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From Tiger to Jesse James: Why are More Men Cheating these Days?

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Why are more and more men cheating these days?

Dr. Wendy Walsh:

First David Letterman, John Edwards and Tiger Woods. Then Jesse James. And now ex-Giant Tiki Barber is reportedly having an affair with his kid's babysitter -- while his wife is pregnant with twins! What's going on? The big question on many women's minds is this: Are more men cheating or are more men just getting caught? I think both things are true.

Cheating husbands aren't a new trend. After all, we are a primate society that practices what anthropologists like to call "perceived monogamy." Today, 65 percent of marriages that break up do so because of extramarital affairs. Despite the sexual revolution and the reduction of the "double standard," more men still cheat than women. Now science gives us some possible reasons why this gender imbalance has existed for thousands of years.

First, there could be a genetic link to cheating. Swedish researchers recently identified an "infidelity gene" which is present in four out of 10 men. This gene could explain why some men are more prone to stormy relationships and bond less strongly to their wives or girlfriends. However, it's important to remember that biology is not destiny: People born with genetic predispositions to, say, heart disease or obesity can make lifestyle adjustments that compensate for the negative gene ....

Second, men may find it easier to cheat because they feel less guilt than woman do. A Spanish study recently revealed that the interpersonal sensitivity (a.k.a. "empathy") of men is low compared to women. This clearly could affect a man's ability to empathize with his partner's feelings of betrayal. The study also showed that men feel less intense guilt, and that this difference is particularly stark in the 40- to 50-year-old age group -- a group particularly vulnerable to the "midlife crisis" affair.

Finally, more men than women fear emotional intimacy. Believe it or not, some men find lovers just so they can avoid any real intimacy. Emotional closeness and the expression of vulnerability that goes with it scares many men, so they distance themselves from their wives by cheating on them. At the same time, they don't get too emotionally involved with their lovers. This kind of "watering down of the milk" feels safer to some men.

So: Why are men cheating more than ever? It's like the old joke about why dogs lick their genitals: "because they can." The sexual boundary that always curbed men's appetite for infidelity was a strong woman. It used to be that women provided all the sexual boundaries in our culture. Single women had far too much to lose by entering into sexual relationships with men who might abandon them, impregnate them, contaminate them or disgrace them. And potential cheaters' own wives were more protected by stronger family laws that supported divorced women with hefty alimony payments. Not today. Thanks to feminism, women are expected to make their own money after divorce. And single women now own their own orgasms and boxes of Trojans. So they are off to the races. With so many willing female partners to have affairs with (married and single), men have little to stop them from cheating -- except their own ethics.

And some men have plenty of that. One of my favorite studies linked monogamy to intelligence: The smarter the man, the more likely he is to be faithful. The researchers speculated that monogamy is an intellectual decision that rises above animal instincts and better provides for survival of offspring. (Yes, kids from stable, two-parent families are likely to do better in life.)

As always, my suggestion to bullet-proof a relationship is to grow a bond through emotional intimacy. To make a relationship rock solid, one must move a step or two closer to the bone and hone some relationship skills. Compassion can be learned. Fair fighting is a skill. And stonewalling is a killer of all connection. Intimacy is not easy, nor is it pain-free: Extreme emotional intimacy and mutual care may involve squeamish feelings of shame; the forced expression of awkward words; an ability to see the ugly in others and still love them; and worse, the ability to glaringly see the ugly in ourselves and still feel lovable. But the payback is pure gold: an I've-got-your-back-if-you've-got-mine emotional contract that can make your relationship affair-proof.

Dr. Wendy Walsh holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, and her area of interest is Attachment Theory -- a psychological, evolutionary and ethological theory that provides a descriptive and explanatory framework for understanding interpersonal relationships between human beings. As a psychological assistant registered with the California Board of Psychology, Dr. Walsh has treated individuals, couples and families for a variety of mental-health concerns, including personality disorders, anger management, eating and substance disorders and depression. Connect with Dr. Walsh on Facebook.


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