Maintaining Faithfulness in married Expat Couples

Published on September 20, 2012

unfaithful expat husbandI recently came across an article titled "Expat wives losing hubbies to Asian women a big worry" in which expat wives in Singapore expressed worries on the trend of expat husbands leaving their wives for local women. In today's globalized economy, skilled professionals can easily travel to wherever their skills are needed. This is also helped by the promising outlook offered by developing economies compared to the sluggishness felt in some of the developed countries. To others, the allure of travel and working overseas is the opportunity of a lifetime.

Whatever the reasons for becoming an expat, the expat's family is usually uprooted along with them to settle together in the foreign place.  This can proof to be a stressful event to the family without factoring in the theme of this article. Despite many families experiencing the effects of adapting to living in a foreign county, there is a surprising dearth of information on what factors can help hold together such relationships.

I know of no research studies on what factors increase risk for marital infidelity in expat husbands. However there are quite a few on married couples who have not emigrated and results from these studies suggest likely effective strategies for expat couples. One recent study by Whisman, Gordon, & Chatov (2007) identified the following risk factors for infidelity:

  • Marital dissatisfaction
  • Neuroticism
  • Religiosity
  • Pregnancy status of wife

Based on a huge sample size for such studies, namely 2291 individuals in married relationships, the annual prevalence of infidelity was 2.3%. They also found that even when controlling for marital dissatisfaction, religiosity was negatively associated with infidelity. That is, the more “religious” someone is, the less infidelity occurs.

However one of the four questions which were used to measure religiosity tapped “frequency of attending religious services”. This suggests to me that religious belief may not be the only factor involved here, or even the most important factor. The major contributing factor here could be whether the individual belongs to a positive social group whose values and expectations he identifies with.

This hypothesis was suggested to me through my discussion with a client; a successful business man who had been sexually unfaithful to the point of jeopardizing the health of his wife and unborn child.

He told me of how the expectation of his business clients was that after a day of hard business dealings that they be taken to a “girlie bar”. Many men the world over have similar expectations and values. The idea is to be fiercely competitive in work, to work hard and then play hard. The playing hard may involve socializing with party girls etc. as accepted behavior. It is part of proving that you are a real man - powerful and sexually successful. It is easy to see how such expectations and values may be incorporated unconsciously by many businessmen but are hugely detrimental to their marriage.

To counteract these values and expectations I suggest joining a fraternal organization that has some higher purpose e. g. volunteering to assist in programs for the physically or mentally handicapped or raising funds to help such organizations. Being members of such positive associations such as the Rotary Club, the Good Fellows, etc. will help men internalize the values of this altruistic organization instead of the values of many of their business colleagues. Now of course it must be an organization with values one can profoundly believe in. Fortunately my client already had experience in volunteering in the past and was interested in joining an organization with a higher purpose.

Besides just having the husband participate in group activities, having the couple or family involved as well would help strengthen the relationship and bonds. Something else the couple can do together while in the foreign land is to explore their new surroundings together, either by travelling or learning the local cultures. Making connections and friendships with the locals can also help foster a sense of belonging and help reduce the stress experienced from relocation.

I started by mentioning the article on local women competing with expat wives for their husbands. While there is little that can be done to prevent that from happening, you can, however, help to protect and strengthen your marriage with the few things I have mentioned.

I hope this article can get expats in troubled marriages started on what they can do to help themselves. The points I raised are by no means all there is to it and I greatly appreciate any thoughts or experiences you have which are relevant to expat husbands and sexual infidelity in order to help expand the knowledge base on this relatively unresearched topic. Your contribution may help other expats avoid being sexually unfaithful and all the serious consequences that likely follows e.g. divorce, separation from children etc


Whisman, M. A., Gordon K.C., and Chatav, Y. (2007). Predicting Sexual Infidelity in a Population-Based Sample of Married Individuals. Journal of Family Psychology, 21(2), 320-324.

Category(s):Adjusting to Change / Life Transitions, Infidelity

Written by:

Brian Scott

Dr. Scott is a clinical psychologist based in Singapore with three decades of counseling and psychotherapy experience in helping adults with many kinds of psychological difficulties. These include anxiety, depression, addictions (cybersex, love), and Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Adult ADHD).

Brian Scott belongs to Scott Psychological Centre in Singapore

Mental Health News