Sarah Palin quits her job. Why? The pundits are stumped. Gail Collins, in the NY Times OP-ED on 7-4-09, muses on her possible reasons including that of a ‘soul mate’ a la Mark Sanford. The National Enquirer in Sept 2008 ─who accurately exposed John Edwards’s affair─ tells us that Sarah had a secret lover. Her husband Todd’s business partner, Brad Hanson was the lucky guy. When Todd found out about the affair he dissolved the partnership. Alas, her secret lover did not fare so well after all.
On the heels of so many scandals, is the shoe of yet another secret lover to drop? Is infidelity more outrageous for a ‘family values’ political female figure than for an adulterous male politician? Is the double standard still alive and well? Let’s look at the statistics.
Estimates of infidelity range from 30-60 percent of women compared to 50-70 percent of men. The gap is closing. Why then do so many women take secret lovers? Why do they cheat?
Women’s choice to cheat is both daring and desperate. A desperate plea for help and a daring catalyst for change in their marriage or their own selves, the affair is serious stuff. Not just fun. Let’s take a peek at a few of the wives that I write about in the book, Daring Wives: Insight into Women’s Desires for Extramarital Affairs (Praeger, 2006)
Not that she doesn’t have a handsome, successful husband. Not that she doesn’t have two adorable children. Not that she doesn’t have a beautiful home with two acres of land. Debra, a stay-at- home mom seems to have it all. But does she? Actually home sweet home is not so sweet. Humdrum days – food shopping, cooking, cleaning and carting her kids around – go on and on. She feels trapped, bored, powerless, and lonely. Her brain chemicals are on strike. Serotonin is in short supply as is dopamine, vasopressin and oxytocin─brain chemicals that ensure good moods, bonding, and passion. To top it off Debra’s husband doesn’t get it. He’s too busy trying to get ahead to get into her. Along comes an attentive, sexy admirer and bingo!
A devoted loving mother and wife, Ruth─ like Sarah Palin─ has carved out a successful and glamorous career. In a perfect world, she would have the best of both worlds – a career and motherhood. In our less than perfect world, she does not. She lets me know “I’m stressed out and ready to explode.” Her neurotransmitters and love inducing chemicals have crashed. To top it off, our effective firecracker at work can’t get a charge out of her husband. He does not help nor does he understand her desires or needs. Her co-worker Larry does.
Scrappy, sexy generation X, Mary is determined not to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Her martyr mom settled for a secure, dependent and devoted dull husband, but Mary won’t. Mary desires committed love in marriage, security, children and comfort, all that good stuff. A little like her mom, but not exactly. Mary desires more from her marriage. Along with love, she longs for lust, romance, excitement, and passionate hot sex in her marriage. Sociopolitical history, pop culture, dampened down brain chemicals, and family history entwine and strangle her strivings. Unshackling from her corseted past, Mary breathes freely. Air borne of desire carries the wings of surprise. To her surprise, she sees clearly that her husband is not doing it for her. So what’s a restless young wife to do? She finds a sensitive, sexy secret lover who promises all.
As you can see from the above vignettes, women have secret lovers, primarily. because they’re not getting their needs and desires met in their marriages. Try as they may, wives are often unable to reach their husbands.
Feeling stifled, unfulfilled, frustrated, and helpless in their marriages, they step outside of their marriages. Taking the step is in itself empowering. The affair is a daring active choice, not a more-of- the-same passive response. It screams out loudly “Enough! Something’s got to give, either the marriage or me.” That’s only the first step to autonomy and power. It takes a daring wife to have an affair but an even more daring wife to go into therapy to repair her self and/or the marriage.
What about the children? People often stay in unsatisfactory marriages for the sake of the children. It is a fallacy. Parents in miserable marriages only make for miserable children. The legacies for these children are blighted models of marital relationships, and unfulfilled, powerless mothers. The affair, while not necessarily the most prudent choice, is nevertheless an act of empowerment. Instead of a weak, dependent or embittered mother, the children now have a stronger, more independent, and fulfilled female role model.
A common myth is that the affair is about sex. It is not. For the most part, sex was better at home before romance eroded. Screaming fights or silent simmering hostility erodes romance and distinguishes the flames of passion. Chances are that problems in your sex life are not about the quality, but the quantity. Fighting to the death or suffering in silence snuffs kills sexual desire for most wives. And there’s less and less sex in the marriage.
If insufficient sex is the result of unsatisfactory marriages and affairs the result of unhappy marriages, what are the causes? What do wives want? It isn’t only that they desire emotional engagement. It isn’t only that they desire sexual passion. It isn’t only that they desire safety and protection along with autonomy and independence. I have found that wives want mutuality, equal power relationships, and recognition from their husbands. Devotion, love, and commitment without passionate sex, fun, and excitement is the steak without the sizzle. For wives to feel sexy they need the sizzle.
Does any of this sound familiar? Let me know your thoughts.
Frances Cohen Praver, PhD.
Clinical Psychologist/Psychoanalyst and author of: Crossroads at Midlife: Your Aging Parents, Your Emotions, and Your Self (Praeger, 2002) and Daring Wives: Insight into Women's Desires for Extramarital Affairs (Praeger, 2006).