Infidelity by powerful men is not far from the headlines. Yet, regardless of age or race, both men and women cheat. The statistics of infidelity in monogamous relationships range widely from reports that about 28-60 percent of married men and 14-40 percent of married women being unfaithful. The higher rates or recent infidelity statistics probably represent more current data as a result of internet and proximity applications that make infidelity more anonymous, accessible, and affordable. So why is it that infidelity is more skewed towards males?
Most common indicators of infidelity seem to focus on men’s emotional dissatisfaction. Dr. Gary Neuman interviewed over 200 couples for his book “The Truth About Cheating”. He reported that 48% of men rated emotional dissatisfaction as the primary reason for infidelity. Only 8% of men rated sexual dissatisfaction as the reason. Apparently, men want appreciation and acknowledgement, but are unable to express these desires, and hence, seek solace elsewhere for emotional loneliness.
Newman also discovered that another reason why men cheat is that this behavior may be condoned through association with other men who cheated. It appears that when guys discuss their affairs with eachother, it legitimizes their behavior and diminishes their sense of guilt, therefore, non-guilt by association.
Power certainly may play a role. For instance, in a large scale survey , Joris Lammers and colleagues, at Tilburg University, found that the more power people had, the more likely they were to be more confident and unfaithful. Interestingly, research in college students, which found that when both male and female students were given a temporary sense of power, they tended to flirt more with a stranger of the opposite sex who sat next to them.
According to Dr Terri Orbuch, a Huffington contributor, men of power deal with a combination of factors that propel infidelity, including the sheer presence of temptation, loneliness (at the top), a craving for the adrenalin rush, the need for ego approval, and the belief that they are impervious to getting caught or can conceal their transgressions because of the resources at their disposal. She also noted that powerful men cheat when they want to experience change.
In my own therapy practice I have noticed through anecdotal reports that many older men become unfaithful as a result of the insecurities of aging: the search for validation of their prowess, fear of mortality that is assuaged through sex, looking to sex as a source of individual meaning.
What these reports affirm are the old social norms of infidelity; the culpability of women, the good old boy culture of men, and the affirmation of masculinity through sex and power. For example, since loneliness and the lack of appreciation and affirmation are one of the main causes of cheating behavior in men, wives are blamed for not showing appreciation, or affirming the man’s efforts, thoughts, and feelings, or validating his sexuality. Conversely, the “other” woman is often blamed as temptress, plying her charms to overcome the hapless male.
What is not addressed in this discourse is the underlying systemic damage by male socialization and restricted gender roles that propel male cheating behavior. Emotional loneliness is the result of suppressed emotionality, stunted relationship skills, and the fear of being seen as weak or needy, that are the expectations of masculine ideals. The inability to practice emotional fluency, compassion, empathy and kindness will result in lack of transparency and honesty in relationship. The belief that it is unmanly to ask for support or appreciation recreates dysfunctional power dynamics by building resentments, anger, potential violence and vengeance. The sense of entitlement to women’s bodies dismisses a value system that encourages equality and acceptance in couple interactions, and, the validation of manhood through sex provides men the entitlement to seek sexual solace elsewhere.
Regardless of sexual orientation or the sexual agreements a couple makes, infidelity needs to be seen from both a personal and social lense. Relationships require that men make a commitment to self awareness and understanding of how their male privileges, insecurities, and fears of vulnerability and weakness distances them from their most intimate partners and leads them into potential ruinous infidelities, emotional, sexual, or other forms of secrecy, including pornography, workplace dalliances, internet chatting and hook-ups, and more.