Do extramarital affairs help or destroy a marriage? A lot of people say that having such affairs helped them solve the problems they had with their spouses, while other people’s marriages are destroyed by them. Do partners feel more comfortable in relationships outside their marriage and what could be the cause of that?
Studies conducted by Pittman, who argues that unfaithfulness is not normal or acceptable, have shown that first-time divorce occurs in the wake of an affair; yet its also Pittman that states that ’a crisis of infidelity can reawaken a petrified marriage
and therapy can save the adulterous marriage’, something in total contradiction with our traditional culture
. Which should we believe than? Studies by Atwater lead us to believe that the second possibility should be seriously considered; in interviewing women engaged in extramarital affairs
, she found that over half of them had improved their relationships with their husbands as a result of the affair. The fact that their needs were being met outside the marriage caused a change in their behavior in the marriage, as one woman reported:
“Since I have this second relationship on-going, I have been able to draw my husband out more and get him to talk more... and to be more open in expressing my feelings with him.... I am slowly but surely trying to bring our relationship up to a level that meets more of my needs.”
The expressive area seems to be the most troubled one in these marriages, as the unfaithful wives sustained.
According to Atwater, extramarital relationships occur because “we are unrealistic about love and the ability of our spouse to satisfy all our sexual needs”. She concludes that there are five completely untrue myths that contribute to our faith in sexual exclusivity: one person will supply all of another’s emotional, social, and sexual needs people grow to love each other more through the years sexual exclusivity comes easily and naturally husbands and wives should be best friends extramarital affairs will destroy a marriage
But lets examine this situation from the men’s point of view as well. Women and men have different expectations in extramarital relationships and while women report that their affairs are less for sexual fulfillment and more for emotional support and companionship, the most frequent reason men give for being unfaithful is either sexual rejection by their wives or the boredom of having repeated sex with the same person. The sexual excitement is a much stronger motive to cheat than for women, yet women are always more to blame for the affair than men, regardless of which one is married (we do not even have “other men”).
Studies by Richardson in the 1980’s have shown that relationships between married men and single women are often closer than those between the man and his wife are. This happens for several reasons: she becomes more attached to him due to the support and listening he shows; studies by Wolfe report some women prefer the mistress role because this life is more interesting than that of a wife. Women also seem to develop a higher sense of confidence as lovers. The men are more likely to expose their insecurities in this kind of relationships, which strengthens the bond between them even more.
We could probably conclude that a lot of the success of an affair is due to the erroneous assumptions concerning marriage that we make influenced by social factors, but also to the fact that these affairs give you more ’personal space’ than marriages do.