Daring or Desperate? Why Women Cheat

Guest blog by Frances Cohen Praver, PhD
Author of Daring Wives: Insight into Women's Desires for Extramarital Affairs

Women's choice to cheat is both daring and desperate. A desperate plea for help and a daring catalyst for change in their marriage or their own selves, the affair is serious stuff. Not just fun. Let's take a peak at a few wives with whom I have worked

Not that she doesn't have a handsome, successful husband. Not that she doesn't have two adorable children. Not that she doesn't have a beautiful home with two acres of land. Debra, a stay-at- home mom, seems to have it all. But does she? Actually home sweet home is not so sweet. Humdrum days - food shopping, cooking, cleaning and carting her kids around - go on and on. She feels trapped, bored, powerless, and lonely. To top it off Debra's husband doesn't get it. He's too busy trying to get ahead to get into her. Along comes an attentive, sexy admirer and bingo!

A devoted loving mother and wife, Sarah has also carved out a successful career. In a perfect world, she would have the best of both worlds - work and motherhood. In our less than perfect world, she does not. She lets me know "I'm stressed out and ready to explode." Her guilt about leaving her children propels her into overdrive at home. To top it off, our effective firecracker at work can't get a charge out of her husband. He does not help nor does he understand her desires or needs. At work, Larry does.

Scrappy, sexy generation X, Mary is determined not to follow in her mother's footsteps. Her martyr mom settled for a secure, dependent, and devoted dull husband, but Mary won't. Mary desires committed love in marriage, security, children and comfort, all that good stuff. A little like her mom? Not exactly. Mary desires more from her marriage. Along with love, she longs for lust, romance, excitement, and passionate hot sex in her marriage. Sociopolitical history, pop culture, and family history entwine and strangle her strivings. Unshackling from her corseted past, Mary breathes freely. Air borne of desire carries the wings of surprise. To her surprise, she sees clearly that her husband is not doing it for her. So what's a restless young wife to do? She finds a sensitive, sexy lover who promises all. 

As you can see from the above vignettes women have affairs primarily because they're not getting their needs and desires met in their marriages. Try as they may, wives are often unable to reach their husbands. 

Rather than remaining stuck in dead or frictional marriages and existing in quiet desperation, discord and anguish, these daring wives choose to live more fully. Despite temporary pain, the affair is often a far better option than a life not lived. An awaking, an urgent cry for change, the affair has multiple meanings. Above all, it's a desperate move towards a fuller richer life with love.

Feeling stifled, unfulfilled, frustrated, and helpless in their marriages, they step outside of their marriages. Taking the step is in itself empowering. The affair is a daring active choice, not a more-of- the-same passive response. It screams out loudly "Enough! Something's got to give, either the marriage or me." That's only the first step to autonomy and power. It takes a daring wife to have an affair but an even more daring wife to go into therapy to repair her self and/or the marriage. 

What about the children? People often stay in unsatisfactory marriages for the sake of the children. That's a fallacy. Parents in miserable marriages only make for miserable children. The legacies for these children are blighted models of marital relationships, and unfulfilled, powerless mothers. The affair, while not necessarily the most prudent choice, is nevertheless an act of empowerment. Instead of a weak, dependent or embittered mother, the children now have a stronger, more independent, and fulfilled female role model. 

A common myth is that the affair is about sex. It is not. For the most part, sex was better at home before romance eroded. Screaming fights or silent simmering hostility erodes romance and distinguishes the flames of passion. Chances are that problems in your sex life are not about the quality, but the quantity. Fighting to the death or suffering in silence kills sexual desire for most wives. And there's less and less sex in the marriage. 

If insufficient sex is the result of unsatisfactory marriages and affairs the result of unhappy marriages, what are the causes? What do wives want? It isn't only that they desire emotional engagement. It isn't only that they desire sexual passion. It isn't only that they desire safety and protection along with autonomy and independence. I have found that wives want mutuality, equal power relationships, and recognition from their husbands. Devotion, love, and commitment without passionate sex, fun, and excitement is the steak without the sizzle. For wives to feel sexy they need the sizzle. 

While the affair may be a last resort, engaging in therapy can be the beginning of a fresh new start. Coming to terms with our demons may be difficult, but we can do it. As women we've suffered and overcome the pains of childbirth, oppression, and the double standard. Over the years we've suffered and only grown stronger.

Our childhoods and marriages in the foreground are inextricably bound with socio politics, pop culture, and feminism in the background. Examining the strands of our interior and exterior forces can be daunting. Above all it can be a fascinating life enhancing experience.