- Marriage is not a quick and painless means to easy intimacy and love, but it can be a powerful relationship that transforms people in many ways.
- When people have extramarital affairs, often what they actually want is to find love, passion, and emotional connection within their marriage.
- Marriage is a challenge to one's ego, character, values, sense of entitlement, and theories about love and commitment.
In the upcoming posts about marriage and marital affairs, we are about to embark on a deep and sometimes torturous journey into the heart and soul of a marriage.
I invite you to join me as we dive into the real-life experiences of a couple, Kate and Dan, (not their real names) who I worked with for 18 months. (I change all identifying information.)
Kate and Dan could be any one of us as they struggled to balance the demands of work, family, and marriage. And like many of us, they did their best, but their best collapsed under the weight of excessive responsibilities and marital neglect.
The parallel experiences of treating hundreds of couples over 47 years while at the same time learning how to love one woman well have taught me several enduring truths about marriage:
- Marriage has never been, nor will it ever be a solution to loneliness.
- The “institution” of marriage doesn’t offer a quick and painless means to easy intimacy and love.
- Marriage is—if nothing else—a challenge: to your ego, your character, your values, your sense of entitlement, your theories about love and commitment.
- There is no relationship more powerful, more aptly suited, and more perfectly designed to facilitate a transformation—
- toward personal responsibility
- from demanding to giving
- to a deeply intimate and loving connection
- to a life of depth, meaning, and purpose
The Marital Labyrinth
I chose the title of this series, "The Marital Labyrinth," with razor-sharp intent. A labyrinth is a complex structure of interlocking passageways. It is difficult—sometimes impossible—to find the way from the entrance to the center or from the interior back out again.
Some of us, at one time or another, may have attempted to maneuver through a maze (labyrinth), an intricate pattern of hedge-bordered passages purposely designed to confuse. Just when you’re certain that you’ve discovered the right path, the maze once again confounds and leads you down another blind alley.
Such is marriage—a complex web of emotion, desire, passion, boredom, conflict, connection, loneliness, obligation, pain, joy, rage, and despair. And, at the center—love. Not the romance-novel, falling-in-love variety, but a love built on struggle, commitment, and, above all else, a deep feeling of friendship and connection that comes from the certainty that no matter how many times we lose our way, we’ll do whatever we must to return to one other.
My goal over the course of this series is to guide you through the labyrinth until you exit the maze of pain and frustration and arrive at a loving connection with your life partner.
Why a Series on Monogamy and Marital Affairs?
I never wanted to write a series about marriage. Recipes for love bore me. Simple theories about sex roles and conflict resolution fail to capture the majesty and terror of marriage. Communication techniques are fine but the last thing the world needs is one more article about "I” sentences. Besides, most of my clients have read those books and their marriages didn't improve. So, what could I add that would make a difference?
The answer to that question came from the thousands of personal responses contributed by our visitors to our website, WholeFamily.com. Twenty-five years ago, Toby Klein Greenwald and I began the WholeFamily Center, a website on marital and family relations. Our goal was to create an experience of family life from the inside. Using multimedia family dramas, we involve visitors in everyday conflicts of families very similar to their own.
The monologues, dramas and soap operas portray couples, parents, and children in conflict over issues such as finances, sexuality, in-laws, discipline, teenage freedoms, divorce, loneliness, anorexia, and adultery. We wanted our visitors to experience the rawness of marital and family conflicts. Our hope was that they would first identify with the characters and their conflicts, and afterwards, we would offer suggestions and advice.
The response has been overwhelming. Millions of visitors from 118 countries have participated in our site. Thousands have answered our surveys and shared their lives with us. Hidden behind the safety of the computer screen, they've described the most intimate details of their personal lives, and, more specifically, in response to our ongoing drama about an extramarital relationship, many have revealed to us the secrets of their own marital affairs.
Every survey and letter communicate the same message: "It's not the affair that I want. What I really want is to find love, passion, and emotional connection within my marriage."
When Kate married Dan, she wasn't planning on having an affair. Her goal was to create a deeply satisfying marriage with a partner who was her friend and lover. But something went wrong. Nothing serious at first—it rarely is—just the usual problems: work, kids, money conflicts, a promise made, and a promise forgotten—the kinds of small hurts that you dismiss a dozen times until that last one pushes you into a place of bitterness and despair where you have no more excuses or forgiveness left.
That's where we find Kate and that's why she was so ready for an affair. An affair with Julian offered the possibility of deep emotional connection and passion. As she stood at the threshold of his hotel room, Kate was torn between the desire to fulfill herself as an alive, attractive, and sensuous woman on the one hand, and the commitment to preserve her marriage on the other.
The choice that she made and the impact it had on her marriage is the focus of these posts. "The Marital Labyrinth" deals with the marital crises that precede an affair and with the struggle between passion and values, aliveness and boredom, commitment and novelty—truth and deception. Together, we enter Kate’s inner world and through her story, we begin to understand the challenges and crises that most serious relationships eventually face.
Among the questions her story deals with are:
- What are the factors that can lead to an affair?
- Can a couple work through the effects of an affair, and if so, how?
- And what is true marital love?
This series is a response to the thousands of people who have shared their most personal concerns with us and to couples like Kate and Dan, who found the courage to dig into their pain and hurt because that's where the love and healing are buried. It is my hope that Kate and Dan’s story will, in some small way, speak to each of you, whether you have contemplated an affair or have had one, and give you the courage and determination to fight for your marriage.