The truth about infidelity
The governor of New York resigned last week. His resignation brought on a firestorm of controversies in America. Should prostitution be legalized? Does it matter what an elected official does in his private life? Should his wife stand by his side? I will never forget those scenes on the news — the governor explaining his resignation and his wife standing quietly by his side looking like she wanted to crawl in a hole. I wanted to cry. I wanted to hug her and say, “There will be better days.” What should she do now? None of us knows nor should we claim to know.
Infidelity. It’s a problem that has been around since the beginning of time. The desire for something or someone who is “off limits.” Infidelity brings hurt and pain into a family. Sometimes it even brings irreparable damage. I believe that the marriage vow is literally the most serious vow a human being makes to God, the vow to love another only, until death parts you. But I think the governor’s story should bring all of us to a point of caution rather than “stone throwing.” What he did was wrong, immoral, illegal. His actions showed a lack of wisdom, discretion and plain ol’ common sense. But what can the rest of us learn from his tragic mistakes?
Some people think they are “above” infidelity. We hear their comments often, “Why, I’d never do such a thing.” “Who does he think he is?” “I love God and my wife too much to ever be so stupid.” “Can you believe people cheat on their spouses? Such a shame.” My husband and I think this approach is naïve and proud and actually sets one up for a fall. These are the same people who often don’t guard their marriage properly. I mean, after all, the infidelity bug would never bite them, right? They’re “above” being attracted to another. They’re “above” vulnerability. They’re “above” such shameful behavior. So, they often walk around unguarded because they don’t think they need to exercise precaution. Dangerous ground, my friends. Dangerous ground.
Philip and I choose to believe we are both vulnerable. Neither of us is “above” the siren song of the one who is “off limits.” We’ve seen too many good people travel that painful path ... to believe it could never hold us captive. So, in humility, we’ve established protective policies to guard the marriage we hold so dear. We don’t assume that great marriages just happen. We believe they are built through years of trust, time, accountability and choices.
Some of our choices may seem silly. That’s alright. We have a sacred bond to protect and sometimes that requires drastic measures. No intimate friendships with the opposite sex. No one-on-one lunches with someone of the opposite sex. Eating together builds emotional intimacy and sharing. Emotional intimacy and sharing is the framework for a progressive relationship between a man and a woman. If this were not true, why do most romantic dates involve a meal?
We understand the importance of time spent together. Date nights without the kids. Long talks after dinner. Physical affection. We also know that sometimes people break their marriage vows despite the love they received at home; if one of us experiences “unmet needs” emotionally or physically, we don’t believe that gives the right to wander. But we do understand that it makes that person more vulnerable. So we seek to meet those needs and we pray for each other daily.
I’m not trying to explain what happened to the governor of New York. I really don’t know. One thing I do know. Marriage is fragile. Handle with care.
Editor’s note: Lisa Smartt’s column appears each Wednesday in the Friends and Neighbors section of The Messenger. Mrs. Smartt is the wife of Philip Smartt, the University of Tennessee at Martin parks and recreation and forestry professor, and is mother to two boys, Stephen and Jonathan. She is a freelance writer and speaker. Her book “The Smartt View: Life, Love, and Cluttered Closets” is available at The Messenger, The University of Tennessee at Martin bookstore or by mail for $10, plus $2 shipping. Send checks to Lisa Smartt, 300 Parrott Road, Dresden TN 38225. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 3.19.08