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Popular talk shows imply that everybody intentionally cheats in marriage.

“In reality, most people don’t cheat,” says Kristina Coop Gordon, co-author of Getting Past the Affair. “Based on research, approximately 40 percent of married people cheat on their spouse. Studies indicate the person most likely to cheat is someone who is dissatisfied with their relationship and/or feels insecure about themselves. They use the relationship outside of their marriage as a way to feel better about themselves.”

What is Unfaithfulness?

Some people believe that if sex isn’t involved outside the marriage, they weren’t being unfaithful to their spouse. However, Gordon and others such as Dr. Shirley Glass, author of Not “Just Friends,” disagree.

Being unfaithful to your spouse starts when you begin to hide what you are doing with someone else. If you’d be uncomfortable with your spouse knowing about conversations with a co-worker or a regular lunch appointment, or if you schedule workouts to spend time with someone, then you have probably crossed the line.

Only 10 percent of people who leave their marriage to pursue their affair partner actually end up with them. Many say they wish the affair had never happened. They often wish they had worked on their marriage instead.

“It is not uncommon for couples who have experienced infidelity to believe that their marriage is over,” Gordon says. “However, based on 20 years of research we have found that at least 65-70 percent of couples survive the affair.”

For many, this seems impossible. How can you ever re-establish trust? At least one spouse has betrayed the marriage relationship, creating a lot of trauma and questions. The offended spouse often experiences great anxiety and wonders if it will happen again.

“If you are willing to do the soul searching in your marriage, I will just about guarantee your marriage will not only survive, but you will be happy in your marriage,” Gordon says. “In fact, a couple I recently worked with shared that as difficult as the affair was to get through, while they would not want to experience it again or wish it on anyone, they are grateful it happened because it was a real wake up call for their marriage.”

Gordon’s step-by-step guide helps couples dealing with infidelity. It encourages them to look at themselves and their marriage, discover where things derailed and identify steps to get back on track.

A huge piece of the restoration process is forgiveness.

“Some people confuse forgiveness with excusing unacceptable behavior or no accountability,” Gordon says. “This is not true. Forgiveness is very freeing. Just because you forgive, it doesn’t necessarily mean immediate reconciliation. Questions still have to be asked. People have to be willing to look at themselves and acknowledge, ‘I messed up. What caused me to do that?’ Couples willing to do the hard work receive a gift because they learn a lot about themselves, their spouse and their marriage.”

“The affair is one layer of our relationship,” says a couple who used Gordon’s book to help them heal from an affair. “It is a painful, awful, yucky layer. We are continuing to weave our relationship and lay so many more layers on top of that layer that it will be just one line in the many layers of our marriage.”

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

This past year, in the midst of the #metoo campaign, a number of married men were among those accused of sexual misconduct. News of the inappropriate behavior probably created some extremely awkward moments within these marriages and perhaps made others wonder if their spouse is likely to cheat.

Dr. Wendy Wang, research director at the Institute for Family Studies, recently released a brief on the subject called Who Cheats More? The Demographics of Cheating in America. Wang found that men, adults who did not grow up in intact families, and those who rarely or never attend religious services, are more likely than others to have cheated on their spouse.

Based on Wang’s analysis of General Social Survey data from 2010-2016:

  • Men are more likely than women to cheat. Twenty percent of men and 13 percent of women reported they’ve had sex with someone other than their spouse, but the gap varies by age.
  • The infidelity rate also differs among a number of other social and demographic factors, such as race, family of origin and religious service attendance.

Wang also found that cheating is somewhat more common among black adults. Some 22% of ever-married blacks said that they cheated on their spouse, compared with 16% of whites and 13% of Hispanics. And among black men, the rate is highest. In fact, 28% reported that they had sex with someone other than their spouse, compared with 20% of white men and 16% of Hispanic men.

The data also revealed that a person’s political identity, family background and religious activity are related to whether or not they cheat. Interestingly, having a college degree is not linked to a higher probability of cheating. Almost equal shares of college-educated and less-educated adults have been unfaithful to their spouse (16% vs. 15%). The share among those with some college education is slightly higher (18%).

So who is more likely to cheat – men or women?

The data indicates men and women share very few traits in that area. For men, race, age, education level and religious service attendance are still significant factors. For women, family background and religious service attendance are significant factors for unfaithfulness, while race, age and educational attainment are not relevant factors. The only factor that shows significant consistency in predicting both men and women’s odds of infidelity is religious service attendance.

The bottom line is that a lot of people are at risk and may not even know it. When it comes to cheating in marriage, the single most important protective factor is appropriate boundaries. In a culture where men and women work so closely, it’s important to make sure you are not putting yourself at risk to cheat. 

Many relationship experts agree that one of the most common pathways to infidelity is when a man and woman who are “just friends” begin to discuss their marital problems. In other words, they are doing their marriage work with someone who might not be a friend to their marriage.

If you haven’t talked about guarding your marriage as a couple, you might want to talk about these things: 

  • Establish clear boundaries. Discuss expectations and boundaries in your relationship. You probably believe you would never fall prey to a relationship outside of your marriage. Unfortunately, few who found themselves there say they were looking for it. Keep the lines of communication open. Talk about how you will intentionally do your marriage work with your spouse and avoid keeping secrets from each other.  
  • Be aware, and value your mate’s opinion. Sometimes other see things you don’t recognize.
  • The danger zones are for real. Being oblivious to tempting situations is risky.

Intentionally protect and nurture your marriage. Check in with each other frequently and discuss how your choices impact your marital health. Avoiding behaviors that could create suspicion can’t hurt your marriage. On the other hand, it could be a tremendous help.

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***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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