Most people have the perception that affairs happen in midlife (or at least when the couple have been married for some time – as in the “seven year itch.”) Still, I do hear from people who are young, who are dealing with infidelity, and who had only been married for a short time. They are shocked and upset about the infidelity, of course. But they also do not understand how this could happen to them, since neither spouse met the stereotypes often associated with affairs.
For example, someone might say: “I just found out that my husband had a short affair or fling. I do not understand this. We are young. We’ve only been married for sixteen months. We dated throughout our last two years of college and we are finally at the point where we’ve always dreamed of being. We finally have decent paying jobs and we are not poor college students anymore. Yes, our jobs can be stressful because we are just starting out, but we expected this. This should be the most wonderful time in our lives. Instead, this woman called me and told me that she’d been sleeping with my husband. He didn’t deny it, but says it meant nothing and was only a few times. He said he’d been under stress at work. I don’t get this. I’m very young and pretty. There’s no 7 year itch. There’s no younger woman because I myself am young. There’s no midlife crisis because my husband is also young. Why would a young husband who is newly-married cheat?”
I’m not an expert, but I can share with you some of what I’ve read through my research. It’s not as uncommon as you think for men of all ages to cheat. It’s true that men often cheat when they are dealing with stressful changes in their lives. People often assume that young people don’t deal with much stress, but this just isn’t the case. It’s actually somewhat common for the odds of infidelity to go up after the birth of a first child or a job change, both of which happens to younger couples. I found another statistic which I thought was very telling. Young men who make less then 70 percent of the family income are much more likely to cheat. There wasn’t a lot of analysis in the article about why this might be true, but you can guess that with money comes power. And a man who feels that his wife makes more or as much money as he does feels more powerless and is therefore more likely to cheat.
Who else is likely to cheat? Middle aged men who feel powerless because of aging. (I’m just trying to help you to connect the dots here.) Any time that a man feels helpless or vulnerable, the odds go up with he will participate in risky behavior like cheating. This does not excuse him in the least. But you mentioned that your jobs are stressful. If he feels powerless or vulnerable at his job, this might explain some of his behaviors. Because you’re right. Unless you put a stressor into the mix, his behavior does not make sense. However, it’s a misconception to think that men in happy marriages who love their wives do not cheat. They do and some of them will tell you that they cheated precisely because they did not want to trouble, soil, or contaminate their marriage with their shameful problems. Your husband may not want you to see him as someone who is vulnerable or not fully capable and able to cope. Which might be why he isn’t telling you how stressful things really are. At least that is what sometimes does happen in affairs. He seeks relief in unfortunate places because he doesn’t want for his wife to think less of him.
Again, none of this excuses his behavior, but it might help to explain it. It is completely up to you as to whether or not you want to believe that he can be rehabilitated. Your husband would obviously have to be willing and motivated to make a change. Having an affair is not the proper way to deal with stress. And he needs to realize that his poor coping mechanisms and decision making have hurt you very deeply. I wish people would think about the pain that they might cause before they take an action that has such far-reaching consequences. As hard as it is for people to believe, young couples do experience infidelity and the reasons for it are not all that different than that of older couples. It generally happens when one or both partners are under stress and the cheating partner chooses not to confide in their spouse but to handle matters in an unfortunate way instead.