Since Tiger Wood’s car struck a neighbor’s fire hydrant and tree right before Thanksgiving, the most famous golfer in the world's admitted "transgressions" have the been the lead story in every paper and news cast, and fodder for comedy routines.
My private practice has been inundated with calls...asking why do men cheat? And, is Tiger more likely to cheat than my husband, or was he just more likely to have gotten caught because of the microscope that comes with him being good looking, rich and famous?
Well, my first response is by-and-large happy people don’t cheat, but unhappy people do. This observation is consistent with data from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy that reported 15% of wives and 25% of husbands have experienced extramarital intercourse.
But why would Tiger risk it all (or even desire too)?
He’s clearly smart, disciplined and from all outside appearances happily married to a beautiful woman who is the mother of his two kids -- and he appears to love her.
As a marriage counselor with over 16 years experience, it’s been my experience, and studies agree, that like Tiger the average Joe who cheats doesn’t do so because they don’t love their spouse. Rather, they cheat because there is something missing in their relationship, or within themselves – which I refer to as a “void”.
When husbands, or wives (and, yes, women cheat too) come into my private practice for marital therapy and admit to infidelity, the first question I ask is what was going on in the relationship at the time of the affair. If they say they didn't feel like a priority, felt a lack of intimacy, or describe where their conflicts were being resolved in a lose/win fashion; then I immediately think OK they were just “unhappy”, and I take a sigh of relief. In contrast, if they were happy and cheated, then I fear the worse.
You might ask why would a marital psychologist take a take a sigh of relief when an unhappy partner cheats? Well, it’s pretty simple, as a general rule happy people don’t cheat, and when they do it’s generally a reflection on some greater problem compared to when unhappy people cheat.
Unhappy people generally cheat for emotional reasons related to a void between them and their partner. If there is a void, at least we identify the emotional issues underlying the affair, and strategize about how to fill the void. For example, couples can learn to make each other feel more like a priority (or appreciated), learn how to read and speak each other’s love languages so that they can communicate more effectively, or learn how to resolve conflicts in a win/win vs. a win/lose manner…so that neither partner harbors bitterness and can move on in a positive fashion after the disagreement.
On the other hand, experience has taught me it can be a more complex issue when happy people cheat. First, I have found that sometimes one partner's sexual drive might make it impossible for them to be satisfied by one partner. Next, I have found that some people need the adrenalin rush and excitement that comes with the pursuit and conquest they experience while cheating, having sex with different partners and in clandestine places.
Alternatively, I’ve found that in some case cheaters may have ADHD or a co-occurring sexual addiction. Actually, these two frequently go hand-and-hand with each other and infidelity, and directly contribute to cheaters engaging in impulsive, addictive and risky activities.
In my next blog, I will talk about how to Affair-Proof your marriage, particularly if your partner has untreated ADHD or a sexual addiction.