I've been thinking about this concept a lot lately. Unfaithfulness. Infidelity.
Essentially, it means not keeping your promise, and it has come to be used almost exclusively with the act of not maintaining sexual fidelity.
Marriages split up because one spouse had sex with someone outside the marriage. It has come to the point where it is almost the single most valued thing in a marriage. "I can put up with anything as long as he doesn't cheat on me." Really?
I've been told many times that if I'm going to cheat, I should just end it, as if sexual fidelity is all there is and if you don't have that you have nothing. That's just bullshit.
A long term marriage is a very complicated thing. It involves being with someone day in and day out, often while raising children, and doing your best to support, not squash, each other's hopes and dreams. It involves sickness and puke and seeing your partner in the most physically unattractive ways and still trying to maintain a sexual attraction. It involves a massive amount of forgiveness and humility. And love. Especially love.
I've shared with you before that my marriage vows were rather unconventional and didn't include most of the typical language of marriage vows, but the point was the same. I promised to be his partner in life, no matter what. That's it in a nutshell. I promised that nothing would ever make me walk away from him. Nothing means nothing. I promised to be in it for the long haul - in sickness, health, good times, bad times.While our vows didn't include a sexual fidelity component, most do, and it was pretty much understood in ours. We just didn't say it.
The core of my commitment - and his - was that we would stay together no matter what. I would consider my husband truly unfaithful if he walked way from the marriage. Anything short of that may fall under the "sickness, worst of times, or poorer" part, but it's certainly not cause to leave the marriage.
A word to my divorced friends....I'm not judging you. To make a long term marriage work, both people must be fully committed and do their part to make the marriage work. If one party has checked out there's often nothing the other can do.
For those of you thinking, "What about abusive relationships?" I'll admit that my "no matter what" promise has two conditions - physically abusing me or abusing our children in ANY way. In those cases, I would leave immediately, but I can't say what would happen in the long run. I've seen many families recover from such awful situations. Each has to judge for him/herself.
But I digress.....again. What I'm trying to say is that sexual infidelity does not erase years of fidelity to all the other promises. My husband has been with many other women during our marriage, and I didn't know about it until fairly recently. Should that outweigh everything he's done to honor our marriage over the past 27 years? Of course not. He's been my partner through thick and thin for a long, long time. He's the father of my children. So what if he likes to fuck younger women? If it were a problem for me, we'd have to deal with that, but if it were so much of a problem that I'd throw everything away because of it, I'd be an idiot.
The opposite is also true. If he was so twisted up over me having sexual encounters with other men that he couldn't see all the good in our relationship, he'd be an idiot. But he can see beyond it. He doesn't like it, and it was very upsetting for him when he first discovered it, but it's not going to destroy the marriage. Our marriage is about much, much more than sex. Most married couples understand that, but then they turn bat shit crazy over a single incident of cheating. It's illogical and shortsighted.
Let's look at it from another angle. If a marriage is reasonably good in most respects (or even if it isn't right now, but you believe in staying together no matter what), but the sex life is dead and there is nothing you can do to revive it, is it so bad to have those needs met elsewhere? Obviously, I don't think so, but I am aware that I am in a minority. Does it make any sense at all to let sexual dysfunction or the lack of marital sex cause the downfall of the whole relationship? Not to me.
I'm not saying that all marriages should be open relationships, but it's silly to let lack of sex poison things. It's just one piece of the marital relationship, after all.
Yes, I do think that the best case scenario is to have a healthy intimacy with your spouse that includes an awesome and ever-exciting sex life. If you've been married over 20 years and you have that and neither of you has cheated, God bless you. You have life's golden ticket. Don't take it for granted.
If you're unmarried, or if you've been married for less than 18-20 years, you need to stop pushing morality that you can't possibly understand onto other people. I often wonder how many marriages split up because one spouse cheats and the other is pushed and prodded into divorce by well meaning friends and family members who don't truly understand the value of a long term loving, albeit imperfect, relationship with another human being.
Too often, we try to make very complex things simpler by narrowing them down to a few simple rules. That's what has happened with marriage and infidelity. Unfortunately, no matter how much you try to make it simpler, marriage isn't so easily "managed," neither is anything truly valuable in life.
If someone were to ask me if my husband has been faithful to me over these past 27 years, my answer would be, "In almost every way, and certainly in all the ways that really matter. I'm a very fortunate woman." His answer would be the same.