Tag Archives: affairs

Midlifers Have Sex Outside Of Marriage In Rising Numbers

September 26, 2017

Midlifers are reporting extramarital sex at a higher rate than their younger counterparts. But what do these numbers really mean? I have a few thoughts about that, so let’s first take a look at what this research from the University of Utah revealed.

Initially, it looks like nothing much has changed. The overall numbers of people who have extramarital sex have pretty much held steady over the years. But this report, “America’s New Generation Gap in Extramarital Sex,” revealed a new pattern by age: Midlifers show an upsurge in their frequency of sex outside of marriage.

As the lead author, Nicholas H. Wolfinger explains in this summary, midlifers have been reporting increased rates of extramarital sex since the mid-2000s when the numbers reported by people in their 50s and beyond and those married for 20 or more years began to diverge. (The full report was published by the Institute for Family Studies.)

In my view, there are both overt and less visible reasons behind this shift. The report suggests some that are more obvious; visible in many psychotherapy patients as well as the general public: The rise in boredom, disenchantment, or conflict during the course of a long-term marriage. That, coupled with a broader experience of midlife crisis that some experience—about their relationship, career, and sense of life purpose—can trigger a desire for looking outside the marriage for renewed vitality and excitement via a new partner.

I’ve previously written about some of those issues. For example, what enables couples to sustain long-term emotional, sexual and spiritual connection, and avoid descending into the “death spiral” of their relationship; or turning it into one that’s functional, but lifeless

Those are difficult challenges. And they are likely exacerbated by a second reason: The legacy of the 1960s sexual revolution. Most current midlifers came of age during that period or absorbed its legacy. The impact of that cultural and social experience likely diminished the taboo about having sexual relationships outside the marriage for many people, and that attitude extended into the midlife years. At the same time, midlife has aroused new conflicts for many: Between “settling” for the trade-offs of marriage and family, and “longing” for restoring excitement and passion about life, as I’ve written about in previous essays.

How people deal with those issues has likely contributed to affairs, which have become more acceptable in the culture; almost a norm. People recognize that there are different kinds of affairs, and some are begun for understandable and even healthy reasons.

So those are among the more visible explanations for the rise of extramarital sex among midlifers. But those men and women live within a larger cultural and social shift, especially visible among younger generations. That context plays a role in shaping and influencing people’s attitudes and conduct in their intimate partnerships—what they look for, desire, and find acceptable.

Wolfinger alludes to that larger evolution when he points out that the survey asked about sex outside of marriages; not about “adultery” per se. He speculates that some couples may mutually agree to have extramarital relationships, and that could be reflected in the data.

I think there’s evidence for that, and midlifers’ extramarital sex likely reflects two converging social and cultural forces. One is what I described above, more specific to relationships among today’s era of midlifers. But at the same time, the younger generations are showing more openness to and interest in a variety of different forms of coupling, emotionally and sexually. In brief, they include:

Polyamory, or multiple partnerships at once. There’s now even an annual conference on the phenomenon.

Consensual Non-Monogamous relationships. Research suggests 40 percent of men and 25 percent of women would switch to one if the world were more widely accepting of them.

Permanent Cohabitation and child-rearing without legal marriage.

Redefining the Family away from the traditional model in our society.

Polygamy? Yes, some are even pushing the boundary to advocate legalizing polygamy as another acceptable form of relationship.

All of these shifts continue to penetrate the culture and likely contribute to an increased willingness among midlifers and aging baby boomers to try new forms of connection…outside of their marriages.

What we’re seeing may be both a response to the past among the older generation and a harbinger of the future for younger generations.

Credit: Pexels

A version of this article also appeared in Psychology Today.

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Why Some Affairs Are Psychologically Healthy

Some time ago I described six different kinds of affairs people have, today, and mentioned that an affair could be psychologically healthy. Many readers have asked me to explain that more fully, so I’m doing that here.

Previously, I described the psychology of six kinds of affairs: the It’s Only Lust affair, the “I’ll-Show-You” Affair, the “Just-In-The-Head” Affair, the “All-In-The-Family” Affair,the “It’s-Not-Really-An-Affair” Affair, and the “Mind-Body”Affair.

I described their psychological motives and consequences, neither advocating nor condemning them. However, affairs usually reflect something about a person’s existing relationship that’s not being faced. Easy to do in today’s culture, where surveys indicate adultery is no longer the major reason for divorce, and it’s increasingly accepted, even advertised. Nevertheless, affairs can be psychologically healthy for some people. Here are four kinds:

A Marriage In The Dead Zone

Some suffer in a dead relationship, beyond repair. Research shows that an unhappy marriage, marked by daily conflict, damages your physical and emotional health. Yet, some settle into just accepting it, becoming numb and depressed without hope for change. Here, an affair can be a healthy act. It may reflect an unconscious or semi-conscious awareness of a desire to become more alive, to grow. That is, an affair can provide feelings of affirmation and restore vitality and can activate courage to leave the marriage, when doing so is the healthiest path. The affair can generate greater emotional honesty and mature behavior. Continue reading

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How To Retrieve Your Love Relationship From The Dead Zone

When I read the news that Paul McCartney is going to remarry, it brought to mind the challenge and trepidation so many people feel today about their prospects for keeping a love relationship alive. Whether entering a new relationship, like the former Beatle who’s about to turn 69, or hoping to resurrect one from the dead zone, the old adage that remarriage is a “triumph of hope over experience” can give anyone pause.

Even worse, some become outright despairing and cynical about love relationships in general. That became evident to me from some of the comments and emails I received about my previous post, in which I explained why most relationship advice doesn’t really help. There, I argued that most “expert advice” mistakenly focuses on techniques rather than on the relationship’s spiritual core — your sense of purpose and life goals as a couple, and how your values and ideals change and evolve over the years. The challenge is whether these and other spiritual dimensions are in synch.

Here, I want to point out one particular practice — a perspective, really — that helps build or resuscitate a relationship’s spiritual connection: learning to “forget yourself” when relating to your partner. I’ve described this Continue reading

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Why Bother Staying Married?

Life has changed a great deal since we entered the 21st Century. Massive, worldwide economic, political and social upheavals are impacting all areas of our lives. Marriages (and equivalent relationships) are no exception. In fact, long-term relationships face new stresses and challenges. People enter them within a world of shifting social norms, diversity, and increasing openness about emotional and sexual engagements, including ones that differ from the conventional.

These new realities raise a important question for couples to face, head-on: Do you want to stay married at this point in your life — in your relationship as it now exists, and at this time in our culture?

Consider this: It may be psychologically healthier to end your marriage. That is, I think that the conditions and challenges of the 21st world – the “new normal” – point to considering a more radical way of life: Engaging in two different kinds of marriages may be a better response to the emotional and sexual realities of our fluid, interconnected world.

On the other hand, you might decide to reconstitute you marriage in ways more in synch with how each of you are “evolving” in your individual lives; and more consistent with your vision of what you want a partnership to be as you become older.

Let me explain both paths. Increasingly, people recognize that our post- 9-11 world — the economic downturn, global crises and uncertainties, the impact of climate change, the increasing diversity of our population, global interconnection, and a host of other shifts – all of it forms a new era of uncertainty, unpredictability and diminished expectations of career and material success.

Part of this new normal includes turmoil in people’s emotional and sexual attitudes and behavior, and generates what looks like contradictions in relationships. For example, Continue reading

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Why Failure And Loss In Your Relationships Can Be Good For You

So often our romantic and sexual relationships end in regret, sadness, and loss. Initial feelings of excitement and connection just seem to slip through our fingers, and often we’re not sure why that happened. Nevertheless, men and women continue to hope for finding that elusive “soul mate,” a relationship of sustained vitality. But so often, partners descend into the “functional relationship,” or become lost in a maize of unfulfilling sexual connections or affairs.

In previous posts I’ve written about the roots of that seemingly inevitable decline and what helps. But there’s another part of relationship failure or loss that can be a basis of new growth. Let me explain. Over the decades I’ve witnessed countless examples of people drawn into new relationships that are simply new versions of previous, failed relationships — old wine in new flasks. And inevitably, disaster is lying in wait, right down the road. I think that often happens when an important part of the foundation for a positive, sustainable romantic and sexual relationship is neglected or overlooked.

That is, mental health practitioners focus a great deal on building better mechanics of listening, mirroring to each other, techniques of communication and compromise, and so on. All good stuff. But what can go missing is Continue reading

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Hook-Up Sex, Marital Sex, and Making Love

This post is about the differences between “Hook-UpSex,” “Marital Sex,” and “Making Love.” I’ve found that confusion about those differences play out in many of the conflicts people experience in their sexual-romantic relationships, no matter what their ages or kinds of relationships.

First, some clarification about what I mean by each term. “Hook-Up Sex” refers to just plain f***ing; that is, a purely physical encounter. “Marital Sex” is the kind of sex life that most committed couples tend to have — married or not, straight or gay. And “Making Love” is a different kind of experience that transcends both of the other two kinds.

That is, the three kinds of sexual relationships occur on different planes, different levels of integration between your physical, animal being, and your relational andspiritual beings. The kind of sexual life you have – and its conflicts – are embedded in the overall relationship you learn and how you “practice” it with your partner. I’ve described some of these connections in my previous posts, here and on my Psychology Today blog, on ouradolescent model of love, thesoul mate, and the positive power of “indifference.” Most relationships limit the capacity for “Making Love.”

Hook-Up Sex

“You know how there’sgood sex,great sex, and thenreally great sex? That’s what it was like with her!” With gleaming eyes, Ken was telling me about his latest sexual encounter. He was a 44 year-old trust fund guy who lived with his mother and had never married. He enteredtherapybecause he wanted to learn why he hadn’t been able to form a lasting relationship.

In Hook-Up Sex you and your partner use each other’s bodies for your own pleasure. It can be extremely intense and arousing, especially when you feel lust towards a new partner. There’s a place for this kind of sex, but it’s also the most primitive, least evolved form of sex. It reflects the purely animal part of being human — our physiological needs and impulses. We share those with other animal species. From a human standpoint, though, it’s mostly void of relationship beyond the physical connection; a form of playing through using each other’s bodies.

Aside from Ken’s deeper emotional issues that he’d never faced or dealt with, another barrier to his forming a relationship was that he had turned sex into a technique-dominated sport. He saw himself as a great lover and, in fact, had become very proficient in Tantric sexual practices. Handsome and charming, he was able to find women eager to participate. Tantric and related practices are, in fact, part of “Making Love,” but they can also be misused. Ken’s mastery of them had become an end in itself, and they were entirely divorced from Continue reading

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Having An Affair? But Which Kind?

The other day Tiger Woods began his �I did bad things� tour of the talk shows, and I recalled a recent moment with George (not his real name), who had consulted me about the dilemma posed by his new affair.� As he told me how it began, visions of Woods, Mark Sanford, and John Edwards began flashing through my head — along with the similar stories of countless patients over the years.

�She was standing off by herself during a conference break, leaning against a wall, sipping coffee,� George said.���As I walked by, our eyes met and I felt a sudden jolt — a rush of energy, real connection.��Suddenly we found ourselves talking, feeling like we had known each other for years.�� The affair �just �happened,� George added.

That�s an explanation I�ve heard many times.��Another is a bit more �strategic.�� For example, Jan, a 41 year-old lawyer, said her affair was a �marriage stabilizer�.safe and discreet, a perfect solution for me.� �She decided it was a rational alternative to the disruption of divorce.

Of course the public always enjoys being titillated with stories of public figures� affairs, especially when hypocrisy is exposed.� But cultural attitudes have clearly shifted towards acceptance of affairs.� They�re seen as a life-style choice; an option for men and women yearning for excitement or intimacy that�s lacking or has dulled during their marriage.� So given that new reality, I decided to write this piece, about the psychology of affairs — their meaning and their consequences.

Based on my work over the decades, I find six kinds of affairs that people have today. �I think a non-judgmental description of them (but with a tinge of humor) can help people who have affairs deal with them with greater awareness and responsibility.��Here are the six I�ve diagnosed: Continue reading

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