“I don’t know why I cheated on my wife, I didn’t do it on purpose. I think maybe the arguing got to be too much,” 41-year-old contractor Mark — whose name has been changed to protect his identity — tells Mashable. “I never imagined I’d be someone who had an affair.”
Mark started having an affair with another woman late last year. “It’s one of those things where I felt bad about it at the beginning and wanted to stop and fess up to my wife, but I kept putting it off. Now it’s been a year out of nowhere and it feels too big to let out,” he explains. “I wasn’t trying to have an affair. Looking back, I think it was about getting attention.”
Money troubles started between Mark and his wife in Sept. 2021 and are yet to ease. “It was all kind of born from the cost of living crisis, the rowing. We lived paycheque to paycheque before, so even a slight increase in bills would have left us fucked. Then we got a big increase.”
Soon, all of their conversations revolved around money and where they were going to find it for gas, electric and petrol. “That’s when we started fighting every day.”
He met the woman he’s having an affair with in a bar after one of these arguments. “I didn’t want to cheat,” he says. “This woman just started flirting and showed me the most affection I’d had in months, I was doing something terrible before I’d even realised.”
“I wasn’t trying to have an affair. Looking back, I think it was about getting attention.”
Since the cost of living crisis began in the UK last year, thousands of people are turning to affairs, according to data from marital affairs website Illicit Encounters, (essentially, a dating app for married people looking to cheat). The website, which has well over one million members, saw a 169 percent spike in new members over the summer this year, with August 2022 reaching a record high for sign-ups in one month.
Money worries can lead to cheating
So, what exactly is causing people’s eyes to wander outside of their marriages? It could be arguments over money. A recent report from Stowe Family Law showed 20 percent of couples affected by the cost of living crisis regularly argue over what to allocate their dwindling funds towards. With stress being proven to make people more likely to cheat, perhaps it’s not a surprise how many affairs are occuring.
Charlotte Fox Weber, psychotherapist and author of What We Want: A Journey Through Twelve of Our Deepest Desires tells Mashable that couples often experience stress around money because money creates “pernicious opportunities for control issues to play out”.
“There’s fantasy and reality with money, and the reality tends to be disappointing,” she explains. “Couples falling in love might feel like they’re embarking on a joyous adventure, but there’s no awakening as rude as the reminder of not having enough money.”
She notes that couples are constantly how they would like to experience independence and freedom and how to divide responsibilities between one another, especially when it comes to money, and that creates a lot of opportunity for arguments and stress generally.
Further research from Illicit Encounters surveyed 1,000 of its members, asking the question “Do you think the cost of living crisis is impacting your marriage and making you more likely to cheat?” with an overwhelming 85 percent of them answering “yes”.
Of course, customers of Illicit Encounters are going to draw high numbers in a question like “would you like to cheat?” but it does confirm the specific correlation between nation-wide cheating and nation-wide money stress
And it’s not the first time we’ve seen this. Jessica Leoni, a spokesperson for Illicit Encounters, says the sign-up spike follows a similar trend they observed during the 2008 financial crash.
A research study from relationship therapy company Relate also had similar findings, indicating that the fallout of the 2008 recession in the UK put great stress on couples. Those who were severely impacted saw a breakup rate increase of up to 16 percent.
Loneliness, shame, and searching for attention
Fox-Weber explains that money issues can be so shame-filled and people often feel alone and embarrassed by their financial problems. Enduring intense arguments over the same problem over and over can lead to a loss of self, and cheating can sometimes feel like the antidote to that.
“Feeling desired [through gaining positive attention from someone else] awakens something within. And while cheating may not be the solution to life’s problems, it can tempt people who are looking for that sense of possibility,” Fox-Weber adds.
51-year-old electrician Raymond, who hasn’t shared his surname to protect his identity, is one of many people who had an affair back in 2009. He believes it all started because of the 2008 financial crash.
Raymond had been with his wife for 13 years when his affair started in 2010. “I had checked out of the marriage much earlier than that, maybe about two years before,” he tells Mashable. “When the recession hit, we lost our home and I lost my job. My wife put so much pressure on me to fix it, which I don’t blame her for. She couldn’t work due to a disability so she couldn’t fix it. But I couldn’t either. I had failed as a man. I couldn’t look after us.”
He explains that the pressure of mounting bills, being made redundant and feeling like he wasn’t a good husband put a huge strain on their marriage. “There was barely a marriage left. I was the one to raise the idea to get divorced, but she was immediately dismissive. She said she didn’t want to be ‘one of those women who got divorced’ and I wasn’t to leave her. And, honestly, I don’t think either of us could afford to go it alone,” he explains.
“I was shagging a woman I met at a friend’s gathering before I knew it. I’ve never had to deal with so much guilt. Every time I slept with the other woman, I was disgusted with myself.”
Raymond thinks this is why he had an affair. “There was nowhere left to run. I couldn’t fix it and I couldn’t give it up either. I was shagging a woman I met at a friend’s gathering before I knew it. I’ve never had to deal with so much guilt. Every time I slept with the other woman, I was disgusted with myself but it was like I was addicted. She didn’t need anything from me and it felt so nice,” he explains.
“It lasted for about nine months, before my wife found out and made me end it,” he continues. “We didn’t break up. I got another job and things improved a bit. We’re not struggling to make ends meet anymore, but our relationship has never been the same. We’re still together now and have opted to never speak about [my affair] ever again.”
Fox-Weber explains that, in times of financial crisis, a partner at home can sometimes be a reminder of reality, of how sombre uncertainty and its impact on romance can be. A fantasy carries people away from that. “Someone who is convinced they will fail, who feels trapped and restricted by money issues, might take refuge in finding ways to make life match his prediction,” she explains. “Self-sabotage and self-indulgence are shockingly close.”
Stowe Family Law have also warned that many people could end up in Raymond’s position as a result of the cost of living crisis. As basic expenses continue to rise, many married couples seeking a breakup can’t raise the money for a divorce. Financial worries have always been a concern for couples divorcing (on average, a divorce in the UK costs around £14,561 ($17,307) in legal fees) but Niamh McCarthy, a partner at Stowe Family Law, says ‘the current backdrop of financial uncertainty and spiralling costs are increasing that pressure.’ Many clients at the firm have expressed interest in divorcing, only to reconsider giving things another go when they’re faced with the numbers.
Raymond’s situation, as well as that of so many other people who’ve been in his position, shows a prime example of societal pressure adding an additional strain on the relationship. For most of us, relationships are tied to self-esteem, and a lack of money can drag a person’s self esteem down to the earth, especially straight men. Most likely, this is due to gender role pressures.
Although the reason for the rise behind affairs is clear, it doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be an inevitability. Understanding and managing money is difficult at the best of times. And when a cost of living crisis born from war and government mismanagement is raging up and down the UK, more than ever communication, patience and less projection, will help couples focus on how to healthily manage their stress and prevent harm to one another.