Infidelity and Betrayal in Marriage: a content Analysis of Men Who Cheat in Hollywood Films

“Infidelity and Betrayal in Marriage

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“Infidelity and Betrayal in Marriage:
A Content Analysis of Men Who Cheat in Hollywood Films”
Films that show men cheating on their wives are socializing today’s youth. While adultery is a reality of modern day, the media and films are partially responsible for shaping social attitudes about how to view such “deviant” behavior. The purpose of this paper is to analyze how extramarital affairs, as related to the male mid-midlife “crisis” has been constructed in media, specifically in Hollywood films from the 1950’s to the year 2005. The data collected from this analysis of films is utilized to identify a trend and the changes occurred over a period of time.

Male Power and Status

Richardson (1988) argues that because of social-structural and social-psychological reasons, men have greater power than women in adulterous relationships. Richardson says that single women who have sexual relationships with married men are considered to be in a “power-imbalanced” relationship. He argues that because of the male marital status in the relationship, men are more highly valued, have more power and resources, and have more successful careers than single women. Richardson (1988:210) notes that between 18 percent and 32 percent of single women become involved with married men and roughly 50 percent of husbands and 35 percent of wives have extramarital relationships. Gutmann (1997:397) argues that heterosexual sex is represented as an “act of domination, an act of possession, a taking of woman by man.”

Gutmann (1997) discusses how male identities develop in relation to women; “a women’s “presence” is a significant factor in men’s own subjective understanding of what it means to be men.” Forbidden sexual relationships are often constructed as “status unequals,” this most commonly involves the age, class, and marital status of secret lovers (Richardson, 1988).

According to Simmel, there are two types of secrets: secrets about the self, which are privately constructed and secrets about a “social unit,” which are socially constructed. Richardson (1988) states that when secrets are shared, there is the risk of betrayal; if they are not shared, relationships are restricted. In interviews with 65 single women who have had long-term, intimate relationships with married men, Richardson found that all of the women described their lovers as “compassionate and exciting” and “special” people in their lives.

Motives for Sexual Intimacy in Affair

Fair (1978) argues that relationships with other people are an integral part of a person’s life, with the most important relationship being with one’s spouse and children. Fair also states that having variety in a person’s life is desirable, especially by a man. A study Burke (1984) conducted in the Netherlands, found that of 109 men and 109 women who have had at least one extramarital affair, 70% mentioned a need for variety, meaning that “she/he had a need for sexual variety” and “it was something new”. Ninety-three percent mentioned attraction to third person, 81% stated that sexual circumstances simply went that far, 43% mentioned marital deprivation, indicating that there was something missing in the relationship or discontentment with their sexual relationship, 62% mentioned pressure by the extramarital partner, and 8% mentioned aggression, meaning that he/she was angry and wanted to take revenge on their spouse. Buunk (1984) notes people confronted with the infidelity of their spouses feel they deserve an explanation of their partner’s extramarital involvement.

According to Farrer and Zhongzin (2003), extramarital affairs have become more acceptable and people are more likley to justify their extramarital affairs. Farrer and Zhongzin examined the “concrete social contexts” in which the extramarital relationships form places of leisure and the friends, family, and coworkers associated. Farrer and Zhongzin found that many informants used leisure and play, including dance clubs, to meet their outside lovers. A number of informants found the Internet to be an easily accessible way to meet their extramarital partners. For most informants, romantic feelings were the primary motive for sexual intimacy. Sexual passion was the most common motive for an affair equally for men and women. Farrer and Zhongzin (2003) found that lovers were almost always described as “friends.”

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