Feature Archive

Cheating Wives: Women and Infidelity

Can this marriage be saved? Maybe, maybe not. Think twice or three times before leaping into another guy's arms.

ByJeanie LercheDavis
WebMD Feature

Reviewed ByBrunilda Nazario,MD

The affair: Maybe you've considered it. Maybe you're in it. Today's women are acting on the urge, more than ever before, a new survey reveals.

One in five married women has had a fling -- the highest numbers ever recorded, according to one group of researchers. In fact, the numbers of cheating wives now equals the statistics on cheating husbands, according to a study by Tom W. Smith with the National Opinion Research Center.

In these Sex and the City days, that's hardly startling. "Society has given women permission to be sexually active, and it's perfectly clear why women do it ... it's for the same reasons men do. They're not getting what they want out of their marriage," says David Kaplan, PhD, a marriage counselor with 15 years under his belt, and now a spokesperson for the American Counseling Association.

The workplace, working out, the Internet -- women have more sexual opportunities than ever before. With better salaries and no children, the stakes seem low if they are caught.

Readers Tell Their Stories

For more insights, we asked WebMD readers about their indiscretions. Here's what some shared:

"My ex-wife cheated and left me for her boss," writes one male. "I took part of the blame myself. To be fair, I didn't pay her enough attention or affection. Though I didn't know why at the time, I was very closed off and introverted. I don't think I knew how to be in a good relationship."

A woman writes: "Yes, I have cheated. I am not proud of it, but I got married young and hubby wasn't paying any attention to me. I worked 12-hour days to come home every night to be by myself. The morning came when he went to work and I left for three days. Can't say I had a miserable time but now that I have kids, I wouldn't do it again. We went to counseling and now are happy with two kids."

Another woman shares her story: "I have been the "other woman" for a married man. We used to meet almost every day while she was at work and we would just walk around the park where no one would know. One day ... he told me he had fallen in love with me. ... It remained sexual for about four months. I finally ended the relationship. I felt guilty lying to his wife ... and I wanted a real relationship."

What Married Women Want

For some cheating wives, the affair is truly all about sex, says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, a family counselor and psychologist at Emory University School of Medicine.

"When they were dating, there was passion, they want that passion back. If they're physically attracted to someone else, they may act on it," she tells WebMD.

Not that every woman is unfaithful, says Kaslow. "Certainly many women have affairs. But many, many don't. When you wait to get married when you're older and more mature, you make a better choice of the appropriate person, and you may be more engaged in the relationship."

Also, not all affairs are flings, she points out. "Sometimes people develop an emotional connection, an emotional affair, rather than something sexual."

For most women, an inattentive husband is indeed the biggest problem. His "affair" with his work or some other passion like sports may turn her into a cheating wife. "She doesn't feel valued, respected, she's not treated nicely, she feels taken for granted. If she finds someone who helps them feel good about themselves, who does those small things, says the right things, it's very seductive, very appealing," Kaslow explains.

A married couple's views of their roles may clash: He wants a "traditional" she-cooks-dinner marriage. She prefers the gym after a stressful workday -- not the kitchen. Both styles of marriage can work. "What makes the difference is whether they're in sync or not. When that's not resolved, it's likely someone will be frustrated," says Kaplan.

Their emotional relationship can also be problematic. If they're joined-at-the-hip constantly, they may be smothering each other's identity. If they are too "distant" and independent, they will likely seek a bond with someone else, he adds.

In fact, all couples have problems, Kaplan says. But couples who have warm, supportive feelings for each other -- and express those feelings -- will stay married.

One large study looked at this issue. "Researchers thought they would find those who wanted divorce had more problems," he says. "But that was not true. All the couples had problems. The difference was the number of positive statements they made about each other."