Marital infidelity has been on the rise in the United States since the 1940s. Research numbers vary in identifying precisely how many people are unfaithful to their spouses, perhaps because it is not something one may willingly report. However, studies indicate that lifetime prevalence of infidelity ranges from 20 percent-40 percent for females and 25 percent-50 percent for males. Alarmingly, one recent study found that over a 15-year period, females were 20 percent more likely to be unfaithful and males were 45 percent more likely to be unfaithful than 15-years earlier.
These numbers should raise serious concerns for us as a society. Healthy, committed relationships are associated with fewer health and mental health problems, longer life, more satisfaction in life, fewer parenting struggles and more financial security. There is something about us as human beings that just does better when we have healthy relationships. In contrast, couples who experience infidelity in their relationship may experience increased depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, domestic violence, receipt of sexually transmitted infections and divorce.
We live in a world that makes infidelity easier and more tempting than it was in the past. For example: selfishness and “what’s in it for me” culture have eroded much of the selflessness that is key for healthy relationships. More women in the workplace in recent decades has facilitated more male-female interactions outside of the home that have become compromised. Work trips are common catalysts that start people down the destructive path. And perhaps most influential are technological developments of social media and smartphones, which are overwhelmingly involved in most affairs.
Can a couple recover from infidelity and have a healthy relationship again? The short answer is it depends. It will take a great deal of time, professional intervention from a competent marriage counselor and a level of commitment from both spouses that some are unwilling to give. I will address this in more detail in a future column as I have worked with many couples who were able to weather the damage and create a new relationship in the wake of the affair.
I can say that prevention is a much less painful path than intervention following an affair. While many couples can overcome the pain caused by infidelity, others cannot. The pain associated with discovering one’s spouse has been unfaithful is comparable to that felt when a close loved one dies.
If you are in a married or committed relationship, the best thing you can do to avoid slipping into infidelity is to be 100 percent honest with yourself and consider these questions: Do you constantly think about other men/women? Do you “check out” others you find attractive? Do you romanticize what life would be like with that person? Do you seek out certain people at work or other places? Do you look up people on social media to see how good they look? Do you interact with someone else in any way that could be interpreted as compromising by your spouse? Is the rise you feel thinking about, looking up, or engaging with that other person worth the pain it may cause your spouse?
Ultimately, selflessness is the key foundation to every healthy relationship. Infidelity will not happen if you always ensure your spouse is more important to you than you are to your spouse.
Dr. Swinton is providing a series of free relationship seminars to residents of Sevier County the evenings of Nov. 6, 13, and 20. To register visit strongerrelationships.eventbrite.com
Dr. Swinton is a relationship and mental health expert with Utah State University Extension in Sevier County. If you have questions you would like him to confidentially address in this column, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.