Female Infidelity Expert Dispels The Myth Of 'Happily Ever After'

For the past 40 years, American women have believed that, if they try hard enough, they can "have it all" — a fabulous career, healthy children, and a vibrant relationship (via The Atlantic). However, the realities of contemporary life challenge this idealized version of love and family. Today, finding a work-life balance is harder than ever, and the definition of a good marriage has expanded to include fulfilling financial, emotional, and sexual needs for both partners. These giant expectations, warns gender expert Susan Shapiro Barash, "can prove a recipe for disaster."

In an exclusive interview, Barash told The List, "There are so many stressors in contemporary marriages and committed relationships, while we still live in hope of having it all." Research in the update to her best-selling book "A Passion for More" indicates that this belief is simply not reflected in people's behavior: nearly ¾ of women in long-term relationships or marriages will eventually have an affair. "We have to remember that women hold the bar very high with their husbands/partners," adds Barash. "They expect [their husbands/partners] to fill every need." When that doesn't happen, it's no wonder that women turn to infidelity.

Marriage is hard; affairs are easy

Understandably, the pervasive myth of "happily ever after" places women in a difficult position. Susan Shapiro Barash told The List, "When a woman is not content in her primary relationship and not prepared to leave for various reasons — children, finances, she loves her partner or husband but it's a rocky period — an affair is often a solution." In her interviews with more than 70 women in their 20s through their 80s, Barash found that 60% of women view their lovers as an escape from the pressure placed on the primary relationship.

Barash discovered that for many women, "infidelity is accessible. It is also alluring. They describe feeling alive, understood, and appreciated." The explosion of social media and the ease of online affairs, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, become especially appealing, with 50% of women reporting they've engaged in a cyber affair. Barash adds, "As busy as they are with their work-life balance, women are quite adept at making time for their lovers and have the autonomy to do so."

Sometimes an affair can help a woman feel like she can have it all

One of the most striking findings from Susan Shapiro Barash's research is that women today have affairs without the shame once assigned to the tragic heroines of yesteryear. Ninety percent of the participants in her study reported actively seeking the affair, and — most notably — not feeling guity about it. She explained to The List that women take lovers "because what isn't fulfilled in the primary relationship will be provided in the affair."

Barash describes four types of affairs: empowering (the opportunity for an affair), sex-driven (where the sex is more satisfying than in the primary relationship), love (which often catch women by surprise), and self-esteem (which can feel invigorating). Each of these categories corresponds to the missing piece in the marraige or committed relationship. Barash's research confirms that, ironically, having a tryst is one way to achieve happily ever after. "Some of the women in my study believe that they are closer to this goal because of their affairs," she said. Whether women stay or leave the primary relationship, the act of an affair is a wake-up call — and a reminder that real life is much more complex than any fairytale.