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Infidelity in the 21st Century

Infidelity Problems On May 9th, Former California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, announced that they would be filing for divorce. While exact reasons were unknown at the time, only days later on May 16th, The Los Angeles Times revealed that Schwarzenegger had fathered a child with a household employee more than a decade earlier. Unbeknownst to Shriver, the former Governor has provided financial support for the child, a boy who is now 14 years old, since his birth.

While no marriage is perfect, Schwarzenegger and Shriver’s appeared to come close. The 25-year marriage of the member of the Democratic Kennedy dynasty to the former-actor-turned-Republican-Governor emanated a constant projection of smiles and married as well as familial bliss. The pair has four children ranging in ages from 13-21 years old. The infidelity and betrayal of their marriage came as a shock, not only to Shriver, but to the nation as whole, leaving everyone wondering: how can such a seemingly happy power couple fall prey to the deception and turmoil of infidelity? And more importantly… is there any hope for the rest of us?

Like marriage and family dynamics, the face of infidelity has also changed dramatically in recent years and exponentially in the 21st Century. Statistics report that anywhere from 40-60 percent of adults in committed relationships have committed acts of infidelity and despite popular opinion, there’s not a huge difference in these percentages between men and women. Infidelity has not only become increasingly more commonplace, but it has also become easier to commit infidelity through the Internet and social networking sites. Recent media attention has been drawn to AshleyMadison.com, a site specifically for married men and women to find other married individuals to have an affair with. The site’s tagline boldly proclaims, “Life is short. Have an affair.”  The company assures the public and the media that it “preserves more marriages than it breaks up” by giving unhappy spouses an outlet for the common frustrations of marriage rather than sending them straight to divorce lawyers. However, whatever Ashley Madison’s arguments in support of infidelity may be, they are certainly downplaying the consequences and hurt that come from infidelity and the important role that honesty and trust play in a successful marriage.

It’s not just websites designed for purposes of infidelity that propagate the idea of cheating on your spouse. The social networking explosion of the 21st Century has made it easy to connect and reconnect with everyone from your grandmother to your high school sweetheart. There are an abundance of stories that can be found anywhere from the Internet to even a close friend of the reigniting of a “lost love.”It is not uncommon for people to search for old flames via social networking sites, such as Facebook. With a lull in passion that is expected from any marriage, individuals are likely to glorify and mentally edit past relationships, putting old flames in a more positive light. Now with the popularity of social networking, these past loves are just a simple Facebook search away. While reconnecting with a former love may at first appear harmless, it can often evolve to an obsession with the past relationship, “emotional infidelity” and eventually even lead to physical infidelity.

While emotional infidelity, which is by definition involvement that includes emotional intimacy without actual physical intimacy, is an old concept it’s becoming more and more talked about in today’s society, With the growing popularity of email, text messaging, and social networking sites, the ease of modern technology is making it easier for more people to engage in emotional cheating. In her book NOT ‘Just Friends’, Shirley Glass reports that 44  percent of husbands and 57 percent of wives indicated that in their affair they had a strong emotional involvement with the other person without intercourse. While it’s difficult to define  what exactly constitutes infidelity, and the definition does change depending on who you ask, it’s important to not undermine the consequences of emotional cheating, which can oftentimes be more devastating than physical infidelities or a one-night stand.

According to David Moultrup, an extramarital affair is  “a relationship between a person and someone other than (their) spouse (or lover) that has an impact on the level of intimacy. The role of an affair is to create emotional distance in the marriage.” It should be noted that this definition, accepted by many, contains no reference to physical intimacy, it is simply (or not so simply) a relationship with another that draws from and detracts from the intimacy and emotional connection between committed partners.

This puts an interesting perspective on the consequences of an emotional affair; While the partner committing emotional infidelity may be receiving additional benefits from intimacy outside the marriage, the benefits may be taken away from his or her spouse.  This should be understood when considering the impact an emotional affair can have on the other partner; Although no betrayal of physical intimacy is being committed against a partner, emotional cheating can be hurtful when attention and intimacy that would be directed toward your partner is instead given to someone else. While an openly close friendship outside the marriage may not be a threat, it can be hurtful when it leads to a rejection between a couple.

Anyone who’s been cheated on, or even cheated themselves, knows the emotional toll it can take on your relationship and you as an individual, including loss of self-esteem, anger, and depression. Infidelity is the number one reason cited for divorce, and although infidelity may be a by-product of an already failing relationship, it is frequently the nail in the coffin for marriages.

While infidelity is nothing new, the ways and ease in which it is committed changes rapidly and often. Sites like Ashley Madison outwardly support having an affair and social networking sites like Facebook make it easier to connect with old lovers and possibly reignite a past relationship. The changing face of infidelity makes it difficult to define exactly what constitutes an affair but it’s important to note that it is not just the increasing prevalence of physical or emotional affairs that are worth evaluating, but the increasing number of deceptions, secrets, and betrayals that are building up as a result. While the face and definition of infidelity are changing constantly, the hurt and consequences suffered due to lies and betrayals remain the same.

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