Local filmmaker Jack Neo, golfer Tiger Woods, and English footballers Ashley Cole and John Terry were all in the news recently for having their extra-marital sexual liaisons exposed in public. Those four may have been caught with their pants down. But what of the other regular joes out there who have fun in secret without ever getting caught?
The University of Chicago’s General Social Survey regularly finds that 20 per cent of men cheat in their lifetimes, compared with 12 per cent of women. Consider the attractive colleague, the flirty shop girl or the curvy neighbour: She’s fun to be around, easy to talk to, and understands you on so many levels. The problem is, she isn’t your partner. You might view your daily flirt-fest with another female as just a harmless mood-booster, but it can turn into an emotional affair rife with risk, says Shirley Glass, PhD, a licensed psychologist and marriage therapist (remember the bunny-boiling scene in Fatal Attraction?).
Besides the risk of getting entangled with a possible psychopath, a significant danger also comes when you start to share emotional intimacies previously reserved for your partner. This can drive a wedge into your marriage, Glass says. As secrecy increases, so can sexual attraction – and the likelihood of hotel reservations. We present some of the reasons men use to justify their cheating – and evaluate the deeper issues that lie beneath them.
“I DIDN’T FEEL SHE VALUED ME AT ALL.”
THE ISSUE: LOW SELF-ESTEEM
“There are psychological links to certain instances of cheating,” says Dr Nelson Lee, medical director of the Psychological Wellness Centre and a Men’s Health advisory board member. “What we notice in certain patients is an underlying depressive disorder, which may in turn trigger acts of infidelity. With depression, there is often a drop in self- esteem, and some men will resort to sexual conquests in order to deal with their diminished sense of self-worth.”
Still, he stresses that such factors do not constitute a concrete reason to justify infidelity, and recommends seeing a psychologist to rectify deep-rooted issues. Gary Lewandowski, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Monmouth University in the US, adds that we need our partners to challenge us positively and, subsequently, raise our sense of self-esteem. “We look for relationships that make us better people,” he says, “and we’re looking for partners who will be able to improve who we are.”
So, try to challenge each other. Ask her to help compensate for your weakness by teaching you something – how to make that laksa that you love, for instance. Or make future plans: Pick up tickets to a play neither of you have heard of. Or book a budget flight to somewhere you’ve never been. Moves like these will ensure you’re pushing each other in the right ways – and always will.
“ALL MY BUDDIES DO IT, SO WHY SHOULDN’T I?”
THE ISSUE: TUNNEL VISION
Dr Martha Lee, clinical sexologist and a Men’s Health advisory board member, ventures that in Asian cultures in particular, people are regularly exposed to concepts like polygamy and patriarchal systems, where the father or eldest male is head of the household, exerts authority over women and children, and is expected to continue the family name.
“Affluent men of modern times take mistresses and explain their actions away with reasons such as a desire to protect the woman, or a need to extend the bloodline,” she says. “Regardless of the reasons, the fact is men stray because they can – and consciously and intentionally choose to. There’s always a choice.”
For many men, cheating is simply another decision – one with its own set of costs and benefits. They think: How would what I’d lose compare to what I’d gain? The answer is just that: You’d gain a short-term fling at most, and have more to lose now and in the future (lifelong alimony payments, anyone?). Once you realise the risks, start sticking around the house, says marriage therapist M. Gary Neuman. He discovered that more than half the cheaters he interviewed spent a lot of time away from home before they had a fling. So, while you’re at home, do this: Face your spouse and admit to her that something’s wrong. “Tell her: ‘I’m looking around and I shouldn’t be,’” Neuman says. “Then figure out, with her, what you can do to make the relationship better. Saving your marriage will replace thoughts of cheating.”
“I JUST CAN’T COMMUNICATE WITH MY WIFE ANY MORE.”
THE ISSUE: NEGATIVITY
Want to find out how likely you are to cheat? Count the number of times the two of you snap at each other, and the number of times you smile. When Elizabeth Allen, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Colorado in the US, reviewed communication between partners about to get married, she found that those with lower ratios of positive-to-negative behaviours were more likely to cheat in the early years of their marriages. Positive interactions included eye contact, and nodding and smiling; negative ones included scowling, rolling their eyes and expressing contempt.
It wasn’t that these partners didn’t like each other; at the time, they probably thought they would live happily ever after. But down the line, the mates who didn’t cheat had many more positive interactions before marriage than those who did. “The more positive you are, the more you seem to be buffered from future risk,” Allen says.
So, boost your ratios by keeping criticism and defensiveness to a minimum, Allen says. Even if you’re not feeling great, try to increase your positivity and collaborative problem-solving, and look for things you can agree on. If you find yourself in an argument, acknowledge her point of view and try to find a compromise. The more you do this, the more she will, too – and the happier you both will be.
Also read: Is quick sex a sign of an unhappy marriage?
“THERE ARE JUST TOO MANY BEAUTIFUL WOMEN AROUND – I CAN’T HELP MYSELF.”
THE ISSUE: NON-VIGILANCE
When they’re surrounded in social situations by what researchers call “attractive alternatives”, men tend to let their guard down too much. “San Francisco-based psychotherapist Jack Morin, in his book, The Erotic Mind, developed this ‘erotic equation’: Attraction plus obstacles lead to excitement,” says Dr Martha Lee. “Straying or having an extramarital affair, especially with an attractive person, is certainly exciting because of the obstacles, including the risk of being found out.”
Barry McCarthy, PhD, author of Getting It Right The First Time: Creating A Healthy Marriage, adds: “Rather than say, ‘I would never have an affair’, be honest and look at what makes you vulnerable.” After that, try to make it a point to lessen the chances of that happening.
According to McGill University researchers in Canada, women strive to be protectors of their relationships. They use “if then” contingencies – if he comes over here, then I’ll excuse myself to go get a drink – that spark automatic defence mechanisms when they see an attractive alternative moving in. So learn from her, and develop your own “if then” plan: If she comes over, I’ll head for the loo. When men do this before entering a situation with potential “other women”, they were more likely to perceive and ward off threats.
This story was originally published on MensHealth.com.sg.