How Can An Affair Help A Marriage?
It sounds naturally rather paradoxical. Affairs are the enemies of marriages. They are what destroy established couples. There should be nothing positive whatsoever about one or both parties in a marriage heading off with a lover. And yet, there are – perhaps strangely – a few ways in which an affair might contribute to the growth and stability of a union. In optimal situations, affairs deserve to be counted as among the stranger but genuine elements that can strengthen a marriage.
Here are a few of the reasons:
Liking ourselves more
Given how often we behave badly in love from feeling small and undesirable, a new person’s interest can awaken us to a new sense of our own potency and sheer likeability, which we can take back into and use to nourish our primary relationship. Our romantic success can make us feel more able to cope with the irritants of ordinary life, helping us to recover the thread of our own self-esteem.
We know a lot about how can guilt can torment us; we know less about how it may motivate us to be kinder. Feeling that we have deeply wronged our partner can spur us to energetic attempts to recompense them for our deceit and mendacity. Rich in betrayal, we no longer stay fixated on their irritating habits and hurtful acts, we forget that they were unkind to us about our income or neglectful of our needs around the house. What we’re chiefly aware of is that we told a panoply of appalling lies, lay with our lover in a bathtub while we texted to say a meeting had overrun, ignored the children on the weekends and wasted the household money on costly erotic gifts – and so have, quite simply, no leg left to stand on. We may have to wait until we feel very bad indeed to start to do a bit of genuine good.
We were driven into another’s arms because we had forgotten the art of connection. We no longer knew how to be tender, to give compliments, act playfully or behave with sensitivity and consideration. Our lover revised the emotional curriculum with us. In our hideaway, it became natural to touch them sweetly, to refer to them with an affectionate diminutive and to pick up on their best qualities. The affair was not just a school for betrayal; it turned out to be a school for love in its totality; its lessons could be transferred, reintegrated into the very relationship whose insufficiencies had inspired the affair in the first place. In the process, the affair may start to seem a little less necessary. We can come to see that a lot of what we were seeking within an affair could, if only we remembered to practice certain moves, be available in the marriage.
We were desperate to re-experience ourselves as potent and desirable. Our lover hasn’t only helped us connect with them sexually, they’ve guided us back to our libido more broadly. It may be them in particular we make love to, but it’s sex in general they have given us an appetite for. We may not, at this point, always be thinking of our partner during sex. But we are, at least, much to their and our surprise, having sex with them once more.
Life is not elsewhere
Cheating lends us the gift of reducing the ill-temper and angry wistfulness that can come from a sense that there must be beautiful astonishing alternatives out there which our commitments have arbitrarily cut us off from. An affair puts our vagabond romantic imaginations usefully to the test; it challenges our unfair, sentimental suspicions that the pain and melancholy we sometimes feel is specifically the fault of our partner, rather than a general feature of existence. We may not always be happy with our long-term companion but – the affair teaches us – nor would we invariably be happy with anyone else either. That all relationships are complicated and in certain ways unsatisfying may be the wisest lesson that we can pull out of the burning troubled embers of an affair.
No one is perfect
The affair teaches us that everyone is tricky from close up. Life with a new person would be equally, but just differently, complex. It’s a case of working out what variety of suffering we’re best suited to. We stand to remember that we surrendered our freedom for very sound reasons because we realised that we had found someone who was – in the end – about as good as any decent human can ever be expected to be. We are often unhappy, of course, but that is a universal law, not a unique curse.
We are not trapped
Instead of feeling that we have no option but to remain in our oppressive relationship, the affair gives us the opportunity to fully explore the idea that we could truly be with someone else. If, thereafter, we decide to stay in the marriage, the decision becomes once again a positive choice, not a habit or an arbitrary necessity. The conclusion that we want to remain functions like a renewal of vows. The best way to exorcise the power that affairs can have over married people is not to claim that they are both deeply lovely and yet entirely forbidden. It may be to give married people a chance to explore them and to see the reality from up close. As wise parents know, banning anything rarely works, it merely inflames our curiosity and arouses our defiance. The best move may be to give a restless partner a chance to find out what an affair is really like, and then have nerve and wisdom to bet that the knowledge will return them to us soon enough.
Insofar as there could ever be a fruitful kind of cheating, it would be the sort that – without causing too much chaos or pain to all those involved – would quietly instruct us in one or two ways in which we could, once the affair is over, go on to have a slightly more successful and serene monogamous life.