One of the unexpected consequences of socially connective technologies like the Internet and cell phones is that new relationships can seem like they are just a click away. If we are single and looking, this can feel like a great opportunity to meet a lot of people and make connections, or avoid connections and bounce from one relationship to the next without ever actually getting involved. If we are married, with the advent of affair dating apps that facilitate adulterous casual hookups, socially connective technologies can seem a lot darker and more dangerous.
What is Affair Dating?
Affair dating is pretty much what it sounds like – setting up a date with someone who is not your spouse. Before we go much further, it probably makes sense to get a definition of “affair” on board, and for that, we need to look no farther than Wikipedia: “An affair is a sexual relationship, romantic friendship, or passionate attachment between two people without the attached person’s significant other knowing.”
As alluded to above, there are websites dedicated to making it easy for you to “hookup” with someone for a “one night stand.”
With the proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases, and the generally unhappy, self-centered and dissatisfied state of mind of the average user of these sites (that is, people so dissatisfied with their marriage, so cut off from their better selves they’re willing to ignore their sacred vows and cheat on their spouse), it seems the care-free thrill offered by these sites is not without consequences.
An Affair is an Affair
At the risk of being obvious, just because something is easier doesn’t suddenly make it right. In the “old days” twenty years ago, if you wanted to date outside your marriage, you had to go to a bar or club or pick someone up at work or while you were out shopping.
Now you can take out your phone, launch an app, and with a couple of clicks find someone near you who is looking for a meaningless tryst. Like the introduction of easy-access, hardcore pornography on our phones through the Internet, the technology makes it very easy to “play at the edge of the pool” telling ourselves we won’t fall in until we do.As with every other type of affair, if you don’t intend to ultimately blow up your life, destroy your marriage and your family, and not be able to look your kid in the eye on Sunday morning, the time to stop is before you download the app, or sign up for a membership.
The desire to find a connection outside of your marriage may be primal, it may have a solid emotional foundation in the form of neglect or mistreatment by your spouse, but make no mistake it is a sniper’s bullet aimed at the heart of your marriage.
Are Affairs Ever Morally Acceptable?
Affairs are about betrayal, and sometimes vengeance, and often a quiet kind of desperation. The desire to be loved well is a good desire, but an affair is only going to ease the pain for a night, or part of a night, really. Not unlike the short, exhilarating high from smoking or snorting meth, the euphoria crashes quickly and we are left back in the same desolation that drove us to it.
Years ago, I remember a preacher saying, “Would you sleep with someone for a million dollars? No! Would you put yourself and your family through hell for a million dollars?” Some will make the argument that people sometimes had more than one wife in the Old Testament, but don’t be fooled. That is polygamy, not an affair.
People who have more than one spouse marry the extra person or persons – marry them in a ceremony, with rings and such. Make a life long commitment to them. Pushing a button on your phone and sleeping with a stranger for a single night bears almost no resemblance to polygamy.
Some people, for various reasons, decide they are going to have an “open marriage” where they can sleep with whoever they want. The thinking goes something like this, “Life is a banquet. I want to try everything.”
This might sound great on paper, be tempting even, as long as everyone is in agreement, but unless you were raised on a commune where this kind of “free love” was the norm, or have simply given up on a committed relationship, it is going to run hard across your ingrained sense of right and wrong, your subconscious or semi-conscious sense of the importance of fidelity, and foment an insidious kind of selfishness that might gradually poison your relationships anyway.
Unless you have shut down your conscience, some part of you likely will feel “dirty” and shame will come with it, if your conscience is still online. If you have had years of therapy so you have a reasonable grip on your functional adult position (good boundaries, and no over-responsibility), and sufficient moral ambiguity and distance from inconvenient scriptures, and genuinely don’t mind sharing your spouse with other people, then there should be no moral question about it at all, only ground rules that seem fair to everyone.
At that point, the marriage seems more of a utilitarian device than a commitment. But this is such a lackluster alternative to the kind of committed relationship that is possible if both people are willing to work at it together. If you’ve never truly had a committed relationship, you might not know what I’m talking about.
Biologically, you can argue that multiple partners are actually an innate drive to procreate and make the species more viable. Forgetting for a moment that you wouldn’t be using your dating app for the purpose of making babies, the sociological counterpoint to the biological argument is that families are actually the cornerstone of a strong society.
A close-knit group (a family) that helps care for my needs, nurture and formation is much more likely to help me grow into a stable, secure adult than lone-wolfing it on the street (with my app). But a marriage relationship can be so much more than any of that.
If two people are willing to work together to learn the art of not being selfish, of being responsible for self and not trying to control the other person, of engaging with each other face to face with kindness and curiosity, the connection possible is unlike any other human connection available on the planet.
You can reach the point that you are grateful for the other person, and can’t imagine being with anyone else. The marriage vows are all about loyalty, fealty, selflessness – to love, honor and cherish; these are the things every soul craves from the womb. To be seen, and known and loved well is the intrinsic desire of every newborn, and it is at our core until the day we die.
How to Work On Your Marriage
I know it sounds simplistic, but if you are going to work on your marriage you need to get help. You will not be able to fix it by yourself. Things would not have gotten as bad as they are if either of you knew how to fix it in a way that would honor both sides.
People often make the mistake of thinking that a marriage is 50-50, each of you giving the same amount. Unfortunately, this promotes a “I’m not going to love you any more than you love me,” mentality, that looks like a good boundary at first, until you realize it means you are constantly keeping score, which means not relaxing and just enjoying each other, which is actually one of the lovely things about a good marriage.
Most of us, when we said our vows we were “all in” (‘til death do us part). Why do we forget that when things get hard? Because we’re wounded, and damaged, and most of us were not seen, known and loved well in our family of origin.
Don’t get me wrong, if you dress yourself and drive and work at a job and talk to people, you had someone in your life, a “good enough mother,” maybe a grandmother or an aunt, if mom wasn’t emotionally present, so you got enough psychological formation to function in the world.
But if you, or I, or anyone else that I know had been seen, known and loved well by their parents, most of us wouldn’t need counseling to figure out why they’re anxious-angry-lonely-tired-depressed and don’t know how to be successful in a relationship.
Again, it sounds simplistic, but a marriage takes two. Hopefully, you will make the decision together to work on the relationship, but if one of you is emotionally shut down and doesn’t want to participate, you won’t make much progress. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to counseling by yourself anyway, especially if you intend to tough it out in the marriage, so you can discover what self-care is going to look like if the hoped-for nurture isn’t coming from the marriage.
Often, when one spouse starts counseling, and the other drags their feet, at some point the reluctant spouse ends up in the room, and if they have any capacity for introspection, they see that there might be some help available. Whatever the other person decides, however, it is up to you to take charge of your own growth and emotional health.
Some Tools to Help Your Marriage
Most relationships can be helped if both parties begin to take steps toward three essential strategies:
- Set healthy, permeable boundaries.
If I really want to go out for a burger, and my wife doesn’t want to but is willing to go, I am rolling over her boundaries if I require her to “want” to go. If I need her to feel a certain way so I can feel okay, I am on her side of the street.
Staying on my side of the street can take practice, and we have to be able to tell each other when we are feeling our boundaries busted. I have actually heard someone say, “I’m sad,” and the spouse reply, “No, you’re not.” Trying to dictate the emotions of someone else is a boundary violation.
If we cannot tolerate the sadness, irritation or dissatisfaction of our spouse, we need to ask, “What is that about? What is the crisis? What happens to me if my spouse doesn’t feel the way I need them to? And why do I need them to?” These are the kinds of waters that are best navigated with a marriage counselor.
- Identify your needs.
Ask for them (with words, not huffs or eye rolls), and be able to hear “no” – This is such an important part of healthy interaction. So often we feel missed by our partner because they don’t anticipate what we need, which is what we were required to do in our family of origin by one or both parents, and so it equates to us as “love.”
It is actually enmeshment, which is a kind of boundary violation where one member is expecting the other person to guess what they need and supply it, and the other person is desperately trying to supply it, feeling frustrated and like a failure. If we identify our needs and put them into words, it takes the guess work out of it.
Being able to hear “no” after we ask, acknowledges that the other person is an adult with their own freedom of choice. Learning not to punish them for their choice can take time and effort. Again, much better practiced with the guidance of a marriage counselor.
- Frame conversations.
When you want to talk to your spouse, ask, “Is this a good time to talk about _____?” If they say “no” they have to provide a time in the next 30 minutes when the conversation can happen. If anyone feels anxiety or anger escalating, they get to stop the conversation and call a time out (5 to 20 minutes), before resuming. When you notice you’re not making progress, agree to put a pin in it for a later conversation.
These and others are the kinds of tools you can learn if you choose to take the harder, more rewarding path, and figure out how to see, know and love well the amazing person you married. There is help to be had if you will reach out and take it.
“Conversation,” courtesy of Lian Chang, Flickr Creative Commons, CC by 2.0; “Subtle Touch,” courtesy of Elizabeth Tsung, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Shoots in the Snow,” courtesy of Splitshire.com; “Stroll,” courtesy of Sweet Ice Cream Photography, unsplash.com, CC0 License