Why Women Cheat on Their Husbands

It’s hard to keep up with statistics. People cherry pick the ones that make their case, and I suppose I’m no different. I instinctively abhor statistics that insinuate that men are bad, relationships are doomed, and marriage is a dying institution – probably because I consider myself a good man who is happily married.

That said, I’m always trying to challenge my own confirmation bias – having come to  terms with the unfortunate facts that 1/4 of women have been sexually assaulted and that only 1/3 of all marriages are happy. This latest study is another example that flies in the face of something that seems obvious: men cheat more than women.

This latest study is another example that flies in the face of something that seems obvious: men cheat more than women.

Not so, says Esther Perel, author of “State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity.”

On this very blog, I’ve reported something that seemed likely: 23% of men and 19%  cheat over the course of their marriage.  But Perel says that times have changed and that while men’s infidelity rate has remained constant, women’s has jumped 40% since 1990. What can we make of this statistic, if it is to be believed?

Well, according to a New York Magazine article about Perel’s new book,  women have many of the same sad, mundane rationalizations for their own affairs as men.

Ready for Lasting Love?
Ready for Lasting Love?

“The fact is,” one of these friends told me, “I’m nicer to my husband when I have something special going on that’s just for me.” She found that she was kinder, more patient, less resentful, “less of a bitch.” It occurred to me as I listened that these women were describing infidelity not as a transgression but a creative or even subversive act, a protest against an institution they’d come to experience as suffocating or oppressive. In an earlier generation, this might have taken the form of separation or divorce, but now, it seemed, more and more women were unwilling to abandon the marriages and families they’d built over years or decades. They were also unwilling to bear the stigma of a publicly open marriage or to go through the effort of negotiating such a complex arrangement. These women were turning to infidelity not as a way to explode a marriage, but as a way to stay in it.

Ugh. If a man said this, he’d rightfully be skewered.

But let’s not lose sight of the big picture. Women do have a lot to complain about, as the bearers of the “emotional load” within most marriages. As the article points out, it’s hard to feel hot for your husband when you’re taking care of him like another dependent.

Some part of that is inevitable within marriage. Which opens up a much larger can of worms: are our expectations of marriage setting us up for failure?

The author of the New York piece, Kim Brooks, seems to think so.

“I confided in a friend once that, after 15 years of marriage, the institution and the relationship itself continued to mystify me. At the time I married, marriage had felt like a panacea; it was a bond that would provide security, love, friendship, stability, and romance – the chance to have children and nice dishes, to be introduced as someone’s wife. It promised to expand my circle of family and improve my credit score, to tether me to something wholesome and give my life meaning.

Could any single relationship not fall short of such expectations? Maybe these women were on to something – valuing their marriages for the things it could offer and outsourcing the rest, accepting the distance between the idealization and the actual thing, seeing marriage clearly  for what it is and not what we’re all told and promised it will be.”

Personally, I think a huge part of life is having realistic expectations.

If you think you’re going to sign up for Match for a month and find your husband, you’re going to be disappointed.

If you think that your boyfriend is going to understand and intuit all of your emotional needs effortlessly and without fail, you’re going to be disappointed.

If you think that your initial chemistry (and the sex that comes with it) will continue, unabated, for the next 40 years, you’re going to be disappointed.


The problem isn’t life; it’s our expectations of what life has in store for us.

The problem isn’t life; it’s our expectations of what life has in store for us.

The strength of my marriage lies in its honesty. My wife can tease me about my foibles: my impatience in looking for lost items, my inability to fix simple things around the house, my remarkable penchant for getting injured. I can tease her about hers: her refusal to throw out any item of clothing, her insistence on taking a full week to pack for a three-day weekend, her uncanny desire to eat the least healthy item on any menu.

At the end of the day, we accept these flaws. We understand that we’re not going to have sex every time we see each other like we did in that first year. We joke about desiring other people, knowing full well that neither of us would do anything to jeopardize our marriage.

Looking at what I just wrote, it sounds like a cliche: the secret to marriage is open, honest communication.

Then again, maybe it’s no more complex than that.

Maybe cliches are cliches for a reason.

Your thoughts – specifically about women cheating on men – are greatly appreciated in the comments below.