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Obviously, this happens in a marriage for many reasons.  It does not necessarily spell the end but there is a chance of saving the marriage only if the cause is clear and both partners are prepared to make the necessary changes.

I am opposed to extra-marital sex because it destroys the delicate fabric of trust and because I dislike underhanded behaviour of any kind. If a person in a relationship is unhappy, then they should find the courage to leave, or stay and make things better.  Marriage is an ideal and many of us fail to live up to the high standards it demands, but there are alternatives, and those who yearn for multiple partners should stay unmarried, in my opinion.

However, we need to examine the reasons for infidelity.  There has to be a distinction made between chronic infidelity and the one-off kind.

Chronic infidelity almost always stems from immaturity and/or insecurity.  Men and women who didn't 'sow their wild oats' before settling down, or those who need continual ego-stroking, may not be satisfied with just one sexual partner, especially after the initial passion wears off.  This type of infidelity can become habitual and, therefore, difficult to relinquish.

The one-off variety often happens accidentally, that is to say, it's unplanned, unpremeditated, often taking the offender by surprise.  It can occur in the most unlikely marriages and the unfaithful party is often anything but raunchy or promiscuous.

The law of 'propinquity' applies, too, which means that geographical proximity and availability plays a part.  That's why extra-marital lovers are so often best friends, neighbours, workmates and even family members.

This is one of the most hurtful aspects of infidelity, when it involves people known to the couple.  It adds a double dimension of betrayal to the offence.  However, in a twisted sort of way, it's a good sign because it says that infidelity was probably not sought after but occurred as a result of an opportunity presented.

Chronic adulterers don't wait for chances; they go out looking for lovers and usually have several, with whom they have non-emotional sex.  This, of course, can backfire if emotions do get involved, and then the marriage is really under threat.

So, why do people commit infidelity in marriage?  The main reasons are:

  • Searching for excitement and variety.

  • Lack of sexual satisfaction in the marriage.

  • Not sufficient sex in the marriage.

  • Emotional problems in separate partners.

  • Relationship difficulties.

  • Psychological stress.

  • Imbalance in sexual desire.

  • Very early marriage and/or virginity before marriage.

  • Stages of development in men and women, for example, the thirties syndrome in women, and mid-life crisis in men, usually early forties.

  • Drifting apart because of children, work commitments, general problems.

  • Fear of ageing and loss of sexual desirability.

  • Intervention of a third party.

Some who commit infidelity in a one-night stand decide not to tell their spouses but to continue in the marriage, especially if they recognise that it was an aberration and unlikely to occur again.  Some fall in love, or think they do, and begin to act differently in the marriage, therefore rendering the relationship invalid.  Their extra-marital liaison is discovered and a lot of pain results for both parties and the family, if there is one.  The chronic adulterers can get away with their behaviours for years without detection.

What the moral position is on this depends on the conscience of each individual, but I know that the most hurtful cases of infidelity I've seen as a counsellor are the long-term ones, when partners find out their spouses have been carrying on for years behind their backs.  This type of betrayal is devastating because it makes a mockery of the entire relationship.

Does infidelity spell death to a marriage?  Not necessarily.  It can, in fact, make a marriage stronger, if the couple both still want to be together and are prepared to forgive and forget.  There may be fault on both sides — even though only one person committed adultery.  Counselling is advisable so that the couple can look at where the marriage failed, for no third person can ever successfully intrude on a strong duo.

I doubt if there's much hope of saving a marriage where chronic infidelity has occurred over a long period because of the corrosion of trust, but a one-off lapse might even be a trigger for improvement in a stale or troubled marriage.  Like the middle-aged man who suffers a heart attack and then changes his lifestyle for the better, a marriage wounded by infidelity can mend stronger and surer — but only with a great deal of love, patience, and courage.  Trust takes a lot of time to rebuild, but if the offender wants to play victim and the faithful partner wants to play martyr, they may as well stop punishing each other and give up altogether.

If true forgiveness can take place and both want a new beginning, there's no reason for it not to work.  If it's impossible to forget then there must at least be an agreement of silence, for constant reference to the deed ensures that it lives on as an intruder in the marriage.

The saying 'Through adversity to the stars' seems an apt way to end this section.  The price of admission is love, as much as you've got to give.

In summary, sex in marriage is different and special because of its particular challenges:

  • The differences in male and female sexuality.

  • The 'distraction' principle.

  • Playing out of extreme roles instead of compromising and moderation.

  • Individual psychology of partners.

  • General and relationship problems.

Sexual attraction is one thing but marriage requires much more than that if it is to sustain all the days and nights, the effort and disappointments, the hurts and disagreements, the fears and pain of a whole lifetime.  It's no wonder so many give up.  Yet, within marriage lies the greatest potential to enjoy sex in its fullest and deepest form.



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