Marital Issues in Early Adulthood

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  • 0:02 Early Adulthood
  • 0:48 Infidelity
  • 4:06 Abuse
  • 5:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

During the period of life between ages 20 and 40, many people get married. Watch this lesson to look at some of the issues that can crop up in a marriage, including physical and emotional infidelity and spousal abuse.

Early Adulthood

Shirley and Charlie have been married for 13 years, ever since they were 24. For the most part, they've been happy. But now they're facing the biggest test of their relationship. Shirley has had an affair with a man she works with.

Shirley and Charlie are in early adulthood, or the time of life between adolescence and middle age. During this time, many couples decide to get married. And though many relationships are happy, some face serious issues. These issues can come at any point in life, but they are often associated with early adulthood because that's when the majority of couples marry.

Let's look closer at two major marital issues: infidelity and spousal abuse.


Charlie is feeling angry and betrayed by Shirley's infidelity, and she is feeling depressed and guilty. Together, they go see a therapist to talk about the affair and the issues in their marriage. The counselor tells them that they are not alone. Almost half of couples who seek therapy do so because of infidelity.

Mostly, Charlie wants to know why. Why did Shirley sleep with another man? What's wrong with Charlie that he can't satisfy his wife?

Though these are common thoughts for someone who has been cheated on, it's important for Charlie and people like him to realize that there are many reasons for infidelity. Shirley might not be getting something that she needs from her relationship with Charlie, but it also might be for another reason. Some research has shown that cheaters often cheat because they aren't giving enough in the relationship, not because they aren't getting enough. In other words, if Shirley gave of herself more, perhaps she'd feel more invested in her relationship with Charlie and wouldn't have cheated.

As Charlie and Shirley talk to their therapist, it becomes clear that Shirley isn't just the woman who had an affair. She's also feeling angry and betrayed by Charlie's close friendship with a woman at their church. Charlie and this woman hang out a lot, and he often doesn't tell Shirley that they're hanging out. She finds out from other people in the church.

Charlie doesn't understand what the big deal is. After all, he and this woman haven't slept together, so why should Shirley be upset?

Emotional infidelity (that is, an affair that does not involve physical betrayal) can be just as traumatic as physical infidelity. The betrayed partner will often experience the same emotions (like hurt and anger) that occur when they are physically betrayed.

But Charlie points out that Shirley has male friends, too. So, what's the difference? There are three ways to differentiate an emotional affair from a platonic friendship:

1. Greater emotional intimacy than in the relationship

Charlie shares all of his secrets (his hopes and dreams, his fears and worries) with the woman from his church, but he doesn't really talk to Shirley. He is creating greater emotional intimacy with the other woman than he has with his wife.

2. Secrecy

Like with Charlie, many people who have emotional affairs don't tell their spouses when they will hang out with the other person. They might downplay the person's role in their life, describing them as just a coworker or not mentioning them at all.

3. Sexual chemistry

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