The parallel experiences of treating hundreds of couples over forty-seven years while at the same time learning how to love one woman well have taught me several enduring truths about marriage:
- Marriage has never been, nor will it ever be a solution to loneliness.
- The “institution” of marriage doesn’t offer a quick and painless path to intimacy and love.
- Marriage is—if nothing else—a challenge: to your ego, your character, your values, your sense of entitlement, your theories about love and commitment
- There is no relationship more powerful, more aptly suited, and more perfectly designed to facilitate a transformation—
- toward personal responsibility
- from demanding to giving
- to a deeply intimate and loving connection
- to a life of depth, meaning, and purpose
Such is marriage—a complex web of emotion, desire, passion, boredom, conflict, connection, loneliness, obligation, pain, joy, rage, and despair. And, at the center—love. Not the romance-novel, falling-in-love variety, but a love built on struggle, commitment, and, above all else, a deep feeling of friendship and connection that comes from the certainty that no matter how many times we lose our way, we’ll do what we must to return to one other.
The Cracks that Lead to an Affair
A marital crisis, such as an affair, doesn’t erupt without warning, nor does it explode without a context.
A violent, seismic fracture such as an affair may be the shock that cracks the illusion of marital harmony. However, a trained observer would have sensed the small fissures and fault lines that were trembling below the surface: resentments too trivial to acknowledge, a subtle yet growing distance, awkwardness where there once was a flow, decreased sexual desire, etc.
Twenty-five years ago, Toby Klein Greenwald and I began the WholeFamily Center, www.wholefamily.com, a website on marital and family relations. Our goal was to create an experience of family life from the inside. Using multimedia family dramas, we involve visitors in everyday conflicts of families very similar to their own. We also conducted multiple surveys on monogamy and infidelity.
Based on our results, 100% of the 1543 respondents to our survey stated that monogamy is essential for a stable marriage. Yet, according to another WholeFamily survey which matched other reliable studies, there is a 40% chance that one or both partners will have an affair. Yet, when a spouse discovers the deception, the reaction is always shock and rage—certainly not, “What do you expect? We’re your average married couple.”
So, why will 40% of couples turn their back on their principles and risk breaking up their families?
And why is it that every survey and letter communicate the same message: “It’s not the affair that I want. What I really want is to find love, passion, and emotional connection within my marriage.”
The simple answer is marital neglect and the accompanying feelings of loneliness, resentment, and distance.
A marriage ignored is a marriage waiting for a crisis.
Dr. Michael Tobin, takes a deep dive into the question of monogamy and infidelity in a 20-part series called The Marital Odyssey, How to Affair-Proof Your Marriage and Create Lasting Love. The series appears on The Psychology Todaywebsite and his personal website.
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