Social Question

jca's avatar

Why do so many people adamantly claim to be against marital infidelity when statistics about it show otherwise?

Asked by jca (28606 points ) January 8th, 2013

What brought me to this question was the (currently being edited) question from yesterday, where a married woman got drunk at an office party and made out with another man. The responses she got were hostile (many got modded for being a personal attack) and although the woman seemed humble about her mistake, the majority of Jellies were of the opinion that she did something terrible and inexcusable.

In “real life” and on the internet, so many people will profess to being against cheating, and give the impression that in their lives and in their opinions, cheating on a spouse is disgusting, terrible, and that they themselves would never do it. The word “righteous” comes to mind when I think of how people present their attitudes toward cheating. I am not advocating cheating, I am presenting what I see (or what I think I see).

Yet, statistics show otherwise. I just googled “statistics about marital infidelity” and there are a ton of surveys out there, too many to reference or link. The stats are pretty high- 40% was one of the lower numbers, with all kinds of data on men partners, women partners, etc. Of course, if you add “emotional infidelity” to that mix (some sites had stats on that) the number gets higher (presumably from people having relationships on the internet or otherwise being in love with another, without physically cheating).

Why do so many people adamantly claim to be against marital infidelity when statistics about it show otherwise?

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40 Answers

Self_Consuming_Cannibal's avatar

I think it’s because no one in their right mind (that wants to stay married that is) is going to openly admit that they want to or will if the opportunity rises, cheat on their spouse.

elbanditoroso's avatar

There are, in my opinion, two real answers, and a whole lot of bullshit answers.

First, most/many people are hypocritical liars. (what did Dr. House say? Everybody Lies). They say things because they see themselves as good and upright people, but their underlying persona is one of dishonesty and hypocrisy.

That plays into the second reason:

Most/many people have no self control (or spine, or internal compass, or whatever you want to call it). They know what is right and wrong, and yet they come up with all sorts of internal mental justifications for screwing around.

Everything else (“she was beautiful”. ” I was drunk.” “He came on to me” ...) are all just subsets of the first two principles.

By the way, religion just distorts things. Religion says that infidelity is wrong (depending on the religion, very wrong or or mortal sin wrong) and some very religious people are as much or more prone to infidelity as less religious types. Why? Because their religious framework draws such strict lines of behavior, that people want to/need to rebel against those strictures.

ucme's avatar

Never mind love at first sight, some buggers on here appear to hate on sight, given any number of varying scenarios..ying with the yang & all that.

zenvelo's avatar

People don;t approve of what might hurt them or did hurt them when done bye someone else. Most people don’t want to be approving of stepping out if it’s their spouse that is doing the wandering. So there is a lot of self protection involved.

To me, it is what ever gets worked out between a couple. It is not for me, but I am not going to judge others. But i will be honest and point out what they did if they are wondering what happened. That’s what happened yesterday.

The woman yesterday didn’t want to take responsibility for the consequences of a little make out session. It wasn’t that people were condemning what she did as much as telling her to own it. She was the one continuing to reach out to the guy, even though she said she didn’t want to have an affair. Most people were telling her to grow up.

Shippy's avatar

I don’t think the question is a good example, since it had so many contradictions. So I won’t refer to it here. But I agree with you. Why are the statistics so high, yet when we are asked we take a moral high ground?

The thing that annoys me the most though, is a person who will gladly respond to a ‘taken’ partner. Maybe there are children involved, and that person does not care that these kids lives, their parents, their entire world as they understand it, could be dashed to the ground. I don’t understand their thinking. Besides, married people wanting more are creepy to me. It’s an instant turn off. (Unless they have some agreement in place of course).

bkcunningham's avatar

Perhaps it is because they are in the percentage who don’t cheat on their partners.

jonsblond's avatar

What was inexcusable is that she used the excuse of being drunk for doing what she did. I think that’s what most people were upset about. She wasn’t taking responsibility for her actions. A person who is truly happy in their relationship will not slip up and make out with someone they are attracted to just because they are drunk.

fremen_warrior's avatar

People are opportunistic some more some less, and sometimes their strategy involves lying about it.

Akua's avatar

I agree with @elbanditoroso and Dr. House, everybody lies. I don’t think I have met one person in my entire life including my parents who didn’t cheat at some point. I’m not saying I think it’s okay to do it, I’m just saying that people make mistakes. I also don’t think that everybody cheats or has cheated either.
I detest people who judge others with moral indignation as if they always make the right choices in their lives’. It’s always the loudest and most adamant protestor that has the most to hide. As for her taking responsibility for her actions, who does?

livelaughlove21's avatar

I was probably one of those “hostile”, “righteous” people that you’re referring to. As @jonsblond said, the problem was that she 1) was going to keep it from her husband to “spare his feelings”, 2) was more concerned about the guy she cheated with than her husband, and 3) was constantly making excuses about being drunk, as if that somehow made it all okay.

Everyone makes mistakes, but like I said in the thread, we need to take responsibility for these mistakes, not hide behind half-assed excuses like a coward. That’s why I was supposedly “being mean to her”. People don’t like to be told they’re in the wrong, and often get defensive when they know it’s true.

And I’m wondering what the alternative would be to the supposed cheater-hating? Saying it’s okay just because it’s common? Being common doesnt make it right. Not very many people think cheating on a spouse is a good thing, but it happens. It’s how the person behaves afterward that determines what kind of person they are.

No one called her a horrible person or said she should rot in hell because she made out with some guy. It was no doubt a painfully immature situation, but it was how she handled it that people had a problem with.

jonsblond's avatar

@Akua As for her taking responsibility for her actions, who does?

Many people take responsibility for their actions. I have.

Akua's avatar

@livelaughlove21 I agree with #2 and #3. I do not however think she should tell her husband and possibly ruin her life over a one night indiscretion but again this is my opinion.

Akua's avatar

Good for you @jonsblond, more need to follow your example then.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@Akua Perhaps she should’ve thought of that when she stuck her tongue down office boy’s throat, hm?

What if she had sex with him? Would it be best to tell her husband then? Where exactly is the line of acceptability on divulging your infidelity to the person you supposedly love?

bolwerk's avatar

Our ape genes probably are expressing themselves in the mating sphere. Medium- or even long-term monogamy may be reasonably normal, but lifelong monogamy is probably biologically a bit unusual. We even admit as much these days, and expect our young’uns to experiment before marriage – we just, for some reason, expect the marriages to last. So biological imperative probably bumps up against a powerful but fading social stigma.

Let’s face it, we take marriage less seriously than our more superstitious ancestors did. And then, we probably wildly underestimate how much they cheated, how much they passed partners around, etc. ‘Cause Gallup wasn’t around to ask them.

Akua's avatar

@livelaughlove21 I’m not disagreeing with you, I’m just trying to show another side of the coin. It was only a kiss. It was wrong. Very wrong, but life is not always so black and white and telling him about this incident won’t make him or her feel any better about what happened. I think it’s a lot better for her to carry around the guilt eating her up daily while she spends all her spare time making it up to him, rather than to absolve herself of the guilt by coming “clean”. And the comment ”@Akua Perhaps she should’ve thought of that when she stuck her tongue down office boy’s throat, hm?” sounds a bit hostile over a drunken kiss. Relax. If I were you I wouldn’t take it so personally because what goes around does come around, so whether she tells him or not, it’ll come back to her.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@Akua I wasn’t being hostile, I was being honest. And I certainly wasn’t taking it personal. She didn’t cheat on me. Calling it “just a drunken kiss” means nothing to me. Many people find kissing to be more intimate than sex, drunken or not. We don’t own up to our mistakes to make someone feel better, we do it because it’s the right thing to do.

I have to agree with you on one thing though. It’ll come back to her for sure.

Akua's avatar

Exactly @bolwerk. I don’t think our ancestors took marriage more seriously, it was just easier to hide the indiscretions if you cared to hide them at all. In most family histories you will find some story about infidelity. And in most ‘civilized’ societies it was not only common but it was expected for a man to marry “well” and then have a mistress on the side. I’m not so naive as to believe that my husband and I are never going to attracted to anyone else or get tired of each other during this “til death do us part” marriage, it takes work. We have talked about it and both agree as to what would be done if one of us ever cheated on another. I said I would want to know and he said he wouldn’t want to know. @livelaughlove21 a person can own up to their mistakes without making it public or telling their spouse. The right thing to do is to be true to herself which she wasn’t when she kissed her co-worker. She has to come to terms with what she did and why she did it. Yes, kissing is personal and if she knows her husband is not going to forgive her and it was JUST a one time mistake then why punish him? Her guilt is not going away just because she confesses so it’s definately not going to help her. I think most people want her to confess under the guise of taking responsibility because they believe that her husband leaving her is her punishment. We don’t know the circumstances in her relationship or her life and no one deserves to lose their entire life over one kiss.

Coloma's avatar

I am one that has never cheated in any of my relationships and yes, I have been the cheated on as well.
To me it is just such a no brainer and I too, do not suffer fools gladly.
My integrity is very important to me and while I believe that a one time mistake should not blacklist a person forever, I am completely intolerant of all the bullshit, self protective rationalizations people employ to cover up the stench of shitting in their marital beds.
I am VERY passionate about having integrity and being honest with ourselves and others.

Since when is advocating integrity a bad thing?
Pffft!

burntbonez's avatar

I am a person people talk to. I think it’s because I seem so non-threatening. I guess this is why I have a number of friends, even if I don’t have a significant other.

People talk to me, and tell me stories that I believe. They often confess their infidelities to me. Often. What is often? Sorry, I can’t really quantify that. Maybe it’s only a small portion of the people I talk to, but it is a high proportion of the people I talk to about serious stuff.

The interesting thing is that these people are often very vehement about how horrible cheating is in public. Now, some of them may have indeed learned their lesson, and are now faithful, but I do find it ironic. Indeed, most do say they never want to cheat again. Some have told their spouses, and others haven’t. Some have spouses who did revenge cheating. Which, oddly, seems to work. Balances the books, I guess.

I think people toe the line in public because it is so socially unacceptable not to. The woman yesterday got a lot of shit, and no one who gave it to her is repentant. This is an issue that provokes people to be very self-righteous.

I think the people who are most self-righteous about it have been hurt the most by this issue. Either they have been cheated on, or they have cheated. I think they are fighting their own pain, and trying to create a world where people don’t cheat so they won’t be in danger of that pain. In my experience, people are most vehement about issues that affect them the most, personally. The others don’t care so much, and avoid the issue. And yes. That’s why I’m answering.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I am against cheating and hope I would never do it, but it’s not our place to judge others. But as others mentioned there is social mores against cheating since many people get hurt by it. So I’m sure cheaters aren’t real proud of themselves so why admit it.

Coloma's avatar

Well I can say I have always had a strong sense of integrity, and while I have had the very painful experience of discovering I had been living a lie with a longterm liar and cheater, that is ancient history now, well over a decade ago, and while I do feel strongly about this issue I am not reacting from any place of unhealed emotional angst on my behalf.
Actually I have to say that I am grateful for my experience because it lent itself to a massive amount of personal growth and to aiding in who I am today.

However, yes, I will certainly admit that I will always feel more empathy for the one who is deceived than for the deceiver.
Not any different than feeling empathy for crime victims more so than the perpetrators.
I may have compassion for the abused person that morphs into a violent offender, yes, that’s really sad, but, in the end I will always champion the victim, as it should be.
It is all about choices and in the same way that not every person who has had a less than perfect childhood grows up to be a criminal, not every person in an unhappy marriage, or phase of their marriage, cheats.

Besides, why WOULDN’T someone who has actually walked a few miles in the shoes of the betrayed NOT feel extra strongly about such an issue?
This too is human nature.
Call me self righteous if you wish, at least I can look at the woman in the mirror and really, really like what I see, knowing that I have never blatantly and recklessly harmed another.
To err may be human, but to take responsibility is divine.

Akua's avatar

Some of the reactions that I have read bring Gertrude’s Law to mind

Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, is famous for her quote “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”. Gertrude’s Law states that if a person is overly passionate about condemning a certain lifestyle choice, they most likely engage in that lifestyle secretly. Some notable examples are Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, and most recently Arifinto, an Indonesian MP who helped pass an anti-pornography law. He was later photographed looking at porn on his iPad during a parliamentary debate.
Anyway,no one has the monopoly on integrity and I’m not going to tell anyone that I have more integrity than this person or that person just because I never cheated. No one here is saying that cheating or breaking the bonds of trust in a relationship are okay and sure you can walk in anothers’ shoes but if your halo is blinding the path your walking on your not really seeing shit. And yes I have been cheated on and been the cheater, so I can honestly say I have really walked in both pairs of shoes.

Coloma's avatar

@Akua I agree that the psychology you present is true in many instances, however, it is equally true that one can still have strong convictions about something from a place of self awareness rather than projection. I despise and can spot manipulative and passive aggressive behavior a mile away, not because I am covering up my own tendencies towards these behaviors, but because I have educated myself on what to watch for, red flag behaviors.
Recognizing dysfunctional behaviors in others does not automatically mean one is over reacting based on their own denial of said traits.
This IS true for unconscious people, but not for those who have awakened to a large degree.

I can admit that I was tempted at one time, but I choose to not cross that line because it is true, ultimately we harm ourselves more than anyone else when first we practice to deceive.
My choice in rejecting a potential affair partner really had much more to do with wanting to preserve my integrity over not harming my ex, whom I certainly could have justified harming. lol

tranquilsea's avatar

If 40% are cheating then that means 60% are not. I’m not a cheater nor will I ever be. If you freely enter into an agreement where you promise to be faithful and then you’re not then you are betraying the agreement you have. You can in today’s day and age agree to an open relationship. Then your partner, eyes wide open, can agree or disagree. But, if you go behind your partner’s back and cheat you are breaking your original agreement.

I also understand that mistakes happen.

wundayatta's avatar

I, too, have walked in both pairs of shoes.

The problem, it seems to me, is the need to lay blame. The common narrative is that the cheater is always the bad guy. By focusing on that narrative, or myth, people don’t have to deal with the fact that the person cheated on is also to blame. We could, if we wanted, discuss how much blame, but that may serve no purpose.

Unfortunately, I never hear people who have been cheated on talking about their role in creating the conditions where the infidelity takes place. At least, not here. My wife was willing to share the blame with me half and half, and that made a big difference. I could not see fixing our marriage if she were always blaming me for cheating on her.

Our therapist said that most couples don’t fix their marriages. Infidelity is very difficult to fix by the time you get to therapy. I’m sure many couples manage to fix things without therapy, but therapists tend to see the worst cases. So by that time, it’s hard to fix it. Still, he said, it is very important the the blame be shared. If one person is 100% wrong and the other 100% right, then things are too uneven to fix.

I wonder why blame should even be allocated. It seems to me that if you want to fix the relationship, blame gets in the way if it isn’t 50/50. If you want to establish blame, then you don’t really want the relationship, any more.

As to the data—when I researched this, I found the numbers were all over the place. At the low end, only 10% cheat. At the high end, 90%. It’s not a subject that lends itself to getting good data.

I asked a similar question once, and I think someone answered that people disapprove of cheating because they don’t want to be cheated on. But they are still willing to cheat. This of course brings out a lot of guilt. How could they do that? Why did they do it? How did they lose control? Who are they? This is not who they thought they were or saw themselves as.

It’s easy to see how this would lead to some denial and cognitive dissonance, and in order to convince themselves they have changed and would never do this again, they become very vocal against the behavior they have eschewed.

Of course, we’ll never know for sure if this explanation is accurate. We can’t get good data. I do know that people tell one story in public and another in private. I think we all do that in other areas. So it seems reasonable to expect people would do it on this subject, too.

What would happen if people told the truth and it turned out there was a lot of cheating going on? Would we all point fingers and accuse people of hypocrisy? Would anyone relax their view and see people more acceptingly if they knew how often it happened?

I doubt it. People see this from the point of view of being cheated on. They don’t want that. So they blame themselves if they have strayed.

When I found out I could cheat, I felt horrible. I blamed myself. I had a built in explanation: being bipolar. But that didn’t matter. It was not acceptable that I was a cheater. It meant, to me, that I was a horrible person, a person who didn’t deserve a wife and kids and a family and a home and a job. I grew very depressed and I wanted to end up in a gutter in the Bowery, sleeping in fish slops. That was the only way I could imagine living, and even then, I didn’t want to live for long. I started trying to figure out how to kill myself.

It turned out that I had to find a way to be ok with being a cheater in order to live. It wasn’t enough for my wife to forgive me. I had to come to terms with it. In the end, I had to say it didn’t matter that I am a cheater. That’s not the same as saying it is ok to cheat. I am a cheater. I may not cheat again. Or a might cheat again. But the fact that I have cheated means I am a cheater forever more.

But that is irrelevant. That is not who I am. I can be a good person despite being a cheater. I can be a good husband and father, despite being a cheater. In my case, this has to be true because I could not live with myself otherwise. And I don’t want to die.

Anyway, this experience has made me realize I can not make that promise ever again. I made it once. I will do my best, but I was wrong to have made it. I didn’t know that. If I could go back in time, I would. Meanwhile, I have responsibilities to take care of, so I can’t just leave my marriage.

I think a lot of people make that promise, not knowing what they are getting into. People are pressured into it because society puts that pressure on you. It is the way things work. Or are supposed to work. Except it doesn’t work. And then people have to figure out how to get along doing something that isn’t really right, even if no one wants to be cheated on.

Akua's avatar

@Coloma I totally get what your saying and I agree. As for being tempted, it does happen to the best of us. And it was never my intention to insinuate that YOU were a cheater just because you are passionate. Just wanted to clear that up. smile.

Coloma's avatar

I liken cheating to purchasing a used car.
Hmm…what would you rather risk buying, a salvaged title with a history of wreckage or a one owner vehicle with maintenance records. lol
I am much more forgiving of really young people making these mistakes than I am, of supposedly “mature” people.

@Akua I didn’t take your response personally, just wished to expound a bit more on your sharing. You do present a valid and factual point of the projection self defense mechanism that is often employed by the guilty party.
I learned about that in my marriage when my ex, who was cheating, flipped out when I was going to do some work related traveling with my bosses son. He accused me of wanting to get fucked in a hotel room and how easy it would be for me to do that.
Uh…no, that would be YOU dear! lol

Shippy's avatar

I’d like to pipe in and say, loll. That I believe it happens more than we know. The ideal is communication and honesty. Meaning discussing why it happened, and perhaps growing from it, and altering things that went wrong. Not including serial cheaters who just simply cheat of course. But how many individuals have that capacity really? To work through it? The maturity, the ability?

I cant remember who but someone posted their husband would leave them if they kissed a guy? Without discussion? what if there were children involved? Heavens, imagine that, leaving and destroying a family over a kiss. I’d be worried. When real life hits a person, a kiss is so silly in the bigger scheme of things, I think anyway.

Akua's avatar

HAHAHAHA!!!! @Coloma you tell that last part about your ex so funny I laughed out loud. I have seen that in my own personal life too many times. @wundayatta I guess we’re the only cheaters here…? It’s true that the biggest hurdle is forgiving yourself. The stress built up in me from the guilt would do more damage than good. It seems as though as soon as I stopped putting those societal/biblical expections on my life, the less tempted I am to cheat. I had an opportunity over the holidays and just walked away. I wasn’t the least bit interested. Now I’m not going to get all holier than thou nor am I going to break my arm patting myself on the back because it was the right thing to do but maybe the acceptance of it took away it’s power over me. Reverse psychology?

Coloma's avatar

@Akua Haha…yeah well..I was so baffled at the time, until I learned what “projection” was. Light bulb moment.
Hey, a one time slip and learning from the error of your ways is in no way the same as being a flagrant, multiple convictions, repeat offender infidel.
One strike and you may be ousted, 3 strikes and you deserve to be locked into a chastity belt and have the key thrown down a fucking well. lol

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

Because people are more likely to brag about fidelity than about cheating on their partners?

livelaughlove21's avatar

@Akua Let’s agree to disagree. I think all of it is one big bullshit excuse from a woman too scared and weak to tell her husband the truth. I’d want to know if my husband made out with another woman. Would it hurt me? Yeah. Would it make him feel bad? Yeah. Would it possibly end our relationship? Yeah. But none of those are good reasons to lie to your spouse about cheating on them.

bkcunningham's avatar

If you bring home a STD or a pregnancy to your spouse you’ll have some ‘splaining to do then.

Akua's avatar

@livelaughlove21 agreed! (I wasn’t trying to convince you…)
@bkcunningham Well the OP was about kissing but I guess she could have given hubby Mono or the flu. LOL. Anyone that cheats and doesn’t have the common sense to protect their own life by wearing a condom is a moron and that’s another topic entirely. Whether your cheating or not if your having sex with anyone under any circumstances you should be wearing a condom. It’s called survival of the fittest for a reason.

Haleth's avatar

Marriage and monogamy are kind of the default settings in our society. If you don’t marry or stay monogamous, you’re going against the grain. The emphasis on marriage is stronger in some cultures than others, and it’s not as strong as it was in the past. But it’s still something that we collectively value and see as a part of adulthood, just like getting a job or getting your own place to live.

The problem is, marriage nowadays puts way too many expectations on the spouses. You’re supposed to be lifelong companions, passionate sex partners, responsible with finances, and great parents- and find all these qualities in just one person. That’s a lot of hats. The nuclear family is also a pretty recent development; in the past, extended families would help out with raising the children, which diffused some of the stress on parents.

My parents each went through two divorces, and growing up, I hardly knew anybody whose families were intact. There are a lot of factors to keep marriage from lasting. People want to think it doesn’t apply to them, and that it’s something that only happens to others. It’s easier to cast stones that way.

bkcunningham's avatar

@Akua, I didn’t see the question that spurred this one from @jca. If someone is drunk enough to claim not to have their senses about them, anything is possible. The claim I hear some many times about unwanted pregnancies is that accidents happen even with protection. So, I say if you cheat, you had better be ready for the consequences. If you are going to dance, you have to be ready to pay the piper.

jca's avatar

@bkcunningham: That question is currently being edited. Whether if by the choice of the OP or by the mods, I am not sure.

wundayatta's avatar

Well, I’m the piper, and I almost always pipe for free. Even when I do get paid, it isn’t very much. I have a feeling it’s like that for most pipers. People don’t like to pay much for music in this here country. Which is to say, you might be prepared to pay the piper, but but pipers are cheaper than you think.

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