Parameters and expectations are important for a marriage : Excerpts from a heated debate.

We recently had a heated debate on another blog that I share with a co-author about the chances of a marriage surviving an affair. (Read more HERE) The overwhelming response was that it is extremely difficult and in some cases, impossible to steer the marriage through infidelity intact. Not many couples are able to see through the event to working on the underlying problems in the marriage that may have led to infidelity in the first place. The majority who do stay together often live in marriage of convenience without really dealing with the issue at all. One commenter wrote :

When you have been married a long time that person becomes your family its more than who slept with whom and when. I heard a saying recently ‘A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers’~Ruth Bell Graham. This is so true and not just about an affair.

This was countered by our next commenter who said :

I believe a marriage can last for many years after infidelity, but one or both spouses will be unhappy. There will most likely be more affairs after the first one, by one or both parties. Once that trust and bond is broken, I don’t think it can ever be repaired. 

But just why does an affair cause the marriage to irreversibly break down. There are of course, some cultures this is not seen as a problem and in others, the taking of more than one wife is actively encouraged. There was a feeling amongst our commenters, and posed as a question by my co-author Tatiana, that we are “sold” the whole marriage package in the western world. Pushed by the media, religion and society in general, we are conditioned to believe the “till death us do part” concept wrapped up in white dresses and doves being released. There is no room for infidelity in this sugary world. This idea was consolidated by taking an evolutionary line, like one of our other commenters :

Perhaps the dilemma is indeed rooted in humans not being designed for sexual monogamy – it sure does seem to be a problem for a great many people. There is no societal rule that says you have to get married or agree to a sexually monogamous relationship. It may be a common practice, but it’s not a requirement. You have a choice. I still see the “cheating” issue as a behavioral problem wherein one exercises poor judgement.

The role of expectations played a big part in our discussion, ranging from the traditional :

Although I was once idealistic enough to believe that the strength of a relationship could survive affairs, this is not realistic, and I’ve never personally seen any marriage survive it.

to the more radical :

My view is that boundaries should be set which both partners accept. Normally this needs to be the strictest set (ie. if you want to have an open relationship and your partner refuses then you must accept this). However, if the boundaries are too tight, it can lead to frustration. So, don’t expect men to stop admiring the bikini babes, but do expect them to not touch without prior consent of their partner.

This brought us finally to the idea that parameters set before a marriage were important to manage expectations. If both partners agree to a very open relationship with no accusations, questioning or ramifications, then the expectation beforehand is far different to those expecting strict adherence to infinite faithfullness. But I ask, is that really marriage? Not sure but we came to the conclusion that :

the solutions to problems in marriages, including how partners deal with infidelity is as individual as the people themselves. There is no right or wrong way in most normal cases and no-one should be judged on taking a different view to the one generally promoted by religion, media and many therapists.

Perhaps the most insightful comment made and one that many will agree with was made by a lady who joined the conversation later. She wrote:

I don’t personally believe in a marriage contract; I believe in a commitment to build and share my life with someone in an open and honest relationship. Sex is the treat, not the reason for being together.

Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a Counseling psychologist in private practice working with individuals, couples, groups and companies. Apart from seeing clients face-to-face, Dr Jenner also runs a thriving online therapy business bringing help to those who are housebound or located in rural locations where therapy is difficult to find. He can be booked for online sessions from anywhere in the world. First consultation free. For more information , follow the link to his website HERE

Want to know more about Dr Nicholas Jenner? Check out what his clients say….HERE



  8 comments for “Parameters and expectations are important for a marriage : Excerpts from a heated debate.

  1. September 9, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    I can only speak for my marriage but set roles with fluidity works for us, over the years we have hashed and rehashed mostly the hard way what works and what doesn’t.
    As for sex in a relationship, IMO it’s the glue that binds it. Intimacy is massively important.
    It’s also important to be giving of yourself.
    I do not agree in anyway to an open relationship. The deep trust, love and dare I hint .. Great intimacy that grows over the years is what it is all about.
    I am in the process of writing My style of marriage pieces for my blog and posting them randomly. We celebrate 20 years as a couple next year, an odd nugget or two might work for other marriages too. You never know 🙂


    • September 9, 2012 at 9:14 pm

      That sounds about right as a definition for a marriage. Good luck with your blog posts…I will be interested to read them.


  2. September 9, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    We can’t look past the notion that sex is a tool often used to control and abuse someone. Having an affair is a form of abuse if the person who had the affair refuses to take full accountability and instead blame the other spouse or issues in the relationship for the reason the infidelity happened in the first place. As long as the person who had the affair takes 100% of the blame for the act, a marriage, in my opinion, can in deed be salvaged. There is no excuse to act in a way that will knowingly cause heartache for another. None. (Just my two cents.) Thanks!


    • September 9, 2012 at 9:26 pm

      You are correct. I am also of the opinion that under some circumstances, a marriage can thrive again after infidelity. However, the prerequisite must be that the partner who cheated firstly takes responsibility and secondly,commits to working with the other to build a new foundation. As one commenter on the other blog said….some cannot talk about sex together but can jump into bed with a stranger with few problems. Thirdly, BOTH partners must want the marriage to continue for the right reasons.


  3. September 12, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    IMHO, sexual attraction is an illusion. Most of my life I saw males as I wanted to see them, not who they really were. My marriage is based on continual trust-building. When I was tempted early on in our marriage, I soon realized I wasn’t being realistic at all. An attraction didn’t warrant having an affair. I saw my husband just laugh it off when I told him of the attractions. He knew I loved him deeply.

    If, for some reason there is a weak bond between two partners, then my opinion is that they communicate that to one another openly and hash it out.

    Happily married for 20 years. No affairs:=)


  4. survivorsjustice
    September 16, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Once again Dr. Jenner, you have shared a very realistic problem with various responses. You allow the individual to realize that many things in our lives are infact a personal choice. When we are hurt we can choose to dwell on the pain or grow in the lessons learned from the experience. When we have been betrayed, we can grieve the loss of trust, but must not let it destroy our complete belief in the possibility of good. When we may seem broken or our relationship beyond repair, again it is a personal choice of what one can accept. When we make the choice to simply accept what has happened, no matter what the issue, we can then find the strength to move past it. Although difficult it is not impossible and if we reach deep enough we will find a light of knowledge and self worth to guide us through. Thanks for sharing as always 🙂


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