Can infidelity go out of fashion? Having sex with someone who is not your wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend does not seem to be generating guilty feelings like many other moral vices. As censorious and judgmental as our societies are, their nails are dull and screws slack on matters of infidelity. In fact, occasional flings are pardonable in some relationships. It is not impossible for partners to knowingly share their partners with others. Some partners even indulge in groupies, by which they invite third parties to participate in their sex romps. Some even trade their partners for money. The question of whether the world is getting more perverse is not at issue here. Perversity and promiscuity are as old as man. What is concerning here are the intrinsic dangers of infidelity in marriages and society as a whole.
Infidelity presupposes a solemn or sacralized union. Where it is consensual, that is where the parties involved agree to share their sex life with third parties, or agree to engage in extra-monogamous affairs, infidelity becomes less stressful and burdensome to the actors. Agreement here is not related to tolerance or disregarding, whose responses are sometimes foisted on a party by peculiar circumstances. Agreement here means what lawyers would call a meeting of the minds of the parties involved in the act – in which sense, there is no betrayal or cheating. Infidelity becomes an issue when a partner strays away from, or betrays the vows of, the union. In that sense, it becomes adultery for the married ones and unfaithfulness or cheating or treachery for the unmarried partners.
The first problem with infidelity is with the villain or perpetrator of the infidelity. A human being has a conscience or soul with which he or she reflects on whether his or her actions or inactions are good or bad. It is in the nature of man to rationalize his or her actions, but there is always that judgment that identifies setbacks or actions that do not meet the preponderance of societal values or human eudaimonic precepts. Even a psychopath wants to be appreciated as a good human being. So, whilst it is true that in every human being, there is that dam of passion, pleasure and other desires, or that the bosom of man/woman inhabits a sexual fire that can hardly be quenched by the duty to procreate within the bounds of marriage or solemn relationships, it can be said, without offending the principle of prudishness, that the god of judgment, referred to as conscience in this context, prescribes restraint.
Stoic philosophers believe that the life of man/woman revolves around the following cardinal virtues: practical wisdom (the ability to successfully navigate tricky situations), courage (to do the right thing), justice (in this instance, behaving in the right way toward others), and temperance (exercising self-control and restraint). It is not difficult to demonstrate the workings of these virtues in relation to the issue of infidelity. Practical wisdom enjoins that a party must endeavour to create that delicate and necessary balance between the push of pleasure and emotion on the one hand and goals of the relationship in which a partner is in. The courage is in the protection of that relationship and the justice in being fair and considerate to the other partner. Temperance is the forbearance, self-control or sacrifice of the attractive alternative pleasures for the sake of the union. All of the four named virtues can be rolled into the biblical injunction of doing unto others that which you wish for yourself.
Therefore, whereas it may be natural for one to pursue or actually experience sexual urges, there is always that inner strength of self-control embed in our souls or consciences. Infidelity could, thus, be a result of indulgence or addiction that punishes the villain with regret or loss of self-esteem. Unlike drug addiction or alcoholism that can be easily detected, when infidelity becomes an addiction, it destroys the power of aversion and generates impulses that are dangerously at odds with the goals of the union. It may also create a sick mind that swaps loyalty or confuses indulgence for love, or establish a defensive murderous attitude.
Besides killing the sex life of the union, the sense of guilt or the strive to justify the act may generate some hallucinations that can put the betrayed or victim at risk. Sex between the partners becomes a chore for the unfaithful partner and could only be tolerated when the villain mentally substitutes the outside partner for the partner of the union in question. This may explain why some partners go to the extreme length of eliminating or wanting to eliminate the victim, who is seen as the source of the villain’s unending frustrations and conflicted life.
Infidelity may not entirely be motivated by the pursuit of sexual pleasure or a desire to fill a sexual gap in the union. There are a thousand and one reasons for infidelity. Marital or sex unions or relationships have their intrinsic problems that often compound infidelity in unions. In the first place, the terms of sexual partnerships or relationships are hardly pre-negotiated. Parties just sip into the relationships with the belief that the relationship will sort itself out and produce a dream life for the partners. The gap between marriage or union imagined and the marriage or union realised may generate frustrations that could trigger infidelity. Boredom or lack of productive engagement may also present infidelity as an attractive window to let off steam or unwind. Economic challenges with the relationship may also force a partner to barter sex for money or benefits in kind. It could be an act of vengeance and an uncanny way of punishing an erring or perceived erring partner, in which case, it becomes an act of cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face or sacrificing one’s well-being in order to punish the offending partner. The background to such vengeful acts is difficult to paint in colours. Ironically, partners with strong religious backgrounds could be less forgiving. In many of such relationships, the power balance is skewed in favour of one of the partners, either by cultural propositions or laws or status of one of the partners. In such a situation, the dominated partner may be one who does not take kindly to his pride or emotions being trifled with. Such persons may rather live with the consequences of dwelling on wrongs of the partner than move on with their life. To a partner whose thought process is fixated on how the Bible, in Exodus 21:23, instructs them to “give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” to punish an offender, Martin Luther King Jr’s proposition that “The old law of ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind” would not make any sense. However, it is not foolproof that infidelity will cease and that the avenger will return or reset to the fidelity mode when he or her gets even. There is also the possibility of addiction.
Indeed, the causes of infidelity are never closed. The impetus for this article is not about the cause but the consequences or risks factors associated with infidelity in marriages.
Where the infidelity is that of a married man, the danger for the wife is not only in the possibility of exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. There is the possibility of him having children outside the union and thereby creating a lifelong challenge for the marriage. Keeping that extra-marital affair from the wife’s knowledge has its burden. Even if the affair is one-off, the moment it produces a child it becomes a life-long affair. Time and other resources of the family would have to be shared with the outside home or outside child, and where the man is fearful of the wife knowing and, therefore, keeps it as a secret, the burden is tripled. There is a price for buying the cooperation of the baby mama and there is the guilt of not giving the outside child deserving love and care. Where the adulterer still loves the wife, the guilt has a way of subduing the man in a way that yields him to the tyranny of the wife, the case being that he expects his good behaviour to be a mitigating factor when the wife discovers his illicit affair tomorrow. Infidelity for the man could also be in the form of serial sex with sex freelancers at a great economic cost. What that translates to is that resources meant for quality and well-maintained home are diverted to the egregious external sexual escapades. Where the adulterer is of little or moderate economic means and the wife is no better status, the family could be in constant want and deprivation. The standard of life of the family could be adversely affected up to the children’s education and health. Many of the kids who have become a problem of the society are from such dysfunctional families.
Where the woman is adulteress, the problem can go beyond a lack of attention and care for the family. Mothers are generally, particularly in Africa, closer to the children. That is why it is believed that mothers are standard-bearers of the moral values of the family. Where the wife indulges in infidelity and the children get wind of that or suspect, they may not be as confrontational as the husband, but they could take it in and react one way or the other in the form of behaviour or character. Some rebellious attitudes or later life promiscuous behaviours of kids are a direct response to the moral values of the parents. Besides the health risks of infidelity, there is the risk of taking in for the outside sex partner and the moral dilemma of foisting that child on the husband who would, in ignorance, bear the emotional and financial cost of rearing that child into independent adulthood. There could even be situations where the adulteress would not be certain about the real father of the child where she engages in multiple extra-monogamous sex.
Paternity imposition or theft has dire consequences. It can shatter many hearts and destroy many souls at the same time. Men have not shown commendable ability to bear the shocks of the knowledge that the child they have grown to love and cherish is not theirs. Some are fatally affected by such knowledge. The same goes with the child who, for no fault of his or hers, is denied the mental and emotional security of living with the belief that the father he or she has known all his or her life is indeed not their biological father. The emotional and psychological torture is sometimes unbearable.
Whether caused by frustration, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, economic wants, emotional disconnection with the partner, addiction to sex, boredom, idleness, vengeance, neglect by the partner or what have you, the consequences of infidelity are the same. It has its psychological and financial challenges and nobody ever comes out of it happy.
Someone gave me the impression that if many children could love their parents equally and that a parent could love their children equally, it should not be strange for a person with multiple sex partners to be in love with all of them or that the sex partners who know about his or her double-dealing to love him or her equally. I wouldn’t want to go into such a tricky philosophical argument. The addendum is that infidelity can create murderous and fatal responses and rivalries. Many murders have been caused by infidelity. Nations have gone to war because of such rivalries, which brings me to the concluding question: is it worth it?