3. Prevalence - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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3. Prevalence

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > SorryNotEnough- Infidelity-Cpl
The breaching of monogamous sexual contracts between committed partners may be more common than assumed by the general populous.  There may be significant differences in standards for male versus female fidelity.  Infidelity is not just a male behavior, nor does it automatically lead to the end of marriage or the relationship.  “Almost a third of all marriages may need to confront and deal with the aftermath of extramarital affairs, and the statistics for women are quickly catching up to those of men” (Zur, 2012).  Individuals from all types of backgrounds can have affairs outside the committed relationship: men or women, gay, lesbian, straight, various ethnicities and religious backgrounds, young and old, rich and poor, the powerful and the downtrodden.  Greater social accessibility using social media online has facilitated connections among individuals who previously would have never encountered one another.  The apparent anonymity of using false or created online identities and personas may have created a heretofore, unprecedented temptation and vulnerability to infidelity.  “Some view online affairs as one of the biggest threats to marriage.  With the Quadruple A engine of accessibility, affordability, anonymity and addiction, the Internet population seems to be exploring sexuality in ways that are unprecedented.”  However, like other forms of infidelity, “Cyberaffairs and cybersexual encounters can be a symptom of an underlying problem that existed in the relationship before the Internet ever entered the couple's lives” (Young et al., 2000, page 71).

Although affairs or infidelity is common in many societies, they do not necessarily destroy the relationship.  Relationships may survive because of cultural requirements and/or the lack of options to separate.  This would mean staying together with emotional trauma and ongoing dysfunction.  On the other hand, marriages and relationships may persist and possibly become stronger as a result of dealing with underlying issues that had not been and would not have been addressed otherwise.  Rather than igniting destructive forces and behaviors, infidelity may motivate formative actions that challenge emotional, psychological, spiritual, and intellectual dynamics to heal and grow.  “Many famous people have publicly dealt with their marital infidelity.  These include presidents, such as Roosevelt, Kennedy, Clinton and Jefferson, and other public figures, such as Prince Charles, Princess Diana, Marion Barry, Gary Hart, Martin Luther King and television evangelist Jim Bakker.  Actors have long provided endless material for tabloids on affairs and infidelity.  Some more known examples are Bill Cosby, Sophia Loren, and Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn’s life-long affair.  Correspondingly, many movies have dealt with affairs, most notably The Bridges of Madison County, Out of Africa, The Horse Whisperer, Closer and, of course, The Graduate” (Zur, 2012).

Unfortunately, public discourse and messages about the infidelity or affairs of the famous and notorious often include spinning reality to maintain image and popularity.  By the same token, fictional stories in movies and television may slide into unrealistic resolutions and may be more reflective of a fantasy genre than realistic drama.  “Definitions of marital behavior and extramarital behavior in the United States are socially constructed.  These definitions are heavily influenced by religious teachings, which almost universally condemn extramarital sex; they are reinforced by the legal system, which restricts sexual behavior to within marriage.  As a result, socialization around dating patterns and marital scripts usually leads couples to anticipate sexual faithfulness from their marital partners.  At the same time, however, extramarital sex (EMS) is glorified by the media, which generally portray sex without regard to the marital status of the participants to sell movies, perfumes, liquor, cars, soap, and all sorts of nonerotic items.  All these contribute to many contradictory messages about EMS.  On the one hand, the religious and legal systems are restrictive toward EMS; on the other, the media often encourage it.  Both the socially constructed traditional and liberal prescriptions for EMS present explicit and implicit scripts for conduct” (Atwood and Seifer, 1997, page 56).  While there are general social admonitions against infidelity, there is also significant tolerance of sex outside committed monogamous relationships, including when married.  However, cultural and social tolerance is more generous for men who are assumed to have stronger animalist sexual urges than women, which therefore make it supposedly more difficult for men to maintain a monogamous sexual relationship.

Zur (2012) states that “The common belief is that affairs are about sex.  In fact, affairs are often about self-expression and not always a reflection of a bad marriage.”  Questions and concerns about sex may be about the marriage as well.  Cathy constantly interrogated Aidan about the sexual behaviors between him and Tina: Was there oral sex? For him?  For her?  What positions did they take?  Did she orgasm?  How many times?  Mornings?  Evenings?  Afternoons?  Foreplay?  Quickies?  Where?  When?  What about her breasts?  Legs?  Hips?  Was he having sex with Tina and with Cathy at the same time?  On the same day?  Cathy wanted to know if Tina was more sexually attractive than her.  If Tina satisfied Aidan more than her?  If Aidan had become sexually dissatisfied with Cathy?  Sexual infidelity definitely is about sex with other than the partner in a committed relationship.  However infidelity may or may not include emotional intimacy with another person.  Underlying Cathy’s interrogation about the sex between Aidan and Tina was whether Tina was more special than Cathy.  This implied that Cathy was less special and less important for some reason.  Cathy was supposed to be special to Aidan.  Marriage was supposed to be about two people who are special to each other in some unique way.  To be less special sexually could be an important hurt or loss.

Fidelity or faithfulness has many meanings that partners may or may not be in sync about.  It may be about many things and one person’s motivation for an affair may differ significantly from another’s underlying issues.  While sexual infidelity is “unfaithfulness to a sexual partner in an agreed monogamous relationship,” the affair may be a destination that many different roads arrive at.  Nevertheless, once implicitly or explicitly contracted fidelity has been breached, just about everything that can be relevant becomes activated.  Therapy with Cathy and Aidan found that much of her sexual questions were at least partially if not fundamentally about her anxiety that Aidan had loss their special emotional connection in the marriage.

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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