I grew up in the fifties, thinking that marital fidelity was just what you do. As far as I had heard, most all the Schmidts had apparently been faithful to their spouses. I was told that it just made good sense, for families and for society. At church we were told this was one of the big Ten 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 telling me 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. 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 facts that tell the tale of the unbalanced scale:
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 pack up 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 life coach you can reach at [email protected], (502) 633-2860.