The Secretive Nature of Infidelity, Cheating and Extra-Marital Affairs

Given the secretive nature of infidelity, exact figures about cheating and extra-marital affairs are nearly impossible to establish.  But, listed below are some of the most well-supported facts about cheating.  All cited sources can be found on our reference page.

  • It is estimated that roughly 30 to 60% of all married individuals (in the United States) will engage in infidelity at some point during their marriage (see, Buss and Shackelford for review of this research).  And these numbers are probably on the conservative side, when you consider that close to half of all marriages end in divorce (people are more likely to stray as relationships fall apart; also see, who is likely to cheat).
  • Research consistently shows that 2 to 3% of all children are the product of infidelity (see, Anderson).  And most of these children are unknowingly raised by men who are not their biological fathers.  DNA testing is finally making it easy for people to check the paternity of their children (see, paternity issues).
  • Infidelity is becoming more common among people under 30.  Many experts believe this increase in cheating is due to greater opportunity (time spent away from a spouse) and young people developing the habit of having multiple sexual partners before they get married (see, young and restless - Wall Street Journal).
  • There are no definitive "signs of cheating." But, in hindsight you will always find them (see, signs of infidelity).
  • Some cultures have adopted extreme measures to combat infidelity: female circumcision, allowing only limited contact between the sexes, and death as a punishment.  While many other cultures view infidelity as more of a nuance, not a serious marital problem.
  • Men are more likely to cheat than women.  But, as women become more financially independent, women are starting to act more like men with respect to infidelity (also see, cheating wife, cheating husband, why men cheat, and why women cheat).
  • In many cases, infidelity never gets discovered (see, cheating spouse quiz).
  • Emotionally, it is possible to have feelings for more than one person at a time.  Pragmatically, loving more than one person is difficult to do (see, polyamory - Truth, Lies, and Romance Blog).
  • As more and more women enter the work force, "office romances" are becoming more common.  Spouses often spend more time with coworkers than with each other.
  • The internet, e-mail, and chat rooms are making it easier for people to engage in infidelity (see, online cheating).
  • The initial decision to be unfaithful is rarely ever a rational choice; instead infidelity is usually driven by circumstances and one's emotions.  In fact, most people are surprised by their own behavior at the start of an affair (see, decision to cheat).
  • Emotional infidelity, compared to just physical infidelity, can inflict as much, if not more, hurt, pain and suffering.  And to make matters worse, most infidelity involves both physical and emotional betrayal (see, what counts as cheating).
  • Unfortunately, many people find a more suitable mate (someone they love more than their spouse) after they are already married.
  • Biological evidence (i.e., research on biology and reproduction) indicates that long-term monogamy is difficult for humans to achieve - NOT impossible, but difficult (see, Barash and Lipton or the myth of monogamy -
  • Almost everyone admits to having fantasies that involve someone other than a spouse (see, Hicks and Leitenberg).
  • Jealousy is such a fundamental, universal emotion because infidelity has been a part of our human nature for a very long time (see, Buss).