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Modern Manners + Etiquette: Cheating

Monday, May 23, 2011


Speaking of timely, lately more and more questions coming into my etiquette Web site have to do with adultery. Not surprisingly, they are mostly from victims. A husband wants to know what to do after reading a declaration of love on his wife's Facebook page from another man—who happens to be her coworker. One distraught victim discovered her former college roommate was hooking up with her commitment partner—and wants her partner back.

What these victims all have in common is that, they don't want to overreact, or be clingy—in fear of pushing their partner further away. They want the affair to end. Even if they have to relearn how to communicate. Most of all, they want advice for handling the situation in a dignified manner.

Should you turn the other cheek... after spotting her lipstick on his collar?

Yes, they want to vent. They also want options. Do they turn the other check after spotting lipstick on their husband's collar? Do they go up the ladder and give him another chance when he's arrested for sexually assaulting the maid he found cleaning his hotel room? Most anyone can find a therapist either on the Internet or through a family doctor or friends, what they can't find is a way to make the humiliation stop. Do you give in to the adulterer and put your family first?

The good news from the Census Board last Wednesday on the marital front is that, women are not jumping into marriage as young as they use to and are probably, therefore, less likely to divorce. The study found that the median age of first marriages rose to age 28 for men and 26 for women, up from age 23 for men and 20 for women in 1950. Also that, couples headed toward divorce were more apt to do so in the early years, with 10% of first marriages ending in divorce within the first five years. Amongst those who married a second time, the median age for men was 36 and 33 for women. Additionally, the majority of first marriages that ended in divorce lasted about eight years for both men and women; the same length of time for second marriages ending in divorce.

More good news is that, half of the men and women who remarried after a first divorce did so within four years.

With all this high-profile cheating going on amongst the over-fifty crowd, it is good to know that there is hope for the Millennials, Generation Y: selected, because they were born during the rise of contraceptives and legal abortions; as well as, being well-connected in the information age through the Internet, they have learned to be good connectors to one another; they are confident and achievement oriented—two traits that make a good mate, being able to communicate and confidence in succeeding.

How many marrieds stray? 

How would we ever really know?  Except for a survey, carried out between 1973-2008 by Deborah Carr and published in the journal Contexts, in which men and women answering affirmatively to the question, "a married person having sexual relations with someone other than their spouse is always wrong" increased from 65% in 1973 to 81% in 2008. The survey found that 10-15% of the women and 20-25% of the men followed admitted to cheating.

The damage caused by the infidelity is the real issue

Nobody escapes betrayal. Cheating is an unforgivable act and consequently relationship victims of betrayal, disloyalty, and infidelity usually always have a very difficult time emotionally.  When there are children involved, those children suffer the most.  Researchers find that people cheat. A lot. And, that perhaps ten percent of all children don't know that the father they live with is not their own.  In an already unsteady and confusing world, it is these “love children” who will be effected the most when the truth is outed.  We all know the consequences of cheating. It ruins love, trust, marriages and, therefore, families. Ramifications that are horrendous echo for a lifetime and often for generations.

People cheat. A lot.

Nevertheless, in our culture a double standard seems too often acceptable.  Well-known research holds that 60% of married men and 50% of married women cheated on their spouse before they turned forty.  What does that say about the divergence between what we tell researchers and what we do when our value system is predicated on the value that, "I wouldn't want that to happen to me."  Which pretty much tells us that the majority of us will say infidelity is wrong because we don't want to be cheated on.

It's not really an affair, it's a relationship.  False.

A relationship takes two equally available and committed people.  Ninety percent of the time, the married adulterer doesn't leave their spouse.

Who's more likely to cheat?

According to anthropologist Elizabeth Pillsworth at UCLA and psychologist Martie Haselton, women are more likely to cheat when they're ovulating.  While going through the "fertile widow" state, they become more attracted to “masculine men who are muscular, symmetrical, socially dominant, and have thick eye brows and strong jawlines”—that is, if their current partner doesn't fit this description.  This "dual mating strategy," Dr. Pillsworth says, lets women choose partners that will provide her with children and the resources to take care of a family even though they are physically more attracted to prime genes for sex outside the relationship.  Another prevailing theory is that, tall women are more apt to cheat because they have more testosterone, which not only influences their height but infidelity.

Amongst women and men adulterers personality plays a major role. Apparently, men with high self-esteem are more apt to cheat, because they have a greater sense of entitlement.  If they are also privileged with resources and riches the effect of heightened arousal is even greater.

Contrarily, women with low self-esteem are more apt to cheat because they aren't getting enough positive feedback in the marriage.  And yet, the more attractive the woman, the more apt she is to cheat, says Kristina Durante, a researcher at the University of Minnesota. The real culprit apparently is the hormone estradiol, an indicator of fertility. The more fertile the woman, the greater the probability that she is attractive, consequently, her brain tells her that she has more options.

According to David Schmidt, a psychologist at Bradley University, adulterers' personalities are probably sensation-seeking, assertive extroverts, who are less emotionally stable. Moreover, Dr. Schmidt says, those who are open-minded cheat more because they're more willing to try new things and go with the flow of their desires, and that less conscientious people cheat more because they're unable to control impulses and aren't as concerned about morals.

Infidelity is breaking a vow to be faithful to a sexual partner. Get professional help and learn to communicate to each another. It's not easy to forgive, but you can. It is far more difficult to forget. The victim never forgets.

Didi Lorillard finds herself responding to more and more queries about relationships and sex etiquette on her Web site NewportManners.com. Find Didi on Facebook and LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter, after reading earlier GoLocalProv columns listed below. 


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