In general, men are twice as likely to cheat on a spouse than women are. That frequency increases over the lifespan, peaking among the elderly. Among men 18 to 29 who have ever been married, about 1 in 10 is estimated to cheat on a spouse. Compare that to men in their 70s, when 1 in 4 married men are unfaithful.
Researchers don’t know if that’s because of something that happens to men over time or if it speaks to differences between generations. After all, surveys find young people today are having less sex than Gen X and Baby Boomers, so it might be that Gen Z and Millennials aren’t as sexually liberated as their parents. Young people today are also waiting longer to tie the knot and viewing the institutional as more optional and end up seeking divorce less often as a result.
The reasons for the gender disparity in infidelity also aren’t completely understood but there are likely many factors at play. What we can dismiss is the Victorian-era idea that men and women are fundamentally different when it comes to wanting sex (or that there are only two genders). While there is no biological basis for the myth that men are inherently more sexual, male promiscuity is definitely more socially acceptable.
We can also dismiss the belief that men are more upset by physical infidelity while women are more upset by emotional cheating. Research finds that these gender differences have been largely assumed and imagined. There is also an idea that marriages are more likely to survive men’s infidelity than women’s, but that’s also a myth. When it comes whether a man or a women cheating is more likely to result in a couple’s divorce, gender isn’t really a predictor. Instead, according to one study, “Results suggest that it is more common to leave because one is having an affair, or to have an affair because one has decided to leave, than it is to discover one’s spouse having an affair and initiate a divorce.”
While men continue to be more prone to cheat than women, rates of women’s infidelity are rising. Some relationship experts suspect that women today are more empowered and financially positioned to seek out what they want, sexually and romantically. A woman of an earlier generation may have wanted to cheat but didn’t have the means to take the risk. She may also not have expected as much from her marriage, as modern Americans now expect a partner to be a friend, lover, co-parent and social equal.
The reasons that people cheat vary. Some of the most common motivations for women’s infidelity are:
- Boredom (sexual or otherwise), curiosity
- loneliness, desire for emotional intimacy
- relationship dissatisfaction
- the need for external validation, low self-esteem
- anger or wanting revenge
- a desirable opportunity presented itself
Whatever the explanation, the betrayal of breaking relationship agreements can be deeply hurtful and is highly associated with separation and divorce. I posted a call for experiences of people who had been cheated on and heard many impactful stories. How did these readers know that their wife was cheating on them?
“When the guy’s wife called me. In retrospect, had a gut feeling.”- Jeff
“They talked more than once about how much and why they disliked a particular person. Turns out they didn’t mind them so much.”- Dave
“After we were engaged, she had some moments where she said she might want to explore other options. I was hurt and really didn’t want to accept that and maybe wore her down against a break. Later, maybe a few weeks before the wedding, she was very cold towards me. We fought a lot leading up to the wedding. I hadn’t been in many relationships before. I didn’t know what was normal. We did get married though. I thought it was odd she didn’t want to consummate the marriage right away. I think we waited a few days. Sex was something we had a very hard time discussing.
Long story short. About 12 years and 2 kids later, I found out that she really wanted to marry someone else. A close friend, someone I grew up with, godfather to one of our children. She met us around the same time and fell for him, but he was already engaged so she took the consolation prize in me. When he became single again. I began to see him over more to visit. There was definitely suspicious behavior. Secret glances, etc. I finally asked and she admitted it. Brutal.” – Jim
“I’ve always said I was blessed with a sixth sense, but I just got an inkling to check my ex’s social media and I saw comments between her and another girl. She was just acting different, and I could feel her energy shift. First hint was her wanting to go to Dinah Shore instead of a weekend getaway with me. The signs were there, and I saw them.”- Tara
“She started traveling up to her hometown, under the pretense of working at a bar managed by a friend of hers. She was gone 3 weeks the 1st time. After that, not more than a few weeks would go by and she’d want to go back up there, again, to “work.” I’m pretty dense and just assumed she wanted to go party with her old friends. After she went up there 5 or 6 times, I was definitely suspicious but I told her I didn’t care if she went up there but it had to only be weekends. It was a real strain for me to be home alone with son and stepson, taking care of everything.
She agreed and said she’d go up in a few weekends. Well, that week rolls around and she contrives this reason why she has to go up there on Tuesday, not Friday. Said a snow storm was coming (there was not one in the forecast). I said no, we talked about this, we both need to be here during the week especially with me being the only one working full time. She, and I don’t know how else to describe it, had a very brief teenager-like fit. She stamped her foot, huffed, and stormed out of the room.
And it all became so clear. I was like oh… she’s got plans. So I told her of it was so important she better get up there then. After she got back, for the 1st time in 13 years I checked her phone. She actually had a habit of clearing her phone, there weren’t many calls or messages in her logs. But there was one nudes, sexting the whole 9.” -Charles
What can we learn from these folks’ stories? If you’re suspicious that your wife is cheating, what are some signs to be looking for? The indications are not very different from when a husband is being unfaithful.
Increased secretness, changes in phone habits. Privacy is important in a relationship, but sudden vigilance about her phone or never leaving her purse unattended even at home might be an indication that she is concealing something.
Dramatic alterations in spending. Are there unexplained charges on credit cards or big chunks of money missing from mutual accounts? Did she switch to using cash? These could be reason for a conversation.
Missing chunks of time. If her stories about where she has been don’t add up or you find your wife is unreachable for significant periods without reasonable explanation, that could be concerning.
Considerable shifts in social behavior. Adults are allowed to go out with their friends and have lives outside their marriage, but if she’s recently started getting dolled up to head to office events and is going out with friends more often, it might mean she’s got attention elsewhere. It can be hurtful if she starts becoming involved in a new friend circle but doesn’t invite you to be a part.
Escalating tensions in the relationship. Often cheaters will pick fights or project accusations of infidelity onto their partners, perhaps to justify their treatment of the relationship.
Diminished physical or emotional intimacy. No longer being interested in conversations and shared activities, becoming distant, withdrawing physical touch, and diminished sexual desire are all reasons to be alert. Even if there’s no cheating, they warrant a conversation.
Increased investment in appearance. There are a lot of reasons someone might put more energy into their wardrobe, spruce up their hair, or up their fitness regimen. There’s a difference between caring about one’s appearance and trying to impress others, so it might be worth noting the situations when she seems most concerned with looking good.
If you suspect your wife of cheating, this a great reason to have a serious but calm conversation. Create an opportunity for her to be honest. Tracking her movements, invading her privacy, destroying property, becoming scary or violent are not appropriate reactions.
In the event she is cheating, you can decide if you want to figure out a solution for the relationship or extricate yourself from it. Though betrayal can be deeply hurtful, you will survive and you’ll be proud that you handled it like an adult.
- How to Know if Your Husband is Cheating
- Is My Boyfriend Cheating?
- Are You Emotionally Cheating?
- Signs Your Girlfriend is Cheating on You
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