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My Husband Is Perfect, and I Cheat on Him Anyway

The shocking reasons why women in loving relationships stray

Woman embraces man while looking over his shoulder
Bela Borsodi/Trunk Archive

“I cannot say a bad word about my husband,” says Kathy, a happily married woman from Indianapolis. “He’s smart; he’s cute; he’s funny; he’s hardworking; he adores me. He is a great dad. He takes care of his body. He’s an excellent lover. I am married to, like, Mr. Wonderful in so many ways.”

But despite that, she’s having an affair. And she has no intention of stopping.

It goes against every cliché about extramarital affairs. If somebody is cheating on their spouse, we assume they must be miserable. Maybe they've fallen out of love with their spouse, or their sex life has disappeared. But Kathy — one of the dozens of people interviewed for the new book Cheatingland (Atria Books), out now — goes against that comforting narrative.

If a woman could cheat on a husband she adores, is anybody’s marriage secure?

“As counterintuitive as is sounds, it’s not unusual for people in happy marriages to cheat,” says Ian Kerner, a sex counselor, psychotherapist and author of She Comes First. “Affairs are rarely about sex.” 

So what are they about then? Here are three lessons we learned from the women of Cheatingland.

They need (or think they need) the validation

Though Kathy is only 40, she worries that she’s “at the cusp of maybe losing my attractiveness.” Guys have stopped looking at her like they did when she was younger: “Nobody likes me anymore,” she says. “Guys don’t even look at me” — and she wants “to be reminded that men still want me.” Sleeping with another man is proof that she’s still desirable.

Kerner isn’t surprised by this reaction: “External validation is extremely enticing,” he says, “especially as we age in a culture that celebrates youth.” But it’s just junk food “compared to finding validation and self-love within oneself and within a primary relationship,” he says.

They’re into the freaky stuff

Remember when we said it wasn’t about sex? Well, it’s a little bit about sex. But it’s not because their husbands aren’t keeping them satisfied in the bedroom. It’s because they have kinks and sexual proclivities that their husbands couldn’t satisfy even if they tried.

One woman confided to the Cheatingland author that “she doesn’t let her husband tie her up during sex because it’s too stressful to do that at home. What if the kids suddenly need her in the middle of that?” But when she meets her lover in a hotel room for a midday romp, she can finally let loose without the anxiety.

“In that space,” the author writes, “she feels free enough to give up control. She enjoys using the cheating space to do things that are scary in real life.”

Kerner admits that it’s a cruel irony. “Good relationships are based on dependability, predictability and a sense of security, but sexual energy often comes from the opposite,” he says. 

“When someone cheats in a good marriage, it’s often the very qualities that make the marriage good that create the vulnerability to infidelity.”

An affair is easier than marriage

It sounds counterintuitive, but part of the reason many women are drawn to affairs isn’t because of the danger, or the thrill of doing something forbidden. They just want a relationship that doesn’t feel so much like a job.

“You have to be, like, ‘Oh, honey, what’s for dinner?’” Kathy says of her marriage. “I’m so f__king sick of playing ‘What’s for dinner?’ It’s like this is all we do. In marriage, everyone’s too tired to make an effort, and it can drive you insane when you think about how nice and easy your affair is.”

Kerner says he has seen this play out all too often with couples he has counseled. “The affair partner doesn’t have to worry about kids, bills and other real-world stressors — it’s not a real relationship, it’s a fairy-tale version of a relationship, a fantasy.”