October 14, 2023

What exactly is infidelity? –  A reader asks

What exactly is infidelity? –  A reader asks

By Bunmi Sofola

“Several different kinds of marital contracts exist today,” writes Dele, a middle-aged ‘happily married’ father of six, and a legal practitioners.  “There are married swingers which mark one end of the spectrum, those couples who enjoy extramarital sex with the clear understanding that each is permitted to do so.  Then there are the unions in which one partner has so little interest in sex that the other is free to do whatever he or she wants.  But most common, it seems, is the unspecified contract in which both parties profess monogamy but both have extra marital sex in secrecy.

“But what happens if one partner has extramarital intercourse for its own sake?  Although other factors, such as friendship and affection, may be involved, there may be no intent to break up the marriage, but simply the need to enjoy another person sexually.  Conventionally, this is considered infidelity.  But has real infidelity occurred?

“In most cases, the reaction of the ‘betrayed,’ wife or husband is predictable.  Since the promise of monogamy is implicit in conventional marriage, the violated party assumes the worst.  For the transgressor to ask the transgressed to accept what has happened as a physical matter, and not infidelity, is usually to ask the impossible.  Humiliation, fear, and confusion cancel out any explanation made after the fact.  It’s too late to discuss the terms of the contract they’ve already been broken.

“But is all this pain really necessary?  Perhaps it’s time to view the marriage relationship in a different light.  I suggest that the first step in this process is the realization that, in most cases, infidelity and extra marital relations are two very separate phenomena.  People easily overlook the fact that infidelity often occurs without sexual relations. A man may dutifully sleep only with his wife, and maintain a stable atmosphere at home, when he’s really more passionate about his relationship with his boss or his drinking mates than he is about her.  Conversely, a woman may be a model housewife and mother in the old sense, but may in fact, think more about her heavy social commitment, or even another man, though guilt might prevent her from consummating this other relationship sexually.  Could anyone honestly call either of these two ‘faithful’?

“The problem of infidelity is not an easy one.  In recent years, we have been hearing a great deal about ‘open’ marriage and it is estimated that more than ten per cent of us practice it – most culprits are concentrated in the cities.  The basic premise is that both partners agree they are free to have sexual relations with other people.  Whether they discuss each particular relationship or keep it private is a matter also agreed upon.  I’ll give an example here.

“A few months ago, a couple visited their married friends.  Unknown to the husband, his wife had armed herself with proof of her husband’s extra marital affairs with their host’s wife.  When she later broached the subject, their hostess was livid. ‘What exactly is your problem?’  she asked the bewildered guest who’d thought her hostess should be cowering in shame.  ‘Do you have any evidence that I came to your matrimonial home to sleep with your husband?  How dare you come to my matrimonial home to disrupt my peace and quiet?’  Turning to her alleged lover, she said coldly.  ‘Why don’t you take your wife home?  It’s obvious you can’t control her and you’re no longer welcome here?’

“The poor woman looked bewilderingly at their host for any form of support, but he shrugged.  It was obvious who was in charge of this particular matrimonial home.  Besides, the host also had his bits-on-the-side, so who was he to rock the boat?  Those who argue against open marriage say that it destroys the bond of faith and trust between two people, and that with unlimited opportunities for sex elsewhere, there will be less sexual expression between partners. 

But the reverse is true.  Studies of such unions have shown that the sexual side of the marriage is often enhanced.  Of course, marriage is not the ideal solution for everyone.  Jealousy is a powerful prevalent and highly destructive emotion for both men and women, it may be difficult for many people to understand that emotional involvement between two people is what is important.

“Open marriage requires great courage and effort on the part of each spouse.  Marriage is a complex relationship and shifting the dynamics of it is always a delicate process.  But any couple facing the crisis of extramarital sex must think twice.  Is sex the real issue, or is it breach of trust?  The key to any successful marriage is honesty and faith.  If you can accept all of the other’s desires, no extramarital affair will destroy your love.”