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Can an affair actually improve your marriage?
Some think an affair can improve a marriage; that you can get whatever it is out of your system to return to your spouse with greater appreciation. But are they right? - photo by Dan Bates
My wife and I went on a date night in the not-so-distant past. We were at one of our favorite places, Kennedy School McMenamins in Portland, Oregon. We love this place because of the atmosphere, all the things to do (soaking pools, firesides, movie theater, great pizza), but we also love this place for another reason: It's where our love story began. We fell in love walking the halls of Kennedy School. So we often go there any chance we can get.

On one particular evening we decided to go for dinnner and a movie. We ordered our pizza and drinks, found a comfy couch to sit on and waited for the movie. We didn't even know what the movie was about; we were just happy to be there with each other. As we sat through the movie we looked at each other with a kind of "huh?" look. By the end, we came to the conclusion that the main character had an affair, which, as the movie portrayed, somehow benefitted her existing marriage.

Needless to say, we walked away a little befuddled, scratching our heads. I wondered aloud to my wife, "How in the world could an affair ever help someone's marriage?" She wondered the same thing.

In the movie the main character had what some would term a fling -- a passionate romance with a much younger man. She wasn't in love with him; it was just lust. After she felt like she exercised her fantasies out of her system, she returned to her husband with more appreciation. She decided to not tell him, which would only cause him pain; and the affair helped her realize that what she really wanted was companionship and commitment. Even more, she appreciated that she had kids and history with her husband.

I've heard this same idea echoed in songs, TV shows and books. The idea is definitely present in our culture and believed by some. But are they right? Can an affair help your marriage?

Sadly, those who think this way are being consciously naive. This idea that an affair could help your marriage is a rationalization. A rationalization means knowingly justifying or excusing a behavior as being positive when it is obvious that the behavior is wrong or destructive. The idea that an affair can be helpful for a marriage is a major rationalization; and here are four reasons why.

It's a Lie

I've heard it said and I think its very true -- "You are as sick as your secrets!" Hiding an affair from your spouse is a toxic secret. People keep it secret because they mistakenly think they are protecting their spouse. But the damage has already been done. Keeping it secret only pours salt in the wound.

It's Selfish

An affair, even if you come back to your relationship with a renewed sense of appreciation for your spouse, is a very selfish act. What if your spouse cheated on you -- even if they liked you more afterwards -- how would you feel? Most likely you'd feel betrayed, cheated, back-stabbed, like you could never trust them again. So then, why is it OK for you to cheat on them?

A commitment to another

Marriage is a financial, sexual, social, institutional, lifelong commitment. You make a promise to dedicate your body, mind, heart and actions to your spouse -- and only your spouse. Having an emotional or sexual affair is committing yourself to another person. It doesn't matter if you like your spouse more after your affair, or if they never find out. You are now committed to that other person as well as your spouse. That "other" commitment will follow you for the rest of your life. That "other" commitment will negatively affect all other commitments.

A life of no consequences

Having an affair is an attempt to live a life without any consequences. In other words, you want to have your cake and eat it to. You want a committed, trusting and loving relationship, and you want your lust and fantasies satisfied by another. Sorry, but you can't have it both ways. Isaac Newton's third law of thermodynamics states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Whatever action you take, there is an inescapable positive or negative consequence.

Do yourself a favor and stop rationalizing. An affair will not somehow magically turn out to benefit you and those around you. It's destructive behavior, and will always be destructive. If you are not satisified with your relationship, that never means it's time for an affair. Instead, invest in your marriage. Build your spouse up. Do the hard work. You'll be glad you did.
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