An Extramarital Affair—Why Not?
“ONLY you and you alone.” These words of a popular song well express the feeling most men and women have for the person they marry. But how long does such fidelity last?
Extramarital affairs have become so common in modern society that not having one is considered almost abnormal. There are those who condone such infidelity, defend it, and even recommend it. Some claim that it makes for a better marriage. As psychologist Tony Lake and journalist Ann Hills write in their book Affairs: The Anatomy of Extra-Marital Relationships: “There can be no doubt that the lives of a very large proportion of married men and women are being enriched and made more meaningful by secret sexual relationships.”
Popular women’s magazines ask openly: “Will an affair preserve your marriage?” In answer, it is often argued that an affair can make you appreciate your marriage partner more, or make up for shortcomings in your sex life. It will make you more experienced, more able to cope with your mate and your children, and therefore happier, some claim. The impression is given that if you don’t have an affair, you’re missing out on something. But are you?
Does an Affair Make Marriage Better?
Could this popularizing of extramarital affairs have something to do with the increasing number of divorces in our time? In Sweden almost three out of every five marriages end in divorce. And the figures for other countries are not far behind.—See the accompanying box, “Marriage and Divorce Statistics for 1983.”
To what extent is adultery the reason for such divorces? Commenting on figures for the United Kingdom, Lake and Hills claim: “More than half the men who were divorced under the age of forty had adultery cited as the grounds in the petitions filed with the courts. It is reasonable to assume that adultery had taken place in many more of these marriages, and that it was not cited as the main reason for the petition. At the same time, it would be very surprising if there are not far more extra-marital affairs each year than there are divorces.”
A recent survey in China, conducted at the Shanghai Academy of Social Science, found that infidelity is a major reason for divorce in that country. Divorce as a result of infidelity “has tripled in the past two years,” says the Shanghai report.
Without doubt, extramarital affairs are one of the major causes of ruined marriages. Therefore, can having an affair ever be recommended as a remedy for a weak marriage? Could a drug that kills 30 to 40 percent or more of its consumers ever be recommended as medicine? Hardly!
Some argue that it is best to keep the affair secret from one’s marriage partner. But how? Explain Lake and Hills: “Affairs are usually surrounded by a protective web of lies and deceit. Whether an affair is a secret or not and whether it has ended or is still going on, the lies are usually designed to ‘protect’ the marriage, or to safeguard certain aspects of the marital relationship. Many of these lies are half-truths, because the whole truth would be too painful to face up to, or might too radically alter the relationship between husband and wife.”
When a man and a woman marry, they commit themselves to each other. To break a commitment is cheating, betrayal. Have lies, deceit, and half-truths ever brought lasting happiness to a marriage? So before considering having a secret affair, one would do well to ask oneself: Will all involved become happier? What about the feelings of guilt and the constant fear of finally being found out?
Still others argue that the foremost purpose of marriage is to bring children into the world, and the importance of sticking to one’s mate fades when the children grow up and leave home. They claim that there can be a sexual reawakening. So what’s wrong with having an affair then?
The Sexual “Reawakening”
There are psychologists and family counselors who recommend that middle-aged persons have an extramarital affair to reawaken dormant resources. Claim Lake and Hills: “An affair at this stage may well bring even more stability to a stable marriage, enabling one partner to feel alive in new ways without in the least threatening the other.”
Indeed, an affair may stimulate a person’s sexual appetite or satisfy his selfish fancy for a while. “It seemed such a glamorous idea, having a lover,” one middle-aged woman put it. But at what price?
Consider what happened to one middle-aged man after he had an affair with his secretary, who was 18 years his junior. His marriage of 30 years broke up, he began drinking heavily, and he was eventually fired from his job. He laments: “I did it simply because I was so proud of myself. Imagine me, at my age, conquering an attractive young woman. I believe this need to brag, to prove what a macho type you are, lies behind much of the stupidity men devote themselves to when they get a chance. This is unfortunate, because such pride rests on a false foundation.”
“A false foundation” indeed! The Bible long ago put it this way: “Pride is before a crash, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.”—Proverbs 16:18.
Is Sex Everything?
Some seek sex outside marriage because they think they are not getting enough within marriage. They are apt to think that happiness in life hinges on a very active sex life. To them a traditional lifelong relationship with one partner is outdated. As Rita Liljeström, an assistant professor of sociology in Sweden, said: “In Sweden there is a great deal of infidelity. Marital faithfulness has become surrounded by an air of ridicule. ‘We want to be modern.’”
Interestingly, the Bible has much to say on the subject of sex, presenting a balanced view of the matter. For example, consider what wise King Solomon wrote:
“Drink water out of your own cistern, and tricklings out of the midst of your own well. Should your springs be scattered out of doors, your streams of water in the public squares themselves? Let them prove to be for you alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your water source prove to be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of your youth, a lovable hind and a charming mountain goat. Let her own breasts intoxicate you at all times. With her love may you be in an ecstasy constantly. So why should you, my son, be in an ecstasy with a strange woman or embrace the bosom of a foreign woman?”—Proverbs 5:15-20.
So the Bible does not underestimate the “ecstasy” and satisfaction that sexual relations should bring to a man and a woman. But notice that this is to be within marriage, ‘with the mate of one’s youth.’
Of course, sexual desire may differ between man and wife. As in so many other areas of life, a happy relationship requires adaptability and willingness to share. So it is with sexual relations. Communication is a must. Each needs to know of the other’s abilities and desires. The apostle Paul recommends: “Let the husband render to his wife her due; but let the wife also do likewise to her husband.” And when doing so, they do well to follow this related principle: “Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.”—1 Corinthians 7:3; 10:24.
Though sex has its place within marriage, that is not to suggest that it is everything or that the sexual appetite can go unrestrained. To illustrate: Alcohol, in moderation, can make “the heart of mortal man rejoice,” says the Bible. (Psalm 104:15) But that certainly does not mean that we should develop an inordinate craving for alcohol or that we need not control when, where, and how we drink it.—Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-35.
The Unselfish Norm
No, sex is neither the only nor the best basis for a happy marriage. The kind of love that provides the basis for lasting satisfaction is a mixture of friendship, tenderness, concern, understanding, fidelity, responsibility. Such is true marital love. It is what remains, what helps marriage mates to endure, when trials come, when physical or mental illness obstructs sexual relations, or when age takes strength and beauty away.
In the final analysis, the best advice is that found in the Book of Books, the Bible, when it says: “Be faithful to your own wife and give your love to her alone.” (Proverbs 5:15, Today’s English Version) The Christian apostle Paul added: “Let marriage be honorable among all, and the marriage bed be without defilement.” (Hebrews 13:4) In line with that, Jesus Christ reminded certain inquirers in his day: “Did you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh’?”—Matthew 19:4, 5; Genesis 2:24.
A solid marriage built on such unselfish love and loyalty, coupled with unbreakable love for God and his Word, is the basis for lasting happiness—both for the partners, their children, and all others involved.
[Blurb on page 8]
Extramarital affairs have become so common in modern society that not having one is considered almost abnormal
[Box on page 10]
Marriage and Divorce Statistics for 1983:
Marriages Divorces Ratio
U.S.A.: 2,444,000 1,179,000 About 1 in 2
U.S.S.R.: 2,834,000 946,000 1 in 3
Australia: 113,905 41,412* More than 1 in 3
Cuba: 76,365 29,249 About 2 in 5
Netherlands: 78,415 32,596 About 2 in 5
United Kingdom: 387,000 145,802* About 2 in 5
Hungary: 75,978 29,000 About 2 in 5
Denmark: 27,096 14,763 More than 1 in 2
Sweden: 36,210 20,618 Almost 3 in 5
These figures are based on Demographic Yearbook 1983. The figures for Sweden and Denmark are taken from Yearbook of Nordic Statistics 1984.
Divorce figure for Australia is for 1981; figure for United Kingdom is for 1982.
Divorce figure for Australia is for 1981; figure for United Kingdom is for 1982.
[Picture on page 9]
A happy relationship between man and wife requires good communication and willingness to adapt