Affairs Can Save a Marriage: Myth or Mendacity?

So far I’ve avoided posting about this particularly abominable subject matter. Articles that claim that affairs can save relationships don’t do anything positive in terms of helping people understand infidelity and affairs, nor do they paint an accurate picture of the reality that affairs have on marriages.

Women’s Affair Save Marriages

I can’t let the article ‘How Women’s Infidelities Can Save Marriages‘ by Susan Shapiro Barash go without comment today, and I am sure that I will comment further in the future. Her article details a litany of justifications, rationalizations and moral licensing from women who are having an affair (or have had one).

Of the wives with whom I’ve spoken, close to half believe that the ‘other man’ can actually help them to stay in an unhappy or suboptimal marriage because they find their happiness with the lover. This group of wives who remain with their husbands feels more in touch with their desires in this extra curricular relationship than in their marriages and they no longer feel that life is passing them by.

Whilst I am not entirely sure how these ‘sub-optimal’ marriages are being measured and defined, I am fairly confident that it meets whatever flimsy standard these wives use as their excuse to cheat.

More than half the wives I’ve interviewed describe the lover as a vehicle through which to understand what is missing in the marriage — and wives in this situation may give up the affair with a renewed commitment to the marriage. 

I can’t help but wonder if all the therapists were busy on the day these women realized that they wanted to explore and understand what is missing from their marriage. Perhaps it was a national therapist holiday, and a day where all the husbands were similarly unavailable for a conversation about their relationships? To be left with nowhere else to turn but the other man to try to sift through your angst? So very sad.

Affairs & Gender Specificity

According to Ms Shapiro Barash, her research demonstrates that:

  • Wives say their sex lives have dwindled
  • Women are out in the workplace and have the opportunity to meet other men
  • Wives feel neglected by their husbands and their lovers makes them feel special
  • Women have access to men through the Internet (old boyfriends as well as new acquaintances)
  • Women unexpectedly fall in love with someone else

Since the rationalizations for an affair listed in her article are so similar to the male rationalizations, I fail to comprehend why this has been raised as a gender-specific article. Infidelity is not gender-specific - that’s not news. Affairs happen in both genders, they happen at varying times in a relationship (not just marriages), and with similar bullshit being fed to whomever will listen, as the ‘positive’ result of the affair.

It fascinates me that, with this acknowledged concurrence between male and female justifications, the article suggests that it’s only women whose affairs can save marriages. I haven’t decided if I think this is some cringeworthy attempt at feministic exaltation, or if the author is suggesting that only male affairs truly harm marriages, or if it’s just a tag-line that sells. Well, perhaps I have decided after all.

Affairs Save Marriages

It’s an asinine assertion that affairs save marriages. I found myself staring at this article for some time, not quite sure how to fully express the appropriate level of abhorrence for this type of Jedi Mind Fuck. My partner happened to glance at the article and their response said it all: “WTF is this shit?!?!

It smacks of the same banal rationalizations that we have explored here on numerous occasions. Affairs devastate marriages and relationships. Infidelity devastates individuals and families. Cheating smashes any marital or relational trust, it destroys bonds, and affects financial resources. It brings real and all too common health risks to the couple.

Affairs categorically do NOT save relationships. For those who assert that they are exploring how to be a better spouse/partner by their affair, or who believe they are a good partner/spouse while being unfaithful in a monogamous relationship, they are selling a line to both themselves, and others. It is nothing more than moral licensing.

Affair Justifications

Unlike Ms Shapiro Barash, I have not conducted research since the 1990′s, I haven’t appeared on television or radio shows discussing women’s issues, and I haven’t been taken in by this:

What remains so striking to me about women who choose to engage in affairs is how they use the affair to better understand themselves and their marriages.

Affair Help: Affairs Can Save MarriagesWomen (and men) who choose to engage in affairs have many excuses, reasons, rationalizations, justifications for what they’re doing. Yes, it can include feeling undesirable, unloved, finding excitement in an affair, even material gain from gifts showered upon them by their affair partner.

It can involve feelings of liberation, revenge, envy, or disappointment in a relationship that failed to meet their expectations. It CAN be an exit strategy, it CAN be about wanting to get caught. There could even be elements of conscious or unconscious reactions to adverse events in their lives.

The real reasons for having an affair are invariably selfish, self-serving, and uncaring of the consequences both personally or to anyone else who is affected. What they are not is a romanticized version of Eat, Pray, Love-esque free-spirited enlightenment, or a selfless attempt to save a failing relationship by shoring it up with an affair with someone else.

The Reality

What I absolutely do agree with here is the parting shot:

… the affair represents a form of exploration, and the consequences seem of less concern than the chance to have the experience.

That’s as close to reality as we need to get:

People choose to have affairs not because they think they will save the marriage/relationship, but because they don’t care if an affair destroys it.

~ Wayfarer


“I'm not a teacher, only a fellow traveler of whom you asked the way. I pointed ahead - ahead of myself as well as you.” ~ George Bernard Shaw