dToday I was asked a question..

“What percentage of relationships result in infidelity?”

I’m often asked this question, and the answer is as loose as the question itself. Firstly, you must consider the definition of infidelity.

Dictionary.com defines infidelity as:

1. is the action or state of being unfaithful to a spouse or other sexual partner.
“her infidelity continued after her marriage”
synonyms: unfaithfulness, adultery, cuckoldry, disloyalty, extramarital sex; deceit, falseness; affair, liaison, fling, amour; informal fooling/playing around, cheating, two-timing, hanky-panky; formal fornication

2. unbelief in a particular religion, especially Christianity.

Do you agree on the above definition? Would you add to this definition at all? Would your partner?

It’s one of the first questions I will ask a couple in the first counseling session. “Tell me your definition of infidelity?” I ensure each person answers this question without interruption from the other.

For the majority of couples I see, no matter what the length of the marriage or relationship, very few people have discussed what infidelity means to them.  Therefore, no boundaries were ever set for the marriage. We assume the definition is “no sex with other people” as in the dictionary version above.- However, when an affair occurs, we soon see that even this definition is very lose. We also need to define what “sex” means as it relates to cheating.

“Sex” means different things to each individuals. We assume we all have the same definition. For some, the act of kissing is considered a sexual experience. For others, the act of sex is physical penetration.

You may have heard men joke and say, “it’s not cheating if it was a blowjob.” In the right context and social situation, this is just a funny statement, however, when the right time and opportunity presents itself, men will find themselves repeating this joke back to the counselor in front of their wife! When you also consider individuals come together from various cultures, religions, and traditions, defining what sex means at the individual level, is an essential discussion for every couple.

Since we cannot define infidelity, how can we statistically report the number of marriages that end in infidelity?

I believe that we, as a first world society,  are  too relaxed when it comes to the acceptance of opposite sex friendships. Allowing an opposite sex best friend to be your support system, or accepting the same in your partner, is playing Russian Roulette with your marriage. People will say their spouse is “jealous” or controlling, if they try and prevent time alone with the best friend. The better response is to ask their spouse why they feel uncomfortable about the relationship, and what we can do to fix the situation.

When a couple is sitting in the counselling office, and reflecting on what they could’ve changed in their marriage to prevent the divorce, the “best opposite-sex friend” always seems like a regrettable choice. Irreconcilable differences will be stamped on the divorce certificate.

Irreconcilable differences is a no-fault grounds for divorce, which means neither party committed any sort of extenuating act, such as adultery, abandonment or extreme cruelty. In other words, no-fault divorce is just like it sounds—no single party is at fault for the breakdown of the marriage.

Unfortunately, many men believe that it’s okay for the wife to have a male best friend, where she and the best friend can talk about all the emotional problems, thereby leaving the husband not having to hear the wife’s emotional issues. From my professional standpoint, this is already emotional infidelity. The male best friend is now her confidant, support, and the shoulder to lean on when she’s sad. It’s only a matter of time and circumstance before an unfortunate event occurs.

On the flipside, some men believe, that it’s not cheating if they: go to strip clubs and have lapdances; massage parlours; receive fellatio; hire escort’s (“It was a paid service. I wasn’t in love with the woman” I was told by the cheating husband). After all, doesn’t society approve of happy ending “massage parlours”, brothels, Strip clubs, escort agencies and so forth? I am not morally judging these businesses. But I do question the stability of a couple who cannot discuss their thoughts about sex, in an honest and vulnerable manner. The cultural belief is that a massage parlour is not cheating. However, this doesn’t mean they will go home and tell their wife about the experience. It’s important to note that what people believe is true, becomes the new truth.

Another huge gap often left out of statistical reporting is flirtatious texting. It is often discounted as meaningless text. But I disagree. It Is the intention of the text which needs examination. Innocently reaching out to a next girlfriend or next boyfriend to find out how they are, is like planting a seed in fertile soil. The seed is watered with subsequent text messages. Text messages turning to conversations, and perhaps a coffee date to reflect upon old times. Now the seed a full grown tree. Meantime, your garden at home is not getting the emotional watering it needs. And begins to die.

There is great danger in recreating the positive emotions one felt for another person outside of their marriage. And really – would you be reflecting on the positive fun times of the past, if you were experiencing loving passionate times with your partner in the present? No! You wouldn’t risk the happiness of your spouse. Yet a couple with poor communication skills, who needs their individual love bank full, will turned to another person for emotional support versus talking with their spouse about their frustration.

An individual who feels emotionally deprived by their partner, does not see the talking to another opposite sex friends as infidelity. An individual, who hasn’t had sex with their spouse in a long period of time, and turns to alternative means for self pleasure, also may not see these acts as infidelity. So, how can we get an accurate statistic for the percentage of relationships resulting in infidelity, when we don’t have a baseline definition of infidelity?

So, how can we get an accurate statistic for the percentage of relationships resulting in infidelity, when we don’t have a baseline definition of infidelity?

Savannah Ellis is a Clinical Psychologist & Certified Infidelity Recovery specialist. Make an appointment to talk about your Affair Recovery Options


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