Will He Cheat? (And Will You Know?)
BY JENNIFER GRAHAM KIZER
Your guy's behavior today can tell you if he'll stray later, say the authors of an eye-opening new book. Here's how to spot the subtle warning signs -- and what to do now to keep your marriage strong for good. You've heard all the time-honored cheating-man clichés -- he starts to take more interest in his
appearance, he suddenly seems to know a few new sexual tricks -- and they're clichés for a reason: Men often do follow these fairly obvious patterns when they're unfaithful. But there are also more subtle early signs, specific things all men say and do before they stray, according to Elizabeth Landers and Vicky Mainzer, authors of the new book The Script: The 100% Absolutely Predictable Things Men Do When They Cheat .
A script for philanderers? That all men follow? Sure, it seems like an oversimplified notion about a complex subject. But Landers and Mainzer only developed their theory after listening to a string of friends vent about their unfaithful guys. In each woman's story, the men delivered the same lines, in the same order. Intrigued, the pair started talking to jilted wives nationwide. And in hundreds of interviews, they continued to hear...the same lines, same order.
Landers says that for most men, following the script is a subconscious thing, not some kind of vast masculine conspiracy. "By the time a husband starts down the road to adultery," she says, "he's already heard the explanations and rationalizations that other husbands have used. So he picks up the lines from them." Sure, some evil cads might knowingly quote from the script, but most men are unaware that they're defaulting to it.
Anywhere from 22 percent to 60 percent of husbands are likely to stray, depending on which study you read or which expert you ask. But here's what the majority of experts agree on: Most affairs happen in marriages that are already in trouble -- whether or not the spouses realize that's the case. So do listen for these lines from The Script in your own life; they may or may not be hard evidence that your man's going to cheat -- but they are sure signs that your marriage could be headed for tough times. Here's how to recognize them so you can interrupt the script (no matter who starts it, it takes two to act it out) and challenge your husband to work with you to get through your relationship's rough spots together.
The Preemptive Denial He says: "I would never do that to you."
Michael Stern,* a 39-year-old record executive, still recalls the day he said these words to his wife. "We were talking about President Clinton's affair," he says. "I laughed at the idea that I'd ever be unfaithful." But a year and a half later, he strayed.
A man who says this line probably believes his own comforting words, Landers notes. But on some level he's following the script, which teaches him to establish his "character" -- the loving, supportive spouse -- early on in his marriage. This comment, says Landers, "throws their wives off track, so they're less likely to believe it when an affair does happen."
How to interrupt the script
Even this seemingly harmless line provides a good opening to generate a dialogue about fidelity and closeness. If he says, "I would never do that," you might reply, "Me neither. But if one of us ever feels tempted, can we talk about it?" Or: "That's great to hear, but it happens to so many couples. Would you let me know if you ever do feel restless in our marriage?"
The Concern for Your Well-Being He says: "You need to see a psychiatrist."
Jim Cannon didn't cheat on his wife, but three years ago, the 32-year-old came close. He was attracted to a coworker who was always full of energy. "My wife can get really tired and frazzled," he says. "I know she has a very busy schedule, but I decided that her stress was starting to have an impact on me and our two kids. In my view, she wasn't putting enough effort into our relationship. So can you blame me for my office flirtation?" He suggested that his wife talk to a doctor about going on antidepressants. (She refused.)
In their interviews, Landers and Mainzer found that nearly all of the husbands told their wives that they were troubled or depressed; in many cases, the man would suggest that his wife seek professional counseling. "He may not even realize he's doing it, but he's starting to build a case," says Landers. "He's painted you as the one who drove him away." Of course, some of these women might have actually needed medical attention. "But the you-need-help comment was so pervasive that it couldn't always be true," says Landers.
Luckily, Jim Cannon's office attraction didn't evolve any further. "The more I got to know the woman at work," he says, "I just wasn't interested enough to risk my marriage for her." Meanwhile, when his wife's own office workload lightened, her demeanor did, too. Jim realized that his wife's "depression" wasn't chemical, but a natural reaction to a hectic life situation. And he had reacted by pulling away -- and falling into the script. "I was quick to jump to conclusions about my wife's mental state," he says. "And my judgment was obviously clouded by my interest in the woman at work," he says.
How to interrupt the script
If you get a comment like this, don't simply dismiss it or let it roll off your back -- or worse, get angry. You might say, "I do feel tired and stressed, but what makes you think I'm seriously depressed?" If he suggests that you go to counseling, ask him to come with you for couples therapy -- then use the sessions to help both of you to really communicate about how tough it's been to manage your busy lives, and what you can do together to improve the situation.