Does the Bible ever forbid male infidelity
"Fraud can be liberating"
annabelle: Esther Perel, loyalty is the only commandment that appears twice in the Ten Commandments: "You shall not commit adultery" and "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife". What does that tell us?
Esther Perel: That someone understood human nature very well.
One command forbids the act, the other just the thought of it, i.e. the intention.
And that's rather unusual. In general, the Jewish Bible does not spend much time pondering what is going on in people's minds: what matters is what a person does, not what he thinks. But loyalty - and this is how the old wise men apparently saw it - is not just a question of action, but also of thought.
Where do you think infidelity begins?
It used to be pretty simple: after nine months, a baby was born that didn't look like its father. (laughs)
Today the borders are blurred and they are constantly expanding. Does the infidelity start when you make friends with your ex again on Facebook? When you flirt with another guy in a bar? When you go to the massage studio with a "happy ending"? When do you watch porn? Or only when you watch other women masturbate on webcams? When emotions are involved but no sex? Or sex but no feelings? - You used to get married and have sex for the first time. Today you get married and you stop having sex with other people. Monogamy meant: one person for life. Today monogamy means one person at a time. Understanding modern infidelity requires understanding modern society and the nature of modern relationships.
And what does this mean for couples?
That questions like "What does loyalty mean?" or "Where are our limits?" have become a matter of negotiation - and thus a subject for discussion for couples. Things that were previously only negotiated with yourself must now be discussed and negotiated together.
Which doesn't necessarily make things any easier.
No. But we shouldn't only start talking to our partners about death on our 90th birthday or what to expect in the event of a serious illness. Such conversations need to be integrated into the relationship. So that you are prepared and you don't immediately think you have to lie or hide yourself every time you feel a need for someone else. If you can talk about it openly, such topics become less scary - and problems often vanish into thin air once you have spoken out about them.
We are now very relaxed when it comes to sex. So why are we still so intolerant when it comes to infidelity?
Because it's not about sex! It's about breaking a taboo, disrupting an order, breaking a norm. We know that infidelity is transgressive; that we have imposed rules on ourselves that we may break again. But the violation of rules remains - even if one is very tolerant - always a rule violation.
How important is the pain we feel when we are betrayed in order to assess the breach of faith we have suffered?
The question is: what is it anyway that hurts? And in what context? If you've ignored your husband for years, cheating will hurt differently than wishing your husband looked at you the way he looks at strange women who don't look like you.
Perhaps the cheating begins where the other person's pain begins?
And where is your own pain? Two people do not always have the same wants and needs, do not have the same point of view. Who has the power to define? Are you quitting because it hurts your partner? Or say to him, “Please try to understand why I'm doing this. It has nothing to do with us, it's a private pleasure and nothing I want to hurt you with. " That is the discourse that needs to be conducted. And for some couples this discourse is a conversation at eye level, for others it degenerates into a pure power struggle.
Does the fraud weigh more heavily today because our expectations of the partnership are higher?
Today we choose our life partner on average about ten to fifteen years later than before. When we have finally chosen The One, our soulmate, we think he is everything to us and we are everything to him. He is the person we are ready to erase all the apps in the world for. In times when sex was still primarily a marital duty and nobody cared, especially not the husband, whether the wife was having fun too, an affair naturally had a different scope. Our grandmothers might still say to each other when they caught their husband with someone else: Well, at least he'll leave me alone!
Today, however, as you point out, our sex life is directly linked to our self-worth. What has changed?
For a long time, sexuality was simply part of our biology. In the course of the women's and also the gay movement and due to the democratization of contraception, sexuality was socialized. It is no longer just part of our nature, it belongs to what makes us who we are. For this reason, sexuality is also much more closely linked to our self-esteem. And because self-definition is a lifelong process, our sexuality is not closed either. We change and with us our needs, our preferences, our desires change.
Is there a specific time to cheat?
People cheat at all times and for a million reasons. Some of these are inherent in the relationship itself: sexual frustration, constant arguments, a lack of communication, intimacy, or connectedness. But many people do not strive for it at all. They stumble upon something they never looked for. Infidelity also occurs in couples where no one intended to ever be with another partner. These people are not looking for a new life story, they are looking for a different love story.
Why do people who basically live in happy relationships cheat?
When you choose a partner, you choose a story. And that story assigns you a role. This role can become very rigid. You play it through, over and over again. At some point people no longer know how to accommodate their being, their whole being in this story.
You have been working as a couples therapist for 36 years. What kind of sentences do you each hear from people who cheat on their partners?
Sentences like: “I took care of my children, my parents and the home for years. Now I'm doing something just for myself. " Or: "I broke out, now I finally feel alive again." The language these people use is a language of self-discovery. They don't want to leave their partner. They want to leave who they have become.
But isn't that also selfish, inconsiderate?
People who have affairs are often very responsible people. You practically wear yourself down under the weight of a guilty conscience. But breaking rules can also be very liberating, even if they are the rules that you have imposed on yourself. The affair is perceived as a kind of divine providence: "Fate brought this person into my life - and with her something has returned that I haven't felt for a long time: I'm alive!"
Has monogamy become obsolete?
No, but as I said: monogamy means many new things today. Rather, the strict definition of monogamy as sexual exclusivity has become obsolete. Because believe me: in my work with couples I have seen many sexually exclusive people who behaved very horribly in their relationships. One cannot simply use monogamy as a sign of one's moral superiority. Relationship betrayal has many faces: the affair is just one of them. There are others - and God knows they are not what couples promise themselves in their vows!
But don't people want security and reliability - also within relationships?
And that's where the bait of monogamy comes into play. But maybe there is a commitment that doesn't require sexual exclusivity? Maybe there is just an emotional exclusivity? Perhaps there is an understanding that for some people sexual fidelity is not realistic? And that you can still have a fulfilling relationship. Monogamy is no longer simply accepted. Monogamy is negotiated and defined by a couple.
Can you find your way back to your old life after an affair? And if so, how?
The special power of the affair lies in its utopia; it only exists in secret, there you can picture it, as grand and colorful as you want. The problem is: if you have an affair, you think you will lose all these wonderful things as soon as you end it. But you don't have to go back and live with what is left to you. You can definitely bring some great things home with you from this trip.
Doesn't that sound almost cynical in the ears of someone who has been duped?
But it's not always just the person who cheats, who experiences something powerful. I often hear cheated people say things like: “I lived in this dead end with my partner for years. Now I want to get to know the person who had this affair. " As soon as you realize that your partner might also want to meet the person you were when you betrayed them, you work towards honest integration.
So can an affair also be a cure for a relationship?
A partnership is not just a connection between two people, it is a network: You may have children together, a business, mutual friends. Do you then have a partner who is not interested in sex, but otherwise actually has a good relationship - should you skip everything because of that? In such a case, an affair can make a marriage permanent, stabilize it, and balance it out. It ensures that people can stay where they want to stay and that they feel obliged to stay. “I am not loyal, but I am loyal”: Our grandparents understood this sentence well, but today it is almost impossible to pronounce it.
What can you do so that it doesn't have to come to that?
I wrote an entire book about this in “Mating in Captivity”. Everything is in there.
The book was published in German under the title "Wild Life". The original English title would, however, be translated as: "Mating in captivity". Doesn't that sound like lustful excess?
It's about how we can reconcile our need for security and stability with our need for freedom and adventure in long-term relationships. How do we prevent that at some point we only have our interesting conversations with our friends? How do we keep craving for something that we already have, that we already know? These are the central challenges of modern relationships - and yes, keeping love alive is a daily challenge.
And - how do we do it, specifically?
When couples do familiar things together that they enjoy, it is good for their bond.
So watch Netflix together?
Yes. But that doesn't create tension and passion, you need experiences that go beyond the usual. It's about gaining new experiences together, making new discoveries, which are also associated with a certain risk for both sides: this arouses mutual desire.
But does that mean that both sides have to show the necessary commitment?
Well, basically you always have to keep in mind: What we expect from a relationship today has never been expected from a relationship before. And what we expect from a single person today, we used to expect from an entire village community. So our expectations have risen massively - but at the same time our resources have decreased: people now live much more isolated than they used to be. Couples are even more isolated than singles - and couples with children are the most isolated of all.
You yourself were 22 years old when you met your husband. They raised two sons with him and are still with him. What's the secret of your relationship?
We are never bored.
How does that work?
My husband and I have a very strong intellectual bond. We challenge each other again and again - with our work, with the questions we ask ourselves. Even if it gets on my nerves and I can't stand it, I still find it fascinating. That helps to get over crises and depths of relationships!
You often give lectures, sometimes in front of thousands of people. You are happy to ask the audience who has already experienced infidelity in their life - and allegedly 80 percent should raise their hands in each case. Would you be asked to do this yourself, would your arm also go up?
You know I'm not answering this question - even if you packed it well. (laughs)
Statistically, women are said to have caught up with men in matters of infidelity. Is that correct?
Yes. In fact, we have seen a 40 percent increase in infidelity among women in recent years. For men, the numbers have remained relatively unchanged. It used to be thought that women are simply monogamous or cheat for other reasons. In doing so, they simply ignored that the consequences are no longer the same. If a woman had to fear that she would be penniless afterwards or that her child would be taken away, put in a monastery or excommunicated, then she had better just let it go. Even today there are nine countries in the world where women can be stoned for adultery!
But with anyone have the men betrayed their wives over the centuries?
It happened. But it happened in secret. The affair is something that society has conceded primarily to men - not women. Monogamy was primarily a corset for them, for economic reasons and for reasons of inheritance and family tree. Men always wanted to know exactly whose children they are raising and to whom they are leaving their cows. So basically there is no difference between men and women when it comes to their instinctuality? No, when it comes to sexuality, desire, passion, transcendence and spiritual love, we are pretty much alike. What separates women and men, however, is the language that society allows each gender.
What do you mean?
In our typical view of man as this biological, instinct-controlled being, "real" men are allowed to talk about sex, but they are not allowed to express any other emotional needs. He must not admit that he is lonely, that he wants to be hugged and cared for. So he conceals these needs in a language of sexuality. Instead of saying that he needs closeness, he simply says: "I'm awesome!" Women, on the other hand, are not allowed to assert their sexual needs, so satisfy them in a language of emotions. Women want love, men want sex? No, some men want just as much love and some women just as much sex.
Do women actually have different strategies for cheating than men?
What is interesting is that women who have affairs feel less guilty compared to men.
Because they feel more justified?
Exactly. They say to themselves: “I have given enough, cared enough for others. Now it's my turn."
Does society also excuse female infidelity today more than male?
It's a double-edged sword: on the one hand, we are actually more willing to see the vulnerability of women than that of men. If she is cheating on you, you tend to say: "She was treated so badly, no wonder she cheated on him." If the woman is the lover, however, she gets all the fat off as a seductress: "If she hadn't made such beautiful eyes on him and forced sex like this, it would never have come to that."
Why this image of the evil temptress?
Because it's easier to be angry with the beloved. If you direct all your anger towards them, i.e. towards a third person, you automatically protect your own relationship with your partner.
Can you explain why Hillary Clinton stayed with Bill after he cheated on her with a White House intern and humiliated her in public?
Perhaps there was no other person in her life who supported her more than Bill. No one who believed in her more than Bill. Perhaps she stayed because the affair made her realize that she herself had ignored her husband and his needs for years. In short: we don't know.But more interesting than the question of why she stayed is the question: Why did they judge everyone for staying?
Yes, why actually?
Because everyone obviously agrees: Now that you can walk as a woman, you have to walk as a woman too!
Who stays, reveals what feminism has fought for for years?
Exactly. But why was the public opinion not: Relationships are complex systems, and marriage is never just a story between two people, et cetera ...
As a couple and psychotherapist, how did you experience the whole #MeToo debate?
I thought it was fantastic. Because she brought things to the table that had never been discussed honestly in public before. First: the fundamental and systematic inequality of the sexes in the workplace. Second: the sexual violence or the idea of some men that they deserve something simply because they are men and have the power to do it - this bad habit of men proving their masculinity to one another by using women.
In this context you speak of the misunderstanding between power and powerlessness. What do you mean by that?
Powerful men don't bother. Seducing powerful men. It is the powerless men who belittle women.
You have to explain that.
Well, what many men suffer and what they struggle with tremendously is humiliation. The harassment is basically the transfer of one's own shame and humiliation to the woman.
What do you think of detectives who test the loyalty of partners?
You don't need detectives for that anymore, the GPS on the cell phone is more than enough! In fact, it has never been easier to be unfaithful than it is today. But it has never been so difficult to keep a secret either. The question, however, is: what do you then do with your knowledge? Do you want to put him in the torture chamber? And what does it actually mean to monitor a relationship? Doesn't that undermine all trust? In the end, it's like a babysitter: if you need a babycam to monitor him - just don't set him up!
When is it appropriate to keep silent about an affair and when is it better to admit it?
When is not the question, but rather: Why? What's the real message behind it? Is it about honesty and trust or is it just about relieving one's conscience? Because whoever cheats will feel better afterwards, no question about it. But the betrayed will withdraw, both physically and mentally. And afterwards with every kiss he will ask himself whether he is really the right recipient of this caress.
Better to be silent then?
No. If you honestly want to leave him, go ahead: tell him! Take responsibility! In many cases, the confession is also used to put an end to the affair. Are you using - or abusing? - the other as a kind of limit maker, as the one who draws the line.
Because you couldn't do it alone?
Yes. If you don't want to end an affair, you don't confess it. However, if there is something fundamental that you have discovered, something that you miss in your relationship, then you should talk about it - not about having an affair! Otherwise, the affair will automatically be the big topic and not what the actual topic should be: namely, that you have realized that you are missing something substantial in the current partnership. If you talk honestly and openly about what you are missing in your relationship, the affair will die a natural death.
As a couples therapist, do you actually have an instinct for when there is still a spark of love in the relationships of your clients?
When they fight! As long as people do this and try to somehow get through to the other, there is warmth. Negative heat maybe, frictional energy, but at least you can work with that as a therapist. When people just sit across from each other indifferently, completely defeated, full of contempt for one another, it becomes difficult. Contempt is the real killer.
Married people may fear that reading "The Power of Affair" will lead to the wrong ideas. Why is it a book for you anyway?
Everything that you do and experience during an affair you actually want to do and experience in your relationship. So this book is basically not a book about fling, but a book about love. It uses the lens of infidelity to understand the deeper nature of modern relationships.
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