When does a relationship become adultery? I get asked this question often, in various guises. For some, adultery in marriage happens the moment you exchange a glance with another of the opposite sex whilst for others an exchange of bodily fluids is required.
For this author the question of adultery in marriage needs to be looked at in ways beyond these constructs. I think of adultery in marriage as a much subtler definition. In our interactions with others, we can identify different stages of relationship. At the far end of the continuum are people with whom we interact regularly, or in an important way but with whom we have no real connection or personal duty beyond normal human decency. Into this category I place people like taxi drivers, my postie, the woman at Costa Coffee with whom I share a weak smile and a daily joke.
Further up the scale we have people with whom we share a particular situation, but nothing really beyond that. These are mums at the school gate, co-members of a club or society, people in our offices or the same company. Yes, they are relationships we have on a more regular basis, but the defining feature of them is that the activity or situation we share is what holds us together. If I leave one gym and join another, then all those people in my last spin class will quickly become faint memories because there really was no relationship there.
Next up the list we have “friends”. A friend is someone with whom we simply like to spend time, but it doesn’t really matter what we do with that time. We may go to a spin class together, but we might just as equally sit and watch a film, or go for a meal. The main feature here, is that this is a person I choose to be with, and they return the feeling, but the relationship hasn’t got too deep a level of intimacy.
Finally, we have romantic relationships, and this is where the idea of adultery in marriage comes into play fully. In romantic relationships, we add something more to the “friends” relationship in that we add intimacy. Intimacy is the sharing of parts of oneself in such a way that the thing that is shared is only destined for one individual. In return, when you share something intimate with another, that person will tend to share something back. This sharing may be verbal, physical, emotional or any manner of things. The important point here is that it is ONLY for that one person.
So when does a relationship become adultery? Well, adultery in marriage, in this author’s opinion, occurs when one person chooses to share something that hitherto had been an intimate thing destined for one person, with someone else. This really opens the definition of adultery in marriage up a great deal because it isn’t about sex. This is why those couples with open sexual relationships who engage in activities such as swinging don’t see the sexual act as adultery, but they will still always identify some aspect of behaviour that is considered intimate and sacred, only to be shared between that couple.