People May 19, 2003

Unfaithfully Yours;
A happy marriage offers no guarantee against infidelity, says Shirley Glass

Good people in good marriages are having affairs at alarming rates. So says Dr. Shirley Glass, a Baltimore psychologist whom The New York Times has called “the godmother of infidelity research.” The increase in cheating in otherwise happy marriages, says Glass, author of the current bestseller Not Just Friends, is caused by the rise of a new breed of infidelity–in which bonds between coworkers blossom into deep emotional and, eventually, sexual relationships. Based on her studies of 350 couples over more than 20 years as well as her review of outside independent research, she estimates that 25 percent of wives and 44 percent of husbands have had extramarital affairs. And of the unfaithful couples Glass, 67, has counseled, 46 percent of the women and 62 percent of the men had affairs with people at work (surveys show that over the past two decades, while the number of men meeting their partners at work has remained steady, the numbers for women are up sharply). Glass herself has been married for 47 years to Barry, 70, the now-retired owner of an accounting firm, with whom she has three adult children. (Their secret for long marriage? “Separate checkbooks and separate bathrooms,” says Barry.) From her home in Baltimore, she spoke with PEOPLE correspondent Amanda Orr.

What’s different about infidelity now?

Today affairs don’t begin when your partner sleeps with someone else. They begin when your partner becomes closer to someone other than you. And the Internet and the workplace are the new danger zones.

Why do happily married people have affairs?

Very often it’s because they are interacting with people at work with whom they share a common interest, they share the pressure of a deadline or excitement over a project. If there is also a physical attraction, and if these two begin to share more of themselves with the person at work, they start down the slippery slope toward eventually letting emotional intimacy lead to sexual intimacy as well.

How can you say someone is truly happily married if they are straying?

Many of these couples have school-age children who demand a lot of time. They aren’t focused on themselves as a couple anymore. And they begin to believe this is how it must be. No one expects to get promoted at work just for showing up, but couples sometimes get that way in their marriages.

What are some warning signs of an affair?

Warning signs are often the exact opposite of what you might expect them to be. A partner who’s cheating might desire more sex at home, too, because they are so excited by the affair. Sometimes the unfaithful partner will start being really picky.

It’s almost as if they are trying to turn you into someone who is inadequate so they will feel more justified. On the other hand, they may be more loving because they want to keep you from suspecting anything. Another major sign is when your partner has a sudden interest in looking younger or sexier.

When is confiding in someone of the opposite sex at work a danger?

Are you sharing more personal information with your colleague than your partner? When there’s more companionship, intellectual sharing, and understanding in the friendship than in the marriage, that’s a warning.

Are certain people more susceptible?

There are really three vulnerable periods. A lot of women seem to be having affairs in newer marriages when they haven’t had children yet. They’ll meet someone at work and decide they are more compatible with that person and use the affair as a way out of the marriage. The second type is when the man has reached the plateau in his life and is becoming a little bit bored. The third, as I mentioned before, is the child-centered couple, who are the most vulnerable.

How can you tell the difference between a person who strays once and someone who will do it over and over?

With the person who strays over and over, there is a belief that it’s okay. They don’t take responsibility for hurting their partner, and they have no remorse. On the other hand, I have seen people absolutely stop when they get caught because they cannot believe how much they have hurt their spouse.

If you suspect your spouse is having an affair at work, what should you do?

Be upfront and tell them what you suspect and why. Tell them that it would be painful to find out that your suspicions were true but more painful to find out they were hiding something. If your spouse is willing to come clean and stop it, then you have to work to repair the marriage. If you suspect a spouse is lying, do things like hit 69 at home on the phone to find out who called, or check credit card and cell phone bills. Or you can hire a detective. I’ve found, though, if you feel concerned enough to hire a detective, over 90 percent of the time your suspicions are confirmed.


“One of the greatest threats to marriage is the child-centered marriage. Parents with dual careers often feel guilty about not being able to give time to children. They wind up giving all their discretionary time to them. In reality, one of the best gifts parents can give the children is to focus on their relationship; leave the kids with babysitters every once in a while. Have a life outside of the children.”

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