The following discussion is not meant to imply that all members of a particular culture experience affairs in any particular way.

Extramarital affairs are most frequently experienced as completely traumatic and immoral in the United States. If a public figure strays from their marriage they are frequently disgraced and followers and fans can feel tremendously let down and disillusioned. If this person holds public office, their capacity to lead is frequently questioned, as is their entire character. A spouse who discovers a partner’s affair frequently breaks down emotionally.

In some European countries affairs are experienced slightly differently. There is a sense that affairs happen frequently; political figures involved in them are not vilified by the majority of the population. A spouse who discovers an affair may be outraged, hurt and sad, but might not have a full-fledged traumatic reaction.

In some middle eastern countries women can be stoned to death for having an affair.

Jewish people tend to consider affairs a non-Jewish problem.

In fundamentalist religious cultures of many varieties the idea of having sinned is an added trauma to the one occurring in the relationship.

In some Central American countries it is fairly commonplace for married men of means to maintain a mistress in her own “casita.”

Some cultures consider it the role of the woman to “hold on to her man” and the affair a reflection on her failure to do so.

You might want to read more in depth about Asian Americans and affairs.

How do you believe your cultural background has influenced your beliefs and experiences of affairs? Are you in a multi-ethnic relationship? If so, has that lead to problems regarding fidelity?

Looking forward to your comments.

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    That’s exactly what my husband thought. He compartmentalized. We had a wonderful marriage; the perfect couple. But he slipped up and I found out. The lying and deceit is what hurt me and the marriage. I trusted him completely and I never will again. It ruined everything.

  2. Anonymous

    I’m not sure that an affair always indicates a problem in the primary relationship, or in the individual. My husband and I have a wonderful marriage, in every way. If he were to have an affair that in no way changed the way he treats me, and I (and others) knew nothing about it, I can’t see how that would hurt me or the marriage. In other words, if your marriage is very solid and committed, could sleeping with someone else just be an expression of individuality, similar to keeping a private journal, or having your own thoughts, as long as it remains compartmentalized?

  3. Anonymous

    I am the other woman, we met at work and it all started out as a joke before i knew that he was married. I called him my telephone boyfirend. He was the telephone tech in the building where I worked and he was fine. From head to toe, he was about 6 ft nice body and from Haiti. we start to talk only a daily bases and my other co-workes said “WOW he never talks to anyone but you, what did you do to him?”. Right then and there I though he is all mine. We exchanged numbers and began to text each other everyday and I mean sometimes 2 to 5 times a day. Then on sunday I invited him over to my house to watch football and have a few drinks and he can. We talked and laughed and I was in heaven. We shared a kiss and it was all over, I thought to myself, this is a man that I want to be with. when I got to work the next day, I could not wait to see him pass or come by my office, and there he was. He can in and we talked for a few and then we both went back to work and this is our everyday routine. He has expressed to me that he wants to spend more time with me, he calls me sweetie and text me every night before he goes to bed to make sure I am ok. I am head over hills for this guy, but he is married, what should I do before it is too late? I need your advice…Please help me.

  4. Anonymous

    I’m not sure if, or in exactly what sense, my comments are rooted in cultural attitudes towards affairs, or whether they simply reflect my individual aspirations. I remember the grandmother character in the Ingmar Bergman movie, Fanny and Alexander. She exuded a kind of wisdom. She was by then an elderly widow, and she had occasional visits from an old man who had clearly been her lover when she was younger (but at this point, they were friends). The story was set sometime in the late 19th/early 20th century. She lived in a huge, wealthy home with her grown children, their spouses and kids, and servants. She was in the position to observe the lives of all the younger members of the family around her: the happy family moments and celebrations, the affairs between her fun-loving but philandering son and the young female servants, the impending death of her “sensible” son and his widow’s remarriage to a Northern Protestant minister who proves to be a brute, etc. etc. The character was memorable to me because she was wise, and not particularly judgmental about what was happening around her. She knew all about the joys and sorrows that are associated both with our efforts to be responsible, and with our lapses into irresponsibility (or, in the current jargon, “personal dynsfunction”). She seemed to understand it all as part of a full, rounded life, where sometimes we are noble, sometimes we are rogues, sometimes we are victims, sometimes smart, sometimes stupid, etc.

    This is all to say that I seem to admire that kind of character more than people who pride themselves on never having misbehaved, whether via affairs, or other behaviour that might reflect poor skill or judgment. There are some people who stick to the straight and narrow, and never really learn much; there are others who behave like fools and never learn from that either. But really knowing oneself and other people, really understanding life and human nature, would seem to involve mistakes or at least explorations of risky territory.

    Do you suppose this attitude reflects a European influence? I just can’t seem to pride myself on “never getting in trouble” as an end in itself. There’s the occasional person who seems to be born wise, but isn’t it hard-won for most of us?

  5. Anonymous

    Okay, so quite a few of us, who probably share many demographic features, consider affairs to reflect personal dysfunction, and as such, we do not necessarily adopt a judgmental stance towards them.

    So, for those of us who think this way, what does this say about our culture’s view of what it means to be a high-functioning person (in one’s private life, at least)? Just throwing that out there for now, and might suggest my own view at a later point ……

  6. Anonymous

    I agree with #1. Often the affair is a sign of a problem in the primary relationship. Gay culture pretty well mirrors all of the above. Beliefs and anguish felt over the incident depends on culture, class, sex.

    I’ve noticed that when one party believes it to be the ultimate betrayal then the relationship is doomed. When they can see it as a mistake, a fixable problem, then with a great deal of work it can be worked through. Some can even overlook it without a noticeable viewable toll on the relationship, although sometimes I wonder if it does not become the reason for passive-aggressive behavior due to emotions not sufficiently dealt with.

  7. Anonymous

    I want to emphasize the gender inequalities you point out. Men might be excused within some cultures (Latin, Europe, Japan) or even normatively expected to have an affair while women are forbidden culturally to partake. So culture plays a huge role in shaping social behavior. Our own society is the legacy of both Puritan and Victorian cultures, which viewed sexual immorality as both a spiritual transgression and character flaw. Consequently, our society is obsessed and titillated by sexuality.

  8. Anonymous

    Both my husband (a WASP) a I (Roman Irish Catholic) have talked a great deal about our commitment to each other over the 15 years we have been married and feel that affairs are not for us. Our commitment is to let each other know when we are starting to feel disconnected and are in danger of getting other romantic needs met elsewhere. So far, that has been working. That being said – marriage is harder than I ever expected but each time after getting through a particularly hard time, I am so grateful that there wasn’t an external release valve that would have lessened the work we had to do to stay connected.

    I think we both come from the attitude that it is possible to have a long term relationship without affairs as we both have parents who have been married over 55 years — with a lot of obvious problems — but it is great to see them take care of each other in their old age and to have what we all want when we are kids – some almost unconditional love.

  9. Anonymous

    I am fortunate in that my husband and I are from the same cultural background, white anglo-saxon protestant. We have the same belief about affairs: Affairs are not healthy for our definition of marriage.

    I agree with poster #1 that an affair represents dysfunction and an opportunity to learn and grow and become healthier.

  10. Anonymous

    I was extremely effected by my father’s affairs with his patients when I was a child but more so by my parents endless attempts to get it together. The whole thing left me with a fundamental question about whether marriage itself is the aberration and not infidelity. It harms children and friends just as much to be lied to as it does spouses. I also question whether the name and culture of the discipline of “marriage and family therapy” isnt oxymoronic. From what I have said, a therapist dealing with my parents marriage would have to have seen it as toxic for my family. Why should there be a license in fixing marriage problems if the institution needs to be altered? My mother’s family is poor white agricultural, my fathers first generation German well-educated socialists and I have a large Turkish segment of my mothers family who are Turkish (secular) Muslims. My mothers family blamed her for breaking up the marriage because she had to give up the economic advantages of being married to a physician, my fathers blamed him for breaking it up because stable marriages and families produced a progressive middle class and my Turkish relatives believed that the man should have the right to have affairs with whomever he chose though they see polygamy as a sin, but harim concubinage would be just fine! So class is really another and very important diversity issue and I think as at least as if not more significant as it pertains to affairs than ethnicity.

  11. Anonymous

    Hmm… One way to think about attitudes and beliefs about affairs is that they exist along different continuums. For example:

    from amoral to psychological – (i.e. is the affair viewed primarily as a sin, a moral failure or a psychological problem?

    from commonly occuring, or being a part of life (Europe) to rarely or never occuring (Jewish)

    from a patriarchal to feminist perspective (i.e, an extremely patriarchal attitude would be if a man cheats it’s the woman’s fault for not being able to keep him satisfied, or polgyamy)

    from traumatic to not traumatic for the betrayed partner.

    I’m wondering how people see their cultures fitting on these contimuums.

  12. Anonymous

    I was raised Jewish, East Coast working/middle class in the 50s and 60s and I didn’t even have the concept of an extra-marital affair until I was in my 20’s. So either the myth of the “the nice Jewish boy” is true or it was happening and nobody dared to talk about it. My generation grew up with parents that were parented by Holocaust survivors, or relatives of Holocaust survivors. These parents for the most part wanted to put the tragic behind them. I frequently heard a plea of “let it be” when anything conflictual arose. My sense is that affairs would have been dealt with in the same way. Looking away. I wonder if others remembering hearing this phrase, “you have to look away.”

  13. Anonymous

    I suspect that my attitudes towards affairs, both the one I had and those of others, is probably fairly representative of my cultural demographic: a middle-aged, highly educated (PhD) North American woman. I don’t tend to view affairs as unpardonable sins or the “ultimate betrayal.” I tend to see them as expressions of personal dysfunction. I don’t see the personal dysfunction of affairs as necessarily worse or more harmful than other, more accepted or respected dysfunctions in relationships, but I do ultimately see them as problematic. And like most problems, most people who have them (including me) go through a stage of trying to rationalize away the problem or justify their actions, before finally (perhaps!) using the experience as an opportunity to face up to some hard truths about themselves, and move in a more constructive direction.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.