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Is infidelity always bad for a marriage?

Healthy marriages aren't always about monogamy.

By paulabernstein |

Infidelity is always bad for a marriage, right? Not necessarily, according to Esther Perel, who challenges conventional wisdom about marriage and sex in her controversial book Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic. Babble spoke with the New York-based therapist about the changing notions of infidelity – especially online – and what it means for parents in particular.

What misconceptions do people have about infidelity?

People assume that having affairs points to a flaw in the marriage and that it’s a symptom of something gone awry, that if the relationship was fine, this wouldn’t happen. But there are multiple meanings and motives for infidelity. Some of them are the consequence of dissatisfied or even abusive situations and bad relationships. But there are a host of infidelities that have nothing to do with the relationship. The majority of adulterers are reasonably happy in their marriages.

Why do parents, in particular, seek sex outside of marriage?

One of the things that defines modern couplehood is that we believe there is one relationship for everything and that one person is going to give you what an entire village used to provide. In marriage, we’ve always wanted to have children and a family life, to have companionship and economic support, and, on top of it, we also want the same person who gives us all that to give us a sense of mystery and excitement and novelty that will help us cross over the mundane and the ordinary.

But here’s the problem: What provides stability and consistency is not necessarily what provides surprise and change and risk, which is a key part of erotic intensity. What eroticism thrives on is what family life defends against. Family life thrives on the predictable, and predictability kills desire for most people.

What advice do you have for parents who are finding it challenging to kindle their erotic relationship after they’ve had kids?

The ironic thing is that sex makes babies but babies spell erotic disaster. Sometimes people feel enhanced with the children, but diminished with their partner. It’s important for parents and committed couples to maintain an erotic space, but that’s very difficult when the needs of the children trump everything else.

Couples need to make sure they maintain a relationship beyond parenthood. Parents need to continue to feed their own erotic selves so that they feel a sense of aliveness. One of the primary reasons some people are unfaithful is to beat back a sense of deadness.

On the long list of what your kids need are parents with a healthy sex life. For a family to survive, you need a couple that is thriving, and if you want it to thrive, you need to keep an erotic connection.

But can erotic connections really happen on “date night”?

Do something that breaks the routine, something unpredictable, not dinner and a movie. When you’re at home, be sure to put away the Legos and Playmobile. Couples need to make sure to maintain a couple relationship beyond parenthood – a place where they meet as lovers, not as partners in Management Inc.

How has the Internet changed the notion of fidelity?

When you meet someone online, you’ve got two people who may have never met, they are fictitious characters, but they’re in a real relationship. The emotions they’re feeling are deep. The Internet has allowed people to bypass the traditional standards of attraction. Many times people have relationships online that are more intimate than the ones they have with their partner because it’s free from the routine of letting in the plumber and picking up the children.

You have said that infidelity can help a marriage. How?

Sometimes people engage in an affair as a way to improve their relationship. They don’t want to destroy their family, they adore their partner as the mother or the father of their children, but there’s a certain kind of erotic intimacy they’re missing so they try to find it elsewhere. If they can bring that energy home, that can energize the marriage.

Any last words of advice for parents on how to reconcile the erotic and the domestic?

I tell couples to have private email accounts that are totally private and where they’re not allowed to talk as mom and dad. This becomes erotic space where they’re just a man and a woman.

For more Esther Perel, read Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence

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About paulabernstein



Paula Bernstein is a freelance writer and social media manager with a background in entertainment journalism. She is also the co-author of Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited.

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6 thoughts on “Is infidelity always bad for a marriage?

  1. Rufus Griscom says:

    Fascinating … some great insights here.

  2. Elle says:

    I don’t disagree with anything the author purports…but I think she completely skirts the damage created by infidelity. Trust violations are devastating and can take years to heal, if ever. And sure having an affair can create an exotic energy to bring home…but what about the STDs that the cheating partner might bring home, too. Or the other child that’s created? Or simply the dishonesty that now exists in the relationship.
    The only way to heal from infidelity is to create an environment of honesty and transparency. Intimacy is based on trust. And intimacy is what makes sex spectacular. Otherwise, it’s just gymnastics…
    I created a Web site to help women who, like me, are healing from betrayal. Join the conversation at

  3. Paula Bernstein Orkin says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with Perel’s notion that couples with kids need to create an erotic space where they don’t have to worry about arranging playdates or what’s for dinner. But I’m not sure I agree that infidelity can be good for a marriage. Sure, some marriages survive infidelity. But is it ever a good thing?

  4. couchcs says:

    I can’t imagine a context where energy brought home from an affair can help things more than they destroy them. It sounds like this doctor has never actually lived through being cheated on.

  5. JenniferCecelia says:

    Why not create that energy with the partner, instead of first with someone else? Doing it with someone else is gross.

  6. bella says:

    I totally agree with the author. I am living a dual life….the same as my lover ( both married). And it is so true that it gives us more energy when we get back home after our secret dates!

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