Far too often, people try to understand infidelity only after it rears its ugly head in their relationships. It comes as such a shock, and it redefines the entire dynamic between you and your partner overnight. Getting your head around what caused it is a long, painful process, and it’s vital if you want to move on. But what if your relationship hasn’t been rocked by infidelity, and you’re simply worried that it might happen to you in the future? Well, this article is for people in either situation. That’s because understanding how infidelity works allows you to either prevent it outright, or to pick up the pieces and move on after it happens. For today’s article, I decided to compile some of the most important infidelity statistics, and use them as a jumping off point to better explore this difficult topic. By taking a look at the overall patterns and causes, I hope to empower you to avoid any of the traps plenty of couples fall into, and to give you the clarity you need to move on if you’ve been hurt by cheating.
First, we’re going to go over the basic definition of infidelity when it comes to statistics, and then we’ll move into the broader definition of unfaithfulness in a relationship. After that I’ll discuss three key statistics that really illustrate the root causes of cheating, as well as highlighting the easiest ways to prevent it.
Understanding Infidelity Statistics
For this article, I’m going to be using data from the recent General Social Survey (GSS), as well as a survey by the Health Testing Centers, both of which define infidelity as “having sex with someone other than your spouse while married.” For research purposes, putting such a narrow definition on infidelity is hugely important: nuance would sway the data in a way that would make it unusable. However, before we dive into the numbers, I think it’s worth it for a moment to talk about the broader definition of infidelity.
My Definition of Infidelity
Infidelity doesn’t have to mean sex, or even physical contact. Plenty of people don’t cheat on their partners outright, but dabble in grey areas. This could mean flirting with someone in person, having a friendship that’s charged with sexual tension, or any number of behaviors online. The thing here is that it’s easy to justify these actions on a technicality: you’re not actually cheating! But, of course, deep down you know it’s wrong. The easiest test is, ‘would you feel comfortable behaving this way if your partner could see you?’ That gets to the real root of infidelity: secretly betraying your partner’s trust in you.
With that being said, infidelity causes the greatest damage when it’s physical, and this kind of cheating is the hardest for a couple to recover from. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to be using data that focuses on affairs or one-night-stands, but if you’re curious about the broader definitions of infidelity, check out our article on emotional cheating.
So, let’s take a look at some of the statistics and what we can learn from them:
Who Cheats More, Men or Women?
According to data from the GSS, 20% of married men and 13% of married women in the US report that they’ve had sex with someone else while married. When looking at broader international trends, it appears men are generally more likely to cheat than women across different regions, demographics, and cultures, although the exact percentages do fluctuate.
Before I get into this next part, I want to make it clear that explaining the causes of cheating are never meant to justify it. However, it is important to try to understand why people cheat if we want to prevent it, or address it once it’s happened. So, what can we make of this?
Well, when it comes to a fact as broad as “men cheat more than women”, it’s helpful to take a look at the biological explanation for the behavior. That’s because looking at it this way explains why it’s so cross-cultural! So, let’s look at this statistic through the lens of animals and evolution, and it’ll start to make sense: all animals have a strong drive to mate, because the hard wired-goal of any animal is to procreate and ensure that their genes are passed to the next generation. This is simple evolution, and it’s what keeps life on earth going. For females, however, procreation comes with some significant risks! It can mean being pregnant for a long period of time, and investing a ton of energy into feeding and bearing offspring, which is dangerous in the wild. The best strategy for them to ensure that their genes get passed on is to rely on the protection of their partner or communities during this dangerous period. For males, of course, things are a bit easier: the best strategy is to get as many females pregnant as possible! It’s a low-effort activity, and the chances of their offspring surviving to carry on their genes increases when there are more of them. The challenge is finding a female that’s willing to bear their offspring. As we can see in nature, female animals typically have to fight off countless suitors before settling on one that seems like the best match. Often, this means more than finding a male that looks healthy, it’s finding a male that’s going to offer the most protection and be most able to ensure the survival of the female and their offspring. The males, in turn, have to prove that if they want a chance to mate. You can see this conflict of quantity vs. quality play out with birds, monkeys, fish, and even insects. And you can probably see where I’m going with this: at the end of the day, we’re animals too.
Obviously, humans are a bit more nuanced, and have more than just primitive mating displays and an unyielding urge to procreate. Well, most of us are. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things in our subconscious that we’ve inherited from our evolutionary past! Many men feel the urge to “stay in the game”, or find themselves fantasizing about no-commitment hookups, long after they’re married. This has nothing to do with loving their spouse or not. The roots of this are those same evolutionary impulses that drive animals to mate: the need to pass on their genes as many times as possible, without anything stopping them from doing it again, and again. Today, many men simply experience this subconscious force as an innate desire for sex with as many partners as possible, with as few strings attached as possible. And plenty of happily married men succumb to the pressures of that force. That’s not to say that this is the only cause of cheating, (if it was, then how do you explain women who cheat?) but it goes a long way in explaining why men seem to cheat more in general.
With that being said, I want to make something clear: the ability to be better than our most basic instincts is what makes us human beings. Just because there’s an evolutionary explanation for our impulses, it doesn’t mean we have to act on them, and it doesn’t absolve us from blame when they cause us to hurt someone. We can, and most often are, better than that!
How Common is Cheating in Marriage?
In my years as a love and relationship expert, I’ve come across a common misconception about cheating time and time again: that there are born cheaters, as well as those who will never cheat, and it just takes luck to find a partner from that second category. Well, the harsh reality is that the likelihood of infidelity gradually increases as marriage goes on, meaning there are plenty of people who cheat for the first time after many, many years of marriage. This is true for both men and women: statistics from GSS and Health Testing Centers show that as people approach middle age, the rate of infidelity gradually climbs to 16% for women and 26% for men. After that, the rate drops for women as they get older, while it continues climbing for men all the way into their 80s.
This surprising statistic really highlights one of the key ingredients of a successful marriage: regular maintenance. As time goes on, things naturally begin to stagnate without any new stimulus, often leading people to seek excitement elsewhere. The key is to be aware that, even in a happy relationship, it’s not enough to simply accept the status quo and become complacent. With enough time and enough neglect, even the happiest marriages can fall prey to infidelity. Instead, being proactive, avoiding routine, and making healthy communication a habit greatly increases the chances that you’ll enjoy a happy marriage for many decades to come. If you’re wondering how you can break out of routine and rekindle the excitement in your relationship, check out our course for some tips!
What is the Percentage of Relationships That Work After Cheating?
When looking at how many people stay together after infidelity, versus how many people wind up getting divorced, the data from Health Testing Centers shows a discrepancy that you can probably expect: 54.5% of relationships were ended immediately by infidelity. 30% of respondents tried to stay together, but couldn’t overcome the damage to the relationship and divorced eventually. Finally, 15.6% of couples were able to overcome infidelity and are still together.
These statistics definitely reflect the immense damage that can be done by cheating, but it also goes to show that nothing is set in stone: 15.6% of relationships working out after cheating is a higher number than a lot of people might imagine. That said, we have worked tirelessly on compiling tools and techniques that can save a marriage post-cheating, because we know how hard it is when an individual or a couple has no guidance. We have made it our mission to increase the odds of a relationship’s survival even if cheating has occurred, and if you are curious about these powerful techniques, just click here.
What does infidelity mean for my relationship?
If your relationship has been rocked by infidelity, it’s completely natural to agonize over what the future holds for you and your partner. Let’s face it, this is the make-or-break moment in your marriage, and for plenty of people infidelity means the end. However, it’s really important to understand that infidelity is the symptom of a disease, but not necessarily a terminal diagnosis. There are countless ways forward, and plenty of them include moving past this ugly episode and staying together. As the statistics show, plenty of couples manage to recover from cheating. It takes a tremendous amount of work and commitment, but as you can see, it’s possible to succeed.
The reality is that there is no one answer for what infidelity means for you and your partner. What happens next is up to you, and it’s best to brace yourself, because it’s not going to be easy. But, remember, you don’t have to go through this alone. Make sure to engage your support network of friends and family as you weigh your next steps. As always, if you need professional help, never hesitate to reach out to me or any of the coaches here at Happily Committed, where we can work with you to create a personalized action plan to help you move forward.
As this article comes to a close, let’s go back over the main topics and note the biggest takeaways:
1. Who cheats more, men or women? The answer: men, and although there’s a biological reason for this, it doesn’t mean it’s inevitable.
2. How common is cheating in marriage? Surprisingly, it’s more common the older you are, and the longer you’ve been married, which is why it’s so important to plan for the long term and maintain a healthy relationship with your spouse.
3. What is the percentage of relationships that work after infidelity? It’s slightly more than a one-in-seven chance, which is difficult but not impossible to achieve if you’re serious about rebuilding things.
Whether you’re suffering from the damages of infidelity to your relationship, or you’re here trying to learn how to prevent it, I hope this information helps. Remember, the most important thing is effort, and you taking time to learn the facts is a great sign that you have what it takes to achieve your goals. I sincerely wish you all the best.
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