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Cheating Wives: Startling New Numbers

Aired July 29, 2003 - 20:43   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Just how faithful are American wives today? Well, a new study seems to show that more women than not will cheat on their husbands. Is this actually true?
I'm joined now by Susan Shapiro Barash, author of "A Passion for More" and the woman behind this new study.

Good evening.


ZAHN: This study is getting a lot of attention.

BARASH: It certainly is.

ZAHN: Let's talk about what you found. We're going to put up on the screen some of the statistics you arrived at -- that 60 percent have engaged in at least one extra marital affair; 90 percent have no guilt but feel entitled to the affair; 65 percent report that sex is better with the lover than the husband.


ZAHN: Now in all fairness, we've got to talk about the sample of interview you interviewed. You're only talking about 120 women here.


BARASH: Actually, 120 women for the book.

ZAHN: Right.

BARASH: But I interviewed hundreds of other women through the years. I started this study in 1992.

ZAHN: And how representative do you think those interviews were of the general population of women out there?

BARASH: I think it really does represent the general population because I spoke with women of different ages, all across the country, different ethnicity, you know, different social strata. It was very important to me to get a cross-section.

ZAHN: Now besides the initial shock of the numbers that you found, was it the 90 percent ... BARASH: Yes.

ZAHN: ...statistic that surprised you the most?

BARASH: Yes. Of course.

ZAHN: That these women felt absolutely no guilt about breaking the marital vows?

BARASH: I think that by the time they come to the decision to go outside the marriage in search of something they really need, which the lover provides, I think that these women have really changed.

And they're convention-bound women, Paula. I mean, they're women who really want to be married. I'm often asked if they would rather be divorced. That's a different topic.

I mean, what they want is to have the lover and get from the lover what they can't get from the husband.

ZAHN: And what was it that they didn't get from their husband?

BARASH: In most cases, enough attention. They felt they were taken for granted.

A lot of these women work and they have children and houses and husbands. And they really want romance. They want a best friend. And if you don't get it from your husband, then often a woman will go out and she'll get it from the lover.

ZAHN: Did they talk to you about what happened once they had to acknowledge that they were cheating on their spouse and how that changed the equation?


BARASH: Wait a second. It changes the equation right away to have an affair. I mean, to say that the marriage can be the same once you bring another person into it, it isn't possible. So what happens is it becomes a triangle of the husband, the lover and the wife.

ZAHN: And did these women, those who broke up with these lovers, think that it was a big mistake in the end? I've seen you with one woman who admitted that...

BARASH: Yes. She was very regretful, and yet she did do it.

You see, it's a real decision. It's a conscious decision. It doesn't just happen. I mean, there are occasions when it happens. Think of the movie "Unfaithful" last year. I think that's a good example. Because at first she's just, you know, very sexually involved with him and then gets emotionally hooked and then it gets difficult. And that's what happens.

ZAHN: We have almost a cottage industry out there of people analyzing language, what the meaning of is is. How did these women describe what cheating was? Were there different levels of physical involvement?

BARASH: Well, there are also affairs of the mind, cyberspace affairs. But what many women do in order to remain a good wife and a good mother is use almost a splitting mechanism so they compartmentalize it and make it a different part of their life.

ZAHN: So you're saying not all these had a sexual involvement with these lovers or most did?


BARASH: But you know, there are also just fantasies.

Now, most of the women really were involved. And I found that the women have affairs for four different reasons: so they do it for self-esteem, they do it for empowerment, they do it for sex or they unexpectedly fall in love with someone else.

ZAHN: And studies would show men by and large have these affairs for -- sex first?

BARASH: Well, sex is usually the reason for men. But it can be empowering too.

But women today have so much autonomy. I mean, even a stay at- home mother. She can drop her kids at day care. There are two cars in every family.

So there are so many more choices and this is just one conscious choice that many women make.

ZAHN: What else did you learn about these women? Particularly the pitfalls of these kinds of relationships they got involved in?

BARASH: Well, some women actually used the affair to better understand what they have or don't have in the marriage. And so...

ZAHN: You can't tell me they ended up in marriages thinking their marriage was healthy as a result of the affair?

BARASH: I think they better understood who their husband was comparing him to the lover. And of course, lovers and husbands are apples and oranges because with a lover you don't have any responsibility. It's just this wonderful, you know, idyllic time together.

But for the women who married the lover -- and only 33 percent of my study indicated that that happened -- I think that they find him very much the same as her -- the husband.


BARASH: It's the role.

ZAHN: And that's what you see as the biggest change here?

BARASH: Yes, the lover really -- it's just a luxury.

ZAHN: Well, it is interesting. I think a lot of us were shocked when we saw the statistics. We found them hard to believe. But thank you for coming on board...

BARASH: Thank you for having me.

ZAHN: share your study with us tonight.

BARASH: Thank you. We're going to take a -- that was Susan Shapiro Barash.


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