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New Survey on Infidelity: It's Worse Than You Think

Nothing in life is more devastating than the infidelity of a mate. When your partner breaks their vows and you discover they have lied to you, and before the altar of whatever god you worship, the earth moves beneath your feet. It can destroy your faith in your partner, in marriage, and sometimes even in love.

How can you ever trust them again?

Yet we know that less than 10% of marriages involving sexual infidelity end in divorce, while the overall rate is 50%. How do we make sense of this?


This is one of the worst stories I've heard, told by a minister. He had been a workaholic in the early years of his marriage. His wife accused him of not caring about her and the kids, and he counter-accused her of not caring about him or his career, and they argued continually.

Then one day he realized there was nothing but silence. Their marriage had become an empty shell, except for smouldering resentment.

"I got the message," he said, "when I realized she wasn't even complaining about it any more. She had given up."

Scared, he started to make amends. "I told her I would start coming home at 6 for dinner every night," he said, "and I told her I meant it."

"She just shrugged," he said. "She no longer believed anything I said."


Marjorie and Josh met on the Internet and shared their divorce war-stories. Marjorie's husband had just walked out one day. She hadn't known he was unhappy. Josh had divorced because all they did was fight. Josh and Marjorie fell in love and agreed this marriage would be different. They would tell each other when unhappy, ask for what they needed, and not fight. Neither would hurt the other, and they would meet each other's needs. They deserved no less.

And then it happened. They had a fierce argument (Josh's worse nightmare) and he walked out (Marjorie's worse nightmare.) The fight was about the toaster oven.


The following couples also broke their marriage vows, failing to love the other:

1 Mary broke her vows to Tom when she chose to take a vacation with her sister instead of him. 2 Robert broke his vows when he told Ingrid one night to grow up, that he was too tired to listen to her whining. 3 Sonja broke her vows to Mario when she refused to have sex for a month. 4 Juan broke his vows to Nena when he told her he'd changed his mind and didn't want to have children. 5 Shannon broke her vows to Tony when she lost her temper one day and told him he was a "jacka**," an "infant," and a "tyrant" when he complained about the Struffoli. 6 Sun Yin broke his vows to Mai Li when he acted like her father, demeaning her and telling her she didn't have what it took to pursue a career.


Every couple starts out with the best of intentions, and great expectations. We plan to love one another and meet one another's needs, anticipate them even. We will deliver the love they've never had, making up for past hurts, listening, being patient and kind, setting records in the bedroom, making our home a bower of bliss, and never, never, never hurting one another.

And yet we all fail. Sexual infidelity may be the least of it, devastating as it is, if only 10% divorce because of it. Did I read that statistic wrong? Statistics in this area are tricky, yet I suspect this one is close. We know that very few cheaters marry the object of the cheating, even if they divorce (or are divorced). We know intuitively it's not what it appears to be about; sex never is. And for some couples, extra-marital sex is tacitly condoned.


Therapists believe a couple can survive infidelity. Couples in fact survive all sorts of infidelity.

One day, for every couple, the honeymoon is over and it becomes clear to both parties that the promises during the courtship are not going to be met. Bill will not be delivering the moon, as advertised, and Amanda has committed the unforgiveable sin of putting on 15 lbs. The romance of the century has turned into a negotiated cease fire.


The minister in the story kept his word. He set about winning his wife's faith back. "It took a couple of years," he said, "before she believed I really would come home every night at 6 p.m."

For this couple the issue-of-the-moment was eventually addressed. I suspect they went on to others issues. They also took a look at their idealized yearnings, and the nature of human frailties.

Tom got over that Mary temporarily chose her sister over him.

Sonja and Mario had a talk, and he agreed to try something besides"We're gonna do it tonight" over the dinner table.

Robert apologized to Ingrid from the bottom of his heart and gave her a gift card saying "3 hours of my undivided attention, your call when."

Mai Li won her battle to get a job outside the home, and Sun Yin admits he's secretly proud of her.

Tony and Shannon decided to get coaching because they both had bad tempers and needed to work on their EQ. Meanwhile they reassure one another 'Tony, that he won't walk out again, and Shannon that she'll hold her tongue. "I half believe him now," says Shannon, a year later.

Juan and Nena continued in agony, as theirs is an issue for which there can be no compromise, and the end of that story isn't written yet. Neither has been able to put "the other" in front of their need to have, or have not, children. Not all stories have a happy ending, and not all marriages can be saved.


We all have our sensitive areas and when they're trodden upon, as only someone intimate with us can, we no longer feel safe, which is the definition of love. How do we win the other back, allowing them to feel safe again? Marjorie and Tony were traumatized by the encounter, having brought about exactly what each feared the most. Sometimes I think we do this in order for there to be healing. In the best-case scenario, it gets worked through.

Oh! I left out a story about sexual infidelity. Here's a true one, details changed. David's wife got cancer. David had a demanding job and they had two toddlers and a lot of debts. David hooked up with his high-school sweetheart, Sondra, newly divorced. They had sex once. The rest of the time he went over there, they just held each other in bed, and sometimes David cried.

How did it end? David's wife, for whom he had been a rock, never found out, and is now 5 years in remission. Sondra has remarried. She and David talk occasionally.

Things are not always as they seem.


It was Paul Pearsall who advised "Don't get married because you're in love, get married when you're ready to learn to love."

There will be ample opportunity! Our intimate relationships are where we practice.

About the Author
Susan Dunn, MA Psychology, Emotional Intelligence Coach, I help people become better communicators and develop their emotional intelligence through coaching, Internet courses and ebooks. Susan is the author of "Nonverbal Communication."

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