Abstract Family


Growing Acceptance of Adultery

Why isn't destroying families considered to be immoral?

Rusty Motel sign

"Thou shalt not commit adultery" -- The Ten Commandments

"Bad marriages don't cause infidelity; infidelity causes bad marriages." -- Frank Pittman

Another social trend is closely related to No-Fault divorce as a cause of today's high divorce rate. This is our attitudes towards adultery. If you prefer, you can call it "infidelity", "unfaithfulness", "cheating", or "fooling around". It all means the same thing: dishonoring one's marriage vow by having sexual relations with a third party. Greater acceptance of marital infidelity is one of the driving reasons for No-Fault divorce and our high divorce rate.

Of course, adultery has always existed. It would not have been in the Ten Commandments over 3000 years ago if it didn't exist back them. But until the past couple of decades, it was always considered as something wrong and immoral.

Common Excuses
Cheaters usually make excuses rather than accepting responsibility or apologizing. Common sayings include:
    "Our marriage has been broken for years, though you didn't realize it"
    "I didn't feel fulfilled in our relationship"
    "I love you but I'm not in love with you."
    "The love and romance just wasn't there any more"
    "Divorce is never just one person's fault"
    "Infidelity doesn't happen in a vacuum"
    "My emotional needs were not being met"
The cheater generally will not acknowledge that he or she could have responded to these problems in some way other than having an affair, if the problems had even been real. The simple reality is that people are tempted by sex and money, then they try to rationalize their behavior or make excuses.

Here is a great article from Cathy Meyer about the altered thinking of people who are having affairs.

Teachings of the world's religions and cultural traditions:
Adultery is universally condemned in all major religions and cultural traditions. For example:

The Ten Commandments:
6 Thou shalt not kill.
7 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8 Thou shalt not steal.

        Judaism, (from The Ten Commandments)

Hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles.
        Confucianism, (The Confucian Analects)

He who commits adultery is punished both here and hereafter; for his days in this world are cut short, and when dead he falls into hell.
        Hinduism (Vishnu Purana 3:11)

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
        Christianity (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

Do not go near to adultery. Surely it is a shameful deed and evil, opening roads (to other evils)
        Islam (Quran 17:32)

Ye have been forbidden to commit murder or adultery
        Bahá'i Faith (Kitab-i-Aqdas)

Note that in three of the above religions, adultery is mentioned right next to murder. In legal and cultural traditions through history until modern times, adultery has always been prohibited in the strongest possible terms.

(Yes, I know – some of these cultures have allowed polygamy, where one man can have multiple wives or vice versa. I don't want to digress too much nor do I want to defend polygamy, but suffice to say that traditional polygamy at least had rules and provisions to care for children. Polygamy is not the same as adultery.)

(Also, it is true but irrelevant that in many ancient cultures, "adultery" was considered to be immoral mostly if committed by woman. Women's rights have progressed in many areas since ancient times. Besides "Thou shalt not commit adultery", the Ten Commandments also has "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife" which is along the same lines though mentioned as a type of property -- that is within the context of ancient ideas but it does not invalidate the clear intent. In modern common usage, of course, "adultery" refers to both sexes. Considering acceptance of adultery as part of the advancement of women is just perverse and contrary to the interests of society.)

In modern times, though, everything has changed.

Decriminalization of adultery
First was the decriminalization of adultery in Western societies in the mid-20th century. This was not only because of changing cultural values, but also for some good reasons: a) Traditionally women were punished for adultery far more than men were; and b) The burden of proof needed for criminal convictions were impossible for such a private act. For example, proof of a wife checking into a hotel with a boyfriend would be enough for a civil court or family law court to be able to consider adultery as a factor in a divorce settlement, but not enough for a criminal conviction that they actually had sex. No responsible person in the West would advocate ancient punishments such as death-by-stoning.

No-Fault divorce and adultery
But the rise of No-Fault divorce since the 1970s has promoted, protected, and encouraged adultery. Before No-Fault, a person could use adultery as grounds for a divorce from a spouse who cheated.(That can still be done in some states, though usually it is a pointless waste of money since No-Fault is a cheaper way to get the same divorce settlement.) But if the adultery was by the person who wanted the divorce – for example a man who wanted to leave his wife for a younger woman – the person needed to find or create some reason for the divorce. Or the person could just move out from the marital home and leave everything behind, without a divorce settlement. Now, that is no longer true. If a man wants to leave his wife and marry a younger women, or if a woman wants to marry a boyfriend that she had an affair with, it is no problem and it is not anybody's fault. Either the cheater or the cheated-upon person can try to get the marital home, the money will be divided equally, spousal support might be paid by whichever spouse had higher income, and most likely the wife will get child custody and receive child support.

Far from being punished, the cheater has a definite advantage in getting child custody. The cheated-upon spouse is likely to have anger issues which will hurt his or her case in court. The cheater who wants to leave the marriage has a boyfriend or girlfriend who might be assisting financially or emotionally, whereas the cheated-upon spouse does not.

Maggie Gallagher, in Abolition of Marriage, explains how our courts have codified the acceptance of adultery and protected the rights of adulterers in the wake of No-Fault. “Marriage came to be seen not primarily as a covenant or contract with a legally enforceable content, but as a particular variety of sexual practice in an era when sex itself was being conceptually privatized .... Soon,not only were the course declining to use the law to enforce sexual morals, they had begun to use the Constitution to protect violators of the old sexual code, not from the police but from anyone – from outraged spouses to landlords – who might be disposed to impede the gratification of the sexually liberated or support the rights of spouses.”

Attitudes in modern culture
Adultery is not only not protected and encouraged by the courts, but also it is no longer condemned by society. In TV, movies, and popular culture, often it is the heroes rather than the villians who are involved in extramarital relations. Everybody cheers when James Bond goes to bed with the villian's wife. “Fooling around” is considered a trivial and unimportant matter at worst, and it might be considered as proof of the virility or femininity of the cheater. The sanctity of marriage is considered as old-fashioned and outmoded.

A leading cause of divorce
The acceptance of adultery is probably a large part of the reason why No-Fault divorce has become the law in all fifty states. All adults can experiment sexually, and when they find somebody who gives them more pleasure than their current spouse, they can just divorce their spouse and upgrade to a new one. Some adults might feel sexually more fulfulled since the greater acceptance of adultery and No-Fault divorce, but at a terrible price to our children.

Today, infidelity is probably the leading cause of divorce, though of course accurate statistics are impossible to obtain. Shirley Glass (quoted on infidelity resources on Smartmarriages.com) says "The prevalence of adultery is probably under-reported in divorce statistics. Lawson and Samson (1988) found that 77% of women and 64% of men said that adultery had been relevant to separation or divorce, in comparison with 49% of women and 63% of men who said that adultery had actually been claimed in their divorces."

Hopefully, we as a society can come up with a humane and rational treatment of adultery – some happy medium between death-by-stoning and being held up as a basic human right for unrestricted sexual liberation.