Why do men — and women — cheat?: A universal question
11 November 2012 /SEVGI AKARÇEŞME
This article was originally going to analyze why men cheat on their relationship partners, like so much other work that has asked the same question, but talking to experts made it clear that it would be somewhat unfair to focus solely on men since women, too, have begun to confess to cheating. It seems that, regardless of the various reasons cited such as disconnection in a relationship or simply availability of an opportunity to an affair, the cheating cases are on the rise.
Despite the understandable difficulties of talking about a sensitive subject like cheating, the issue will always be a topic of conversation between close friends and a source of juicy gossip. The growing number of cases we all hear about, though, makes it worthy of analyzing a bit more carefully, especially in terms of its impact on society.
After an İstanbul-based family counselor told Sunday’s Zaman about a case in which a wife cheated on her husband for six years of their nine-year marriage, it was almost inevitable to re-evaluate the common belief that men disproportionally cheat more than women. After all, it takes two to tango. Ironically, the wife in this case is reportedly very fond of her husband, and “feels peaceful and secure next to her husband, who would never ever leave her,” a statement that invalidates the assumption that it is only men who go after excitement and adrenaline outside the relationship while maintaining a serene and even ideal-looking family life at home.
According to family and relationship therapist Didar Kantarcı from Sevda Counseling Services in İstanbul, there are very little scientific data on the issue of adultery in Turkey, but in her own research conducted for her master’s degree thesis, she found that men have a higher incidence rate of adultery, but “women might be more reluctant to confess for social reasons.”
In Britain, where more data are available, Catherine Mercer, Ph.D., from the University College of London’s Centre for Sexual Health & HIV Research, agreed, commenting in an interview with Sunday’s Zaman that “we find that men are more likely than women to report concurrent or overlapping sexual partnerships.” According to her, “this reflects a greater social acceptance, traditionally at least, of men having multiple partners simultaneously and a greater number of sexual partners in general.” However, she adds that “when comparing data from the first and second National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, taken in Great Britain in 1990-91 and 2000-01, we find that the gender gap in reported numbers of partners narrowed such that women, at least in Britain, may be feeling increasingly comfortable reporting the truth about their sexual encounters.”
Any attempt to justify cheating is still nothing more than making excuses for immoral behavior. But experts seem to agree that the underlying reason for cheating is usually a disconnect in the relationship. Marriage therapist Kantarcı says that in cases of infidelity, “what is important is to keep calm and try to see the process that led to it,” while noting that “it is possible to completely recover the marriage after adultery.” She added that “if every infidelity led to divorce, there would hardly be any married couples left.”
Similarly, family therapist Şirin Hacıömeroğlu Atçeken says that cheating happens mostly because “people take each other and their marriages for granted,” and that “spouses get detached from each other when they do not have healthy communication.” She likened marriage to a wall that becomes weaker when cracks form and are allowed to grow bigger. According to Atçeken, “a third party could become involved when people in a relationship take on the roles of parenthood in particular.”
When asked why infidelity cases are on the rise, Kantarcı cites “the increase in options and opportunities for both men and women.” According to her, men who may already be more inclined to cheat become even more likely to do so when they have status and money. Kantarcı also says that now more and more women have the ability to use workplace responsibilities as an excuse to use to explain absences from home.
Surprisingly, both experts said that sometimes cheating happens without a real reason. For Kantarcı, “sometimes having the opportunity is enough,” and Atçeken noted in a supporting remark that “sometimes men cheat just because it was possible to do it, or because they are attracted to a different woman at the time.” The experts also share the view that the norm in society affects men’s behavior to a great extent. If the definition of manhood is based on how many women a man has been with, it leads to an increased trend in cheating.
A male blogger from İstanbul who is in his early 30s and writes about relationships — and prefers to remain anonymous — says that for him “the biggest motivation to cheat, even when I am in a successful relationship, is wondering whether there is someone better out there.” However, he adds that “as we become more mature and realize that there is always going to be someone better, we learn to settle down.” According to him, it is married men’s need for excitement that usually leads to cheating “since men are able to separate sexuality and emotions.” In a similar vein, contrasting some men’s and women’s priorities, Atçeken says that “women tend to seek emotional satisfaction when unhappy in a relationship.”
One other dimension that should not be overlooked in Turkey is that men who define themselves as religious tend to not classify their extramarital affairs as adultery as long as they have a “religious second marriage.” According to Kantarcı, “as long as these men provide for their official wife and do not neglect their family, they consider a second relationship as a right granted to them by means of a distorted and arbitrary interpretation of the Quran in a male dominant world.”
When it comes to forgiveness, not surprisingly, women tend to get over an episode of cheating more quickly because, according to Atçeken, “men cannot handle the thought of another man with their wife easily,” while women are more forgiving “mostly because it is harder for them to start a new life, especially after many years in a marriage.”
As long as there are men and women, there will be the temptation to cheat. Coupled with the fact that no perfect relationship will ever exist, cheating is likely to continue. What matters is facing this challenge and finding the means to resist the temptation.