Adultery, cheating, infidelity are words that can provoke swift and emotional responses in even the most rational of human beings. Although it is estimated that between one half and three quarters of all spouses will at some point in their marriage have sex with someone other than their lawful partners, adultery remains one of the most hotly contested issues in society. The major religions forbid it, the law views it as grounds for divorce, and most people say they disapprove of it. But what is cheating? Why do people do it and what effect does it have on the relationship in which it occurs?
Within a relationship, cheating is a violation of the agreement that the two individuals have made, whether those terms are explicit or implicit. In a legal marriage the contract states that the partners must not have sexual intercourse with anyone other than the spouse for the duration of the marriage. Here fidelity is explicit. In other relationships fidelity is often implied by societal mores. When a couple first begins a relationship, there are relatively few constraints on their behavior, but as the relationship progresses into one characterized by sexual and emotional intimacy, the assumption is often made that since the two are sleeping together, they will not sleep with anyone else for the duration of the relationship. This implicit expectation of fidelity is as important as if it were spelled out in a legal document.
THE CHANGING NATURE OF MARRIAGE.
In traditional societies marriage provides a firm foundation in which to raise children, continue family lines and unite families and communities. It allows women to have a future in societies in which their participation in the workforce is restricted and also provides for the transmission of culture from one generation to the next. In such societies, love is not used as a foundation for marriage because it is an emotion and as such, does not provide a solid basis for an ostensibly lifetime commitment. The choice of a marriage partner is so important that families become involved in the selection process. The traditional belief is that if two people appear to be compatible on the major demographic variables, such as race, caste or class, religion, educational level, etc., it’s considered a good match and love will develop over time.
As societies modernize there are shifts in population, as people move from the rural areas to the cities in search of jobs. Such moves take them away from their communities and leave them to fend for themselves in terms of lifestyle and marriage.
In modernized societies, the choice of a spouse becomes more of an individual decision. Perhaps due to the separation from traditional sources of support like family and community, individuals who live in cities often report feeling lonely, and may turn to marriage to fill the void. There is less emphasis on the demographic characteristics of a potential mate and more emphasis on the emotional relationship between the two people. In modern, urbanized societies people marry for love – a delightful emotion, but an emotion nevertheless. Deprived of our traditional surroundings and our usual sources of support and identity, we look to our spouse to be everything we need. We expect our partners to be our friend, lover, confidante and provider. We expect a great deal from our spouses because they have to replace our childhood friends, parents, siblings, and other relatives. Is it realistic to expect one person to provide for all of our needs for the rest of our lives?
Modernization also results in a rise in the average level of education for both sexes. As having a job becomes the key to survival, a higher level of education is correlated with a more prestigious, higher-paying job. Such a position often results in more discretionary income and more leisure time. Prestigious jobs, free time and money to spend can introduce an individual to a wider variety of people and situations thereby increasing the chances that people who are unhappy with their marriages will find opportunities for adultery.
Some societal changes have had an impact on women more than men. Rising levels of education, coupled with improvements in birth control technology have given women options for controlling the timing and the number of their children. Demographers have pointed to the correlation between educational level and family size; highly educated women have fewer children. They are also more likely than their less educated counterparts to work outside the home and at more prestigious and demanding jobs. Women are now entering the higher echelons of the workplace in record numbers. Modern thinking has allowed women to go into fields previously dominated by men, but there has not been a concomitant increase in the number of men going into traditionally female fields. In medicine, for example, more women are becoming medical doctors but men are not breaking down the doors of nursing schools to enter this characteristically female profession.
As women enter male domains, they tend to adopt male behaviors. Women who engage in high-powered, stressful work often exhibit rates of heart disease and other stress-related disorders that are similar to those found among their male counterparts. One phenomenon that also occurs more frequently as women break down the hallowed walls of tradition is adultery. Women now have the time, the money and the opportunity to engage in what was once thought of as a uniquely male peccadillo. Social trends can help explain adultery but the decision to cheat on one’s partner is an individual one. There are many reasons why people cheat on their partners but what is the nature of an affair?
Part 2 coming soon – what is the nature of an affair