(Peggy's comments in italics)
Being away from home tempts some to cheat
by Gary Stoller
Melissa cheats on her husband on business trips but not in her hometown. "That would be lethal," she says.
Like many frequent business travelers, she uses the protection of the road to live a secret life of romance far from spouses or partners. Their affairs range from one-night stands to relationships that last for years. They're usually with a co-worker, a business associate or someone they encounter often during repeat visits to a city.
"Business travel creates an opportunity to cheat away from prying eyes," says infidelity expert Ruth Houston, author of Is he Cheating on You? 829 Telltale Signs.
While no one has specifically studied business travel and infidelity, academics and therapists say cheating is probably more prevalent on the road than close to home. And the heightened exposure of business travelers to the possibility of infidelity increases the prospects that they and their employers could be left to air the details of their affairs in the courts or in the press.
The infidelities of traveling athletes, movie stars, musicians and other celebrities are standard tabloid fare. Joumana Kidd, the wife of NBA star Jason Kidd of the New Jersey Nets, for example, accused him in February in a divorce-court filing of affairs with various women in different cities.
An affair led to the downfall of former Boeing CEO Harry Stonecipher, who worked in Chicago and was asked to resign in 2005 after he had an extramarital affair with Debra Peabody, a Washington, D.C.-based vice president at the company. Both subsequently resigned.
In December, Julie Roehm, a former senior vice president at Wal-Mart, sued the company, claiming that it had violated her contract when she was fired that month. Wal-Mart countersued, alleging that she went on business trips and violated company policy by having an affair with a married man who worked for her. Wal-Mart said it is against company policy for an employee to become romantically involved with someone he or she supervises. "Associates who violate this policy will be subject to immediate termination," it said.
Roehm, who also is married, said she is the victim of a "smear campaign."
Only a minority of companies have specific policies regulating workplace romance, says Mark Oldman, co-founder of Vault, a company specializing in career information. "Most employers don't want to reach into the personal life of employees or give the perception of trying to do so."
But some companies expressly prohibit romantic relationships between employees, says Peter Petesch, a lawyer at Ford & Harrison, a national firm specializing in labor and employment law. "In the middle of these extremes are policies that require disclosure of relationships or bar relationships between persons in a supervisor-subordinate status," he says.
Michael Lotito, an employment lawyer at law firm Jackson Lewis, says companies could face sexual-harassment claims when workers hook up on the road. "A relationship may begin in a welcome way, but sometime in the future, one person may want it to stop," he says. "Suddenly, the events take on a different tone."
Workplace romance could also influence awarding of contracts and cause "economic harm" to a company, Lotito says.
But not all the affairs occurring during business travel involve co-workers, and most never make headlines. For many business travelers, the hurt they inflict on spouses and family usually outweighs the liability they create for employers.
Infidelity studies show that extramarital sex occurs in up to 25% of heterosexual marriages in the USA, according to Adrian Blow, a Michigan State University professor who is a marriage and family therapist. The studies show that more men than women are cheating, but none have specifically looked at business travelers.
That group is likely to have a higher infidelity rate, Blow and other experts say, because many factors make cheating easier. Among them: freedom from a spouse's scrutiny and home responsibilities, more opportunities to meet new people, and the near-constant availability of alcohol at after-hour meals and social events.
Chris Arnzen of the National Institute of Marriage, a non-profit Christian counseling service, says business travel often involves competition for a sale or contract, and some people view sex as "a way to celebrate a success or soothe a defeat." If that's their outlook, "It sets them up for infidelity," she says.
University of Washington sociology professor Pepper Schwartz says, for some, cheating while on the road involves less guilt.
"There seems to be a feeling," says Schwartz, "that a fling at a convention, an interesting person met on a plane or a chance encounter is somehow more blameless than something done in one's hometown or with a friend in one's social circle."
For Melissa, an affair added spice to her life and eased the loneliness of the road.
"You're in your room alone at the end of the night and have to sleep with the remote," she says.
She and four other frequent business travelers who have been involved in affairs on the road talked to USA TODAY about their experiences, as did the wife of one of the business travelers. Each asked to remain anonymous because of unsuspecting family members, friends and co-workers.
Melissa, who is in her 40s and has been married for more than 20 years, says every few months on business trips she sleeps in a hotel with a married man in her company who lives in another state. "It's not necessarily healthy," she says, "but it gives me a reason to keep going."
Melissa says she's in love with her co-worker and doesn't have any guilt. She says she has a "stagnant, brother-and-sister relationship" with her husband and loves him "as the father of my children."
She and her lover were drinking at a bar when they first were attracted to one another and realized they were more than friends.
Psychologist Dave Carder, a family therapist in Fullerton, Calif., says business travelers "are on a slippery slope headed for trouble" any time they go out to an entertainment venue, drink alcohol, eat expensive meals together, have time "to build a social, platonic friendship" and return to the same hotel. "Secrecy is the protection; alcohol is the barrier buster; and availability lights the fire."
Robert, a married business traveler in the Midwest, says he has three steady lovers in three cities. He says his relationship with his wife is unfulfilling. "What makes her happy doesn't make me happy," he says. "At home, we have one giver, me, and one taker, her. I want a synergism where you love someone, and they love you."
Robert, in his 60s, says he hasn't told his wife about his three lovers. He met them on the Internet, and each one is married. Two of their husbands are unaware of him, but one has an "open marriage," he says.
When traveling, "You don't feel so attached to family and community," says Dan, a 48-year-old marketing executive in the Phoenix area whose affair with a client was a factor in his divorce. "Your standards and morals tend to change a bit."
Salespeople, he says, call it the 1,000-mile rule. "Within 1,000 miles of home, you play by the rules and don't fool around," he says. "Beyond 1,000 miles, you can do whatever you want."
Most affairs involve people who aren't meeting for the first time, says Frank Pittman, an Atlanta-based psychiatrist and author of a book, Private Lies: Infidelity and Betrayal of Intimacy.
And people in certain professions - athletes, military officers, pilots, lawyers, doctors and others in "high-profile" jobs - are more prone to have affairs, says Frederick DiBlasio, a University of Maryland professor of social work and a therapist. They have fame, power or wealth, and their positions tend to attract suitors, he says.
Stephanie, a frequent business traveler who had a past affair on the road, says she's seen married people at trade shows act "like wild animals," usually with other business people. "Trade shows are where the most infidelities take place," she says.
Stephanie disapproves of the many married business travelers she has seen having "one- or two-night stands" on the road. She admits, though, that she and her current husband were on business trips and had an affair while married to their first spouses. Her first husband was also having affairs on road trips and at home, she says.
Still, "I don't think my own affair was OK," she says.
On the road, "There's a sense of safety and a general rationalization that what the partner doesn't know won't hurt them," says psychologist Peggy Vaughan, who has a website, DearPeggy.com, for people recovering from affairs. Some business people believe "it's the norm to have affairs on the road," because it's "what successful, well-traveled people do," she says.
Vaughan and her husband, James, also a psychologist, wrote a book, Beyond Affairs, in 1980 that discusses his past affairs while traveling on business. They have been married for 51 years.
Fewer people get caught "when they restrict their affairs only to out-of-town adventures," she says. But there's a tendency for those who don't get caught "to gradually increase the risks they take, including moving into the more dangerous ground of in-town affairs."
If they get caught cheating, or admit their ways, it can devastate their family relationships.
A California-based frequent traveler, also named Robert, confessed to his wife in November that he had had two out-of-town affairs since they wed about five years ago. They are undergoing intensive marriage counseling, and it's been an "extremely painful process" trying to rebuild their relationship, he says. Robert says he was always drunk during his affairs and realizes they were an outgrowth of his upbringing. "I was raised in an alcoholic family, and I had no discipline or obedience," he says.
His current wife says there was also a breakdown in their relationship at home before his infidelity on the road. "The stresses and demands on our lives were overwhelming," she says.
Robert says two of his affairs were with employees who worked for him, and it would have been detrimental to his career if his employer knew about them.
"It was a conflict of interest, and I could have been fired," he says.
Robert and his wife believe they can put the pieces of their marriage back together. They hired Carder to counsel them and believe they've come a long way in a short time. Carder has, among other things, made them look for the real reasons Robert strayed and made them rediscover why they were initially attracted to one another. "The key to saving any relationship after infidelity," Carder says, "depends on the percentage of good history a couple has shared, identification of the contributing factors and stresses surrounding the inappropriate sexual relationship, the willingness to forgive and the restoration of respect and trust."
"I'm beyond optimistic," Robert's wife says. "I know my marriage is going to make it."
Only time will tell, but many other marriages dissolve after a spouse cheats on a business trip, says infidelity expert Anne Bercht. She wrote a book about her husband Brian's affair.
Many business travelers "have aged 10 years in two years," she says, "and lost jobs, marriages, respect of children, self-respect, friends and a great amount of wealth as a result of what began as a business trip, a drink or two and some flattery."