Lately, in cases of male infidelity that I have seen in my office, the reason these husbands cheated was not primarily sexual dissatisfaction in their marriage.

On the contrary, said one husband whom I'll call Jed. Jed said that he and his wife and enjoyed an active sex life. And, although the cultural stereotype of the cheating husband has the husband finding a young and physically attractive mistress, only 12 % of men say their mistress was more attractive than their wife. In Jed's case, his wife Ashley was a willowy blond with a heart-stopping beautiful heart-shaped face. She was smart and witty and a good mother to their 7 year-old son and toddler daughter. 

Men become Emotionally Isolated in their Marriages

So why do men like Jed cheat? Since their son was born, Jed told me in a counseling session, he felt like he was emotionally alone in his marriage. Ashley focused so much on being a good mother to their son and later to their daughter, that he felt like she became emotionally distant from him. When he got home from work, Ashley gave him a list of chores for the evening: entertain the children while Ashley made dinner, help with the children's baths and getting them ready for bed. "I know with kids we have to be organized, but I felt like I was back at work," Jed confided. He became increasingly unhappy and finally turned to another woman for emotional closeness.

The Tell-Tale Text

Ashley found out that Jed had been having a year-long affair in a way that is becoming  increasingly typical. She happened to be near Jed's cell phone when he received a text. Recognizing the number, she looked at his phone and saw the text. It was from her best friend. The content was obviously sexual. She grabbed the cell phone and confronted Jed. He admitted to the affair.

Ashley wanted to try to preserve their marriage and immediately made an appointment for marriage counseling. She wanted to know why, why, why Jed chose to have the affair. What emerged was Jed's feeling that Ashley took him for granted and never made him a priority. She often made the decisions about the house and the children  without even consulting him. Although they had sex, he felt emotionally adrift in their marriage. At times he felt powerless. After many weeks of counseling, Ashley started to understand what Jed was talking about. She had the capacity to be honest with herself, and saw that she was over-focused on the children and had given Jed no voice in their marriage. 

Ashley decided to try to make their marriage work--partly because of the children but also because she still loved Jed. Re-building trust and re-balancing power in their marriage took a little more than a year in counseling. Today they are happy, though they still come in now and then when Ashley needs reassurance. Jed shows signs of being happier in their marriage, although he gets frustrated and impatient when Ashley brings up the affair. 

I have seen a number of couples like Jed and Ashley: couples with young children, the wife focusing on the children to the exclusion of their husbands, the tell tale texts on the cell phone. One wife named Alyssa became suspicious when their cell phone bills stopped arriving each month at their house. Checking their bill online, she found that her husband had been texting an unknown person. She called the number and found that it belonged to one of her husband's business associates whom they knew socially.

When Alyssa  confronted her husband, he admitted to a five-year affair. Her husband admitted to an emotional connection with the other woman which later turned into a sexual relationship. He had felt for years that Alyssa focused almost exclusively on their daughters and did not pay much attention to him. Alyssa was not as forgiving as Ashley. She found a good divorce lawyer and a therapist for their daughters and moved on. 

Men are emotional beings too

Neuman, M. Gary author of The Truth about Cheating, argues that cheating is more about emotions than about sex. Interviewing thousands of men who cheated, Neuman found that only 8 percent of men said that sexual dissatisfaction was the main factor in their infidelity. "Our culture tells us that all men need to be happy is sex," Neuman says. "But men are emotionally-driven beings too. They want their wives to show them that they're appreciated, and they want women to understand how hard they're trying to get things right." The problem is that men are less likely than women to express these feelings, so you won't always know when your guy is in need of a little affirmation." 

Nor do husbands typically stray because they find another woman more physically attractive than his wife. Neuman says: "A man doesn't stray because he thinks he'll get better sex with a better-looking body. "In most cases, he's cheating to fill an emotional void," Neuman says. "He feels a connection with the other woman, and sex comes along for the ride." 

Keep your Marriage Happy

The takeaway for wives is to be aware if you are so caught up with your children or career that you have stopped paying attention to your husband's needs for affection and praise. Make time for your husband by planning frequent date nights when the two of you can be alone. The takeaway for men is if you are feeling neglected or isolated in your marriage, communicate these feelings to your wife before you turn to another woman. 

Copyright © Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D.

Marilyn Wedge is the author of the new book A Disease called Childhood: Why ADHD became an American Epidemic

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