We’re fixated on infidelity, even entertained by it. But there are worse breaches of trust, unglamorous difficulties that stress and end marriages, problems our society tends to very badly.
The celebrity divorce?
It’s almost impossible to skim an online magazine without news of the latest breakup, usually accompanied by an admission of infidelity.
Our tabloid press—and for that matter, our blogs—can hardly keep up.
A few of the notables include Tiger Woods, Jesse James, Kelsey Grammar, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And no, it isn’t just the men. I seem to recall Kristen Stewart’s marital mess last summer, though the ladies appear to keep things under wraps more easily.
Infidelity: 1, Monogamy: 0
So we consume the latest articles on monogamy and debate whether or not it’s actually achievable. We hone our sixth sense when a spouse seems less interested in the sack. We rifle drawers and check credit card receipts. We peek at texts and scan emails. We sniff around with a raised eyebrow and churning stomach, and wonder if the dream of a single sexual partner is exactly that: a dream.
And we blame breakups on philandering.
But isn’t the problem something more? Isn’t it the deception? The living with lies? Or more precisely, living with a liar?
I’m tired of reading about infidelity as if it’s the preeminent reason for breaking up a marriage, as if it’s the only global reason we’re able to agree on—perhaps because it’s easy to grasp.
And so we trot out age differences when it’s an older woman and younger man (Demi and Ashton). We cluck our tongues, nattering that it was inevitable that he would sleep with another woman. We look at the sexual liaisons of politicos and celebrities and condemn abuse of power, while shaking our heads at spouses who turn a blind eye.
We judge, we assume, and we really know nothing about these marriages.
We dismiss the possibility of seeds that were planted years before. We dismiss the disconnects of conflicting values.
Reasons for Divorce? You Tell Me
The most common reasons for divorce, according to most sources?
Infidelity typically takes the number one spot. But some of us believe it is a symptom at least as often as a problem in its own right. I recall reading a few years back that “growing apart” had become the most common reason for a marital meltdown.
Growing apart? Is that what we call it – anything and everything that turns us into roommates, strangers, or adversaries?
One source on the web neatly group reasons for divorce into categories. For example, we have communication, conflict management, and sexual intimacy. In other words, our communication sucks, we don’t know how to fight; we divorce because our partners want sex and we don’t, or we want sex and they don’t.
And then there are less clear-cut betrayals: physical or emotional abuse, drug or alcohol addiction, not to mention the emotional affair.
Doesn’t each of these involve a breach of trust? A series of deceptions?
And why do so few ever mention values? Isn’t this at least part of the trouble when we find we have differences in how to raise kids?
What if you’re living with someone who believes that nice guys finish last, and anything shy of breaking the law is fair game? What if he – or she – includes minor “infractions” that brush up against the law?
What if you’re living with someone whose political perspective turns out to be more than an issue of voting a different party, but express deeply held beliefs that turn your stomach?
I say: Whatever your value system, if you and your spouse share it, then you’ve got a leg up on making marriage work. You’re more likely to communicate well because you both believe in the importance of doing so. You’re more likely to resolve conflict respectfully because you understand the necessity of open exchange. You’re more likely to share a satisfying sex life because you’re willing to discuss it. Generosity, as a shared value, works in the bedroom just as anyplace else.
Easy breezy answers to marital harmony?
But if your principles and actions constantly clash with those of your spouse, won’t that wear on the union until there’s no union at all?
Lies in Marriage
Some of us stick to the little white lie. Some of us like the occasional whopper. We lie because we can. We lie as a matter of convenience. We lie because it gets us what we want. Or lying may be a learned behavior rooted in childhood survival.
Some lie rarely, and don’t do it very well. Others lie pathologically and may have a talent for it, and by the time we find out, we’re so entangled we wonder if we’ll ever find a way out.
And this brings me back to infidelity.
Frankly, I’m tired of reading about cheating spouses. I’m weary of hearing that a few minutes or hours of sexual intimacy (or release) trumps years of responsibility and shared loving.
Is this a popular stance in American culture?
Not so much. But can we be realistic for a moment and look at the statistics on infidelity which tell us that “one or both spouses admit to infidelity, either physical or emotional,” in 41% of marriages?
Does infidelity damage trust if you’re found out? Obviously.
But absent leading a secret life, absent carrying on serial affairs that put the other spouse’s health (or sanity) at risk, absent a pattern of lying and deception – must infidelity end a marriage?
An affair is a painful breach, but it isn’t the only painful breach. I contend that it’s just as devastating to live with a person whose values you find repellant (not to mention destructive), whose beliefs include a stream of excuses and entitlements, whose behavior may include neglect, abuse, or addiction. Don’t these deserve our attention and examination? Shouldn’t we—as a society—be tending to these problems?
These betrayals, to me, make extramarital sex look like child’s play. Celebrity bed hopping? It’s entertainment for the masses.
This article originally appeared in Daily Plate of Crazy.
Photo by grisel.