Infidelity is an unfortunate reality in our society. Estimates vary wildly, but many relationship experts believe the rate of extramarital affairs could be somewhere around 50 percent.
The rate of infidelity within the military community is not fully known. Depending on which study you read, it may be more or less than the civilian average. Anecdotally, relationship strife brought on by infidelity is reported to be one of the most common reasons service members seek mental health services. It’s also cited as a precipitant for a variety of legal and financial troubles.
So, why do people cheat? Or more specifically, why do military couples cheat? There are several potential reasons.
Contrary to the old adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” absence sometimes leads to marital betrayal. Being separated for extended periods of time puts a strain even on the healthiest of marriages.
Some individuals are less likely to maintain their marital vows when their need for affection can’t withstand a 12-month deployment. Already vulnerable relationships have a harder time overcoming multiple and extended field training exercises and 12-hour days at the office.
Distance isn’t always physical. Spouses can feel an emotional separation, cut off from a loved one because of the military lifestyle and culture. Those feelings can lead to infidelity.
There are also consequences to the concept of “mission first.” If the mission is first, then that requires everything else to take a back seat — including the marriage.
Then there is emotional numbing: the inability to feel that’s often associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. Many who battle PTSD have a difficult time experiencing positive emotions, which are important for a healthy relationship. Indeed, distance leads to loneliness, bitterness and, in some cases, betrayal.
Age and emotional maturity likely contribute to some cases of military infidelity. Military members tend to get married earlier than their civilian peers. Consequently, a few wild oats may remain that need to be sown.
Humans like to seek out new and exciting experiences. Some could argue that military members have a greater thrill-seeking streak than civilians, and there are few things more novel and risky than an extramarital affair. The risk associated with being caught, and the excitement of new emotional and sexual connections, can drive people to go against their better judgment.
The reasons for extramarital affairs are many, and they are fairly consistent between military and civilian couples. Infidelity can come at an extremely high cost: It can destroy your career, your reputation and your sense of dignity.
This is in addition to the obvious devastation it can do to your marriage, though many can survive infidelity. All it takes is for one person who is willing to overlook the imperfection of another. To rely on another old adage: “Everyone deserves a second chance.”
Bret A. Moore, Psy.D., is a board-certified clinical psychologist who served two tours in Iraq. He is the co-author of “The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook.” This column is for informational purposes only and is not intended to convey specific psychological or medical guidance.