What makes a man cheat? The very same reason that disgruntled office workers steal paper clips and people pout at family reunions: lack of appreciation.
On a recent Oprah show, Dr. M. Gary Neuman, the author of "The Truth About Cheating" who surveyed hundreds of cheating husbands to uncover the reason men stray, blew apart one of the common myths about infidelity when he reported that "92 percent of men said it wasn't primarily about the sex."
(Yes I know women cheat, but that's not what the show was about.)
Neuman said that, "The majority [of men cheaters] said it was an emotional disconnection, specifically a sense of feeling underappreciated."
At which point every woman in the audience rolled her eyes and wanted to scream:
"HE feels unappreciated. You've got be kidding me. I cook, I clean, I work, I take care of the kids, I do practically everything around here and just because I don't shower him with compliments for taking out the trash, he thinks he should cheat?"
The women were seething, and frankly I'm surprised Neuman made it out of the building alive. But in the spirit of don't-shoot-the-messenger journalism, you have to give the good doctor some credit. After 20 years as a counselor seeing firsthand the devastation of divorce, he decided to "find out what we can do to save marriages and make them better."
The trouble with his findings is that while the men felt unappreciated, so did their wives, and the last thing they wanted to hear was that they were the ones who should start being more grateful.
However, as much as I empathized with the angry mob of women - I mean really who has time to stroke your man's ego 2 4/7 when there's laundry to be done - I also felt a twinge of guilt as I watched every man in the audience nod his head in recognition as Neuman, said, "The main thing that they [the cheaters] felt they were getting outside the home that they were sorely missing at home was appreciation."
Neuman (who for the record says there is no excuse for cheating) reported that the men were "looking for somebody to build them up to make them feel valued."
Thus is the catch-22 of marriage. We can't appreciate them until they start appreciating us.
But isn't it the same quagmire we face in many relationships? Bosses withhold praise because they don't feel like their employees are treating them with enough respect. Cubicle dwellers pilfer paper products because they don't think anyone understands how hard their jobs are. And feuding family members pout and whine about who has it tougher and why the person who makes homemade deviled eggs for the reunion should get more recognition than the lazy cousin who showed up with a half-eaten bucket of chicken from KFC.
But you don't have to be an Einstein to see that holding back your praise until you get some from the other guy, just adds up to a big circle of nothing.
I have no idea what to do if your spouse cheats, although murder comes to mind. But I do know that going through life feeling unloved and unappreciated is no way to live.
We all deserve to be told how wonderful we are.
So let's make a deal, let's all start expressing gratitude even if we're not getting any.
You go first.