Published February 24, 2010
With the distraction of Tiger Woods' pathetic press conference apology, in which he sadly used the children served by his Foundation as chits to excuse his sexual behavior, we could easily lose a valuable moment of insight_ Marital infidelity need not spell the end of a marriage and can sometimes signal the beginning of greater intimacy.
Tiger and Elin Woods may have been strangers until now, but no longer. They were likely at a much greater distance from one another emotionally the day they married than today.
I know that sounds counterintuitive. After all, having a sexual relationship outside of one's marriage canthreaten it. The gravitational pull of romance really is a force that can destabilize the steady, mutual orbits of husbands and wives.
Yet the bonds of marriage, if they are to mean anything at all, have to be able to withstand even profound injuries to them. The pain and rage Elin Woods has experienced is testimony to such injuries, but her willingness to accompany her husband to a rehabilitation clinic (even if that exercise turns out to be a sham) is testimony to love being greater than fear or grief or rage. If she wielded a golf club at the father of her children she was nearly lost and could (should?) have been jailed for it. When she boarded a flight with her broken husband, she found a treasure of self-possession and self-sacrifice and self-respect that we can all learn from.
If anything can convince a man that the pleasures of having sexual relations with many women isn't worth jeopardizing his marriage, it is the moment his wife bears testimony to the value of their union by refusing to give it up without a fight. The same, by the way, goes for women becoming convinced of the value of their marriages when their husbands neither attack them (again, Elin's worst moment) nor divorce them for infidelity. Infidelity can and, in my psychiatry practice often is, the gate through which couples pass on their way to stronger relationships.
When couples do not divorce, despite infidelity, it signals that the temptations of the world don't trump their spiritual bonds. It signals that they are at one with the central thesis I find most valuable in families: Once you become parents, it just isn't about you, anymore; it's about your kids. Whatever pain a husband or wife might feel in the context of a spouse "cheating," that doesn't mean it is obvious to transfer it to children who will be packing duffle bags to spend half the week in one house and half the week in another, wondering the whole week just exactly where one of their parents is.
Remember those pesky marriage vows? In sickness and in health. In good times and in bad. For better, for worse. Is sex with another human being other than one's spouse really and truly worse than, say, gambling away the entire family fortune? Is it worse than committing fraud and going to jail? Is it worse than relapsing to cocaine or alcohol addiction again and again, choosing a drug over one's family? Should the spouses of men and women in such situations dissolve their unions? What would marriage mean then? Anything at all?
This is a tough world. Believe me, I know. I have sat with couples suffering the death of a child, cancer ravaging one of their bodies, holding their kids' hands night after night as death stalks. Tiger and Elin, by comparison, are in the middle of a luxurious moment. They should use it well, as we all should were we in their place: to strengthen their relationship, to find one another, to remind their children that marriage can be forever, to not lose sight of their vows.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com. Dr. Ablow can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.