“Rabbi, I’ve been seeing another woman,” the man sitting opposite me flatly declared. Unfortunately, I have heard more than my fair share of such heartbreaking disclosures. Sometimes it was the wife betraying the marriage; sometimes the husband. Sometimes the marriage was rescued; often it wasn’t.
A marriage betrayal and its consequences is surely one of the most shattering experiences anyone endures. Its destructive impact on everyone, particularly children, has been well documented by the outstanding researcher Judith Wallerstein.
A recent report about marriage entitled The Science of a Happy Marriage
caught my attention. Researchers at universities in Sweden, New York and Montreal investigated this intriguing question:
Why do some men and women cheat on their partners while others resist temptation?
After reviewing the study I can reveal their answer.
It is all about genes, you see. Some people have the predisposition to betray and others don’t. “It’s my genes, honey, what could I do?”
The intrepid researchers then addressed this question:
Can a person be trained to resist temptation?
While designing role playing games more suited to kindergarten than marriage therapy, the scientists finally concluded: “…your commitment may depend on how much a partner enhances your life and broadens your horizons.”
In other words, “If you don’t satisfy me, honey, I’m out of here!”
It astounds me that in this study of betrayal in marriage, not even once do words like wrong or evil appear. Needless to say, neither do the words sin or God.
The character Ivan Karamazov in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov seems to decide that God doesn’t exist and that therefore, logically, nothing can be judged as wrong or immoral. Those researchers at their universities would agree.
However, the Torah does not. A marriage is not just a contract between two parties. It is a holy covenant between three entities: man, woman, and God.
One spouse might believe that an extra-marital fling will complete his or her life while the other spouse is convinced that such a fling is destructive. Who is to say which belief is more compelling? But there is one more party to the marriage—God! And He is pretty unambiguous about it.
Listen to Joseph’s response after Mrs. Potiphar threw him an intimate invitation.
He refused and said to his boss’s wife, “My boss has placed all his affairs in my hands… he has withheld nothing from me, except you, his wife! So how could I then do this big wrong? And doing so would be a sin against God.
Joseph is speaking to himself as well as to Mrs. Potiphar. First he tries keeping formal distance. He thinks of her only as his boss’s wife. That contains a valuable message for us, but it is not enough. Then Joseph tries logic—it would be a betrayal of my boss’s trust. This is still not enough to prevent his weakening. Finally, Joseph falls back on the only thing that works. It would be a sin against God.
Unfortunately, even those who do follow God sometimes succumb to temptation. Nevertheless, if both spouses acknowledge that betraying the marriage would violate their relationship with God, it serves as strong weaponry in the arsenal.
My rabbinic and radio show experiences have taught me that it is a mistake for any couple to complacently consider themselves as invulnerable. Anybody in the right (or wrong) circumstances can yield to temptation, damage a marriage and harm lives. Building a durable and fulfilling marriage is a life’s work needing constant effort and deliberate scheduling in spite of conflicting time and energy demands.
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Next week Thought Tool resumes its regular schedule.