Google the words "marriage and affair" and you get more than 17 million variations on how to heal. That's because "fidelity in marriage"—which only gets about 3½ million hits—is a hard thing to come by these days. Some statistics say that roughly 50 percent of married men will cheat, and at least 81 percent won't admit to it even after a woman asks that searing question. It was watching these statistics play out in his practice that prompted family counselor, rabbi and best-selling author Gary Neuman to embark on a two-year study of 100 men who had sexual affairs and 100 men who were faithful. He shared his findings in the new book, "The Truth About Cheating: Why Men Stray and What You Can Do To Prevent It."
Neuman spoke to NEWSWEEK's Jessica Ramirez. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: I think a woman's first instinct when seeing the cover of your book is, " Why do I have to prevent this? Why doesn’t he just not cheat? "
Gary Neuman: There is clearly no blame on the woman if he's cheated. She's not responsible for stopping him. However, the fact that you're not responsible does not mean that you don't want to take an active role in your relationship to bring out the best in your husband, as he should for you. I've been a marriage counselor for more than 20 years now. I think [hearing] women who have had the overwhelming pain of being cheated on and the subsequent disaster for the kids definitely made me want to find out what they could do other than be victims. Was there something they could do to prevent this and create a mutually beneficial relationship? When I was on [the] "Oprah" show, I talked about 9/11 firefighters who had helped the wives of their fallen comrades and ended up having affairs with them. I think that [example] showed that a lot of men are essentially good people. They make mistakes, but that's not who they are. So a lot of women are married to men who are good but that does not mean they are not susceptible to ultimately cheating.
What did you find was the No. 1 reason men cheat?
I think most people ascribe to the theory that men cheat for sex. Women are being told that unless they are unbelievable sexy and have a Ph.D. in prostitution education then the husband is going to cheat. But when the results came in [from my study] only 8 percent of cheaters said that sexual dissatisfaction was a primary contributor [in cheating] and only 12 percent said the mistress was better looking or in better shape than their wives. It really started to show a completely different pattern than what most expect. In fact, the majority—48 percent—said that the cheating was about an emotional disconnection.
What was causing this emotional disconnection?
The No.1 reason was feeling underappreciated. It was a lack of thoughtful and kind gestures. What I found is that men are far more insecure than they let on, and they do want to please their wives and feel valued. They like to win and as long as they are winning with their wife then they stay in the game. It is feeling underappreciated and like they can't win—and maybe they do things that make it hard for her to appreciate him—that usually leads them into dangerous waters. Appreciation is what they first and foremost get from the mistress.
You said women make a mistake in thinking, "If I appreciate him, he'll never change." Why is that a mistake?
Women are always worried that if they are really nice to him, he will just take it in and not do anything. Well, men generally do want to give, and appreciation motivates them. If you appreciate your husband for the next week, and he asks what's going on, then it leads to a positive conversation where you can also share what you want. You're taking the lead and modeling the behavior that you desire in your spouse.
This relationship between "appreciation" and a man's need to "win"—how does that play out in the home?
Just watch your husband view a ballgame. You would imagine from the way he's yelling that he has part ownership in the team he's cheering for. That's because men have been trained since they were little that winning and accomplishing is much of their definition. So they will watch a game to the bitter end if they [or their team] can stay in it. [In the home,] for example, if the husband makes breakfast and burns it, he still feels like he made a gesture. But if those sorts of gestures are met with what he did wrong instead of what he tried to do right, then that becomes, "I can't win."