Infidelity is the breaking of a promise to remain faithful to a sexual partner, whether that promise was made as part of marriage vows or privately uttered agreements between lovers. As unthinkable as the notion of breaking such bonds may be at the time, infidelity is far from rare. And when it happens, it raises thorny questions: Should you stay? Can trust be rebuilt? Or is there no choice but to pack up and move on?
Men have always been more likely than women to cheat, or at least to report having done so on surveys, but researchers have noticed a shift in recent years. In general, according to the General Social Survey 2010–2016, conducted by the National Opinion Research Council of the University of Chicago, 16 percent of adults—about 20 percent of men and 13 percent of women—report that they’ve had sex with someone other than their spouse while married. But among adults under 30 who have ever been married, 11 percent of women report having committed infidelity, as opposed to 10 percent of men.
For the adulterer, infidelity can be exciting and seductive, conferring feelings of renewal, rejuvenation, and joy. Infidelity is a betrayal but it isn’t necessarily the end of love. The partner being betrayed, however, may feel confusion, anger, doubt, pain, and heartbreak. Relationships require ongoing work, but for a couple facing the fallout from an affair, the challenge can feel insurmountable.