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First Tori Spelling and country singer LeAnn Rimes got tangled up in extramarital affairs that left their husbands reeling. Now even Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson—those moody teenyboppers from the Twilight movies—are caught in the middle of a cheating mess.
So how can you avoid looking like a deer in headlights when your girlfriend tells you she’s leaving you for her yoga instructor?
To find out, we got experts (one of whom led a massive 900-person study on infidelity) to weigh in and give us tips to prevent and—if necessary, detect—cheating. Read on for their very best, relationship-saving advice.
1. Take time to reconnect.
What makes a woman more likely to step out on her man? It’s simple: Stress and anxiety within the relationship will cause her to stray, while happiness will keep her committed, says Kristen Mark, Ph.D., the lead author on a 2011 study on infidelity at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.
And although what defines happiness varies from couple to couple, there are some easy ways to keep the relationship solid: Don’t pick fights over the little things, let her rant so that she feels heard, and—most importantly—set aside more time to spend together. Scheduling a date night at a concert of sporting event, for example—and not texting her at 11 p.m. on Friday to come over and eat leftover pizza—will show her she’s a priority.
2. Make sure she’s satisfied.
The Indiana University study also found that couples who are on the same page about sex—as in, how much they prioritize it—are less likely to experience infidelity. And while your sex drive (or hers) isn’t something you can necessarily control, it may be worth it to simply discuss—as awkward as it can be, yes—how you can be doing it more… or better.
“A lack of intimacy can cause distress in the relationship,” says Dr. Chris Kraft, a Clinical Director of the Sexual Behaviors Consultation Unit at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. And for some women? It may be easier to cheat than it is to deal with the issues within their own relationship that are causing a less-than-stellar sex life.
3. Embrace the threat.
The assumption that women aren’t as likely to cheat makes many men feel safe and secure in their relationships. Problem is, that assumption is straight-up false. “The gender gap that we saw in research five to seven years ago is closing,” says Mark. “We found that women and men are equally likely to engage in infidelity.”
Why? Women are cultivating more personal relationships in the workplace (outside your watchful gaze), and social networking sites are making it a lot easier to get in touch with that high school boyfriend than it was a decade ago. (Yes, online cheating is a thing.)
So beware long, repeated, trips away from home; lies about her whereabouts; and secret networking accounts or e-mail addresses. These are all cause for some gentle suspicion, says Dr. Kraft.
4. Don’t be blindsided.
Here’s the thing: Cheating’s not necessarily driven by status, sex appeal, or money. So while you’re worried about the hot boss who makes big money at her workplace, maybe you should be wary the dorky best friend with the deep emotional connection.
“Demographic factors, such as age, ethnicity, income and education were not important predictors of infidelity,” says Mark. “For women in our study, it was more about relationship dynamics.”
Dr. Kraft also warns men that infidelity has a wide range of definitions, and for women, it may be easier to have an emotional affair than it is to do the deed with another dude.
What’s the big deal, you ask? That kind of infidelity can be just as relationship-damning, says Kraft.
5. Try not to freak out.
Okay, so now your brain is racing with visions of every guy she’s ever mentioned and every trip she’s ever taken. Relax—and take a step back, because even the aforementioned advice is meant to serve as wary words of caution (and not license to launch into crazy, jealous, over-bearing boyfriend mode).
First off, ask yourself: Do I have real reason for suspicion? Second ask: Is there evidence?
Then, if you do find yourself in the unpleasant situation of dealing with a cheating girlfriend, calmly end the relationship—or seek out a professional counselor for help if you’re not ready to give up on it yet.
Because recovering from betrayal, says Dr. Mark, is a tall order—and something no couple can do on their own.