Schwarzenegger and Dominique Strauss-Kahn: 5 Reasons Why Power Players Cheat

Last Updated May 20, 2011 10:37 AM EDT

This week Arnold Schwarzenegger joined John Edwards and Tiger Woods in the "Men Who Had Everything And Screwed It Up By Cheating" club. These alpha males each attained the coveted success hat-trick -- career, family, and marriage. And when they risked it all, they lost terribly. Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn may well end up being part of this club, too, although his indiscretions involve much more serious charges of rape.

Cheating scandals seem to most often mar those who find the greatest success in their respective industries, whether it be in business, acting, politics -- or golf. "Not many marriages last very long [where] power, prestige, and money [are present]," says Delaware-based sex therapist Dr. Debra Laino, DHS, M.ED.

And it's not just men that get lost under the heady perfume of power: Dutch researchers recently found that being influential does indeed increase the likelihood that someone cheats -- regardless of gender. Powerful women were found to be as likely as their male counterparts to have an affair.

I turned to three top relationship experts and asked them: Why does success make us so likely to stray?
1. Power (And Money) Are An Aphrodisiac This is what I'll call the "Mr. Big" factor, based on the character from Sex And The City who was wealthy, confident, and drove Carrie to distraction. "People are attracted to power. If enough people are drawn to them, [men and women] get themselves into compromising positions," says Laino. Due to proximity, extramarital relationships often begin within offices, and follow traditional power structures, says Laino: "Doctors often have affair with nurses. Bosses have affairs with people who are under their level."

2. Success -- and Money -- Can Mean Security Yes, power can be sexy, but it can also signal safety, says psychiatrist Scott Haltzman, M.D., author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men. "Women are attracted to power because it suggests security. There is an illusion that being with someone wealthy or powerful is secure." So the same Mr. Big might just seem like Mr. Security to a woman (until, of course, he cheats...).

3. Ego Equals Entitlement At the office, people consistently say "yes" to a power player. But being constantly acquiesced to leads to a sense of entitlement (I'm looking at you, Lindsay Lohan). "People who are used to having others take orders from them might generalize that to other aspects of their life and expect people to agree to their ideas, and even sexual advances," says New York-based psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert. The latter sheds some light on the multiple alleged indiscretions of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Of course, the former Governator is another timely example: "Given his status and power, Arnold felt as though he was above the rules that apply to others, and foolishly thought he wouldn't get caught," says Alpert.

4. A Power Player Needs A Work Wife (or Husband) Especially in a stressful economy, people may confide in those they work with most closely -- particularly if they don't feel heard at home. "They'll get listened to at work and they think they start to have emotions for the person who is listening. With regards to the economy, if one partner is having a hard time and you don't support them, there could be a chance for someone else to come all along and do your job," says Laino.

5. Opportunity Is Important Business class flights to lonely hotel rooms, with a stop at the hotel bar on the way, create a solid story-line for straying. First, you have the colleague closeness mentioned above. Then: "Throw into the mix trips away from home, a lack of understanding by a spouse, a friendly ear from a stranger or colleague, and a little alcohol and you have an affair waiting to happen," says Alpert.

It's not all bad news, though. Clearly success may push both men and women into affairs. But it could be that people with a propensity to cheat simply gravitate toward more powerful positions, says Alpert: "Certain professions attract certain personality traits and those might make someone more likely to cheat -- but by no means does a profession make someone a cheater." Plus, unless you live in a convent, we all have opportunities to cheat. But that doesn't mean we're doomed to do so.

Do you think power players cheat more? Or is this just a Hollywood/D.C. thing? Please sign in below and share.
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    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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