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Does Everyone Cheat? Can Married Couples Stay Faithful?


By Tammy Nelson, Ph.D

It seems like in the news every day someone famous is cheating – mostly famous and powerful men cheating on their beautiful wives.  From the outside, these couples look privileged and happy.  They have good looking kids, fame and fortune, and a big house.  So how come they cant stay faithful?

Can love and desire really work as the glue that keeps couples together?  Men and women marry to express a meaningful commitment of sexual fidelity to each other, in the eyes of their family, peers, and community.  As a couple’s therapist, I see marriages every day that struggle to maintain this love and desire throughout a committed lifetime together.

Monogamy may be the only thing that remains essential to marriage. Because people no longer marry for economic, dynastic, or procreative reasons, as they did for millennia, monogamy means simply a legal commitment or vow to a primary partner, assuming some exclusive bond between partners.

However, even though we appear to be committed to monogamy in theory, our actions tell a different story.

Research varies, but according to some surveys, such as those reported by Joan Atwood and Limor Schwartz in the 2002 Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 55 percent of married women and 65 percent of married men report being unfaithful at some point in their marriage. Up to one-half of married women have at least one lover after they’re married and before the age of 40.

However, the good news is that more and more couples are deciding to try and make their relationships work, even after infidelity.  They are deciding that the grass is not always greener on the other side.  It’s not always the best solution to think that you can trade your partner in for another model and that somehow this new love will last longer and be better.

But is infidelity inevitable? Can we avoid the expiration date for marriage that so many couples experience?

One key way, although somewhat cliché, to keep your marriage strong and affair proofed is to be honest – but I am talking about a specific type of honesty – sexual honesty.

Sexual honesty means being open about what your desires may be, where your fantasies take you and what you might like to try with your partner.  This is, in fact, one of the best ways to create intimacy while at the same time recognizing that you are two separate people, brought together to experience intimacy and joy.  And that you can never take that for granted. It is not a fait acompli that if you work on your relationship your sex life will be great. In fact, if you don’t work on your erotic life together, your whole relationship will feel stuck.

Bert and Joan came into my office for couples therapy.  They both complained that they felt that they loved each other but felt they were no longer in love.    The “passion was gone” and both were at risk of going outside the marriage for their sexual needs.  Bert said “Living with Joan is nice, but it feels like living with a roommate.”  Joan agreed.

Instead of working on the daily grind of being married, raising children, managing a home – Joan and Bert worked in therapy to increase their erotic connection.  As a couple, they shared their fantasies with each other and slowly the erotic energy started to come back to the relationship.  Bert no longer dreaded going home and Joan started sleeping in their bed again, instead of on the couch or with the kids.

Passion is not only something that happens at the initial stages of marriage but can last throughout your lifetime.  Don’t let the powerful celebrity hype where everyone seems to be cheating discourage you from working on your own marriage.  It is possible to stay married and not cheat.  But it takes work – work that’s fun and sexy.

Dr. Tammy Nelson PhD, LPC is a licensed psychotherapist and author with over 20 years experience working with individuals and couples. She is also the author of several books including “Getting the Sex You Want” and “Whats Eating You?”She travels worldwide to train therapists, doctors and health practitioners.  Her passion is to help couples increase their connection regardless of boredom or conflict.  Her new book “The New Monogamy; Erotic Recovery after Infidelity” will be released in 2012.  To connect with Tammy visit