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Women Having Affairs
by Peggy Vaughan

For many years, the issue of Extramarital Affairs was assumed to be a "women's issue"—that is, women dealing with their husbands' affairs. While large numbers of husbands are still having affairs, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of wives having affairs.

After Beyond Affairs was published in 1980, I heard from hundreds of people who described their own experiences. About ninety percent of those who wrote were women whose husbands had had affairs.

By 1990, after the publication of "The Monogamy Myth," the people who contacted me were both women AND men. (In fact, almost 50% of the people I've heard from since that time have been men whose wives have had affairs. And among those who seek personal telephone consulting, about 75% are men; which no doubt reflects men's greater effort to keep others from knowing about the affair.)

While societal factors, such as the depiction of women as "sex objects," have long contributed to men having affairs, we now see societal factors that specifically affect women. For instance, in 1996 there was a successful novel about a woman having a secret affair—and the book was widely promoted with large ads suggesting, "Every woman deserves one" and "Give her what she most desires..."

Men and women express the same emotions of "devastation" when they learn of their partner's affair. In addition, men have to struggle with the idea that it's somehow "worse" for a man to have an unfaithful wife than for a woman to have an unfaithful husband. This attitude is based on a couple of outdated beliefs.

    First, wives were once seen as the property of their husbands and men were expected to "keep their wives in line." It was a blemish on their manhood if they failed to maintain this control.
    Secondly, there's a long-standing interpretation of men having affairs as a case of "boys will be boys," somewhat lessening the personal stigma attached to having a husband who falls into this category. But there's no such rationalization applied to women having affairs, leaving husbands with no way to depersonalize the situation, either in their own eyes or in the eyes of others.

A man who discovers his wife has had an affair is likely to try to keep his pain hidden, if at all possible. Traditionally, men have been conditioned to hide their feelings, so it's not surprising that he doesn't want to talk about it. In fact, he may become obsessed with the idea of keeping it secret from others. One man said this was his most pressing concern, that he had become almost paranoid about other people "knowing."

The isolation suffered by people in this situation is often motivated by their desire to avoid the sympathy and pity of others. Ironically, the process of keeping this information from others increases the feelings of shame and embarrassment (because if it weren't seen as shameful, it wouldn't need to be kept secret). And the longer it's kept secret, the stronger the feelings of shame.

In order to effectively deal with the pain of their partner's affair, a man needs to recognize that this is more than an individual, personal problem. It's a problem in society as a whole. Both men whose wives have had affairs and women whose husbands have had affairs share the same need to get more understanding of the whole issue. More information, understanding and perspective can allow them to recover and go on with their lives.

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