WILL HE CHEAT? WILL YOU?
cmfce at smartmarriages.com
Mon Aug 7 16:00:48 EDT 2000
subject: WILL HE CHEAT? WILL YOU?
from: Smart Marriages
REDBOOK JUNE 2000
WILL HE CHEAT?
A surprising new study
BY FRANCINE RUSSO
Not you. You'd never have an affair. And your mate would never even
consider it, right? Well, actually, he might, and so might you: By some
estimates, 60 percent of married men and women stray from the fold at
once. So whatever you hope and believe, it is possible an affair could
shake your marriage.
And if it does, it won't be pretty. Just check out the Internet: It's full
of sites offering help for people recovering from affairs. Both cheaters
and cheated-on are begging for guidance in healing from infidelity, which
they nearly universally describe as devastating to a marriage.
A new survey conducted at one of these sites (www.DearPeggy.com) offers
surprising insights into what helps couples heal. Peggy Vaughan, a San
Diego-based psychological consultant, polled more than 1,000 people
ages 30 and 50 whose spouses had had affairs (75 percent were women and 25
percent were men; their responses were analyzed by a statistician).
Remarkably, the marriages that survived, and even thrived, were those in
which the partners talked the most about the affair--often every day for
months--and in which the cheaters revealed everything their mates asked to
know, including explicit sexual details. Even more remarkably, a majority
of the respondents who thoroughly dissected their affairs (59 percent)
that their marriages were actually better after the affair than before it.
Exclusive interviews conducted by Redbook with couples whose marriages
survived infidelity bear these findings out.
"Betrayal by a spouse turns your world upside down," says Vaughan. "What
emerges most powerfully from this survey is the power of open, honest
communication to heal a marriage." Vaughan knows this firsthand: After her
husband confessed his infidelity more than 25 years ago, the couple
painfully and painstakingly rebuilt their life together. She had suspected
his unfaithfulness, but it was his willingness to confess--and to tell her
everything she wanted to know--that helped them develop an honest,
monogamous marriage again.
Vaughan insists that if one partner has an affair, it doesn't necessarily
mean there are problems in a marriage. "Other things pull people into
affairs--excitement or ego," she says. But if husband and wife aren't
communicating openly in the first place, that pull will be much harder to
*Couples' names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Jennifer;* a 28-year-old from New Jersey who has been married for eight
years, feels certain it was lack of communication with her 30-year-old
husband, Tom,* that drove her into an affair with the male half of the
couple who were their best friends.
"Tom and I both did our own thing," she says. "We'd both had this fantasy
of being married and didn't really get to know each other. We were too
wrapped up in the parts we thought we needed to play. He was the tough
I was the tough girl; we never showed our feelings or weaknesses. I
this other man was a real friend, but I never tried to be a friend to my
SIXTY PERCENT OF SPOUSES ARE UNFAITHFUL AT LEAST ONCE. NEW RESEARCH PROVES
THAT TALKING ABOUT THE INFIDELITY-EVEN SHARING THE GRISLY DETAILS-IS THE
BEST WAY TO HELP COUPLES HEAL.
FIRST STEP TOWARD HEALING: TALK
A revelation of infidelity forces partners to talk--first about the affair
itself, but ultimately about the marriage and their deepest selves. "The
betrayed partner has so many questions that desperately need to be
answered," says Don-David Lusterman, Ph.D., author of Infidelity: A
Survival Guide. "'What is it that attracted you to this person? What was
going on in our marriage that let this happen? What made you end the
If the betrayer is willing to answer every question, the couple may find
they are talking intimately for the first time in years, even for the
time ever. "If you've been cheated on, your partner's willingness to tell
the details is more significant than the details themselves," explains
Vaughan. "If the cheater won't tell you what you need to know, you'll
wonder how you can ever trust this person to be fair and considerate in
Marina* begged her husband, Hal,* for the facts after she discovered his
affair with a co-worker. "I needed to know," she says, still visibly upset
18 months later, "because it's almost like you have to validate your
sanity. While all this was going on, I was in the dark."
The Illinois couple, both 42, who had been married for eight years, had
three kids and what Marina thought was a good marriage. So for months
dismissed her intuition that something wasn't right. Hal,
uncharacteristically, suddenly needed to keep track of her whereabouts:
Where would she be at such and such a time? Where was she going that day?
Finally, Marina actually followed him after work one day--and found
knocking on another woman's door while her husband sat inside, too ashamed
to come out.
"Then everything made sense," she says. "I thought, I'm not going crazy."
In the aftermath, Marina pelted Hal with questions, and though he was
reluctant to answer them, she didn't let up. She had to know: Where had he
been on a particular afternoon? When he'd snatched a letter out of
hands, had it been from her? Painfully, bit by bit, he told the truth.
"Hearing the answers was very hurtful," Marina says. "I felt betrayed,
angry, sad. I saw pictures of the two of them in my mind for at least a
year." But, she says, Hal's willingness to tell her what she needed to
was crucial to rebuilding trust between them. Hal, too, feels that much of
his faith in their marriage has been restored.
Withholding the details of an affair is harmful for another reason, says
Debbie Layton-Tholl, a psychologist in Boca Raton, FL. "Maintaining the
secrecy maintains the excitement," she says, "and can preserve an inflated
view of the lover."
WHY YOU SHOULDN'T SPARE THE GRISLY DETAILS
Vaughan's most controversial finding is that revealing even graphic sexual
details of the affair can help save a marriage. A majority of the
cheated-on spouses--62 percent--said they'd wanted to know every detail of
their partner's affair. And 55 percent of those whose spouses answered all
their questions said they had healed somewhat. (In most cases, the wounds
were still fresh: 47 percent of the affairs were revealed within the past
year, and 38 percent within the past five years.)
These findings run counter to the beliefs of many marital therapists, who
advise against focusing on the affair and particularly against exposing
hurt partner to the gory details. (In one recent poll of therapists, 40
percent opposed such revelations.) This may explain why a majority of
couples surveyed--57 percent--said that they found marital counseling more
frustrating than helpful.
To the cheating spouse, filling in the details may feel like rubbing salt
in both partners' wounds--and indeed, the cheated-on spouse may never be
able to forget those graphic images. But Vaughan still insists that even
this pain is preferable to being left in the dark. "Nothing is worse than
not knowing," she says. "You'll have the images anyway. If you know what
really happened, you'll only obsess about that song, that hotel, instead
"Full disclosure is critical for healing--even of raw sexual minutiae,
necessary," agrees Baltimore psychologist Shirley Glass, Ph.D., a leading
researcher on infidelity. Many betrayed spouses, she explains, experience
symptoms similar to the post-traumatic stress suffered by rape or crime
victims: hyperarousal, hypervigilance, obsessive ruminating, intrusive
thoughts, and flashbacks. "What helps people recover from trauma," she
explains, "is to reestablish safety, and one step is by going over the
story of the trauma."
WHO GETS HURT WORSE-MEN OR WOMEN?
MEN AND WOMEN RESPONDED ALMOST IDENTICALLY TO MOST OF THE SURVEY
Overwhelmingly, both sexes wanted to know details of the affair. They
healed and developed trust in the same proportions, and the same
(44%) felt their relationship had "improved" since the affair.
The differences? More men (77%) than women (51%) found counseling "mostly
frustrating." More women (36%) than men (29%) reported they did not have a
sense of forgiveness but still had "lots of anger and resentment."
If they divorced, men (30%) were more likely than women (23%) to be in a
new "trusting" intimate relationship.
WHO STAYS MARRIED?
76% of both men and women stayed married after the affair. Of those who
divorced after the revelation, men decided sooner--mostly within the first
WHO KEEPS SECRETS?
24% of men said they had talked to no one at all about their mate's
compared with 11 percent of women who didn't tell their friends or
Jennifer feels she was lucky they went to a marriage counselor who
persuaded her to answer all Tom's questions: "The counselor said the more
Tom knew, the more control he would have and the more he would feel that
It still wasn't easy. Jennifer hated answering Tom's questions, and he
hated hearing the answers. "He asked exactly what we did, even the
positions," she says, "and my feelings when we did them, like was I in
love. He cried, he yelled. He walked out and said he didn't want to hear
any more, then he walked back in and said, 'Tell me more."'
Yet there is such a thing as hearing too many details, and it can be as
destructive as not hearing enough. "You have to figure out what it is you
really need to know," says Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D., author of After
Affair. "Ask yourself: Will this information help me or destroy me?"
When Ken* discovered over a year ago that his wife, Jeanne," had had an
affair with her former boss, the Indiana couple, both 39, had been married
16 years and had two young children. Ken was beside himself with anger,
rage, and disgust: "I lost 35 pounds and ended up in the hospital," he
says. He demanded that Jeanne tell him what positions they used for
lovemaking and whether she'd performed oral sex on her lover (she had); he
even insisted on reading their torrid e-mail correspondence. The couple
ended up staying together, but in this case, knowing the particulars made
things harder. "I wanted to know everything in great detail," Ken says,
"and now I'm sorry I did. I know the guy, I've been in his house, and it
really tore me up. It was like being in the same room with them."
BACK UP HONESTY WITH ACTION
For a couple to move beyond this tortuous post-affair stage, says Vaughan,
the hard-won honesty between them must be sacrosanct: Even the smallest
from the unfaithful partner can shake the couple's new foundation.
When Hal had to take a business trip by car with a female associate, he
avoided telling Marina until he came home. Then he confessed the evasion.
"The lying really upset her," he says--enough so that they went back to
their marriage counselor. He realized then that lying was simply no longer
Roger,* 41, a sales representative from Louisiana, faced a similar
He and his wife, Lena,* 38, were recovering from a yearlong affair he'd
ended several months before when his former lover called him at home late
one night. Shocked and unsettled, he told Lena it was a telemarketer. "I
couldn't sleep that night," Roger says, "and it bothered me all the next
day. I'd made a promise never to deceive my wife again. As soon as I got
home the next day, I told her the truth and she floored me: She thanked me
for telling her. It was a sign to her that my mind was toward her and not
the other woman."
A commitment to honesty, of course, is only one step toward healing.
According to Spring, the unfaithful spouse must show compassion for the
hurt he or she has caused and be willing to look deep within to find out
why he or she strayed. The betrayer must also find ways to make the hurt
partner feel safe and loved again.
"I slept on the floor by the foot of the bed for a month," says Hal. "I
felt that's what I deserved, sleeping on the floor with the dog. I also
shaved my beard for her--and I hate shaving--so she wouldn't have to look
at the face that hurt her."
Jeanne also made dramatic sacrifices to help Ken heal. While he was trying
to hold himself together, forced to drive past her lover's house every day
to get to work, Jeanne found a new job and a new house in another town,
giving up a job she loved so she and Ken could start over. "That was a
of her commitment to a future with me," Ken says, "wanting to take me away
from the painful memories."
Though Ken describes himself as "only 40 or 50 percent healed," he
that the crisis triggered by Jeanne's affair has left their marriage
stronger. "We learned more about each other in that first three months
in the previous 18 years," he says. "We learned not to mask feelings and
not to walk away from arguments. I learned how, after all those years of
doing things for me and the kids, she needed more time for herself. I
learned that I wasn't affectionate enough and that I didn't value and take
care of the marriage until I nearly lost it. Now I put away my male ego
do things to show her that I love her, send flowers and cards, do more
around the house."
THE CASE FOR KISSING AND TELLING
WHAT CHEATED-ON SPOUSES WANT TO KNOW
62% say "everything about the affair, including sexual details"
31% say "general information"
7% do not want to know details
TALKING ABOUT THE AFFAIR HELPS A MARRIAGE HEAL...
54% of those who discussed the situation "a lot" healed somewhat
35% of those who talked "very little" healed somewhat
...AND EVEN MAKES A MARRIAGE BETTER THAN EVER
59% who discussed the affair "a lot" say their marriage is now better
43% who discussed it "a good bit" say their marriage is better
21% who discussed it "very little" say their marriage is better
YET THE SCARS REMAIN
50% say "I've healed somewhat but feel I will always carry a scar"
32% say they haven't healed and are "still in great pain"
19% say "I've mostly healed and actually grown in many ways"
AFFAIR-PROOF YOUR MARRIAGE
Obviously, an affair is a very costly-and risky-way to improve a marriage.
Half of the people in Vaughan's survey said they would always carry a scar
from the affair even though they had partly healed. Nearly a third were
that lucky: They described themselves as still in great pain.
How can you resist having an affair in the first place-or prevent your
spouse from having one? Part of the answer is to admit to being tempted.
"Being open about your attraction to other people is key," says Vaughan.
"Say something like, 'Let's agree that when we're attracted to someone,
we'll talk about it."'
Hal and Marina had promised before their marriage to tell each other if
they felt attracted to other people, but neither did. "If I could only
told my wife I wasn't feeling good," says Hal, "if I could have told her
'Somebody rubbed up against me at work,' I think this could all have been
avoided. If you have an urge, tell your loved one," he advises. "After
nearly two years, I still think about the affair every day, and I think
does, too. If my story helps anyone, it will be a little victory for
me...and I need my little victories."
- - - - - -
For more information on the Results of this Survey on Extramarital
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