Table of Contents
Infidelity refers to betraying an individual through a sexual relationship. It often involves one partner being unfaithful to another partner in various forms. Conversely, it may include breaking of promises made in a relationship or marriage. Those may be the official ones like state and church vows of marriage, but also simple verbal agreements between partners in the absence of an audience. As common as it is in the society, infidelity is on the merge in every continent. This paper explores why infidelity is common during the midlife crisis and adolescence, while explaining various theories and causes leading to it.
Definition of Infidelity in Midlife and Adolescence
Infidelity during the midlife crisis and adolescents is different in definitions as well as the way society views it. According to Marshall Cavendish Corporation (2010), the adolescents can view infidelity as simply talking to another sex when in a relationship. Besides, male and female views on adultery are also different from childhood to adulthood in various types of relationships that exist. Adolescents tend to define infidelity in regards to sexual behaviors (Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2010). Males view and define it narrowly as sex with someone other than one’s partner. Adolescent females have a broader definition that incorporates other sexual behaviors in addition to intercourse. Scholars attribute this difference to developmental stage variations. However, additional research is needed to determine the views on infidelity at various ages.
The definition of infidelity is viewed differently during midlife. According to Subotnik and Harris (2005), midlife is a pivotal time for both genders. It is the period when men and women feel the ticking of the clock, a time of self-evaluation of a life half over. They report that it is an anxious period full of turmoil and turbulent times. However, it is mainly due to personality changes that occurred during childhood and adolescence. Considering this, most adults at midlife will only define it as turbulent times full of anxiety that push an individual to cheat because of lifestyle, marriage, career, friendships, and the interests one pursues (Subotnik & Harris, 2005).
Scholars find it hard to determine the actual statistics on infidelity since self-reporting is scarce. It is rarely beneficial for an individual in marriage. There are many confusing statistics about infidelity that suggest that anywhere from 22 to 70 percent of people will cheat on their spouse at some time in their marriage (“Signs of Infidelity,” 2008). Infidelity is the most common reason for marriage breakdown in the United Kingdom which accounted for 29 % of divorces in the 2007 and 32 % in 2006. In 78 % of marriages which broke up because of affairs, the straying spouse was the husband (“Signs of Infidelity,” 2008).
Cupach and Spitzberg (2007) state that the overall infidelity perpetration is estimated at 30 percent. In the study involving 90,000 respondents, it is reported that men admit to a greater extent of infidelity compared to women in a monogamous marriage. The results are similar to heterogeneous relationships in the United States. Female perpetration percentage is reported to be insignificant since they are mostly the “victimized.” Cupach and Spitzberg (2007) further maintain that these statistics are likely conservative since infidelity is under-reported due to the social undesirability of infidelity, the age of individuals reporting, and own perceptions. In spite of extensive social censure, estimates propose that as many as 10-25% of married couples in the United States experience sexual infidelity at least once (Blow & Hartnett, 2005).
The majority of adolescents tends to keep to self when undergoing infidelity. Apparently, scholars attribute this to immature relationships in which individuals are still exploring sexual satisfaction and have little understanding of the self. Though scholars maintain this, the impact of infidelity towards the betrayed person may have severe consequences later in life, because it influences one’s perception and coping mechanisms in similar circumstances (Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2010). Besides, a study conducted by the United States Academics revealed that 130 individuals had experienced betrayal in a sample of 200 adolescents (Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2010). And while males had a greater willingness to cheat on their partners, in actuality both men and women are equally likely to cheat. Scholars allude to the need of knowing infidelity perception among the adolescents.
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Theories of Infidelity
According to Russell, Baker, and McNulty (2013), attachment theory is a useful framework for predicting and explaining marital infidelity. In their study, infidelity was closely related to partner attachment in unmarried individuals. This theory explains that one partner is different from the other, that is, one is high whereas the other is low, which results in attachment avoidance and marital infidelity in midlife. Factors that control attachment of partners in midlife include marital satisfaction, sexual frequency, and the personality of couples (Russell, Baker, & McNulty, 2013). These factors dictate whether one may have attachment anxiety or attachment avoidance. Extreme levels of attachment lead to infidelity, because both levels of anxiety attachment may lead an individual to seek external partners for intimacy. Furthermore, the avoidant attached is likely to engage in infidelity, too.
The social exchange theory also explains why partners opt for infidelity in marriage during midlife. It explains the way men and women behave in romantic relationships, given the costs involved and rewards focusing on the give and take aspects of interpersonal relationships (Sprecher, 1998). The model explaining infidelity is the interpersonal model of sexual satisfaction, in which there are sexual satisfaction consequences and commitment rewards. Components dictating infidelity in this model include situations when expectations outweigh rewards, equity in the relationship, and the difference in cost and rewards (Sprecher, 1998).
Identity and intimacy development in the Erick Erickson stages of development describe infidelity among the adolescents. The adolescent’s search for the identity, which is facilitated by exploration, encompasses multiple partners in romantic relationships. Opportunities for greater sexual experiences are difficult to resist when adolescents are developing sexual and socially desirable identities (Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2010). The developmental needs of the adolescents conflict with their desire to remain faithful in relationships. The high infidelity incidence of conflicting positive and negative emotions encountered by the betrayer stems from the contradiction in developmental demands (Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2010).
Evolutionary theory also explains the reason infidelity is more common among males. This theory suggests that men tend to be reproductively successful when they have multiple sexual partners, so they can increase the number of possible offsprings carrying their genetic makeup. Females do not desire to increase the number of their offsprings. On the contrary, they are highly invested in their offsprings and want to select mates who will help them provide necessary resources for survival of their children (Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2010). It is this reason that evolutionary psychologists use to explain the male nature of sexual promiscuity.
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Causes of Infidelity
The causes of infidelity are complex and tend to vary in various age groups. Some of the causes include low self-esteem, relationship deficits, social deficits in which infidelity is a compromise, multiple affairs before marriage, lack of affection, and neglect (Blow & Hartnett, 2005; Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2010). Low self-esteem often arises from lack of appreciation, stress in the workplace, and aging, which also causes midlife crisis. The feeling of neglect that amounts to loss of self-esteem also makes a partner insecure. This situation always makes couples feel less appreciated, so they chose to prove that they are still of value. In this event, they develop extramarital affairs that are infidelity (Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2010).
Deficits in marriage as well as in social relationships may make one seek excitement outside of a relationship. It may also lead to less sex in marriage since a spouse may lose interest in lovemaking and deny sexual pleasure (Marshall Cavendish Corporation2010). While partners in a relationship may miss the adventure, fun, and the sense of commitment, affection is the strongest determinant of the success of a relationship during midlife. These factors make partners lose the spark, therefore, becoming more sentimental and lacking the essence of love expression. Multiple sexual partners can be a cause of infidelity too. Sexual activity results in the release of hormones that help couples stay together and build trust. In cases of multiple sex partners, there is a break in the bond which affects future relationship as it causes depression and high infidelity rates (Blow & Hartnett, 2005).
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Signs of Infidelity in Midlife and Adolescence
The certainty of infidelity starts in the mind. Intuition is the only known guide to a cheating spouse or partner. Listening to instincts is often a good idea as they provide clues about the act of infidelity. However, logic is also required to explain the evidence before proving infidelity. If the intuition suggests doubt, the betrayal is often certain. The lack of interest in sex or a suddenly increased interest in sex with new or unusual sexual requests is an indication of infidelity (“Signs of Infidelity,” 2008). Psychologically speaking, at the start of an affair sex may increase. However, as infidelity continues, it fades from a relationship. The behavior of the cheating partner may also change. For instance, if accompanying each other to social events used to be customary, one partner would excuse themselves for no apparent reason. There may be changes in appearance and personal care (“Signs of Infidelity,” 2008). Those may include grooming, showering more, dieting, and buying new attire to suit the new partner as well as avoid the real partner from learning about the extramarital affair. Other signs include returning home smelling of unfamiliar perfume, love bites, the immediate showering as soon as one is at home, an increase in secrecy, and lose of interests (“Signs of Infidelity,” 2008).
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Scholars in various studies maintain that infidelity during midlife and adolescence is limited and, therefore, more research needs to be conducted. Infidelity has been viewed to encompass adolescents in their development till marriage at midlife. Success associated with dealing with this crisis is reflective during midlife. Often, individuals who handle it poorly in the intimacy stage of Erick Erickson stages of development have problems dealing with infidelity since they opt for multiple partners. This paper has established that there are various theories explaining infidelity. They include the Erick Erickson theory of development, the evolutionary theory, the attachment theory, and the social exchange theory. They all state that if there is a slight shift in factors influencing a relationship infidelity arises. The intuition of an individual is the greatest indicator that a relationship is heading towards infidelity. Even though infidelity during midlife and adolescence is less explored in psychology, this paper has explained it in its entirety.