Why Women Ignore Their Husbands' Infidelity

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tiger and elin
Did Elin Woods know Tiger was cheating?

Vaughan herself was in this exact position almost 37 years ago, when she learned her husband was having "multiple affairs, just like Tiger."

"I had suspected, but you dismiss and deny—a lot of people don't want to know. I didn't want to divorce, I had two young children," she says.

Now, after 54 years in a "wonderful marriage," Vaughan says "God yes," when asked if she's glad that she did the "hard work" necessary to move past the affair. And while you may be saying to yourself, "I would never stay with a man who cheated on me!" Vaughan says it's not quite that simple. Watch: How To Recover From Infidelity

"What you say you would do, once it's you, it's really different. You have shared history, you may have kids, you may still love that person, you many not find better, there may be other qualities of your spouse that you really appreciate," she says, adding that the decision to stay in a marriage after an affair is individual and certainly not right for everyone.

Betsey Stevenson, a professor at Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania who studies marriage and divorce trends, says the data on infidelity isn't very good from a scientific perspective, so it's hard to know how many couples stay married in spite of affairs. Read: The Truth About Life After Infidelity

But in Vaughan's own 2002 survey of 1,084 people whose spouses were unfaithful, she found that 76 percent of both men and women were still married and living with that spouse years later.

Infidelity Isn't New
The decision to accept cheating as "part of life" is nothing new, says Jay Michaelson, a columnist for the Forward newspaper and Reality Sandwich magazine who writes about spirituality, sexuality, religion, and law.

"Truly traditional marriage, after all, is polygamy. This is what the Bible instructs, and it's been the dominant familial arrangement in the Western world for longer than any other form, including nuclear-family monogamy. Kings had their concubines, noblemen had their mistresses and kept women, and the rest of us—well, we had the world's oldest profession," he blogged recently for the Huffington Post.

And even today, other societies seem to have more realistic expectations about relationships, Tessina says. "American women, I believe, are the most unrealistic about men and sex. In Europe and Japan, infidelity is accepted to a degree, and there are social mores to accommodate it. It's certainly not impossible to have monogamy, but it's not easy and automatic, and other nationalities seem to understand this."

Though publicly shunned, infidelity is widespread in America. In 2008, The General Social Survey, widely considered the most reliable source for infidelity trends, found that in any given year, about 10 percent of married people—12 percent of men and 7 percent of women—say they have had sex outside their marriage. And a total of about 15 percent of people say they have stepped out on their spouse at least once in their lifetime. Other surveys report much higher infidelity rates.

What Should Elin Do?
With the number of Woods' alleged mistresses hitting 14 last week, the public consensus seems to be that Elin—who is young and gorgeous at 29 and sure to become a celebrity in her own right after this mess if she so chooses—would be making the right choice in initiating a divorce.

"The problem with the Tiger situation is the multiplicity of women [with whom he's allegedly been] involved, which alludes to the fact that fidelity may be a recurring issue or that he may even suffer from a sexual addiction," says Kimberly Dawn Neumann, author of The Real Reasons Men Commit: Why He Will—or Won't—Love, Honor and Marry You and founder of DatingDivaDaily.com.

"As someone who was once involved with and ultimately had to leave a man who had a coital compulsion, I can attest that the recidivism rate is high. Trust will be an ongoing issue for Elin even if she tried to repair their relationship with a ton of couple's therapy. And without trust, a relationship will not survive." Read: Could Couples Therapy Really Save Us?

Not every marriage survives an affair. Despite the Hillary Clintons and Silda Spitzers of yore, earlier this month, Jenny Sanford, wife of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, filed for divorce, citing infidelity.

At press time, Elin's own marital status is up in the air. Despite reports last week that a divorce is "100 percent on," the celebrity website TMZ reported Monday that Mrs. Woods is conflicted about ending her marriage.

It's impossible to know whether Elin was looking the other way while Tiger canoodled with his alleged tigresses. But experts agree that what she does now is a personal choice.

"The bottom line is as the public looking in you have no right to judge someone else’s decisions," Vaughan says. "They know more about their marriage."

Think your husband is having an affair?
Here's what you should do.

1. Don't confront him until you know what you'll do with the information, advises Vaughan. Do you really want to know the truth, or are you just hoping for reassurance?

2. Be open to the prospect of either staying or leaving, in order to make the best decision.

3. Don't make the decision to divorce too quickly, or you will forever second-guess yourself.

4. If you do decide to stay, it takes about two years for the marriage to recover if both partners are committed to working on it.

5. If you are interested in having an open relationship, says Tessina, both parties must be committed to knowing and sharing the truth. Portrait Of An Open Marriage