Although the majority of couples intend to be monogamous, infidelity is both one of the most common and most feared reasons for relationship conflict and is one of the most talked-about issues in prenup planning. It can destroy a relationship, destroy a person’s self-esteem, and sabotage carefully-laid plans in a heartbeat.
Infidelity is difficult to quantify, because different people can have radically different ideas of what it means. For some, watching an x-rated film or even having a crush on someone else can amount to infidelity, while others would count only an actual physical act (Krouse, 2021). Some people might not even think of kissing as outright infidelity. Still others consider a certain degree of emotional closeness with a friend or perhaps a previous partner to be a more serious type of emotional infidelity than actually getting physical with someone else. Because of the sheer diversity of definitions and opinions on what constitutes infidelity, it is important to talk with your partner about where the boundaries are in your particular relationship.
Despite the vagueness in definition, researchers have made many attempts to find out how frequently people cheat. It appears that married men are slightly more likely overall to report having cheated than married women. However, the figures shift with each age group. And, while men are more likely to engage in physical infidelity, women are more likely to engage in emotional affairs. The likelihood of infidelity also appears to increase as a function of age, with 20% of older couples admitting to having dealt with infidelity in their marriages versus only 14% under the age of 55. The people who are statistically the most likely to cheat are those between the ages of 50 and 60 who have been married for 20-30 years. It is estimated that slightly over half eventually confess their affairs (Applebury, 2021).
Infidelity and Prenups
If you’re on this website, chances are you’re either in the process of writing your prenup, or planning to start soon–and it’s important to discuss with your partner whether it makes sense for you to include an infidelity clause. An infidelity clause typically stipulates that the cheating spouse must pay the other a fixed amount. It may also state that infidelity is grounds for divorce.
An infidelity clause is a type of lifestyle clause. It doesn’t have to just stipulate payment or divorce; It may also lay out plans for how the couple will prevent infidelity as well as how they plan to address it if it does become an issue (for example, by going to couple’s therapy). Like many lifestyle clauses, an infidelity clause (especially these latter parts) may not be legally enforceable, but it does make the couple more accountable to each other than they would be without putting something specific down in writing.
Below we’re going to explore some of the most common reasons for cheating. These can appear by themselves or in tandem with one another. We think that you should know about them because this awareness gives you the ability to prevent infidelity, understand it, and repair should it ever happen in your relationship.
1. Personal issues, traits, or beliefs
Some research shows that certain personality characteristics are associated with higher rates of infidelity. For example, someone who is highly risk-averse is seemingly less likely to cheat than someone who is more impulsive or more of a risk-taker (Selterman, Garcia, & Tsapelas, 2017).
Infidelity has also been correlated with low self-esteem, and there may be a causal relationship. This is because romantic or sexual attention from a new source can boost one’s sense of value or self-worth. This is particularly relevant for people who have an anxious-preoccupied attachment style (otherwise known as attachment anxiety). These are people who tend to fear abandonment or feel perpetually unsatisfied with the amount of love and attention they receive in relationships (Selterman, Garcia, & Tsapelas, 2017). These feelings could lead them to cheat in order to a.) preemptively react to perceived or feared abandonment by being the abandoning party instead, or b.) attempt to quench their thirst for love and affection.
Some people also cheat simply for the thrill and adventure that can come with sneaking around, even if they are generally happy with their partner (Krouse, 2021).
2. Problems with your partner/the relationship
Revenge is one of the top-cited reasons for infidelity; one study even found that over 50% of cheaters were at least partially motivated by anger at their partner (Selterman, Garcia, & Tsapelas, 2017). Anger or indignation paired with a feeling of righteousness can lead one to feel justified in being unfaithful. People with anxious preoccupied attachment styles (described above) as well as those with avoidant attachment styles (who may either eschew intimacy or both crave and fear it) are more likely to cite anger as a motivation for infidelity. (Selterman, Garcia, & Tsapelas, 2017).
Even more so than revenge, lack of passion (otherwise known as falling out of love) is the most commonly-cited reason for cheating. One study found that falling out of love was associated with avoidant attachment, belief in destiny, and a lack of strong romantic beliefs (Selterman, Garcia, & Tsapelas, 2017).
Moreover, it’s human nature (and also the easy way out) to look for sexual and emotional fulfillment outside of a relationship if that relationship ceases to adequately provide those things. People may look outside of their current relationships because they feel scared or unequipped to vocalize or address the problems in the relationship. Alternatively, they may already have tried and failed to address issues but still prefer to stay in the relationship rather than leaving it outright. (Krouse, 2021).
It sometimes takes a passionate encounter with a new person for one to admit that the passion has fizzled from their initial partnership (Krouse, 2021). This is perhaps the reason cheating most commonly occurs after couples have already been married for two or three decades, but it is a 100% avoidable end result. There are a multitude of ways to reignite passion in a relationship, any of which are preferable to infidelity.
Some people also cheat out of a strong desire for variety in partners. This is more commonly associated with men than women (Selterman, Garcia, & Tsapelas, 2017) and can also be indicative of a problem with the relationship, though it isn’t necessarily. In some cases, it can also be because monogamy is the wrong relationship model for one of the partners (Krouse, 2021).
At the more extreme end of the scale, infidelity can also be a way to escape a toxic or abusive relationship (Krouse, 2021).
3. Situational factors
Situational factors can include everything from consuming too much alcohol and being presented with a spontaneous opportunity, long or frequent business trips away from one’s partner, and even just easy access to online dating sites and apps (Krouse, 2021). Arguably, situational factors work in conjunction with a combination of personality traits, personal issues, and problems with the relationship (aforementioned) to increase the likelihood of infidelity.
Whether or not you ultimately choose to include an infidelity clause in your prenup, the process of writing your prenup and all of the future planning and contemplation that come along with it present an excellent opportunity to reflect on, prepare for, and guard against the possibility of infidelity. No one wants to consider that a worst-case scenario like infidelity could happen in their relationship, even though it is a relatively common occurrence. However, being left without a plan should an unforeseen challenge appear further down the line is exponentially worse than the discomfort that can come from making a contingency plan in advance, just in case.
Contrary to popular belief, planning for the worst can make it less likely to happen. When we give attention to an unsavory possibility, we raise our awareness of it and are therefore more empowered to guard against it. Consider the reasons for infidelity listed above with an eye towards your unique relationship + both of your personalities and patterns. Doing so will give you the awareness necessary to address any predispositions, problems, or situations which could lead to infidelity later if left unchecked. Taking an honest look at any issues in advance is one of the best ways to reinforce the long-term sustainability of a relationship. Talk with your partner about whether you would like your prenup to cover infidelity, and talk with each other about preventing it, as well.
You don’t need to think your partner is cheating to consider a prenup though – as prenups are for everyone that wants that extra insurance on your marriage agreement. With HelloPrenup you can work collaboratively to create a prenup that is affordable and from the comfort of your own home!
Julia Rodgers is HelloPrenup’s CEO and Co-Founder. She is a Massachusetts family law attorney and true believer in the value of prenuptial agreements. HelloPrenup was created with the goal of automating the prenup process, making it more collaborative, time efficient and cost effective. Julia believes that a healthy marriage is one in which couples can openly communicate about finances and life goals. You can read more about us here Questions? Reach out to Julia directly at [email protected].