It started as a short post on Twitter. It picked up steam when it automatically appeared on my Facebook account. I wrote, "As I work with marriages hurt by an affair, by far there are more where the wife was unfaithful. I think I know why. Love to hear your ideas."

The ideas came. Lots of them. Allow me to share a couple.

From Guys...

  • "Men are not in tune to the emotional needs of a woman. Plus, a lot of men are working too much to make ends meet. The woman finds an attentive man elsewhere (who is inattentive to his family - dog chasing tail scenario)."
  • "Well, this is coming from a single guy so I may be least qualified to answer but I'll try - maybe it's because guys tend to put their focus on so many other things like career, sports teams, hobbies, etc. and just want their wives to always be there for them when they want them to be there. If the woman isn't getting the emotional and spiritual connection she wants from her husband, maybe she'll look elsewhere, even if it's only in someone who is only going to offer it temporarily. The Devil will capitalize."

From Gals...

  • "Some women get tired of being downgraded, unappreciated, abused, having their children neglected or in fear…no I'm not having an affair. There is no way…no way I would ever get married again if I could ever get out of this! I'm also so tired of the extreme selfishness!"
  • "Some straying women are due to the fact that they didn't have a relationship with their own father. The father was present, but he was an abuser and unfaithful to his wife. There is a real connection with a girl growing up without a good role model. There is a void in the young girl's life that can't seem to be filled with just one person…Sad, but so true for so many. Good news is that our Lord can change this flaw and stable, true relationship can be attained. It just takes some effort and a LOT of leaning on God to get you through."

These quotes generally represent the comments received. Note that the guys quoted believe a wife's infidelity roots in being ignored, unfulfilled, and taken for granted. However, the women quoted believe it is not just being ignored, but actually being mistreated that is the root of the problem.

A few misunderstood my abbreviated post to indicate that more wives are unfaithful than husbands. I didn't mean to imply that about the general population; instead, I was saying that in my workshops we see more couples in which the wife has been unfaithful. Maybe more husbands convince their wives to come to the workshop than wives are able to convince their husbands. Maybe wives are more likely to divorce the unfaithful husband without trying to save the marriage. We do not know why we have more couples in that situation, but we do have insight into why the straying wives that attend were unfaithful.

Three Kinds of Affairs

I divide extramarital affairs into three categories; short-lived affairs, allowed affairs, and relationship affairs.

Short-lived affairs include affairs of opportunity (wrong place, wrong time), experimentation or pleasure seeking ("surely God will forgive me if I just try this once to see what it's like"), self-esteem (wanting validation either as a person or as a lover), revenge (payback), acting out (rebellion), sexual addiction, and more. Wives in short-lived affairs seldom develop a feeling of love for their affair partner, and usually want to continue their marriages. In some types of short-lived affairs, there will be a number of partners over time.

Allowed affairs are those in which the husband and wife mutually agree to and actively practice liaisons outside their marriage. (Approximately 2% of America's 55 million marriages.)

Relationship affairs begin as friendships, usually innocent, and grow into deep emotional connections. This type affair is the most difficult to help a marriage overcome. As in short-live affairs the offended spouse feels rejected and betrayed, but the added dimension of the offending spouse being "in love" with the paramour drives the pain much deeper and makes the affair even more damaging.

Why Wives Cheat

Motivations and causes of short-lived affairs differ. Sometimes it is an opportunity affair, the proverbial one-night-stand that never will be repeated, and the unfaithful person is saturated in guilt. Sometimes there are serial adulterers that go from one situation to another. Peter wrote about some of these in 2 Peter 2:14, "With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood!" Others are damaged, wounded people that cannot find peace within. They try to cover their pain by self-medicating with sensuality. (Ephesians 4:19) For example, earlier I quoted a lady that felt that some women's unfaithfulness stems from the bad relationship they had with their fathers. She said, "There is a void in the young girl's life that can't seem to be filled with just one person."

Motivations and causes of relationship affairs tend to be similar. John Gottman of the University of Washington's Love Lab states that they are about seeking friendship, understanding, and validation. Researchers Jacobson and Christensen wrote, "They are about getting the acceptance that [the unfaithful person feels] is missing in the marriage." The gentlemen quoted earlier expressed similar conclusions. Based on my experience with thousands of couples, I concur. A short-lived or allowed affair is primarily about sex, or at least sex is the primary factor employed even if the motivation is emotional or psychological. However, in relationship affairs, sex is not the purpose of the affair. It is a consequence, not the goal.

What Makes Wives Vulnerable?

Obviously, what I've written extrapolates to unfaithful husbands, but there seems to be something different about wives that cheat. Husbands become vulnerable, as do wives, by being ignored, disrespected, and taken for granted. However, when a husband transparently communicates his emptiness or loneliness to his wife, without condemnation or attack, wives seem more likely to respond positively to correct the situation. On the other hand, when a wife transparently communicates those emotions to her husband, it appears that most husbands discount the importance of her comments, claim that everything is just fine, and then do little or nothing to rectify the situation. (Ample exceptions exist, of course.) Many women come to our workshop very much in love with another man, angry with and distant from their husbands. Almost universally, they communicated their unhappiness to their husbands early on, were ignored, and gradually drifted into a relationship with another man that fulfilled emotional needs. Only then did the husband see that he was losing his wife and desperately convinced her to try one last effort to save the marriage.

As indicated by the women's comments at the beginning, there is also often another difference in a husband's vulnerability and a wife's vulnerability. My experience with thousands indicates that many more women receive emotional, psychological, or physical abuse from their husbands than do husbands from wives. (Yes, it does happen the other way around.) Added to that, wives tend to internalize a husband's perceived mistreatment of children and respond by distancing themselves emotionally from their husbands.

As more women entered the workforce, the number of wives involved in extramarital affairs increased. Primarily, that resulted from exposure to other males. But it isn't just the workplace. As women became more involved in church activities, they developed more friendships with men other than their husbands. When the Internet proliferated, even more opportunities presented themselves, especially in chat rooms. Now that millions of people populate social networking sites such as Facebook, opportunities abound. A vulnerable spouse encountering an old flame online sets up a situation that often leads to disaster. We see couples in that situation at our workshop every month.

None of this makes adultery acceptable. Sin is sin. However, understanding the underlying causes for relationship affairs offers both a warning and a solution.

The Warning

If your wife tells you that she is unhappy, unfulfilled, lonely, empty, or anything similar, take it seriously. Ignore it and we'll likely see you at one of our workshops in the future.

Better yet, pay attention to your marriage before it goes bad or, if already bad, before it gets worse. If you mistreat each other, vulnerability occurs. If you ignore each other, vulnerability occurs. Vulnerability doesn't necessarily mean infidelity, but it usually constitutes the first step.

Read a good relationship book together. I'd be honored if you read mine, Your LovePath, but there are several good ones on the market. Additionally, many couples go to at least one marriage event per year. That's very wise. If you can't make it to one, download this one and listen together.

The Solution

If your marriage is already in trouble, understanding how it got that way provides a path to repair and renew love. We call it the LovePath. It demonstrates how people fall in love, fall out of love, sometimes fall in love with someone else, and how to fall in love again with one's spouse. Falling in love is a process. Follow the process and you fall in love whether you mean to or not. Vacate or violate the process and you fall out of love whether you mean to or not. The reason that the phrase "fall in love" exists is that most people have no idea that a process exists, and, as a result, have no clue what such a process might be. It pays to learn it and follow it.

Many couples in crisis include a spouse who is involved deeply with someone else. Every month we witness that situation as well as other destructive marriage problems such as addiction, boredom, frustration, anger, sexual disharmony, financial stress, and the like. Typically the person in love with another comes either because of guilt or to appease someone pressuring them, such as a pastor or parent. The good news is that as we work through the intense three days, three out of four couples work out their situation and remain together. We help both spouses comprehend the underlying causes that got them into their current situation, the future each will have if they continue on their present course, and how to change course so that each of them will find true fulfillment.

We've proven that a marriage can be saved even if one is madly in love with someone else, and even if neither spouse wants to be at a workshop to save the marriage. Just as one or both spouses followed a path that destroyed the marriage, a path exists to heal the marriage.

Conclusion

Most women never stray, no matter how bad their marriages.

Some women forsake their marriage vows primarily because the husband isn't physically there, like when a husband is stationed in Iraq. Those women typically don't leave because of relationship problems; they leave because of selfish desires.

Most wives that stray do so because they were vulnerable and didn't build boundaries to prevent themselves from connecting emotionally with another. They usually aren't bad people, though they are doing a bad thing. We can either cast them out, or try to rescue them.

If you love a good person doing a bad thing, I pray that you do everything you can to save the marriage.

October 6, 2009


Joe Beam is president of LovePath International, an organization that provides marriage help to relationships in danger of separation or divorce. You may follow Joe on Twitter or Facebook.