Only 10% of marriages that have experienced infidelity end in divorce. So, what are the real reasons behind it when it DOES happen?
Cheating represents a need that isn’t being met in the relationship at home – an ego boost, self-validation, self-exploration or even just physical intimacy. And cheating is rampant in our society. 41% of U.S. marriages are characterized by infidelity from one or both spouses. Culturally, we assume that infidelity is a symptom of an unhappy marriage. Is that really the case though? Recent research suggests that marriages are happier than ever before, and most people who have affairs don't want to leave their spouses. And surprisingly, only 10% of marriages that have experienced infidelity end in divorce.
So when does cheating lead to divorce? What are the factors that really ruin a marriage?
Lack of Attention
I often hear clients in my divorce coaching practice say they didn’t feel “seen” in their marriage. Interestingly, I’ve heard this from both the betrayers and the betrayed. Relationships need to be nurtured -- and like sun to a plant, relationships will die without care and attention. To make a marriage work -- and survive infidelity -- both spouses need to want to make it work. They need to focus on their partner’s needs, desires and concerns, as much as their own. Not everyone has the desire, willpower or energy to do that though after an affair is exposed. Pure lack of attention leaves both spouses feeling invisible and unvalued in the relationship … and this is where the relationship dies on the vine.
Lack of Intimacy
Intimacy – both emotional and physical – is the glue that holds marriages together. And intimacy is more than just sex. It is physical affection, or those non-verbal signs we exhibit when we truly care for one another, such as kissing, holding hands and cuddling. Physical affection signals our attraction to each other, which often means a whole lot more in a relationship than just sex. Unfortunately though, intimacy is lost through negativity, distrust and neglect – all of the emotions created by infidelity. And this loss of intimacy results in increasing distance that eventually leads to divorce.
Lack of Privacy
There is no doubt that social media has changed the way we interact with each other and the world. It has certainly made it easier for married people to cheat than ever before – from online meet-up groups to AshleyMadison.com. Social media increases the opportunity to cheat, but conversely, it also increases the probability that you will be caught – by your spouse, a friend or a family member. There is very little privacy with social media and your affair could become not only exposed, but viral. Once that happens, everyone you know is involved in the affair and the social pressure attached to it is almost impossible to withstand. Very few marriages can survive such a public blow.
Esther Perel, a widely respected sex and relationships therapist, says that “Very often we don’t go elsewhere because we are looking for another person. We go elsewhere because we are looking for another self." In these cases, infidelity has little to do with the marriage itself and is all about a search for personal fulfillment. It seems that the 31% of marriages that have survived infidelity have done so by transforming the marriage relationship in a way that supports fulfillment for both spouses. Ultimately, the 10% of marriages that don’t survive infidelity are the ones where there already is deep unhappiness – where the relationship has already suffered from lack of attention and intimacy for too long. The affair itself is incidental to the fact that the relationship had already died without any hope for transformation. Infidelity is not necessarily the death knell for all relationships … just the ones that had no hope of surviving in the first place.