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.

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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

Even though Charlie and this woman haven’t slept together, they are still attracted to each other. They flirt, and he fantasizes about her.

So, Charlie’s having an emotional affair, and Shirley had a physical one. What does this mean for their marriage? Though it is difficult, couples can survive infidelity and even come out stronger on the other side. Seeing a psychologist or counselor who specializes in couples’ issues can help Charlie and Shirley (and people like them) get over the betrayal and build a healthier relationship.


Charlie and Shirley aren’t the only ones with marital issues. Shirley’s friend Vanessa is in a dangerous situation. Her husband Archie calls her names, yells at her and sometimes even hits her.

Spousal abuse can come in many forms: physical, emotional, verbal and even sexual. In all cases, abuse takes away the abused person’s right to maintain control over his or her life. Vanessa, for example, isn’t allowed to decide when she goes out with friends or what she wears. She’s not even allowed to decide whether she wants to have sex with Archie or not. He dictates everything that she does, and if she tries to assert herself, he physically accosts her.

Abuse can happen to men or to women, and it can have serious side effects. Vanessa, like other people who are abused, has anxiety and feels depressed. She also has physical issues, like the fact that her left arm is weak from the time that Archie broke her arm and it never healed quite right. All of these are issues that survivors of spousal abuse can go through.

It’s important for people who are abused to seek support. There are people who are trained to help protect and heal survivors of abuse, and with help, Vanessa and others like her can live a happy, healthy life away from their abusers.

Lesson Summary

Early adulthood is the time between ages 20 and 40. During this time, many people get married. There are some serious issues that can affect marriages, though, including infidelity, which can be physical or emotional, and spousal abuse.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

Learning Outcomes

After completing this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Identify issues in early adulthood that can cause serious problems in marriages
  • Recognize infidelity and abuse as the two main problems
  • Understand the lingering problems of both and how to address them