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When, just two years ago, Jack McNamara spoke of his love for his bride, there wasn’t a dry eye among their wedding guests.
No one, least of all the groom, would guess that only eight months later he would cheat on Dawn.
“I bumped into my first girlfriend one evening and she made it clear that she still liked me,” says the 27-year-old recruitment consultant.
“The attention was nice and so I avoided telling her that I was happily married. I didn’t wear a ring, so she had no reason to suspect. We met over the next three weeks and slept together twice before I came to my senses and finished it.
“I love my wife very much. She’s very caring and beautiful. The perfect woman, in fact. I cannot believe how stupid I was to risk everything we had for an affair.”
Many will find Jack’s adultery repellent. But he is by no means the first to jeopardise a happy relationship for a brief fling. A controversial new book argues that infidelity and marriage are entirely compatible. Eric Anderson, author of The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love and the Reality of Cheating, goes even further. He makes the extraordinary claim that men have affairs not despite the fact that they love their partners, but because they do.
Anderson, professor of sociology at the University of Winchester, interviewed 120 men and discovered that those who cheated did so because they were sexually bored, and not because they weren’t in love. He concludes that monogamy is an unrealistic expectation, arguing that men cheat – rather than walk out – because they love their wives and want to stay. If they did not, the obvious alternative would be to walk out and enjoy guilt-free sex with a new partner.
“Evidence suggests men who cheat are romantically fulfilled, but unsatisfied with having sex with one person,” says Anderson. “It’s a subversive interpretation, but I’d suggest these men cheat because they do love their partners – they are simply too afraid to take the chance of losing them by expressing a desire for recreational sex with others.”
Certainly this accords with Jack’s experience. He was so terrified of losing the wife he loves that he ended the affair before she found out. But the damage had already been done. Dawn, 37, was suspicious about Jack’s increased absences and checked his cellphone bill to see which numbers he had been calling. One number appeared repeatedly. She called it and found out about Jack’s cheating.
“Dawn rang me at work and told me not to bother coming home. She was angry and hurt, which I understood. I hoped she might just need time to cool off, but that was last March. She hasn’t had me home since.”
Although the mess is undoubtedly of his own making, it would take a hard heart not to acknowledge that the 14 months since the break-up have been torturous for Jack. He has contemplated suicide, and his doctor signed him off work for a fortnight and prescribed antidepressants.
While Jack lies awake most nights thinking about his wife and the love he has thrown away, Dawn has petitioned for divorce.
“I love my wife and she’s the only woman I want to be with. If I thought for a moment that Dawn might one day take me back, I’d happily spend the next 10 years just waiting. But she says that while she can forgive my affair she can never forget, and she doesn’t feel that is any basis for a happy marriage.”
While Jack says that sex in his marriage was still good, Francine Kaye, relationship coach and author of The Divorce Doctor, agrees with Anderson’s thesis – that many men who stray do so because they’re bored and crave sexual variety.
“It’s not that they don’t love their wives, but they don’t have the emotional intelligence or courage to say: ‘Look darling, we need to up the ante and reignite our passion, otherwise I might have an affair’,” says Kaye. “These men are reluctant to hurt their wives by admitting they’re bored, so instead they embark on a fling and hide it from their wives.
“I’ve seen it time and time again. Passion in their marriages wanes and they think the grass is greener.
“But one body is much like another after a while. What they should do is teach the old body a few new tricks. I tell these men they should work on the relationships they have, making them the best they can be.”
Poor communication between Ben Hicks and his ex-partner, Beth, was a factor when he strayed three years into their relationship. Ben enjoyed socialising, but Beth had a child from a previous relationship and was a homebird, which meant he often went out alone. Ben, 39, would have liked them to do more together, but never insisted she join him.
One night, while watching a soccer match in a pub, he got chatting to a female friend of his cousin and soon afterwards they began an “intense affair” that lasted six weeks.
“I suppose all the tell-tale signs were there – me hiding my cellphone so Beth didn’t see the SMSes, and going into the garden to take phone calls,” says Ben. “Beth suspected there must be someone else and confronted me. I denied it but felt so ashamed at the prospect of hurting the woman I loved that I ended the affair.”
But the guilt proved too much for Ben and he came clean.
Beth insisted he move out. Ben was so devastated that he spent the next six months persuading her to take him back.
Finally she did, promising to forget the affair, but every time they argued Beth used Ben’s infidelity as a weapon. Eventually, they decided to try for a baby and were overjoyed when a son was born. However, the arguments continued and in 2005, when their son was 14 months old, they split.
“My affair led to so much anger and resentment and to this day I have no idea why I did it,” said Ben. “I loved Beth and we had a happy life together. It took me years to get over losing her and, while my son stays with me regularly, I cannot believe I’m not with him every day.”
Paula Nicholson, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of London, dismisses outright Anderson’s theory that men cheat because they love their wives.
“I can’t see that it makes any sense at all. When men cheat – and let’s not forget that the majority in long-term relationships do not – they usually do so because they’ve had the opportunity,” says Nicholson. “If a man goes on a business trip and has sex with someone he meets in a bar, he’s unlikely to be thinking: ‘I’m doing this because I love my wife’. He’s just hoping he doesn’t get found out.”
Having at first agreed to forgive and try to move on following her husband’s affair, there was to be no bright new beginning for 41-year-old Katy Edwards.
Katy, a teacher, suspected her husband was being unfaithful when she discovered photographs of a female colleague on his cellphone in June 2009.
“I said: ‘Is there something you need to tell me?’ and he immediately replied: ‘Yes.’ He said he’d been having an affair for six months and that it was a relief to finally admit it. It was a horrible shock, I felt sick at the thought of my husband with another woman and couldn’t bear to be near him.”
Over the days that followed, Katy was in a daze as her 42-year-old husband begged her to forgive his affair. Although hurt and angry, Katy agreed to give it a go, for the sake of their daughter and son, and they arranged to attend counselling to try to save their nine-year marriage.
Katy acknowledges that the demands of careers and parenting had left little time for each other. “We had been doing up our house and Nigel said he’d come to feel like a handyman,” recalls Katy. “But I was cooking, cleaning and looking after the children.
“All it took was another woman to give him attention and he was willing to risk everything we had together.”
Katy believed her husband still loved her and, as she wanted their children to grow up with both parents together, was able to give their marriage another go.
“I think men can love their wives but still stray because, certainly in the beginning, affairs are more about sex than deep feelings,” says Katy. “That’s what my husband said about his affair during counselling. He said he had tried to end it a few times but the other woman got very upset and gradually it developed into more of a relationship.”
Despite the counselling, and her greatest efforts, Katy found it impossible not to be suspicious every time her husband took a phone call or left the house, which put a huge strain on their marriage.
In November 2009, five months after confessing to the affair, he moved out into a rented flat. The following February, he asked if Katy would take him back and give their marriage another chance. She refused, all too aware that the lack of trust between them would make it unworkable, and is now waiting for their divorce to be finalised.
“Although I never wanted my children to suffer the hardship of coming from a broken home, the trust had gone and I don’t think we could have ever got it back,” says Katy. “Sometimes love is not enough – when your husband has been unfaithful, how can you not live in fear of him betraying and hurting you all over again?” – Daily Mail