How common is cheating?
The first thing I do when I am dealing with the aftermath of an affair is tell my clients the staggering cheating statistics. A little disclaimer, be aware that the data is difficult to study because people are reluctant to report affairs or sometimes argue about the very definition of an affair. Emotional affairs are considered affairs by a betrayed partner but not always by the involved partner. Statistics may be skewed and affairs may involve a higher percentage of the population.
In my practice, approximately 25% of the couples seeking counseling have encountered cheating. And, over the course of treatment another 30% reveal a past relationship, even when therapy was sought for something else.
According to a report on the Assessment of Marital infidelity in 2003, 1 in 3 marriages are unfaithful. According to Shirley Glass’ book Not Just Friends, only 10% of affair partners go on to marry each other. And if by chance affair partners marry, that new marriage has only a 25% chance of survival.
Generally affairs are not long term experiences. Research suggests that 10% are a one-time experience, and another 10% last just a month. Additionally, most affairs conclude within a few years according to Esther Perel in her book Mating in Captivity.
Here is the most surprising statistic: most people that have affairs say that they were happily married and had no intention of divorcing. Along the same lines, sex is not why people have affairs. Most people that have affairs report a satisfying sex life prior to the affair. I know this is counter to conventional wisdom.
Here is what I see in my office. Most couples know that cheating is a bad thing; they are not morally weak or evil people. Sometimes affairs happen to even the best intentioned people. Again the statistics support this, religious people have affairs at the same rate as the unaffiliated folks, this is according to the Handbook of Couple and Family Assessment published in 2003.
It is extremely complicated to sort out why the cheating happened. Healing takes time and the reasons for the affair are varied. Most people that are not touched by an affair assume incorrectly that the relationship is over. In fact, according to Shirley Glass most relationships survive, 90% if the cheater was the man, 80% if she cheated. Leaving a betrayed relationship may seem like the right thing to do, but much personal and relationship growth can be lost without at least trying to work on it.
My recovered affair couples report that the affair was a major defining moment. They experience more emotional intimacy and learn to how respect and communicate in ways never before possible. Couples that heal from infidelity often say that the infidelity was ironically the worst and the best thing to happen to them.
What do you think? We would love to hear your opinion.