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Our Cheatin’ Hearts

Men and monogamy: Fighting the urge to have an extramarital affair

That old feeling: One reason why men cheat

"I don't think anyone can be made to do anything," says Epstein, "but self-awareness is really powerful. More choices are apparent when you are aware of what is motivating you." A lot of men, he has found in practice, cheat in the same way an alcoholic relapses.

"People turn to strategies that gave them pleasure when they were younger, that worked to give meaning and pleasure to their lives. There is a whole pattern that [non-monogamous men] know how to kindle - coming on to someone and having that first experience - the same way some people turn to a drink when they are feeling out of sorts. Except these men are frustrated with their wives, who aren't orienting their lives around them anymore." Addictive tendencies can be worked with, he says, if the patient is willing. "But you might want to stop and not want to stop at the same time. That's difficult," Epstein says.

Marriage counselors say that more and more couples embrace an "open marriage," with sexual freedom as a way to avoid divorce. But this only succeeds when both partners agree, which is often not the case.

Infidelity as a way out of marriage

Since many divorces still arise from an act of infidelity, cheating can be man's way of pulling the plug on a marriage he's lost interest in. "There can be a deadening of the relationship," says Weston, "and then the husband accidentally runs across a person who seems to have a certain energy in living and casts that energy his way. A man may feel tempted to respond to that energy; it may feel complimentary and sexy to him. Or sometimes there is a little dysfunction at home, and he feels like he is checking his equipment out in another place."

Weston says that she is always interested in what led a man to cross the line - when that no suddenly became a yes. "Each answer is a bit different," she says. "Sometimes a man will say it was a moment of conviction in which he felt that things would never get better between him and his wife, a sense of hopelessness."

Marriage after adultery

Can an unfaithful husband who wants to save his marriage change his ways? "It depends on how his wife takes it," says Weston. "It depends on whether they get counseling. And it depends on his level of sincerity about how he will treat her in the future. I've seen marriages get to a really good place when an affair has been exposed because a whole lot of truth is revealed and conversation that should have happened before does."

Too often married couples stop seeing marriage as an arena for the truth. They hide aspects of their lives from each other and the one relationship that should be the most grounded in honesty becomes the most corrupt. And when a man starts seeing his marriage as corrupted or complicated - even if he's the one who's done the corrupting and complicating - he can stop seeing the value in it. Or he can become bored.

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