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(Corn, 2010) Atwood & Seifer (1997) listed adultery as the leading cause of divorce.
A 1992 New Jersey court concluded that “adultery exists when one spouse rejects the other by entering into a personal intimate sexual relationship with any other person, irrespective of the specific sexual acts performed, the marital status, or the gender of the third party.” (Cossman, 2006) This modern day definition of adultery expands to include acts outside sexual intercourse and also takes into consideration homosexual relationships.
Adultery has changed over time from a narrow concern about preventing illegitimate children to a much broader violation of the marital relationship. Preventing illegitimate children was a primary concern because lawmakers wanted to ensure that a man wouldn’t be responsible for taking care of another man’s children, and then have those children inherit his estate. It is because of this that women’s adultery was taken more seriously than a husband’s. (Cossman, 2006) The modern day broader definition goes beyond just concern with illegitimate children, and begins to look at adultery as harmful to the emotional well-being of persons involved and as a violation of the committed partnership of marriage.
Modern day adultery
While adultery is still looked down upon, it is not uncommon in American society. It is estimated that about a 1/3 of men and 1/5 of women have been adulterous at some point in their marriage (Tafoya & Spitzberg, 2007). High profile figures like Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, and John and Elizabeth Edwards have brought adultery to the spotlight and given a face to the statistics. An important statistic that stands out in today’s society is the divorce rate, which is about 50 percent. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009).This can be partially attributed to the higher expectations couples today have for marriage. Druckerman (2007) talked about the higher trauma individuals today face when they learn that a loved one had cheated on him or her and the shattering effect it has on the perception of a good marriage. “Women of my grandmother's generation didn't usually fret about whether their marriages were personally fulfilling or not. But since it became much easier to divorce in the 1960s, we've been holding our marriages-and our lives-to an extremely high standard.” (Druckerman, 2007)
While adultery has stereotypically been associated with men, modern cheating has begun to see more women come forward about their transgressions. A report in (Ali & Miller, 2004) found that as much as 50 percent had had an affair during their marriage. More women taking on roles in typically male-dominated workplaces was cited as an explanation for this infidelity. More women in the workplace had led to more chances for interactions outside the home with members of the opposite sex.
Reasons for adultery
There are a variety of factors that explain why an individual participates in an extramarital affair. They range from the personality of the individual, their perception of their marriage, and environmental factors.
A person’s race and gender may make them more likely to engage in adulterous behavior. Evidence shows that men are more likely to cheat than women and Latin and African Americans are more likely than Caucasians, according to (Cochran, Chamlin, Beeghley, & Fenwick, 2004) and (Atkins, Baucom, & Jacobson, 2001). Other factors to consider include history of cheating and divorce in the family, personal attitudes about adultery, and participation in premarital sex.
The next factor to consider is how an individual perceives the state of his or her marriage, personal happiness in the relationship, and feelings about one’s partner. Distressed marriages are more likely to see an occurrence of adultery and distresses include low marital satisfaction, low sexual satisfaction, high conflict, and a lack of partner support (Atwood & Seifer, 1997). Part of evaluating the feelings that a spouse has about his or her partner is the level of equality perceived in a relationship. Too much or too little support can lead to cheating, so maintaining a balance is important to ensure a faithful relationship. (Prins, Buunk, & Yperen, 1993)
The environment that a person lives in is also important. (Atwood & Seifer, 1997) found that increases in social status or career advancement increase the likelihood for adultery. Job promotions usually go along with higher incomes and more opportunities to travel. This creates opportunities for a person to have access to more potential partners than a spouse who stays at home and is limited in the amount of partners they’re exposed to. Adultery also increases in urban areas, according to (Treas & Giesen, 2000). The larger populations in urban areas not only increase the number of potential partners but also increase anonymity.
Dealing with adultery
Couples facing infidelity have two options: they can choose to stay together and work through their conflict, or the couple can choose to end the relationship. Adultery was found to be the leading cause of divorce, with about 30 percent of men and 45 percent of women listing it as the cause for their separation, according to (Atwood & Seifer, 1997). For couples that choose to stay together, there is a process of forgiveness. Forgiveness means a conscious decision to forgive the cheating spouse for all acts of adultery. This includes letting go of ill feelings about the events and giving up the right to use previous acts against the adulterous spouse. Before the offended spouse can do any of that, there are also actions the cheating spouse must take. This includes acknowledging that they made a mistake and violated an agreement in the their marriage, take responsibility for their actions, ask their spouse for forgiveness, promise to end any extramarital relationships, and agree to certain behaviors to show they are serious about becoming faithful again. (Bagarozzi, 2008) Working on forgiveness can lead many couples to go to therapy and seek the help of a professional counselor. This counselor will analyze the details of the situation, as well as the characteristics and goals of each spouse to help the couple determine what is best for them. This includes dealing with letting go of the marriage or creating steps to recovering their marriage and building their relationship.
Ali, L., & Miller, L. (2004). The Secret Lives of Wives.
Atkins, D. C., Baucom, D. H., & Jacobson, N. S. (2001). Understanding fidelity.
Journal of Family Psychology
Atwood, J. D., & Seifer, M. (1997). Extramarital affairs and constructed meanings: A social constructionist therapeautic approach.
The American Journal of Family Therapy
Bagarozzi, D. A. (2008). Understanding and Treating Marital Infidelity: A Multidimensional Model.
The American Journal of Family Therapy
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009, December 22).
Marriage and Divorce
. Retrieved April 2011, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/divorce.htm
Cochran, J. K., Chamlin, M. B., Beeghley, L., & Fenwick, M. (2004). Religion, religiosity, and nonmarital sex conduct.
Corn, S. (2010, April).
The Adultery Passage
. Retrieved April 2011, from
Cossman, B. (2006). The New Politics of Adultery.
Columbia Journal of Gender and Law
Druckerman, P. (2007).
Lust in translation: Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee.
New York: Penguin.
Prins, K. S., Buunk, B. P., & Yperen, N. W. (1993). Equity, normative disapproval, and extramarital relationships.
Journal of Social and Personal Relationships
Tafoya, M. A., & Spitzberg, B. H. (2007).
The dark side of infidelity: Its nature, prevalence, and communicative functions.
Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Treas, J., & Giesen, D. (2000). Sexual infidelity among married and cohabitating Americans.
Journal of Marriage and Family
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