Relationship problems come in many forms, but one of the most ubiquitous is in the form of infidelity. An affair is a fling – sexual or emotional – with any person outside of the marriage, and we regularly hear statistics like “half of all people in a relationship have cheated” that make it seem like the problem is everywhere. However, according to research, there is infidelity in only up to 25 percent of committed relationships, but it’s much less likely to have happened in the previous year. The figure is still pretty high, and it raises many questions about the nature of human sexuality, and whether it’s really worth risking a long-term relationship by engaging in an affair.
Are Humans Supposed to Be Monogamous?
The question that’s really at the heart of this issue is whether monogamy is something we’re supposed to do as a species or whether it’s merely a sociological invention. Some psychologists like Dr. Himanshu Saxena argue that men are, by nature, polygamous, like more than 95 percent of other mammals. However, there is an important distinction to be drawn between social monogamy and sexual monogamy. Sexually monogamous animals have sex with only one partner (geese, for example, don’t mate with another partner even if their chosen one dies), whereas social monogamy only requires a bond (to raise offspring), with sexual flings still being acceptable. Under this definition, a man or woman who has an affair but returns home to fulfill familial duties is still monogamous, but only socially.
Evolutionary psychologists suggest that men are more likely to commit infidelity because of the drive to spread genetic material, and statistics suggest men do cheat more than women. This may also be related to the point that men have “less to lose” than women by committing infidelity. It’s been suggested that as long as the monogamous bond exists for the raising of children, the “function” of monogamy is effectively fulfilled, even if the relationship is sexually polygamous. As a compromise to this unclear issue, it’s been suggested that humans are “mildly polygamous.”
Why Do People Have Affairs?
Ultimately, it is some type of dissatisfaction (or even boredom) that leads to extra-marital affairs. There could be many issues, including a difference in sex drives between the partners, a mismatch of personalities within a relationship or all manner of other unresolved and serious issues. The simplest type of affair is one borne of growing dissatisfaction, where the “seven-year-itch” scenario sets in and one partner goes looking for some excitement. However, many other scenarios could lead to both sexual and emotional affairs, such as poor communication between the couple and a resulting feeling of distance. Additionally, problems such as sex addiction could also be to blame – in these instances the neuro-chemical buzz of sexual encounters becomes its own reward and the individual risks everything to chase that high.
Most people who have extra-marital affairs feel guilt, but there are also cases where the cheating partner feels hardly any guilt or no guilt at all. Many people are content with their actions from a moral perspective as long as the “social” monogamy is preserved. Some couples have explicitly “open” marriages in order to remove the guilt.
Is It Worth it?
Even if you accept that humans are “mildly polygamous” or even only socially monogamous, whether affairs are really worth it is still a difficult question. There may be some mild benefits in terms of satisfaction (“variety is the spice of life,” proponents say), but most people do ultimately want the long-term satisfaction brought on by a committed relationship. If the partner doesn’t want to be in an “open” relationship, having an extra-marital affair, whether sexual or emotional, puts that in jeopardy. This reveals the true question that needs to be answered: “Is having casual affairs going to make me happy, or is the long-term relationship more important?”
There are cases when the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but in most relationships they are. Even if you’re getting a little bored with your partner or he or she doesn’t share your level of libido, won’t the long-term relationship bring you more satisfaction than the hollow sexual encounters? The answer to this could well be no, but most people really want somebody to spend their lives with. There might not be the same level of immediate excitement as if you were engaging in scandalous affairs, but by not cheating you’ll have someone to talk to before you go to bed each night and a companion on your journey into old age. If this is what you really want, a desire to have an affair tells you that something is wrong in your relationship, and you should take steps to identify and rectify it before it festers and grows into an irreconcilable issue.