I was intrigued, more than dismissive, when reading the recent Huff Post column “Is Cheating a Rational Choice?” by Eric Anderson, Ph.D. The sociologist, professor and author of The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love and The Reality of Cheating reported his conclusion (based on his research of men only) that cheating in marriage is the “only rational choice” for men to obtain their two basic goals:
1. to keep their emotional relationship with their wives and family intact and
2. to fulfill their strong sexual desire to have more sex with a variety of partners.
Anderson’s idea that cheating allows men to have a bit of fun without their wives knowing, doesn’t seem grounded in reality. Before I launch into why, let me first say that I waited to post a reply to this hotly contested column because I really wanted to chat with Anderson first, whom I interviewed via email this week. Before launching into any response, I need to remind my readers that Anderson is a sociologist and anthropologist who conducts research studies and reports his findings. He reiterated that he is not a psychologist or marriage and family therapist and that he does not, in any way, “give advice” to married couples. He responded this way to me when I asked him for advice regarding how women and men can come to terms with the problems that arise once affairs are discovered. I explained that the lies and cheating erode the trust and friendship that is critical for women to let go and explore in the bedroom. Most women (of course, this is not based on formal research, but just on my own experience and what girlfriends and therapists have told me) become more adventurous in the bedroom when they feel loved and trust their man. When the trust is gone, they often have a hard time turning on that switch that lets them light a fire in bed. So, my premise is that men risk great sex at home—and their marriage and kid’s welfare—when they explore outside and lie about it.
Anderson declined to comment other than to say that he will be conducting research about why women cheat later this summer—and I’m very glad to hear it. For many reasons. First, I wonder how many wives of the married men in Anderson’s studies were also bored with their sex lives? Sure, perhaps men, in general, do have stronger libidos than women, as Anderson explained. But many women are bored at home as well. If a man isn’t helping out with the kids or isn’t offering any nights out that stimulate a woman like foreplay with an infusion of romance, it’s easy to shut down. Perhaps the husband isn’t making much of an effort? Perhaps he’s drinking too much (inhibiting his sexual performance), working too much, and isn’t adventuresome with his wife. If that man then rushes out to have sex with another woman—doesn’t this mean that he feels his needs are more important than his wife’s and his actions are justified? WHAT about his wife’s needs?
And the idea that the other woman won’t become attached and will allow the married man to have noncommittal sex that doesn’t endanger his marriage and children is a bit naive. Women fall prey to oxytocin bonding with men during sex, experts say. That’s why it’s so hard for women to just pull away emotionally or have anonymous sex unless they are sex addicts. This was explained to me in previous interviews and sessions with Pat Allen, Ph.D., of Millionaire Matchmaker fame and author of several best-selling booksThe Trust About Men Will Set You Free (but First It Will Piss You Off!) She warns women of sleeping with men too quickly as they will become bonded and ignore any red flags and their own intuition about whether the guy is right for them. (See more of my interview in my article “Relationship Guru Dr. Pat Allen Sets Me Straight!”.)
As mentioned, Anderson’s idea that cheating allows men to have a bit of fun without their wives knowing, isn’t realistic. In fact, oftentimes, the “other woman” will pick up the phone or send an email anonymously to their paramour’s wife—even if she said in the beginning that she understood the situation. (I’ve heard about incidents such as this from several readers.) Does a man who loves his wife and kids really want to risk that?
I do, however, agree with Dr. Anderson on quite a few points that he made. The first being that society refuses to look at the problems with monogamy when only pointing a judgmental finger at those who cheat. He also said that cheating makes more sense because society also doesn’t accept open marriages and most wives would balk at the idea if their husbands broached the subject.
Sure, he has a point. Open marriages are frowned upon. And if Dr. Anderson is correct that most men, when first married, are so in love that they assure their wives they can be faithful and that sex with just her, is all that he’ll ever want. Once a man says that, it’s very hard to take it back with a line such as: “Honey, I know I said I only needed you for the rest of my life, but, (cough) I kind of crave being with more women than you. Do you mind?”
Dr. Anderson justifies cheating (or the men in his study do) because of this. They are terrified that if they are completely honest about their needs, they’ll lose their wives. But isn’t there something implicitly wrong with then leaving your beloved wife at home with the kiddos while you then romance, spend joint money on, and have wild sex with random women? Isn’t this just called having your cake and eating it too?
When I asked Professor Anderson to respond to how women could then navigate open marriages or open arrangements, such as discussing rules that might be involved, he responded:
“You ask me a few times about my advice, and I’m really just a sociologist whose more interested in finding out ‘what is’ rather than saying what individuals should do. I’m not big on advice giving. I do say in the book, however, that monogamism will not decrease until open sexual relationships are held in social parity with monogamous relationships. Only then will couples (or triads) be able to make decisions. I suggest in the conclusion that we need a variety of sexual relationship types (celibacy, polyamory, swingers, open sexual, and others perhaps not yet invented) without heirachy or hegemony.”
Okay, Dr. Anderson. I understand that people may have needs that society doesn’t approve of. But wow, doesn’t a man marry his best friend? And as a best friend, can’t these men take a risk and open up to them about their desires? And this is the problem. It takes courage to be honest, doesn’t it? In fact, it takes guts. And while most men reading this might not believe me, I don’t think I’m in the minority of women who would rather have a private conversation with her husband about his desires and his growing need to be with another person sexually. That’s a whole lot better than learning two years later that he was out having sex every Wednesday “poker night” while you’re at home taking care of the kiddos solo. Or that his business trips to exotic locales had additional days tacked on so he could lie on the beach with a mistress while you were up to your ears in diapers. Seriously, the behavior is just selfish and takes advantage of the wife.
I wonder how many women might even become a bit turned on by their hubby’s confession? (It’s a whole lot better than being treated like crap, right?) Can you imagine what type of conversations could spurn from that initial confession? Maybe the two would become more honest about their fantasies? Dr. Allen suggests in couple therapy, especially to couples recovering from infidelity, to start fantasy journals. She says it’s a way for even the shiest couples to take turns writing down their fantasies in the journal and then leaving it in a drawer by the bed. When the other isn’t there, the husband or wife can then take turns reading what the other wrote down. She claims it’s an eyeopener for most couples and sparks flames in the bedroom. In the book The Kosher Sutra by Shmuley Boteach, Rabbi Boteach encourages couples to be open about their desires and warns the men reading the book how women “are like onions” with layers and layers of depth. This depth gives them much more vivid and erotic fantasies that most husbands rarely know anything about—something that will reignite a couple’s sex life. A husband misses out on this opportunity if he slinks out the door and into bed with multiple other women behind his wife’s back.
And as I mentioned, once the trust is gone, it’s very hard to stay together—let alone become a sexual diva in the bedroom. So, I challenge the married men who are craving sex with gals at the office or at the gym, to first talk with their wives about their fantasies. Go crazy and write them down if necessary. Maybe even sign up for a tantric retreat. Start exercising together if attraction is diminishing from weight gain. If you love your wife, treat her with respect and re-ignite what you have first. And who knows? Maybe your wife might even surprise you by entertaining the idea of private tryst? You’ll never know if you don’t try.
What do you think my readers? Would you balk if your husband came to you with a confession such as this? Please chime in!!
- Vicki Larson: Are Kids Learning How To Be Unfaithful in College? (huffingtonpost.com)
- Why Are Some Men Faithful to Their Wives? (psychologytoday.com)