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The Upside to Infidelity

Maybe all those mamas who flocked to Ashley Madison after Mother’s Day were onto something. In an interview with Babble’s Paula Bernstein, author Esther Perel dishes about the ways having an affair can strengthen a marriage.

That’s right: having an affair can strengthen a marriage.

Is this woman nuts? Or does she know a secret?

Maybe both. Perel rightly points out that infidelity is often not about the marriage. When a spouse cheats, there’s a lot of social pressure to blame a flaw in the marriage: if your beloved were only more passionate, kinder or hotter, this would never have happened. You grew apart. There were cracks in the foundation.

Often, Perel says, it’s none of that. Many cheating spouses are happy in their marriages, they just want other relationships too: ones that aren’t bound by domesticity, or that offer a chance to indulge a particular sexual kink. Maybe a married person simply meets someone else they fall for, and sparks fly. They don’t want to leave their happy marriage, so they cheat.

To Perel, the problem is our expectation that one relationship will fulfill every need. We expect our spouses to be our best friends, our business partners, our co-parents and the seductive lovers who light up our nights. That’s a lot to put on one set of shoulders.

As she puts it:

What provides stability and consistency is not necessary 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.

Having an affair can actually improve a marriage, she argues, because it can give the cheating spouse more energy to pour into their marriage. That’s good stuff, but it ignores the devastating breach of trust a secret affair brings into a marriage.

She doesn’t advocate having an affair to spice things up. Instead, she suggests “cheating” with your spouse. Have a private e-mail account you use only to exchange sweet nothings. Meet at fun locations outside the house, just like you used to do when you were dating. Play, experiment, learn new things.

There’s some strong research backing up her approach. Science finds that overcoming challenges together and learning new skills stimulates some of the same brain chemistry that gets set off when you’re falling in love.

Photo: Ed Yourdon

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