Why Do Good Men Cheat?
“It is necessary to the happiness of men that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing or disbelieving it consists in professing to believing what he does not believe.” Thomas Paine
“No adultery is bloodless.” Natalia Ginsburg
As Jenny walked through the door, just back from a three day visit to see her sister, she felt something strange come over her as she entered the house. She brushed it off immediately and moved her luggage into the bedroom so she could unpack. Her husband Jack was still at work and would not be home until later. As she pulled out her clothes and was putting them away her little Yorkie popped up from under their bed with a shiny thing in its mouth. She ignored it at first but then something seemed peculiar; instead of it being one of Binkies’ toys it looked metallic. She snatched the item from her doggy’s mouth and suddenly it struck like a thunderbolt to her gut that the lipstick was not hers. At first she couldn’t quite comprehend it, she went into denial, perhaps one of her girlfriends had dropped it. She realized immediately that none of them wore glitter lipstick. Surely she must be mistaken.
When Jack got home she confronted him with the lipstick. At first he lied about it but he was caught red handed. Eventually he confessed to having a woman over when she was out of town. She implored him to tell her why but he could not give her an adequate answer. They had been estranged since the children were born when she became a stay-at-home Mom and they had fought often about a variety of issues, his long hours, her not feeling loved, his not feeling appreciated, the list had grown larger over time.
So why did he cheat? Is it inherent in men to cheat or are there environmental factors that contribute to this circumstance that destroys relationships and the trust that holds them together? Do men cheat for different reasons than women and is there anything we could know that would help save relationships if there is infidelity? Turns out there are some very profound reasons beyond just something new and exciting.
When Jenny and Jack came in to talk about their issues some very interesting ideas came out that have helped them reaffirm their relationship. Jenny was very angry not only about the infidelity but with Jack’s judgmental attitude toward her and his inability to take responsibility for how he was acting towards her. As we looked deeper into what was motivating Jack we discovered something that he was reluctant to talk about. When they were first married they both worked in the same industry and had lots to talk about, but after the children were born they lost touch with each other. He felt that she had abandoned him for the children and had let herself go. That she no longer cared about looking good for him. He didn’t feel that she appreciated how hard he was working to support the family and instead was angry with him most of the time. Both of them had difficulty talking about their needs and what was not working in their relationship without getting angry at each other. They had drifted apart and didn’t know how to come back together again without it turning negative. He had taken motherhood as a rejection of him and acted out as a form of revenge. She felt that he had abandoned the family for his friends and work and didn’t take an active role as a parent.
Dr. Gary Neuman interviewed over 200 couples for his book The Truth About Cheating. He discovered that 48% of men rated emotional dissatisfaction as the primary reason for infidelity. Only 8% of men rated sexual dissatisfaction as the reason. “They want their wives to show them that they are appreciated, they want women to know how hard they are trying.” He goes on to point out that men have difficulty expressing these feelings because they believe it is “unmanly” to ask for a pat on the back. Most affairs occur because people are emotionally lonely.
Another reason why men cheat is the “birds of a feather” phenomena. Neuman offers that 77% of the men he interviewed said they had a friend who cheated. It appears that when guys get together and they all agree to cheat it legitimizes their behavior and diminishes their sense of guilt. If men are hanging out in bars where there are available women they are much more likely to fall off the fidelity wagon. If they socialize with other couples who are faithful they are far less likely to find themselves in compromising situations with a belly full of booze and even less inhibition. Neuman also points out that only 12% of men who cheated thought that their mistress was more attractive than their wives. This leads us back to the more intriguing aspects of marital infidelity, like the unexpressed underpinnings of emotional need.
All men know that cheating is socially unacceptable. They learn about monogamy through family values, religious training, education, marriage vows; movies, television and music. Men who decide to behave counter to cultural norms develop their own personal codes for cheating. They use rationales like: It’s ok to cheat just not in your own zip code or they believe that it’s their birthright to cheat. For these men cheating is their measure of success in the act of living life to the fullest. There are many psychological methods that men use to give themselves permission to cheat: she doesn’t put out, she cheated on me, it’s fun, it’s ok as long as you don’t get caught, she doesn’t turn me on, she’s a nag, the opportunity was there, I don’t love her anymore, it’s an ego boost or the thrill of the chase. Men often feel trapped and drained and yearn for the courtship they lost when they got married. Most often they blame the lack of sex or nagging as their reason for cheating. Inevitably it comes down to a choice that men make in spite of the risk to their reputation, their faith and their marriage.
Pop culture and the culture at large both touts the virtues of true love and monogamy while propelling sex into a myriad of ads and television commercials. This hypocrisy is never more revealing than in tantalizing Victoria Secret commercials that serve up soft porn for the whole family. What are we saying about moral virtue and what will keep a man’s mind monogamous with all these sexual images coming at them with such ferocity and availability? What forms the bulwark that enables men and women to be faithful in a marital state? Certainly the loss of community support, the ebbing of religious, social and family values have made an impact on the overall sense of values toward monogamy. The formation of solid moral values and the development of moral character in men is one answer to the compelling social issue of infidelity. The highest level of moral development in a man or woman is when they must face themselves as the final arbiter for their moral behavior.
Science suggests that there are three hormones that regulate monogamy. It is the combination of oxytocin, arginine vasopressin and testosterone that make up the chemical concoction for the inner workings of men. Oxytocin stimulates the brains of primates to maintain pair bonds in males and females through its release during sex, touch or any positive social signal. Arginine Vasopressin creates mate and offspring guarding in male socially monogamous mammals, which is critical to pair bonding. Testosterone is the stimulant for libido that includes larger muscles and drive that attract females who are of child bearing age and thus are unconsciously seeking the best gene pool for offspring.
The incidence of oxytocin and vasopressin receptors in the brain reveal a tendency for monogamy amongst humans. These hormones have lead to the belief that we are a monogamous species. The culprit in this mix is testosterone. As it turns out testosterone is in conflict with the paring effects of oxytocin. Testosterone inhibits the uptake of oxytocin in the brain and then injects men with five times more testosterone than women and stimulates the desire for more sexual partners. Testosterone interestingly enough, responds to social cues. Win a game and your testosterone gets a bump. Make a killing in the stock market and it jumps off the map. This is why very successful men are at more risk than mere mortals. This news does not mean men can’t keep their proverbial penis in their pants but it does require a strong marriage and some killer values to prevent those temptations from getting the best of us.
For most species, dominate males tend to be more reproductive. Based on our primal past where the strongest sperm won it appears that there is still a piece of that original urge that lives on in men. Cut to our modern world with love and romance being our primary culture goal while leaving men with this legacy of survival. With attractive females everywhere and the mix of media and the loosening of religious and cultural limits on promiscuous behavior, it makes for a very heady set of challenges for our modern couples. How then are men and women able to stay true to their promise of fidelity while keeping their primal tendencies at bay?
Anthropologists point out that men have two minds, one is on home and hearth and the other is a roving eye. This dichotomy makes it clear that a strong relationship with couples who make time for each other, for fun, regular sex and put their relationship on a high priority create some protection from that wandering eye breaking free. Couples who have developed skills for solving problems efficiently and have created a dialogue that includes positive affirmations and appreciation can often avoid the pitfalls of resentment, entitlement and frustration which can lead to cheating. Notwithstanding that there are men but less so women who feel that it is their birthright and are committed to cheating, there are plenty of men and women who are interested in keeping it true blue. The question is how do they do it?
Fundamentally men and women need to understand and accept that infidelity psychologically disconnects them from their mate. It’s a secret they must keep and therefore it puts a wedge between them. It’s a clandestine lifestyle and creates distance. Men need to consider who they become when they cheat. They become liars, cheaters and they have broken the promise of their relationship to be faithful. To be fully responsible is to understand the risk to their marriage, how it would affect their children, extended family and friends with a mountain of pain that often destroys entire lives. The truth that men who cheat must confront is that they get to choose what kind of man they want to be. The challenge for men is to be in harmony with their family, personal values and to do the work that relationships require to make them viable and satisfying instead of escaping into another world.
For men and women to be faithful they need to affirm towards one another that they:
• Make a commitment to creating a positive, supportive, honest, high priority marriage or relationship.
• Introduce fun, recreation, mutual interests and other couples who are also faithful.
• Don’t let resentments build; make a space to resolve them.
• As loneliness and the lack of appreciation and affirmation are one of the main causes of cheating behavior, the obvious answer would be to show appreciation, affirm and validate one another’s efforts, ideas, thoughts and feelings.
• Work towards a resolution centered relationship. Getting mired in who said what to whom, one upsmanship, tit for tat, winning, being right, yelling, nagging, screaming, shutting down or acting out of revenge provides the entitlement to seek sexual solace elsewhere.
• Learn how to manage anger, come from a positive or level place; get to know who you are and what you want and need so you don’t re-create dysfunctional family patterns.
• Practice tolerance, compassion, empathy and kindness.
• Develop a value system that includes monogamy.
• Monogamy requires that men accept that they may have to give up some freedom for a greater good.
• Honesty and transparency are the only sure fire methods for creating and maintaining a monogamous intimate and loving relationship. If the rule is that you must tell your mate everything you are thinking about doing would you still do it?
With all the daunting challenges of monogamy it would seem that a casual sexual encounter would be such a natural and easy outcome for this dilemma. Truth is it’s not. The devastation, emotional distance, secrecy and guilt are enough to kill a horse let alone your relationship. There is no ultimate panacea for relationship monogamy but the ability to talk openly about the subject helps to keep it out of the shadows. It’s the clandestine quality about sexual infidelity that so often makes it so alluring, especially if it is mixed with longing and entitlement. In truth you can allow yourself to use the fantasy of a new sexual partner to stimulate yourself and connect with your mate. Bringing it all in instead of keeping it all out is the key to connecting with your partner. Knowing that you have to give up something to have a happy life, free of guilt and shame is part of what it means to be an adult. Sure, that female version of a chocolate layer cake looks so sweet, but remember, it also clogs the arteries. In the classic story of The Odyssey of Ulysses the Sirens call him from the shore. Temptation gets the best of him and he ends up crashing his ship on the rocks. Like Ulysses modern men find themselves being called from the shore on their Odyssey through life only to find the same conclusion. The secret is to learn from the past and not be doomed to repeat it.