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Divorce, Affairs, and American Morals

The folks at Gallup released a poll on Monday about Values and Beliefs. Topping the list of moral acceptability: divorce. Seventy percent rated it morally acceptable. Only twenty-two percent said it was morally unacceptable.

But it would be a mistake, I think, to jump to the conclusion that divorce has become no big deal for most of us.

At the opposite end of the spectrum of sixteen morality issues, the likely reason for why so many accept it: only seven percent find affairs between married men and women acceptable. A full ninety-one percent say such affairs are morally wrong. More of the people they surveyed found extramarital affairs unacceptable than found polygamy, human cloning, or suicide wrong.

So, let's look back at a Gallup poll from March for a qualification on what we Americans really think about divorce. We know affairs happen. There is plenty of evidence many of the ninety-one percent who find affairs morally wrong have them anyway.

How would you react if your husband or wife committed what you and almost everyone else feels is an immoral act? The March poll revealed sixty-two percent of Americans believe they would definitely or probably divorce a spouse who had an affair.

Would they divorce because they see nothing wrong with divorce? Or do they view divorce as acceptable in some circumstances, because they simply cannot imagine staying together after an immoral act against them and would not demand anyone else tolerate this?

I believe it is the second of these. In the May poll on moral issues, sixty-one percent said sex outside of marriage is morally acceptable for those who are unmarried. Only seven percent said it's acceptable for those who are married. The only difference between the sixty-one percent and seven percent is wedding vows. They still matter to us. We still find it morally wrong to ignore them. But we don't demand one side honor them when the other side does not.

By the way, you can count me among the thirty-seven percent of married Americans who probably would forgive an affair and remain married, if my husband sought my forgiveness. I know he considers cheating on me immoral and trust it could only happen under extraordinary and temporary circumstances. He's way too good a man to let go over anything temporary.


How about "open marriages/relationships" which might explain much of the 7 percent. You mention the concept of "open marriage/relationship" to a person how has admittedly cheated, and they act like you took the fun out of it for them.

I think you're right about the 7%, Gary. They might be fine with the idea of an open marriage, if they are not already in one. And they are just a small part of all people who have sex outside of marriage. The rest, even the ones who plan to continue cheating, generally react, as you say, "like you took the fun out of it for them."

If sex were the point of marriage in our society, cheating (or threatening to cheat) to get even with an unfaithful spouse might make sense. For those of us looking for love and commitment, it's surely going to backfire, either because we're married to one of the 7% who says "no problem" or because we're married to one of the other 93%, who finds it wrong, no matter who does it.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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