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What About the Mistresses?

Roland C. Warren, founder of The Fatherhood Intiative, had a recent editorial in the Washington Post, (titled Why aren’t We mad at the mistresses?) asking why the women who had affairs with famous men like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anthony Weiner, John Edwards and Elliot Spitizer end up being celebrated in the media.  It’s a question worth asking, because when a husband has an affair, it feels like a pretty devastating thing and seems to get all the press and popularizes the notion that men (as in ALL MEN) are scoundrals, like only men have affairs.  Well, hello.  The men are having affairs MOSTLY and nearly exclusively, with women.

In a letter to the editor a few days later, Paula Wiley commented that the men in question were all married and the women in question were all NOT married.  Well, ah, maybe these particular men and these particular women, but I can tell you that of the affairs I see in my office many, many of the women having affairs are married.

There is a curious pattern, though.  Of the affair cases I see in marriage therapy, more often it is the husband with the affair and the wife who is hurting.  That’s not to say that married women don’t have affairs, but to say only that if a husband or wife has an affair, it is more likely that the husband and wife will go to marriage therapy if the husband had the affair than the other way around.

Why would this be?  The standard answer for this, shared by Shirley Glass in her book, We’re Just Friends, is that when women have affairs they are more likely done with the marriage already and it is the wives who are dumping their husbands after the affair, making marriage therapy less likely.

That would be Shirley Glasse’s theory (affair research is very sketchy due to the sneaking around and lying nature of affairs).  I have one theory myself.  I’ve talked to enough men whose wives have had an affair to observe that men seem to have a tougher time getting over the violation of an affair, particularly if sex is involved.  Some of my clients haven’t been able to overcome that obstacle and I’m guessing when other men discover their wives have had affairs, they end up divorcing their wives and that’s why they don’t go to therapy as often.

I don’t think they should divorce.  I’m just giving you my take on it why there are fewer married couples in therapy when the wife had an affair vs the husband.  I’ve had many couples where the wife or the husband had the affair and the couple was able to reconcile.  The couple won’t be able to reconcile unless the affair is over, and, going forward, we’re not going down this road again.

With these popular famous people being in the news with their repetitive cheating it is easy to assume the common myth, once a cheater, always a cheater.  This is one of the driving thoughts behind divorce after an affair:  This just shows he or she will cheat again, right?

I’m not so sure.  The people I see who’ve had an affair aren’t jumping for joy.  Certainly there are folk who are addicted to this type of behavior, but the majority of them stumbled and fell and they fell so hard, it’s not like anything they ever want to do again.  So…if they aren’t going to go back to it again, we certainly can heal and learn to be accountable and trustworthy and to handle temptation in better ways next time.

All of this still doesn’t answer the question, why our society is so hard on cheating men and not on cheating women.  We rarely see famous women getting caught having affairs.  One may theorize they simply aren’t having them, at least in high places?  I don’t know.  Jennifer Lopez is divorcing her third husband to little fanfare and scandal, with recent reports the reason being the couple continually fought over trust issues going both ways.  Well, ah, yeah.  They married each other like a week after Anthony’s previous divorce.  Who’s having an affair with whom?

(By the way, if you are having an affair, I highly recommend you do NOT marry your affairee.  Your chances of survival are pretty slim.)

Still.  No scandal here.  Normal stuff for J-Lo, right?

Look, Folks, an affair is an affair, regardless of gender.  And regardless if the media pick it up or not, it’s a really tough deal to figure out: your spouse will be hurt, your kids will be hurt and mad and may not talk to you for years, you could get fired, you could lose your job, you could get pregnant or get someone else pregnant or get an STD or give an STD to your spouse and your spouse might die from the STD you gave him or her, your co-workers might rebell, but most important, you’d have to live with yourself.

In short, a mess.  Not recommended, whether the news picks up on it or not.


Dr. Bing Wall is a therapist specializing in marriage and relationships and issues facing single adults with a practice in Ames and Urbandale, Iowa.  To set up a time to see Dr. Wall click here or call 888-233-8473.  For more information about Dr. Wall click here.

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