Let’s face it; cheating is not just a man’s game.
Studies say that up to 45% of women and 55% of men will cheat at some point in their marriage. That means that about half of everyone will have an outside relationship with someone while they are committed to someone else. And these statistics show clearly that it’s not just the guys who are doing it.
There are three common experiences for women who have had affairs, and although these are not excuses for cheating, they may explain why some women step out and others stay home.
1. Women cheat to use an affair as (what I call) a "can opener."
They cheat to get out of their primary partnership, disengaging emotionally and physically by getting involved with someone besides their husband. Sometimes women do this before they even realize that they want out of their marriage. It is almost as they are behaving as if they are done with their marriage before they even admit it out loud.
Some women don’t really know they want out until they start to cheat. They use the affair as a catalyst to end their marriage. Some even describe it as "swinging from one branch to another" to make sure that they have prospects available before decide to make the change.
It is doubtful by the way, that if a woman does end her marriage for an affair that she will end up staying with her affair partner. Only one in three make the transition from affair to permanent relationship. Many times when the marriage ends, so does the affair.
2. Women cheat because, in their own way, they're working on their self-esteem.
(Warning! Guys won’t want to hear this.) Even if a woman is not conscious of it, cheating may be a way to get outside affirmation, feel more desirable and temporarily increase feelings of positive self-regard.
Many changes happen throughout a woman’s life time that affects self worth. She may be vulnerable to an affair if her sexuality was repressed during the years when she had young children. As women age, they become more comfortable with themselves and have a more positive body image. Some women at midlife will seek an outside partner who makes them feel alive and desired to reaffirm their attractiveness. Women in their fifties and sixties may experience menopause and have an affair to boost their self esteem if they worry that aging will affect their attractiveness and their future desirability.
3. Women cheat purely for satisfaction.
If a woman finds a man (or another woman) that can give her either emotional or sexual satisfaction, she may cheat on her spouse or committed partner for the pleasure of an intimate connection, even at the risk of losing what she has at home. Humans have a natural proclivity to move toward what feels good.
In fact, some studies show that 80% of affairs happen because of opportunity. If the opportunity comes along, it can be hard to turn down an affair that promises to bring pleasure or intrigue. An affair can be even harder to refuse if a woman is unhappy in her marriage, depressed or stressed in her own personal life or career. Finding satisfaction in an affair is usually short-lived, however, and rarely provides long term fulfillment. Actually, most affairs last less than three years, and ten percent last no longer than 24 hours.
If you are a woman who is cheating and find you want to stop but don’t know how, talk it over with a trusted friend or therapist and get help if you need it. If you feel unhappy in your marriage, try talking to your partner about your feelings. And if you are feeling unsafe and anxious, get help right away.
Check out my website for more resources on healing after an affair. You may be able to find a new monogamy with your current partner if you are both willing to make it work.
Dr Tammy Nelson is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of The New Monogamy; Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity and Getting the Sex You Want; Shed Your Inhibitions and Reach New Heights of Passion Together.