TrophyWife: I’m curious: Is this the type of marriage in which an affair is permissible/appropriate? If you’re living in a loveless, miserable marriage in which you stay because of your children, shouldn’t you at least find a few moments of adult happiness/joy with someone, even if that someone is a partner outside of your marriage?
Athol: If you’re asking this as a moral question, I’m not really the right person to ask. I don’t start from a moral position and try and determine what advice to give on that basis. I simply try and determine what is effective in getting the results you want and advise how to do that. There are frequent overlaps between traditional morality and what I advise, but that’s as far as it goes. I typically advise for the self-interest of my reader as a priority – just with the understanding that with sexual relationships you need a win-win scenario to maintain the relationship for longer than the short term.
So if the goal is simply to deaden the pain of a miserable marriage and tolerate it better, then yeah sure have an affair. There’s a lot of easy distraction to be had with sex on the side and an intense emotional connection to an outside person. You can also try being an alcoholic, a prescription drug abuser, a crackhead or Twilight fan to have the same effect. Just about anything fun done to excess can fill the void nicely. World of Warcraft or gardening give you an endless list of things to do for example.
But if the goal is to have a happy marriage, then having some sort of major sideline drama isn’t going to help you proceed toward your goal. In fact it’s going to curtail progression a great deal. Many psychologists and therapists take the “enlightened and modern” view that an affair can help stabilize a marriage and allow it to continue. I agree that can happen, I just think that the relationship that has been stabilized is typically a bad one. I think it’s better to ultimately push your marriage toward being a good relationship or end it, rather than suffer on into the future.
Which obviously comes to the question of…
“So what if you can’t leave the marriage? I have [reason X] that I simply can’t leave.”
You always have a choice. You may not like the options available, but you always have other options to choose. You just don’t want to leave the marriage because “X” is more important to you than what you would gain by leaving the marriage.
I don’t mean to sound like I’m advising divorce here, but the practical reality is that if you aren’t willing to hold yourself to standards of good treatment, you simply run the risk of being taken advantage of on a permanent basis. I love Jennifer deeply, but there are things she could do that would make me end things between us. She knows that I would not tolerate our marriage going bad for very long, so she pays attention to making it a good marriage. The opposite also holds true as well and I hold up my end of the bargain.
Importantly, those standards we hold each other to aren’t trivial things, they are simply the core agreements of being married to each other – we will hold a job, we won’t sleep with other people, we’ll have regular sex, we’ll be good to the kids and each other, we won’t lie to each other, we’ll keep the house generally clean, we’ll stay as healthy as we can. Beyond those basics, neither Jennifer or I really care too much what the other does as long as it’s legal.
Most of my readers who write me, have gotten themselves into a world of misery by trying too hard to be moral and removing divorce as an option completely. In these cases, their morality plays a major part in being the cause of their misery. Or put more plainly, if you find yourself married to a person that is an utterly horrible spouse, and your God commands that divorce is a terrible sin, the righteous decision is to stay and remain miserable. Personally I think being forced to choose between between sin or misery is cruel.
Adding insult to injury, is that very frequently the advice given to those faced between choosing sin or misery, is that they should pray harder for a change in their spouse, and find a way to be thankful for the situation in order to grow from it. Their belief is thus posed to them as not the cause of their situation, but as the solution for their dilemma. This works about as well as giving a kid choking on a hotdog a second hotdog.
Which leads us obviously to the question of “What about the children?”
My feeling is that someone who is a terrible spouse, is very frequently a terrible parent.
An alcoholic husband, is an alcoholic father.
A Batshit Crazy wife, is a Batshit Crazy mother.
A chronically unemployed husband, is a chronically unemployed father.
An absent cheating wife, is an absent neglecting mother.
A criminally involved husband, is a criminally involved father.
A slovenly hoarding wife, is a slovenly hoarding mother.
And I’m sure you get the idea….
So yeah… what about the children? Shouldn’t you be doing something?