In Beyonce’s one-hour visual album, “Lemonade,” which aired on HBO over the weekend and then was released for streaming on Tidal, the singer explores the theme of infidelity – a topic many theorize is autobiographical, given rumors of infidelity on the part of her husband, Jay Z.
If autobiographical, Beyonce would be telegraphing that, while she has stayed with her husband to date, future infidelity might not be tolerated. “You know I give you life, if you try this s—t again you’re gonna lose your wife,” she sings.
Maybe. But here’s the truth, from more than 20 years of practicing psychiatry: Marriages are more resilient than the lyrics of Beyonce’s album would suggest. Not infrequently, they survive repeated episodes of infidelity.
Here’s why: Marriages are made of much more than sex. The ones that last any real length of time are, in fact, stories that include richly textured early chapters, the momentum of tens of thousands of shared, mundane, everyday experiences, triangulated interpersonal connections with dozens or hundreds of people and the hope for shared joy and transcendence in the future.
Marriages are more resilient than the lyrics of Beyonce’s album would suggest. Not infrequently, they survive repeated episodes of infidelity.
Given those profound ingredients, I believe that a spouse having sex with another partner is always — in and of itself — an irrational reason to bust up a marriage. After all, over time, sexual energy generally becomes one of the least reliable measures of the strength of a couple’s union. That energy dissipates in a tortured, yet treasured, haze of shared laundry baskets, watching one another floss in the morning, listening to one another being petty and seeing one another being frightened and self-indulgent.
Does it really make sense to rip up the evolving tapestry of such a relationship only because a spouse has had intercourse with someone else? I don’t think so — ever.
I mean, really, people need to get their priorities in order.
I’m not without an ego, but I can tell you that after more than 20 years of my own marriage, I fully expect my wife to find decent-looking waiters distracting. And if one of them were distracting to the extreme, to the point of her having a tryst, I would hope never to learn of it.
But I certainly wouldn’t abandon her if I did learn of it. She and I have far bigger things to worry about — like the fact that we cherish having our son and daughter in bedrooms down the hall from ours, and the fact that we need to keep track of our ailing beagle’s medicines, and the fact that we still remember dicey moments from a nearly catastrophic year we lived through together, and the fact that we remember one time when we were really young and didn’t have a ton of money, but we adopted this dying cat who collapsed on our doorstep and cost us plenty of dough to keep alive.
That’s the stuff of attachment — not the certainty that each spouse’s sexual passion has forever and will forever reside only in their marital union.
The secret therapeutic weapon I deploy to keep together couples who swear that infidelity has caused an irreparable rift goes like this. I will ask an aggrieved husband (for the purposes of this example), “So, given that you have learned your wife has had a lover, you are leaving her, for sure?”
“For sure,” such a man will often tell me.
“And, so,” I go on, “should your wife be stricken with cancer, you are fully prepared to have her boyfriend — not you — take her to the hospital for chemotherapy. Is that right? Maybe she’ll give you a call when the fatigue and nausea and horror of it all subside. Maybe.”
Occasionally, such a man will answer in the affirmative. He’s perfectly OK with that scenario. But far more often, such a man’s shoulders will slump with the unpredictable weight of life’s twists and turns and tragedies, and he will say, haltingly, “Well … no … I would not feel comfortable with that. I would want … I would need to be the person taking her for her treatment.”
“Well, then,” I will advise him, “you’re in a real jam. Because it seems that you love an imperfect person and that you really aren’t ready to leave her. Do you know what that makes you, and her, by the way?”
“Human,” I say. “Welcome to the club.”