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Why Do Married Women Have Affairs?

By Vikki Small ; Updated June 13, 2017

Infidelity has been a long-standing threat to marital relationships. Although our society seems to place greater emphasis on men's affairs, married women also cheat, and do so for a variety of reasons. Understanding these motivations is important for maintaining or rebuilding a healthy relationship with your spouse.


In a national survey, as many as 19.3 percent of women reported having had an affair at some point in their marriage, according to Michael Wiederman, Ph.D., of Bell State University. Wiederman's findings, which appeared in a 1997 article titled "Extramarital Sex: Prevalence and Correlates in a National Survey," published by "The Journal of Sex Research," further indicated that a woman is most likely to have extramarital relations between the ages of 30 and 50.


Affairs can be sexual, emotional or both, but according to Elizabeth Allen and Galena Rhoades, whose research appeared in a 2008 volume of "Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy," in an article titled "Not All Affairs are Created Equal: Emotional Involvement with an Extradyadic Partner," emotional affairs are more likely to negatively affect the marital relationship than are casual affairs. In particular, when a woman feels emotionally connected to her affair partner, she demonstrates less remorse and is less willing to resolve her marital issues than if the bond is primarily sexual.


Premarital factors are associated with marital infidelity among women. According to Elizabeth Allen, et al., whose research appeared in a 2008 issue of "Family Process," in an article titled "Premarital Precursors of Marital Infidelity," decreased sexual satisfaction following marriage, communication difficulties, and feelings of invalidation may signal future infidelity. David Buss and Todd Shackleford, in a 1997 article published in the "Journal of Research in Personality," titled "Susceptibility to Infidelity in the First Year of Marriage," further note that a wife's personality style may play a role, such that if she is generally impulsive and unreliable, she may be more inclined to seek gratification elsewhere.


After marriage, the quality of your relationship continues to be the strongest predictor for choosing to have an affair. As suggested by Buss and Shackleford, feeling devalued by your husband is particularly noteworthy. Additional factors include marital conflict, the husband's jealousy, and insufficient expressions of love on the husband's part. These findings suggest the importance of building and maintaining a strong marital bond.


Although our society generally derides infidelity, in the November 2005 issue of "Journal of Clinical Psychology," in an article titled "Maximizing the Experiences of of an Extrarelational Affair: An Unconventional Approach to a Common Social Convention," Luann Linquist and Charles Negy question our moral judgment. Linquist and Negy contend that monogamy is not a universal ideal, and that a woman may find value in having an extramarital affair. For example, she might experience increased self-esteem and more positive relationships with others -- including her husband.

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