What percent of marriages stay together after infidelity?
Can Infidelity Make A Relationship Better?
About 40 percent of marriages are rocked by affairs, according to a new book, but no one wants to admit it. Psychiatrist Dr. Scott Haltzman shares some hard truths and common misconceptions about infidelity in his new book The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We’re going to switch gears now and, as I said, this is another emotional and sensitive topic, but a personal one. And if I were to say the names Bill Clinton, LeAnn Rimes, Kobe Bryant, what would you say that they all have in common? Well, that they are all very bright, accomplished people and that they have all participated in infidelity. It still seems to be the case that the public seems shocked when such indiscretions become public.
But it turns out that 4 in 10 marriages are challenged by affairs; and it also turns out that more than half of American marriages survive the affair. These are some of the surprising findings — perhaps surprising to some — that are discussed in Dr. Scott Haltzman’s new book. His book is titled «The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity» and he’s with us now. Dr. Haltzman, thank you so much for speaking with us.
DR. SCOTT HALTZMAN: It’s a pleasure to be here, Michel.
MARTIN: And I want to mention that later in the program, we are going to speak to some people who’ve been through this, and they’ll talk about their own personal experiences here. These were just a few of the hundreds of responses that we received when we asked for listeners to tell us their stories.
So first, I wanted to talk about that, Dr. Haltzman. I noticed, in your book, that you’ve been reporting on this and researching this for 25 years now. And you’ve said that when you first started working in this area and talking about your findings publicly, that you had a very hard time getting people to talk outside of the — sort of the therapeutic circle about this. Is it no longer the case that people are afraid to talk about it; or is it that there’s more cheating going on, and there are more people to talk about it?
HALTZMAN: Well, I don’t know that there’s any more cheating going on than there had been before, and I also would like to believe that people are more willing and able to talk about it. But my experience has still been that they are eager to talk about it with me — send me emails, or call my office. But when I say to them, oh — you know — great; you know, Michel would like you to be on TELL ME MORE, suddenly, they pull back and go, I’m not sure I can do that. Because there still is a great degree of shame and embarrassment about infidelity, both for the person that had engaged in it and for the person who’s a victim of it.
MARTIN: I think that a lot of people will be surprised by the number that we cite in — that you cite in your research, and that we’ve cited already here, which is that 4 in 10 marriages are actually affected by this. Should we be surprised by that number?
HALTZMAN: Well, you know, I think one of the things we have to be cautious about with any research regarding infidelity, is that people don’t tell the truth about whether they’ve had affairs or not. But I think, you know, if you remember that 40 percent of people have had — of relationships have been involved in infidelity, that’s just one of the partners. So about 25 percent of men may have had an affair at some point in their life; 15 percent of women. Some statistics will say 70 to 90 percent. It really also varies in terms of how you want to define an affair. And more and more these days, people are having intense emotional relationships with people they’ve never even met, or sexual relationships over the Internet with people they haven’t met.
MARTIN: I was going to ask you about that. I was going to ask if the circumstances of what is seen as infidelity have changed because of the rise of social media, because people have more — what would I say? — social freedom because of social media.
HALTZMAN: Well, 10 years ago, the most common complaints that I heard had to do with people in the workplace. And that has entirely shifted, whereas the great percentage of people are getting into contact with me because their partner has been texting somebody, receiving emails, spending time messaging them on Facebook. It really has shifted how we meet people and secondarily, how we sustain connections with people after we’ve met. So I think it really has changed dramatically, even in the last 10 to 12 years.
MARTIN: One of the issues that you address in your book, that you say comes up often, is the argument that humans actually aren’t meant to be in monogamous relationships. The argument is that people used to die sooner than they do now, that people didn’t live as long, that there was — generally partners, you know, didn’t survive as long as they — women died in childbirth, men died in war — and that monogamy is kind of an impossible idea. What does your research say about that?
HALTZMAN: Well, you’re absolutely right. A lifetime commitment, if you married at the age of 15, was another 20 years. And now, a lifetime commitment, if you marry at the age of 25, may be 75 years. And — well, that’s being very hopeful that you’ll live to 100. But I think the bigger question is, so are we biologically inclined to have one particular partner for life? And only something like 5 percent of vertebrates and mammals are monogamous.
So it may well be that, if our philosophy is that we want to spread our DNA and maintain our species, the philosophy — we may, in fact, be designed to have multiple partners. But my point is — that to say you’re biologically inclined toward something is not the point. We’re biologically inclined to do a lot of things — walking around naked, peeing in our garden of our neighbor, even eating food off of someone else’s table when we go to a restaurant. But we don’t do those things because we’re part of a social organization.
And being married is making an individual commitment to stay with one person. And even if biologically, we’re attracted to somebody else, I don’t think that that’s an excuse for leaving that marriage and having a relationship with someone outside of it.
MARTIN: Well, what is — do you have a values perspective on this of whether infidelity is just, by definition, harmful to marriage because there was some people — I think, in fact, we’ve heard from a number of people who said that they don’t think it is; in fact, a number of people have said that they think that their affairs, relationships outside of marriage, have actually strengthened their marriage. So can I just ask your point of view on this?
HALTZMAN: Well, I do take a pretty strong position. I take what I would call a pro-marriage position. I believe that we are elevated as humans, and as parts of a couple, to keep our promises and to work hard to maintain relationships. There’s a practical issue, which is that when you go from partner to partner, it may be a wonderful opportunity to have lots of great sexual experiences. But it erodes the capacity to have a deep and a fundamentally, you know, profound experience with one partner over the course of a lifetime.
So studies show, for instance, that married couples have better sex and higher — you know, in more frequency than singles. So that — the idea of staying in a marriage may ultimately help improve not only your sex life, but we have lots of studies that show it improves your health, your general well-being, your standard of living, your overall income, your resistance to disease, your reduction in alcohol and substance abuse. So there are whole host of reasons — and less risk of suicide, when people stay in married relationships.
MARTIN: I’m also interested in your perspective on the effect that infidelity has on children, even when they find out about this as adults. So I’m going to ask you to stay with us, Dr. Haltzman. Dr. Scott Haltzman is a psychiatrist. He’s author of «The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity.» He’s going to stay with us. And we’re also going to hear from people who have experienced infidelity, and they are going to tell us their stories. That’s just ahead on TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I’m Michel Martin. We hope you’ll stay with us.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.
Do Affairs That Break Up A Marriage Last? Here’s What You Must Know
Maybe you’ve heard some of the reasons why affairs never last, but you’ve met a couple that might be an exception to that rule.
So, what is it about most affairs that dooms them from the beginning?
It helps to know why people cheat in the first place. Knowing what could be a trigger for you might help you protect yourself and your marriage.
Read on to learn nine things you need to know about affairs and why they end.
What’s in this post:
- Why Do People Cheat in Relationships?
- What percentage of affairs end in divorce?
- Do Affairs That Break Up a Marriage Last? 10 Things You Need to Know
- 1. Affairs are like hothouse flowers.
- 2. No marriage means nothing to escape from.
- 3. The thrill doesn’t last.
- 4. You won’t always be “in love.”
- 5. Sometimes, it’s all about the sex.
- 6. Once the affair serves its purpose, there’s no reason to hang on.
- 7. Emotional affairs are just gap-fillers.
- 8. Serial cheaters are a thing.
- 9. The affair wasn’t an accident.
- 10. Connections don’t erase consequences.
- Now that you know the statistics, what will you do?
Why Do People Cheat in Relationships?
What the affair leads to and how long it lasts has a lot to do with the reasons why it started in the first place.
Here are the most common triggers:
- Fear of conflict with your spouse. You crave harmony so much, you avoid working through your relationship problems and pretend all is well when it’s not.
- Fear of feeling vulnerable. You argue and put up walls between you and your spouse, which causes loneliness, which leads us to the next trigger.
- Feeling alone, misunderstood, or unappreciated. Your marriage went from hot ‘n’ heavy to boring, lonely, or frustrating. You miss that feeling of connection.
- Addiction to romance. You miss the romance of being “in love.” So, when someone interesting comes along and is obviously into you, the curiosity is mutual.
- Addiction to sex. Sex is your drug, and you want more of it than you get in your marriage. So, when you find willing partners, it’s hard to say no.
- Feeling a need to escape. Your marriage is hopeless, and you want to forget its hold on you. You’re just not sure a divorce is the best way to make your life better.
What percentage of affairs end in divorce?
According to WebMD, the “in love” stage of an affair lasts 6 to 18 months, on average.
And around 75% of marriages that start as affairs end in divorce. Considering only 5 to 7% of affair relationships lead to marriage, that’s a grim statistic for couples hoping their affairs will last forever.
But maybe you’re not even worried about the percentage of affairs that last. You’re having fun and getting what your marriage doesn’t give you. So, as long as no one finds out….
Chances are, though, someone will. You’ll get sloppy, or they’ll get curious. Or both.
It’s just a matter of time.
Do Affairs That Break Up a Marriage Last? 10 Things You Need to Know
Here are some things you need to know about why most affair relationships fail when the marriage is over.
1. Affairs are like hothouse flowers.
Beautiful things can grow in that climate-controlled environment. But once you take your delicate flower out into the real world, it dies.
Because It was never meant to withstand the climate of a real relationship. It was meant to be kept in secret for you to enjoy behind closed doors.
Ask yourself how you’d react if your fling asked if you could go out somewhere and “be seen together.” If you’re thinking, “Well, that’s over,” it was never meant to be real.
Affairs looks better where the sunlight can’t touch them.
2. No marriage means nothing to escape from.
Chances are, your affair was never about “finding the one.” It was about escaping the painful reality of your marriage.
Maybe your spouse is fine with the way things are, but you’re not. Or maybe you’re both miserable. But you think the right thing to do is to keep working at it and stay together — maybe for the kids’ sake or maybe just because you can’t afford to live on your own.
So, you start an affair as a way to secretly live in a different “reality” — at least part-time.
But then the marriage ends, and you no longer have to escape it. You’re free! So, why hang onto someone who only made your misery a teensy bit more tolerable?
3. The thrill doesn’t last.
Part of the reason for the affair was the thrill of that sudden connection and secret passion between you. You know what you’re doing is wrong, but it makes you feel alive again.
It’s exciting. What a rush! Why can’t relationships always be like this?
The short answer? Thrills don’t last. And that’s a good thing. If you were on an emotional high all the time, you’d burn out.
4. You won’t always be “in love.”
Just a little while ago, you thought you were “so in love.” You couldn’t wait to be alone with them again. Now that everyone knows about it, you feel like a terrible person. And the one you were cheating with is a painful reminder of that.
Or maybe no one has found out, yet, but looking at them doesn’t give you butterflies anymore. You’re ready for a change. You want to feel “in love” again.
And maybe you’re wondering if it’s possible to rekindle the passion in your marriage.
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5. Sometimes, it’s all about the sex.
Sometimes, the only reason for the affair is mutual lust. Maybe it’s a one-night stand. Or maybe you hook up now and then when you’re both in the mood.
This type of affair is the quickest to fizzle. It can last as little as an hour, or drag on for months. But sex is all you really want from each other.
Or it’s all you’re likely to get.
If the affair wrecks the marriage, though, the cheater has no reason to hold onto their affair, let alone marry the person they were cheating with.
6. Once the affair serves its purpose, there’s no reason to hang on.
Some affairs are about punishing the spouse for his/her lack of attention or appreciation. And if you’ve been cheated on, you might be tempted to cheat right back.
But once the marriage is over, the revenge affair loses its purpose.
Now, you’re left with someone whose sole purpose in your life was to show your spouse how it feels to be on the receiving end of bad behavior. And you’re kind of over it.
7. Emotional affairs are just gap-fillers.
Maybe you were tempted to have an affair with someone because they make you feel wanted and sexy. They filled an emotional need that your marriage did not.
So, you kept spending time together, but you kept it platonic. The only sex that happened was in your heads. And you kept that secret, too.
But if you both wanted a romantic relationship badly enough to break up a marriage (or two), you would have by now. You love what you have with this person, but it’s not worth going through the trauma of divorce.
8. Serial cheaters are a thing.
If the one you’re cheating with is a serial cheater, they don’t see you as someone they’d leave their spouse for. They never started the affair thinking it would become a long-term relationship.
You’re just the newest shiny thing. But they make you feel like you’re the only one that ever mattered — at least until they get what they want from you.
Then, when they find a new shiny thing (or they get bored), they end it.
9. The affair wasn’t an accident.
You didn’t “fall into” an affair or “end up” in bed together. You both made a choice. And until you both take responsibility for the affair, you’re unlikely to form a healthy and lasting relationship.
Relationships that last are based on mature love, which values responsibility. If one of you can’t own up to your mistakes, you’ll always be blaming someone or something else when things go wrong.
The “poor me” attitude isn’t a good look on anyone. And it’ll kill any attraction between you and the one you’re cheating with.
10. Connections don’t erase consequences.
If the affair is rooted in a mind-body connection, and you feel like soulmates, the marriage is probably toast. These affairs are most likely to result in a second marriage.
But the strength of your connection to each other doesn’t erase the consequences for those affected by the divorce. And children and other relatives are likely to see the new step-parent as an intruder or “homewrecker.”
This is where the joy of being “in love” meets the pain you’ve caused other people.
Do affairs ever work?
Bleak statistics aside, some marriages that begin as affairs do last for years or even decades. Their success usually stems from the fact that the affair relationship was much healthier than the original marriage.
Maybe it started out as a platonic friendship but became something more.
For example, if your spouse is physically or emotionally abusive, you might start an affair with someone who isn’t and who deeply cares about you. That affair may then lead to the break-up of your toxic marriage and the beginning of a good one.
It doesn’t mean the second marriage will be easy. But it’s a step in a better direction.
It’s possible for an affair to be the prelude to a marriage that works. But it’s far from the norm. Marriage is hard enough when it starts between two people who are available and fully committed to each other.
And if you’ve cheated once, it’s easier to justify doing it again when the passion cools.
How Do Affairs Usually End?
Whatever your relationship has going for or against it, affairs usually end in one of the following ways:
- Someone gets suspicious and uncovers the truth.
- One of you gets sloppy and leaves evidence.
- One of you breaks up the marriage to commit to the other person.
- One of you cheats with someone else, and the other cheater finds out.
- One of you ends the affair to recommit to your marriage.
Only a tiny percentage of affair relationships even end up at the altar. And most of those marriages eventually end in divorce or separation.
Because most affairs don’t begin with long-term thinking. It’s all about what you can get from each other in the present and in secret.
Once the secret is out, the present gets a lot more complicated.
Now that you know the statistics, what will you do?
The problem with any relationship that begins with cheating is that one or both of you will always wonder if it’ll end the same way.
The phrase “Once a cheater, always a cheater” didn’t come out of nowhere. There’s a reason the answer to “How long do affairs last after separation?” is a grim one.
It’s never too early to think about your own marriage and be honest about what could make you more vulnerable to temptation. Maybe it already has.
Then think of what you can do to help yourself make better choices.
A Study Found How Likely Couples Are To Survive Infidelity & It’s Not Promising
As much as we don’t like to admit it, people do cheat. But what happens next? Can a relationship survive cheating? In a survey of 441 people between the ages of 18 and 70, the people over at Health Testing Centers sought to learn everything and anything there was to know about cheating. According to their research just under half of us (46.1 percent) are cheaters. Of those cheaters, only one in four actually admitted their transgression to their partner.
And it doesn’t matter who you date! Both men and women were equally likely to admit to cheating. Of the people who admitted to cheating, nearly half of men and half of women said they fessed up within the first week. What did make a difference was whether the cheater was married or in a relationship. Over half of those in a relationship (52.4 percent) said that they told their partner they were unfaithful within a week. Less than a third (29.2 percent) of married respondents said the same.
So, how long do married people take to cop to cheating? It takes a while. Almost half of the married respondents who admitted to cheating (47.9 percent) said that they waited six months or more to tell their partner they cheated. Only 20.4 percent of people in relationship said the same.
Health Testing Centers
Telling your partner you cheated is never going to be fun. So why do people bother? It depends on your gender. The study found that dudes were more likely to admit they cheated because they felt guilty, while ladies were more likely to admit they cheated because they wanted out of the relationship. Whether you’re married or in a relationship also makes a difference. Only a quarter of married cheaters said they decided to cough up to it because of guilt, while more than twice that amount (53 percent) of people in relationships said the same.
So, what happens after you admit you cheated? Well, according to the study, the odds for a lasting relationship post-cheating aren’t super great. More than half of the relationships (54.5 percent) ended immediately after one partner admitted to cheating. Then almost a third (30 percent) of them tried to stay together after the cheating happened, but they wound up breaking up anyway.
Health Testing Centers
Again, gender played a pretty big role here. About 20 percent of female cheaters were still in their relationships while only 10 percent of male cheaters were able to say the same. After hearing those stats it’s pretty unsurprising that they also found that 22 percent of male cheaters said their partners immediately ended the relationship once they heard about the infidelity, while only 11 percent of female cheaters said the same.
That said, it’s not impossible to survive infidelity together. Couples can and do move past it — but it can take work and dedication to do so.
Some other factors that lead to whether or not a relationship would last post-cheating? Well, for starters, married couples were a lot more likely to stay together than unmarried couples. Also, as you can imagine, long-term affairs were more likely to result in a split than a brief transgression.
This all being said, it’s important to note that every relationship is different. Just because the majority of people handle cheating in a certain way, doesn’t mean you’re also bound to do the same.