We all know that infidelity is a potent relationship-destroyer, an atom bomb that few unions withstand. Right?
Maybe not. Among all the survey respondents, 21 percent of men and 11 percent of women admit that they cheated during a current or recent long-term relationship. In pointing fingers, about 12 percent of both sexes say that their partner cheated on them-which hints that many ladies are too optimistic about their man's whereabouts at this very second. Surprisingly few people say the cheating did irreparable harm to their relationship: Roughly 40 percent report that it had no effect at all, about 30 percent think it only caused temporary tension, and a mere 6 percent or less say it was the fatal blow.
What's more, some report that infidelity made their relationship better. About 25 percent of cheaters say that it gave their relationship a boost in the sex department, and 11 percent of cheatees agree.
"Sometimes a crisis shows you what is really important," says Schwartz. "Infidelity is sometimes caused by each person, or by one person in particular withholding love, affection and sex. When another person enters the picture, the spouse who was inattentive can suddenly realize they have been part of the problem. So if both partners really want the relationship to last, they work harder at everything-including sex."
As you can imagine, who did the cheating matters. People regard the infidelity as far more damaging to the relationship if they were, shall we say, the last to know. Nearly 60 percent of female cheaters say their stepping out had "no effect" on their relationship, and just 9 percent think made their sex lives worse. Among women with cheating partners, however, only 24 percent say it had no effect on the relationship-and almost 40 percent say it made their sex lives worse. (Perhaps some of these lucky "no effect" folks had struck a pragmatic arrangement; one survey respondent added, "We lived 300 miles apart at the time and agreed to a 'don't ask don't tell' policy."
Gender matters, too. Women were almost three times as likely as men to say that their partner's cheating caused a lasting tension and lack of trust. Men are either more forgiving or just harder up: Only 6 percent of male cheatees say their sex lives were worse after their partner's infidelity. Hey, if she's back in your bed, why hold a grudge?
Ironically, a wandering partner may be doing you a big favor. Joe B., a writer in northern California, was devastated in 1998 when his wife of 25 years told him she was leaving to be with her high school sweetheart. He met a certain mortgage broker while working out details of the divorce, and business quickly became pleasure.
"Mary and I married in 2002, and I am thoroughly in love!" says Joe, 59. "I actually thank my ex-wife, because my life has never been better-life is precious now." And the sex? "We're like rabbits! It's amazing. Honestly, with my first wife, the sex was good for maybe the first week and then it was pretty much nonexistent. But Mary and I are still crazy about each other. We can't believe how lucky we are."
Ron Geraci is the author of The Bachelor Chronicles. He hopes to have a second marriage like Joe's if he ever gets married a first time.