- Mar 28, 2019
Standing in the hallway of the home she shares with her husband and their teenage daughter, Stephanie Burton drops her overnight bag on to the floor and calls out to her family.
She kicks the bag from her husband’s path as he comes to greet her and, at the same time, makes a conscious effort to push aside the events of the past 24 hours — a stolen night in a hotel with her lover — and return her attentions to family life. To reality.
Reality, for Stephanie, means being a loving wife and mother; the busy woman in the office who gets things done; the daughter her ageing parents turn to for help because she lives much closer than her two older siblings.
‘I just get on with it all, to the best of my ability and without complaint, because all those things are important to me,’ stresses Stephanie, 40, who lives with her lawyer husband Michael and their 14-year-old daughter in Manchester.
‘But there’s another side to me that I now realise was seriously neglected until I started having an affair 18 months ago. Part of me wants to shake off the burden of responsibility once in a while; to be seen as a sexual being, above everything else, for a few hours.’It sounds hard to understand or accept. Yet the double life that Stephanie keeps a secret from all but her closest friend — someone she says has enjoyed the odd dalliance herself — is less unusual than you might think.
According to an in-depth sex and relationship survey conducted by Femail, one in five British adult women has had an affair — and 40 per cent of those have been unfaithful to their current partner.
What’s more, nearly half of those husbands and partners — 47 per cent, according to the women we polled — remain oblivious to the fact that they were, or indeed are, being deceived.
Today, in the second part of our exclusive nationwide survey, we share the fascinating insights gained by talking candidly to more than 1,000 women of all ages about their sex lives, asking whether they’ve strayed and, if so, what they did to heal their relationship in the aftermath.
The results, and testimony from women like Stephanie, suggest that infidelity for women has as much to do with wanting a distraction from the mundanities of real life as physical thrills.
And it confirms just how dire and far-reaching the consequences can be for both parties.Stephanie, a merchandiser for a large department store, is adamant she has no intention of leaving her husband. It would break up her family, cause heartache and disrupt a life that makes her broadly happy.
‘I love our home, we have a good social life, and I still have sex with Michael once a week or so,’ she says. ‘OK, I find him a bit dull after nearly 20 years together. He’s a workaholic and so consumed with his job that I often wish he’d find something else to talk about.
‘But I love him and can’t imagine spending my life with anyone else. In fact, I hoped our sex life might eventually be reignited by my affair.‘I’d hate to spoil what we have, and I’m incredibly careful not to get caught. The fact I travel for work makes it easy to get away with the odd extra night here and there.’
though Stephanie’s lover is also married, she claims she doesn’t feel jealousy, or even guilt, towards his wife. ‘Neither of us wants anything long-term. If he announced he was leaving his wife, honestly I’d run a mile,’ she insists.
‘Maybe I should feel guilty that I’m betraying my daughter as well as her dad. But the way I see it, I’m happier at home, while my sexual needs are being met elsewhere. Isn’t that better?’Of course, many people would disagree with this assessment. Yet Stephanie is extremely self-aware and says she regards her affair as totally separate from her marriage — an exciting diversion with, as she sees it, minimal risk. It’s become a way of nourishing a side to her that family life quells.
‘This is what so often happens in an affair,’ says psychotherapist Lucy Beresford, author of Happy Relationships. ‘Women can feel a little exploited, to varying degrees, in their real-life roles. They’re working hard at being a brilliant wife, fantastic mother, dutiful daughter, and pushing themselves at work, too — but something’s missing.
‘Having an affair becomes a way of attending to the part of their psyche that feels neglected, without the pain and disruption of walking away from their marriage.’