I grew up in the fifties, thinking that marital fidelity was just what you do. All the Schmidts I had heard of had apparently been faithful to their spouses, and I was told that it just make good sense, for families and for society. At church we were told this was one of the big 10 Commandments. At school I was taught that family was one of the backbones of Western civilization, and fidelity was the backbone of the family, the core that held everything else up and made it work. I learned in summer camp that our director was being faithful to his wife, not to get pie in the sky, or because God would just die, but because he wanted the good life here on earth. The twinkle in that man’s eye, the bounce in his step, and the laughter in his voice told me he was living it.
When I went away to college, I was having a lot of trouble saving sex for marriage, even being faithful to my girlfriend back home. I suddenly realized that for five years, my father had been going door-to-door selling investments and insurance. No doubt he had stumbled upon some pretty good opportunities to cheat on my mom. So I asked him one day, “I don’t want to know if you have been faithful to Mom or not, but I just want to know what have you learned from struggling out there with your temptations to cheat on her.”
I will never know how many mistakes he had to make in order to learn this, or how much he was able to learn from the mistakes of others, but I remember him saying this: “Marriage is hard work, Son. Every year, your mother and I have to work a little harder than the year before it seems, to give and take and solve our problems. We keep expecting it to get easier, but it hasn’t. Yet we feel marriage is worth the effort. Every year we have gotten closer, and we enjoy our time together and feel more in love each year than we did the year before. We take good care of our marriage, and it takes good care of us.
“Now here’s what I can tell you about the other women that you and I could play with on the sly. If you touch that body of hers, you won’t just be playing with it, but you will also be playing with all the heartaches and problems and relationships that live in that body. They will find their ways back home to your family, and pester you to take care of them. It is like feeding a stray cat at the back door. When you are trying to go to sleep in your bed, that cat will be up on your windowsill, whining and scratching to get in.
“So do you want to know what I have learned? I’ve learned that it is all I can do to get along with your mother. There is just not enough of me to go around to take care of two women,” he said with a big smile. “The last thing I need in my life is another woman.” Now, after 46 years of being married myself, and 40 years of hearing 2000 couples tell me both sides of what their marriages are like, I know my dad was telling me truth.
And yet nowadays, Americans young and old are being taught that it is not smart to be faithful. Today’s culture tells them it is smarter to use sex for pleasure than for enriching a marriage partnership. They are told that they would regret leaving any fun on the table, and be haunted by wondering what fun they had missed. With all the divorces and unhappy marriages most Americans see around them, the old-fashioned purposes of using sex to make marriage last and thrive are not seen as realistic. Having sex outside of marriage is widely seen as a natural byproduct of poor marriages, and not as one of their main causes.
In light of this huge cultural shift away from marital fidelity, being faithful requires much more than believing that cheating would hurt God and our spouse and our children. We don’t always sense their presence in the heat of temptation that occurs in the dark corners of our lives. Frankly, even when we think of our loved ones, sometimes at the moment, we just don’t much care about them. We have such insanely selfish moments that we think of ourselves as solitary individuals, as if we are already single again. At such times we only care about ourselves, and maybe the alluring one we are with. Both of us have fallen into the same illusion, that our bodies are not secretly carrying the infections of heartaches, problems, needs, and people back home.
So fidelity requires an informed selfishness. We need to know that it isn’t worth it. Like my father did, I need to realize that it isn’t good for me, I can’t afford it, and I would regret it. We have to do the cost-benefit analysis carefully enough and often enough that we don’t forget these truths, not in our hearts or in our minds. To that end, my next column will give eighteen ways to realize why the pleasures of infidelity aren’t worth all the troubles.
A preceding article explains how marital fidelity doesn’t make sense to most Americans. If we are going to be faithful to our spouses, we have to know that it simply doesn’t pay for us to cheat. The selfish self we call the ego has to know better, if the body which hosts it is going to be true to its spouse. Most of us married folk once swore before God and our families that our two bodies had become one flesh. But few have realized and fewer remembered this truth: anything which affects one of our bodies is going to affect the other, just about as much.
Therefore being true to our spouse and our marriage vows will require the selfish self to do the math of a cost-benefit analysis, and realize that the cost of cheating far outweighs the benefits. This case for marital fidelity can serve as protection for your marriage every time you leave home. It can be like a suitcase that caries a flame-retardant suit, to protect you from the fires of lust and betrayal. Here are the math facts that tell the tale:
1. Sex outside marriage is an addictive, pain-killing escape from reality, responsibility, and relationship. Like adding cocaine to sex inside a marriage, it spoils natural lovemaking at home. It will always make your married love life seem less enjoyable by the distorted comparison.
2. Comparing your spouse to someone else always deceives you. Anyone would look more attractive than they are, if you haven’t yet experienced them sharing stressful responsibilities with you. Managing a schedule, budget, household, childrearing, and extended family relationships bring out our worst traits.
3. Burning the candle at both ends will burn you out. Saving sex for home and for the future will keep a twinkle in your eye when you are old.
4. Infidelity will ruin the divorce it tends to create. Almost never will a spouse partner in mediation of a divorce when there is any suspicion of ongoing infidelity as a cause or complication of the split-up. Your spouse will likely resent perceiving that you have primarily caused the divorce, and that you are making your road the easier of the two in getting out. Compared to a mediated divorce, a litigated divorce will take much more time, money, and emotional wellbeing out of everyone involved.
5. I don’t care what makes me hungry, I am going to eat at home. Smart people tell themselves this, and when their sexual energy is aroused outside their marriage, they come home and give it to their spouses. Use your private parts to take care of your spouse, not your lover. This will motivate your spouse to use his or hers to take care of you.
6. Why not retrain yourself, to want your spouse more? Like Pavlov with his dogs, when you pleasure yourself mentally or physically, you are training yourself to want whatever you are experiencing or imagining when that pleasure comes. Why train yourself to desire more of what you can’t afford to have, and less of what you do have?
7. Talk through your marriage conflicts together. Your infidelity isn’t caused by your mate’s shortcomings, but by your own failure to talk and work through your frustrations, with a counselor if needed. When you avoid conflict and your anger isn’t talked out, it gets acted out, as in infidelity. Why not learn how to get angry at situations and habits that are unfair, instead of at each other?
8. If you want to juice up your sex life, why not do it at home? If you want more recreational sex or more romance, you may need to invite your spouse to go with you to a professional to teach you how. As long as you go, learn to do your part, and keep offering it thoughtfully and unconditionally for a good period of time, you can tell your children and others that you have tried everything before seeking divorce.
9. Your firewalls will not hold up. You can successfully hide infidelity for awhile, but it almost always grows outside its bounds. That’s because the more you cheat, the more you want to cheat. And to punish you, your hidden guilt makes you increasingly careless.
10. Don’t pretend that what your spouse doesn’t know will not hurt him or her. Your marital infidelities do not reflect on your spouse, since he or she isn’t present during your adultery. Spouses are present for the cover-up. Hiding things insults a spouse, as it says, “You can’t handle the truth.” You do the lying right to your spouse’s face, and that’s why your cover-up hurts your spouse more than what you do away from home. Your lies make your spouse imagine what other betrayals you haven’t confessed.
11. Be smart enough to think through an affair before you get into it. You are smart enough to decide whether you can afford a car, house, or vacation before you purchase it, and this has a much bigger sticker price.
12. Infidelity is going to tear you apart, even before you get caught. You will be two different people living in one body. You can’t imagine the cost to repair the damage to yourself, and this crazy division makes you damage your lover and your family as well.
13. Do the math here: the total pain greatly outweighs the total pleasure. Cheating benefits only a small part of two people’s lives, and just in the short run. It hurts much more of you than it blesses, and the painful damage grows over the long run. It also hurts all the friends and family of both parties.
14. Your body belongs not only to you, but also to God and to your spouse as well. If you look at it that way 24-7, it will bond you to all three. If you use your body to bond with love instead of hate, this not only fulfills the two great commandments of Jesus, but helps you solve a lot of other problems as well.
15. You can’t feel the blessing presence of God during extramarital sex, or so they have told me. You can learn to do that in marriage. Asking God’s blessings on sexual activity makes it more exciting and fulfilling for those who try it.
16. There is not enough of you to go around, to satisfy two partners. And you sure don’t have enough left to take care of your children, career, friends, and your own personal life.
17. Your disloyalty will put a lot of damage and pain into your spouse. It will put hurt, anger, shame, and insecurity into your home. That will put a very real ceiling on the love, joy, and peace anyone can experience in those who live there. Research proves that fidelity brings huge benefits to you and your family, including better health and longer lives.
18. Adultery leaves a powerful legacy of cheating for your children. As with other self-destructive behaviors such as drug abuse and suicide, your offspring are more likely to follow suit. If your affair partner has a family, you mess them all up as well. The Ten Commandments include a specific warning that the effects of sin carry down into the third and fourth generations of the sinner’s offspring.
This article has built a case for marital fidelity. To make it your own, modify and personalize it. Print it out and meditate on it, by emailing me for your own copy at [email protected]. This will make it like a suitcase you will take in your heart and mind every time you leave home. When you are tempted to cheat, just unpack your suitcase, and put on your flame-retardant suit. You’ll enjoy everything else about your time away more, and you’ll enjoy your homecoming a lot more.
Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist in Middletown and Shelbyville, (502) 633-2860, mynewlife.com.