Cheating is in the air

ringsEvery now and then, you read a feature story in a major newspaper and, as you read and read, you think to yourself: “OK, at some point, the reporter just has to raise a moral or religious question about all of this. Don’t they?”

That’s what happened to me last weekend as I flew across America and finally got around to reading the USA Today business page feature by reporter Gary Stoller titled “Infidelity is in the air for road warriors.”

Here is the opening of the piece.

Melissa cheats on her husband on business trips but not in her hometown. “That would be lethal,” she says.

Like many frequent business travelers, she uses the protection of the road to live a secret life of romance far from spouses or partners. Their affairs range from one-night stands to relationships that last for years. They’re usually with a co-worker, a business associate or someone they encounter often during repeat visits to a city.

“Business travel creates an opportunity to cheat away from prying eyes,” says infidelity expert Ruth Houston, author of Is he Cheating on You? 829 Telltale Signs.

This is a pretty basic moral question and there are several ways to answer it. Here is a short list.

(1) Infidelity is wrong, but we don’t really know why.

(2) Infidelity is wrong, for a very specific, some would say “eternal,” reason.

(3) Infidelity is not wrong or, perhaps, not always wrong.

(4) Infidelity is wrong — especially with business associates or those under your supervision — if your business says that it is.

(5) Infidelity close to home is stupid and we really can’t talk in terms other than that unless the lawyers say that we can. What’s the big deal?

You can probably tell which angles the business page of a national newspaper would emphasize in this story. What amazed me — call me naive — is which angle hardly appeared at all, in a nation with Judeo-Christian DNA in its system.

Here is the closest we get to a chat with Moses.

Infidelity studies show that extramarital sex occurs in up to 25% of heterosexual marriages in the USA, according to Adrian Blow, a Michigan State University professor who is a marriage and family therapist. The studies show that more men than women are cheating, but none have specifically looked at business travelers.

That group is likely to have a higher infidelity rate, Blow and other experts say, because many factors make cheating easier. Among them: freedom from a spouse’s scrutiny and home responsibilities, more opportunities to meet new people, and the near-constant availability of alcohol at after-hour meals and social events.

Chris Arnzen of the National Institute of Marriage, a non-profit Christian counseling service, says business travel often involves competition for a sale or contract, and some people view sex as “a way to celebrate a success or soothe a defeat.” If that’s their outlook, “It sets them up for infidelity,” she says.

So the religious counselor is an expert in ways to celebrate victories and recover from defeats. But that’s about it. Does this “ghost” in USA Today seem strange to anyone else?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jerry

    religious counselor is an expert in ways to celebrate victories and recover from defeats. But that’s about it

    We don’t know what was said that did not make it into the paper. So I think you should have asked the question more from that perspective. I would expect a therapist to understand why people act in certain ways. I would presume that a therapist operating in a religious framework to involve religion in their practice in some manner or another.

    A further question is how does depth of religious belief affect rates of infidelity? It’s not easy to measure that, but it is a question I wonder about.

  • Charlie

    Has a company ever been sued by the offended spouse (it is easy to imagine a situation where supervisors colluded with the offender)? If it happened, companies would have to institute travel policies that at the least discouraged extra-marital affairs.

    The current Christianity Today has a piece on how secular business is often ahead of religious/non-profits in writing policies on abuse and financial accountability. Could marriage protection be next (and you could argue that keeping married employees married helps in retention and productivity)?

  • holmegm

    A further question is how does depth of religious belief affect rates of infidelity? It’s not easy to measure that, but it is a question I wonder about.

    It’s an interesting question. Certain folks love to have surveys that say that “Evangelicals” cheat no less than anyone else, but their criteria usually aren’t … rigorous.

  • Jennifer Emick

    I’m not sure why anyone would expect a secular story about infidelity in a business context would need to invoke Judeo-Christian belief, especially when it’s unclear any of the people participating in the story adhere to any particular religion. (If they did, that would maybe be worth a mention.) I don’t think “Judeo-Christian DNA” really cuts the muistard as a compelling reason to include the religious angle. Infidelity can be looked at outside of a religious context, so I don’t think it’s any more necessary here than it would be if the story was about tax cheats.

  • Eric W

    The nice thing about having an extramarital affair is that you never have to wonder whether or not your lover would commit adultery or cheat on your relationship, because you’ve already found out the answer to that! :^)

  • r

    Why be married if you’re just going to cheat? Either don’t get married or just get a damn divorce. Then you’re free to sleep around all day and night without having to sneak around and pretend. What a life. Geez. People can’t commit to anything anymore it seems.

  • FzxGkJssFrk

    25%? Twenty-five percent?? That’s an astounding statistic, even with the divorce rate as high as it is. I would have liked to see that delved into a bit more.

  • tmatt


    You’re right. Why relate a hot topic like this to the lives and beliefs of millions of potential readers? My bad.

  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    Just one Christian expert, and this reporter found one who seems to justify the practice (pending other notes that may detail more information said in the interview–it could be that the quotes were pulled out of context). If this Christian expert was consulted, why not two or three experts with a Judeo-Christian view? What about a Muslim view of marriage and cheating on the company dime? Do Muslim employees also cheat–and to what degree?

  • Chris Bolinger

    If you are going to ignore the moral and religious aspects of infidelity, then why get a quote from a Christian counselor and then cite the fact that she is from “a non-profit Christian counseling service”? It’s either poor reporting, poor editing, or both. Maybe USA Today is slipping back into being McNews: filling, at least for a short time, but not particularly nutritious.

  • Edwin Tait

    r (#6):

    You speak of people not being able to commit to anything “any more,” implying that this is a modern trend. On the contrary, I think your “just get a divorce” attitude is the modern one. In the past divorce was seen as worse than a covert affair–today it’s the other way round. Of course, both are wicked from a Christian perspective!