Infidelity: Is It The Cause Or The Consequence of Divorce?

Which comes first: unhappiness that leads to cheating, or cheating that leads to unhappiness?


There was a time in the not too distant past where an extramarital affair was a source of enormous scandal, and was viewed with similar distaste to the way people view animal abuse now days. Having an affair and getting caught made you somewhat of a social pariah. But those days have come and gone and, in this modern age, Americans are cheating on their spouses in record-breaking numbers.


According to a study documented in the Journal of Marriage and Family, infidelity is the primary reason cited for about 50% of divorces in recent years. So one is left to wonder, does infidelity cause divorce, or is it the consequence of a failed marriage?


Formerly, there were no studies that definitively proved either argument. But a recent article in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships tackles that question, covering a study conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State University, dealing with the correlation between divorce and extramarital sex.


The article states that there has been a definitive link shown between the breakdown of a marriage and the marital partners engaging in extramarital sex. “But does the occurrence of extramarital sex cause a marriage to break down, or does an unraveling marriage prompt a spouse to seek alternative sexual partners?” wondered the researchers. Good question.


In a 17 year study, they assessed whether extramarital sex precedes or follows a breakdown in a marriage. The study looked at the effects of extramarital sex on marital happiness and divorce. The results? Inconclusive. According to the researchers, they surmised that “…infidelity is both a cause and a consequence of relationship deterioration.”


When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. According to the study, “Because sexual fidelity is a key norm regulating the institution of marriage, any occurrence of extramarital sex could potentially contribute to marital dissolution.” It would be hard to argue with those facts – for a majority of people, when their spouse has an affair, they will seek to end the marriage.


So which comes first, the chicken or the egg?


However, when a couple is already unhappy together without either one having had an affair, they are more likely to seek out people and things that make them feel happier, even if only for a brief period of time. Those ‘things’ are frequently sex, and those ‘people’ are frequently sex partners.


It’s probably safe to say that if you want your marriage to survive, and you are already struggling with the urge to pursue a sexual relationship with someone other than your spouse, we recommend that you not put yourself in a situations that may result in an affair. One-on-one drinks with a co worker to whom you are very attracted may be easy to justify as being work-related, but if you are hoping to keep your marriage intact, either don’t go, or invite a group to join you.


So is there really a cut-and-dry answer to the question of which comes first – the affair or the relationship dissolution? Probably not. Each marriage is different, and each set of circumstances that leads to the success or failure of that marriage is different.


However, what is relatively cut-and-dry is this: If you want your marriage to succeed, don’t have an affair. The likelihood that you will get caught is very high, and it will probably result in a divorce. And while Michigan does have a ‘no fault’ divorce law, your affair may have a significant impact on your future child custody, division of assets and support payments.


That aside, if you or a loved one have decided to end your marriage, whether it’s because of an unfaithful spouse or for some other reason, we are here to help you. Call our offices at 517 866 1000 to speak with one of our experienced family law attorneys. Someone is available 24 hours a day to take your call and provide you with sound legal advice, no matter your circumstances.