The Rise in Newlywed Cheating

"I thought I'd gotten other women out of my system, but after a year-long engagement, and then a year of marriage, I was cheating again." To hear John, * 28, a pharmaceutical rep from New Jersey, talk about straying so soon after tying the knot, you might assume he's a heartless, hormone-fueled aberration. In reality, he's part of a growing trend: newlyweds who cheat.

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"As surprising as it is, infidelity is very common during the first year of marriage," says Bonnie Eaker Weil, Ph.D., author of "Adultery: The Forgivable Sin." Last year, researchers at the University of Washington Center for the Study of Health and Risk Behaviors who analyzed data on infidelity taken from the General Social Survey found that roughly 20 percent of men and 15 percent of women under age 35 copped to cheating on their spouses in 2006 (the latest figures available), up from 15 and 12 percent, respectively, 15 years earlier.

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What gives? Part of the problem, says David Popenoe, Ph.D., founder and codirector of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, is that we've become an anything-goes society, in which the indiscretions of politicians, sports figures, and pop celebrities are practically daily news.

Also, "newlyweds have this sense about cheating that if you're going to do it, do it now," says M. Gary Neuman, an infidelity expert and author of "The Truth About Cheating." "Men may feel that if the marriage was a mistake, it's better to figure it out before things get even more entangled with kids and families." And no doubt while their wives are least likely to be suspicious. But there are ways to protect your young marriage. The key is to be proactive -- don't assume that uttering "I do" ensures fidelity. Here are the top reasons experts say newlywed men stray, and how you can take action to make sure your guy doesn't.

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Reason No. 1

You've played house for years.

Time was, being a newlywed meant finally getting to share a roof. Not so today. More couples than ever are shacking up -- 6.4 million in 2007, compared with fewer than 1 million 30 years ago, according to the Census Bureau. Add the time you've lived together to the average 17-month engagement, and it's a good bet the attraction is less electric by the time you walk down the aisle.

Research shows that infidelity rates are much higher among cohabiting couples than married folks who don't live together first. One possible reason: "Often, a couple that decides to live together isn't as committed," Popenoe says. And if that's the attitude, he adds, it doesn't necessarily change just because you get married. The possible result: In fairly short order, one of you -- most likely him -- is on the prowl.

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