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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, August 24, 2001

Experts analyze a married man's addiction to chronic infidelity

Advertiser News Services

Call Him the Serial Adulterer.

He's a powerful, married man (though not necessarily an attractive one) who has one affair after another, seemingly without regard for conscience or consequence. While he plays the field, his otherwise sensible wife looks the other way.

And pretty young things — even those who've been warned about his reputation — throw themselves readily into his arms, all too willing to be the Other Woman.

What in the world is going on here?

While many people are outraged by such antics, some experts think it's merely biology and human nature at work.

Since the not-so-secret life of U.S. Rep. Gary Condit began surfacing in news reports, plenty of people have been baffled by the dynamics of chronic infidelity — a topic expected to get even more attention following the expected airing last night of newscaster Connie Chung's television interview of Condit on ABC.

Condit reportedly had admitted having had an affair with 24-year-old intern Chandra Levy, who has been missing since April 30.

The married congressman also has been linked romantically to a flight attendant, the teenage daughter of a Modesto minister and a Washington, D.C., journalist. So far, Condit's wife has made little public comment about the reports.

It's all eerily reminiscent, some observers say, of that other lascivious leader, Bill Clinton. Others point to the recent fornication follies of San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, all of whom have admitted to "stepping out" on their wives.

Many marriages — as many as 50 percent, some studies suggest — are marred by infidelity. Repeat adulterers are the minority.

"People that repeat the affair, like Clinton and Gary Condit, I believe they have what I call 'a biochemical craving for connection,'" said Bonnie Eaker Weil, author of the books "Adultery: The Forgivable Sin" and "Make Up, Don't Break Up."

"You see it a lot in the congressmen — they thrive on stress, they thrive on crisis, they thrive on this excitement. It's like a gambler: They always need that quick high."

Weil believes that chronic philanderers likely suffer from some of the same neurochemical imbalances that affect alcoholics, drug addicts and overeaters. "A lot of my patients seem to have either too low or too high levels of histamine, and too low dopamine," Weil said. "When you have low dopamine, you have low sense of reward or joy."

In some cases, repeated adultery can be a sign of sex or relationship addiction, said Robert Weiss, clinical director of the Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles. A key warning signal: When the cheater ignores consequences to continue his or her behavior.

All addictions, Weiss said, are neurochemical in nature, and sex addiction is no different. "It has to do with the disturbance of someone addicted to their own neurochemistry, to the process of their own arousal, and the chemicals they can self-induce through the affairs they're having." Sex and relationship addictions affect 5 to 8 percent of the general population, Weiss said.

'Not naturally monogamous'

And then there are other theories.

In "The Myth of Monogamy" published this year, David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton cite a mounting body of evidence based on DNA fingerprinting that concludes that animals once thought to be monogamous actually routinely mate outside the "pair bond" — including the bluebird, mallard, white ibis and black-capped chickadee.

"In the animal world generally, and the avian world in particular," they write, "there is a whole lot more screwing around than we had thought."

For their part, human beings are not "naturally" monogamous, and achieving monogamy is both unusual and difficult, Barash and Lipton write. They point to basic evolutionary biology. For a male, multiple sex partners carry a greater potential for spreading his genes — one of the "evolutionary pressures" that are at odds with monogamy, the authors write.

Further, men tend to be easily stimulated and not terribly discriminating when it comes to potential mates.

Other experts say politicians may be especially prone to affairs for several reasons. They may be more attractive to others because of the position they hold and, because of the position they hold, they may be more attracted to others.

Indeed, Michael Baisden, the author of "Never Satisfied: How and Why Men Cheat," believes that men have affairs for a simple reason: because they can. "Men are not judged based on their promiscuity. In fact, we're congratulated for it," he said.

Often, a man meets his mistresses at work. And for politicians, CEOs, athletes and others in high-prestige professions, the task becomes that much easier. "The powerful guy, he's not working hard to attract women — women will approach him," Baisden said.

Spouses not always clueless

Finally, there's the question everyone's asking: Where is the wife while all this is happening?

"It's always been my experience," says therapist Gilda Carle, "that every single spouse knows. On some level, she knows.

"Some spouses have actually told me that they out-and-out knew (about an affair), but they wanted to make sure the marriage stayed together — for the sake of the children, for the lifestyle and the money," said Carle, a New York psychology professor and the author of "Don't Bet on the Prince! How to Have the Man You Want by Betting on Yourself." "There's this thread that runs through a lot of these women, and it's that 'I don't deserve anything better.'"

What bothers Carle most about these triangles: contemplating the mind-set of the Monicas and Chandras of the world. "We need to educate our young girls," she said. "It's upsetting to me to think that we have a whole bunch of young, impressionable girls who are fantasizing that this powerful man has these great qualities and that this guy's going to leave his wife and family to marry them."