Past research has suggested that infidelity is one of the leading causes of divorce. But what drives a person to become unfaithful?
Researchers Michelle Jeanfreau, Anthony Jurich, and Michael Mong conducted case studies on four women aged 24 to 51 who cheated on their spouses and whose marriages subsequently ended in divorce. Through in-depth analysis, researchers discovered three common risk factors that contributed to the infidelity.
1. Lack of quality time.
According to the study, all four women expressed a desire to spend more time with their husbands but were often denied, making them feel like a second or third priority to their husbands’ jobs or social lives.
Bella, 48, began her affair three years into her marriage and said she often felt anger toward her husband for leaving her constantly. ‘‘After we had our ﬁrst child, he’d come in from work, take his bath. I had supper ready, [he'd take] a little nap, get up and go out partying all the time and leave me home with the kids.’’
Similarly, 36-year-old Kate, who cheated on her husband after five years of marriage, said their lack of together time led to constant fighting. "He started coming in late at night, and he would leave early in the mornings and it's like we never saw each other," she explained to researchers. "We would always argue. I wanted him to spend more time with me and he would always make other plans ... do his own thing."
The women, as the researchers explained, felt their husbands were not reciprocating the same level of desire to maintain a strong connection in the marriage, which made them susceptible to finding that connection elsewhere.
2. Inability to resolve conflict.
An inability to communicate often leads to relationship conflicts going unresolved. In these particular cases, the lack of resolution or change in future behavior left the women feeling frustrated, and many voiced a concern that while problems were recognized, no progress was made to fix them.
‘‘We would try and he would say, you know, I’m (going) to do better….and he never would," said Kate.
Linda, 51, who divorced after 21 years of marriage but started cheating just six years in, said she and her ex simply failed to address the root of their conflicts. ‘‘I’d usually just leave until he cooled off and then I’d come back and pout and not say nothing to him.’’
The researchers concluded that a lack of communication was a precursor to cheating: "In each case, the attraction to marital inﬁdelity began to grow for the women because the unresolved issues continued to be a source of conﬂict in the marital relationship, pushing the women further away from their spouses."
3. Lack of attention.
Through the study, it became clear that all the women craved more intimacy in their marriages. This void was eventually filled by an affair partner.
Bella began thinking about an affair when "somebody started showing me the affection that I needed….the touching and feeling and being wanted.’’
Zoie, 24, who began cheating just seven months into her marriage, said that her husband wouldn't give her even five minutes of attention, whereas her affair partner would talk to her about anything and everything.
Linda, however, summed up the women's desires best. "I want somebody in my life that would love me for me. That would just show attention to me for me…And you know made me feel like I was worthwhile. It was just somebody there to have attention with, show me attention…make me feel better about myself," she said.
What does it all mean?
According to the researchers, none of the women actively sought out affairs. As time went on, however, they grew more frustrated in their marriages and the partner they cheated with became more desirable. When the opportunity arose, there was less hesitation to stray.
Of course, every marriage is different, but the authors of the study note that these specific insights into cheating could help people and professionals identify early warning signs in relationships and work toward fixing them.