisfaction and low in religiosity have an increased probability for infidelity. Those who are high in marital satisfaction and high in religiosity have a decreased probability for infidelity (5, 35).
Being the “breadwinner” increases the possibility of engaging in an extramarital relationship for men. For women, being a “breadwinner” decreases the probability of engaging in infidelity. For both men and women, economic dependency upon the other partner was associated with a higher likelihood of engaging in infidelity (24).
Boredom and a mundane sex life was the reason 71% of unfaithful men and 49% of unfaithful women gave for acting on sexual temptation in a sample of 100,000 subjects (26). In the same sample, 9% of men and 14% of women admitted that they had sex with someone else out of revenge for their partner’s infidelity.
Relational Issues that Reduce the Probability of Infidelity
What can be done to “affair-proof” a marriage?
Premarital couples who have a communication style of 4 to 1 validating to invalidating exchanges, higher levels of positive interaction and lower levels of negative or invalidating interactions reduce the probability of unfaithfulness in their relationship (3). Married couples who report high satisfaction in their marriages and hold a strong commitment to their relationship are less likely to be susceptible to infidelity (16, 29). Couples who were most satisfied in their relationships maintained a ratio of 5 positive sentiments to 1 negative sentiment (20).
Couples who have similar levels of educational, personality characteristics and religious beliefs fare better against the possibility of extramarital affairs (5, 8). Married couples who reported “nearness to God” along with attendance to religious services revealed a decrease likelihood of infidelity. Those who reported “nearness to God” but did not attend religious services revealed an increased likeliness of infidelity in a sample of 1439 married individuals (6).
Overall, the more religious the couple was, the less likely they reported engaging in extramarital sexual relations (36,12). Among Christian couples, viewing the Bible as the inspired word of God reduced the likelihood of infidelity (10). In another sample of Christian couples, it was discovered that praying for the well-being of one’s partner regularly decreased the probability of infidelity in the relationship (18).
Couples who are extremely satisfied with their sex lives are less tempted to be unfaithful. While 17% of sexually satisfied couples said they would be tempted to cheat, as many as 52% of the sexually unsatisfied couples said they would be tempted to cheat (26).
Across five different cultures, the relational factors that reduced the probability of infidelity were being faithful oneself, having children together, not acting on feelings of being attracted toward others, and performing acts which strengthened mutual feeling of love within the marriage (27).
The review of the current research on infidelity has attempted to accurately portray the prevalence of infidelity, the trends that occur within infidelity, who is most prone to having affairs, the relationship issues that weaken the marital bond, and the characteristics of marital relationships that make them more affair-proof.
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