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Kevlar for the mind: Physical, emotional separation can both lead to cheating

Nov. 29, 2012 - 03:51PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 29, 2012 - 03:51PM  |  
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Affairs occur in about half of all marriages. In most cases, it's the husband who engages in this institutional no-no — although the number of women who commit adultery is steadily rising.

The recently revealed indiscretions of former CIA Director and retired Gen. David Petraeus show that respected and influential individuals are not immune to the temptation of straying.

Relationship problems related to cheating are some of the most common reasons troops seek mental health care and stumble into legal and financial troubles.

So, why do people cheat? Or more specifically, why do military couples cheat? There are several potential reasons.

Distance is a main motivating factor when it comes to committing the ultimate marital betrayal. The old adage "absence makes the heart grow fonder" is not always the case. Geographic separation for extended periods takes a toll on a marriage. Deployments, field training exercises, and early and late hours at the office place military couples at increased risk.

Emotional distance also is a problem for military couples. Being emotionally cut off from loved ones during and after deployment is a common experience for service members and spouses. It's also a common symptom in those who suffer from post-traumatic stress, depression, and alcohol and drug abuse.

In both cases, distance leads to loneliness, suspicion and thoughts of being taken for granted — not good for any marriage.

It's human nature to seek novel and exciting experiences. Few things are more novel and exciting than an extramarital affair. Risk associated with being caught and the interest in new emotional and sexual connections drives people to ignore the rational part of their brains. One could argue that as a consequence of their jobs, service members are more prone to engage in excitement-seeking behavior, which leads to infidelity.

Age and emotional maturity also likely contribute to some cases of military infidelity. Service members get married younger than their civilian peers. Consequently, a few wild oats may remain to be sown.

The reasons for extramarital affairs are many. As seen in the case of Petraeus, infidelity can come at an extremely high cost. In addition to the obvious devastation it can do to your marriage, it can destroy your career, reputation and sense of dignity.

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