A well- known website for married people seeking extramarital affairs has found the Nation’s Capital to be great for their bottom line. Residents here are second only to L.A. in the married and cheating category—and they often turn to Ashley Madison.com to find their play mates. Theories abound as to why cheating is so high in D.C.—and they are often linked to the city’s culture of power, corruption, and largely inflated egos—and the need to keep up the appearance that one’s marriage is just fine. But if you really think about it that leaves out the many residents here who aren’t in that exclusive group—among them the government workers, and the employees of all the businesses that support them or benefit from their presence-- many of whom are regular people with a spouse, a couple of kids and a middle-class lifestyle. So the question remains, why Washington?
If we examine D.C.’s culture through a lens of nonverbal communication, a couple of other possibilities come to light. This behavior does indeed reflect the city’s culture--however it’s not necessarily the culture of power and politics that lead to cheating—consider instead the culture of workaholism and the transitional nature of this town and the impact these can have on intimacy and relationships.
Workaholics tend to believe that if they are not working all the time, they will be viewed poorly by both their managers and peers. Somehow a 40 hour work week in D.C has become a part time job or the job of someone who isn’t that important or important to the organization. How many times have you been out to lunch with someone who spends half of the meal (at least) checking their email, texting and/or returning a call? What about the couples we all observe sitting across from one another, each focused on their phone or iPad—communicating electronically with someone who isn’t physically present instead of the one who is? Perhaps this describes you or someone close to you. Then there are all the couples who readily admit that on the rare occasions they get home in time to have dinner together—they spend most of it interacting with their devices, rather than having a meaningful conversation—followed by evenings checking messages and/or watching TV. Leaves little time for intimacy—and definitely communicates a lack of passion for and interest in one’s spouse and/or the relationship.
Then there’s the “I’m just passing through,” mentality that is a disincentive to establishing roots, forming close friendships, and meaningful social networks—all of which help to define us, keep us grounded and reinforce our commitment to our spouses and families. It doesn’t just affect those who are single. Married couples who are just here until they can go home again also feel alienated--and when this is coupled with the loneliness that workaholism brings to their relationship, they may reach outside their marriages for what is missing, and set aside uninterrupted time to pursue it-- and it seems there are always willing and eager participants who can help them get their intimacy fix before returning home to a partner who has become more like a housemate.
If you want to avoid an affair or becoming the cheated on spouse—unplug when you are home, at least for a portion of the time. Take long walks together, have deep conversations when the opportunity is there—play together, make some time to share the little things and keep your connection strong. Even if you are only in the area for a few years—try to make it feel like home. Get to know some neighbors, reach out to other couples who you have things in common with, join a place of worship. Who knows, you may find some real friends and make some great memories along the way. What have you got to lose but your marriage?