Gretchen was six months pregnant when she found out that Marcus, her live-in partner of nearly 10 years, had been having an affair. Devastated, she confronted him, and he confessed. Today, more than a year after her discovery, she is raising their toddler daughter alone and has still not told her family the real reason she and Marcus parted.
Pregnancy can lead to greater intimacy, but it also can trigger less pleasant changes in a relationship, including infidelity. Estimates of the number of men who stray during their partner’s pregnancy are understandably difficult to gauge, because it’s a topic no one wants to discuss. “You’re not likely to hear about it, especially during the pregnancy, but it’s probably more common than people suspect,” says Scott Haltzman, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University Medical School in Providence, R.I., and author of 2008’s The Secrets of Happily Married Women.
Perhaps surprisingly, the cheating isn’t necessarily about the need for sex itself. “It can also stem from an emotional need, like a desire to be cared for, to feel important or special,” Haltzman explains. Given all the changes that occur during pregnancy, such needs that might otherwise be satisfied by a man’s partner often go unmet. “For many men, engaging in sex is a form of emotional closeness,” Haltzman says. “When their partners push them away, they feel rejected not just sexually, but also emotionally.” Many men also fear the situation will get even worse after the baby is born.
Such was the case with Troy, who had an affair during his wife’s third pregnancy. “There was such a focus on her, with all she was going through and about to go through, that I became less and less relevant,” he recalls. At the same time, his wife began rejecting his sexual advances. Although he understood she was feeling insecure about her changing body, the rejection was still difficult to manage. “You only need to be turned away so many times before you get the picture,” he says. Troy’s wife never found out about his infidelity and they remain married today, although he has no regrets.
“I wanted to feel important and valued,” he says. “And it worked.” This doesn’t mean dads-to-be get a free pass for bad behavior. They should realize that a woman undergoes tremendous physical and emotional changes during pregnancy. A little understanding—on both sides—can go a long way.