As mistress after mistress comes forward, admitting to a sexual liaison with Tiger Woods, it would be easy to focus on his voracious appetite for sex and his fall from grace in the eyes of his fans and miss some very important lessons about the rest of us in 21st century America.
Marriage in America is under siege, in a big way. At least 40 percent of American marriages end in divorce and a very large percentage of those that survive are desperately unhappy ones in which the partners feel estranged from one another or even spiritually suffocated by one another. In my practice of psychiatry (and in the practices of the counselors and psychologists and psychiatrists with whom I routinely speak), I would estimate that as many as 90 percent of married individuals would rank their unions as the source of very significant stress or would say that their marriages are a source of low mood or anxiety.
We marry in the throes of romance, and a conspiracy of silence prevents us from a society-wide, in-depth, healing discussion of how to maintain it after more than a few years of cohabitation. Isn't one of the sustaining beams of our culture worth the attention of leading scholars? Shouldn't the Surgeon General consider the marriage crisis in this country worthy of understanding and healing? Why do we teach sex education in school, to the exclusion of teaching techniques of emotional intimacy? Why do we pretend that marriages can be effortlessly passionate forever, rather than advising couples to routinely take space from one another as a way to recharge their levels of attraction? Why don't we look deeply at the fact that a husband or wife might be willing to donate a kidney to his or her spouse, yet unable or unwilling to remain sexually "faithful?"
What does that mean about the real glue of long-term attachment-that it is actually nine parts emotion and only one part physical? Why haven't we talked about what marriage means in a culture in which each partner may have had a dozen or more sexual relationships prior to marriage and is very possibly going to have more than one marriage in his or her life? Why is it that American men still have been given very little insight into just what women feel after infidelity (and vice-versa)?
We know that Elin Woods is angry, but we don't know the real depth of her pain. Isn't it possible that if teenagers learned how betrayal sparks jealousy, resentment, fear of abandonment and worries about being unloved and unlovable that they might remember those lessons in their adult, married years? If more men understood the psychological risks to their adolescent daughters and sons of intuiting that their fathers or mothers are unfaithful, would that give parents more reason to invest in their marriages? The fact that Tiger's sexual escapades have pushed Afghanistan off the front page is evidence enough that sex is a dominant force in American society. As technology more and more defines our existence, the lure of sex will only intensify, if only to remind people they are human.
If we pretend that the institution of marriage can withstand that kind of energy without a plan, we're going to become-even more than now-a nation married to hypocrisy in our private lives.
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 email@example.com.