Sociologist and author DR ALICIA WALKER, 47, spent a year interviewing women who admitted to being unfaithful to their husbands. What they told her would open – and change – her mind
Sociologist Dr Alicia Walker on infidelity.
It feels good to tell someone this.” Nearly all the women I spoke to in this study expressed a sense of unburdening themselves of their secrets. It’s not easy getting people to trust you – especially when you’re asking personal questions – but luckily, I was able to establish a good rapport with my participants [from affair-matching website Ashley Madison]. One of them summed it up well: “We all need someone to bear witness to our lives.” Deep down, we need to share our experiences with other people.
The women talked about years in sexless marriages or marriages where the sex was without pleasure for them. They told stories of wandering in sexual deserts for years, sometimes decades. It’s heartbreaking to hear people talk about marrying someone they love and adore, wanting to express that love, and being denied. After suffering all that time, they eventually decided they either had to divorce, or cheat to get their needs met. They were cheating to stay married, as strange as that may sound.
Maybe the fact we expect so much of our partners is setting us up for failure. We expect our husbands to be great fathers, earners, lovers and emotional supporters, to be our best friends. Maybe it’s unrealistic to expect so much from one relationship. Perhaps if we accepted our partners for only those needs they fill, there would be less pressure.
Like many people, I have been socialised to think cheating means certain things. I thought it meant your partner doesn’t love you, that they want to leave you, that they don’t care about your feelings. I went into this investigation thinking I understood cheating and the appropriate response to it. After all, what does society tell me to do when I discover someone’s cheating on me? Leave.
But after interviewing these women, I have a different take. No-one wants to be cheated on; that hasn’t changed. What has is that I’ve realised I’d prefer not to know. That is, if a partner was cheating and it was ultimately improving my relationship, I don’t need to know. Many of these women talked about how they were better able to be the kind of wife they hoped to be because they were getting their needs met through infidelity. They were kinder, more patient and tolerant.
All their stories have stayed with me. I lived and breathed these women’s lives. I laughed and cried with them. It’s nearly impossible not to empathise, and I liked them as people. Anyone who reads their stories will carry their stories too. The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife by Dr Alicia Walker (Lexington Books, $97) is out now.