Why more desperate housewives choose to play away from home
A new survey shows that women are now more likely to cheat than their husbands, writes Chrissie Russell
With its mix of money, lust, rage and betrayal, it was the trial that gripped Britain, and shone a light onto the murky world of marital infidelity.
Millionaire banker Neil Ellerbeck was accused of strangling his unfaithful wife Kate, after he had learned she had three affairs by secretly taping 127 hours of her telephone conversations. Ellerbeck, who himself had a long-term lover, now faces years in jail after he was found guilty of manslaughter.
During the trial, Ellerbeck told the court that divorce was an "undercurrent" to the last years of their 15-year marriage. He had eavesdropped on graphic telephone conversations -- using a tape recorder hidden in his study -- between his wife and their son's tennis coach.
The court heard that both husband and wife were engaged in extramarital affairs but while little has been said about Ellerbeck's mistress, much has been made of his wife's, alleged promiscuity with Kate being accused of conducting a trio of affairs.
But this is nothing unusual because adultery has always tarred women with a different brush than men. The gender divide on the acceptability of playing away from home is as old as time -- in ancient times King Solomon's 700 wives and 300 concubines symbolised his power but in the same era women who strayed were stoned to death. Today, some countries still punish adulterous wives with death.
But rightly or wrongly, extramarital affairs instigated by women appear to be on the increase. A poll carried out last month in the UK by Opera North found that women are more likely to cheat on their partners than men. Four out of 10 women, compared to three in 10 men, admitted being unfaithful with most giving a kiss with a stranger in a club or a rendezvous with a colleague at a work event as the most likely scenarios.
"The number of women cheating is definitely increasing," says Dublin-based psychologist and director of the bWell Clinic, Allison Keating. "I think one of the reasons is because there are more opportunities now for women to cheat. In the past, men would have been the ones that were out more, going to work and having hobbies, now women are too."
But while there may be more opportunity to be unfaithful, the reasons women choose to have affairs are more complex than doing it just because they can.
"One of the key reasons women will cheat is to do with making an emotional connection," says Allison. "A lot of women may find their lives are revolving around a mundane routine where they feel they are taken for granted. They come home from work, do the housework and, in being a wife, lose the role of being a sexually desirable woman.
"It can all be a bit Desperate Housewives where on the outside everything looks perfect, but in reality the woman feels lonely in the relationship."
She adds: "But many women feel there's such a status to 'the perfect marriage' that they can't walk away from it or complain and so instead they can end up looking to an affair to provide them with what's missing."
Enough women are now finding themselves in this position that dating services have emerged on the internet specifically geared towards facilitating affairs for married women.
David Miller runs lovinglinks.com, a discreet dating service for married people in the UK and Ireland, and says business has never been better.
"The site is very much propelled by women," he explains. "A lot of women are generally dissatisfied with their lot in life and want to do something to change it.
"Part of it is down to the fact that women's magazines give the impression that everyone should be having great sex so women who aren't get left feeling they're being deprived of something they're entitled to."
While some of the reason women have affairs is for physical satisfaction, David agrees that the motives go deeper than just wanting a one night stand.
"The women I've spoken to using the site are just terribly bored and frustrated," he says. "I imagine many of them married young and are just looking for some form of escape. They don't want to permanently leave their marriages, they just want to make a connection."
Interestingly, David finds the women who use his service are less prone to attacks of guilt than male clients. "Women take a lot of time to think through what they are going to do so there is actually less guilt with them than with men who tend to jump in without giving it enough consideration.
"Women never say they can't go through with it, once they've paid their money they've thought it through, weighed it up logically and decided 'I want to have an affair'. It's the guys who agreed just thinking they wanted a bit of sex that are more likely to freak out when it's a reality," he adds.
But although technology may be working to accommodate the growing trend of women seeking affairs, it's also working harder to catch them.
SpyIreland, based in Co Kildare is just one of the businesses in Ireland specialising in surveillance and private investigations. Derek Noonan says many of the calls he receives are from husbands checking up on their wives.
"We get about five calls every day from husbands or wives wanting us to help them find out if a spouse is cheating. Calls have increased and they're split 50/50 between men and women."
Derek believes improvements in technology have encouraged more wives to play away. "People can now go into chat rooms or give someone they meet in a bar their mobile number and things can escalate in a way they couldn't have 10 years ago," he says. "A flirty text relationship can quickly develop into something more."
But the increase in ways to connect means increased ways to get caught. Derek explains: "A husband might present his wife with a brand new phone which unknown to her, has software in it so that every text she sends is being duplicated and sent to his number too.
"There's PC software that can enable him to read what emails she's sending or we also can track cars, tap phones and tail targets to see what they're up to."
He adds: "There have been times the client has been wrong in their suspicions but most of the time if someone thinks their partner is cheating they probably are. And once people have contacted us it's unlikely they want to save the relationship, they're just looking for confirmation to get out."
But psychologist Allison disagrees that an affair has to signal the end of a relationship. "Very often the affair is just a distraction, it doesn't address or fix what the real problem is," she says. "Relationships are hard and the key is always communication.
"Women might have affairs to escape or for revenge if they feel their husband has done something to break their trust, but if there is love there and the trust can be rebuilt, then it doesn't have to be the end."