February 3, 2010

If, marrying, you decline to forsake all others, does that limit what your spouse is allowed to feel when you have an other?

Glenn Reynolds notes that Governor Sanford's wife says he insisted on taking the vow to be faithful out of their wedding ceremony:
Okay, I remember going to a wedding back in the ’70s where a couple read vows they’d written themselves, making clear that they weren’t sexually exclusive. And yet, not too many years later, she was royally unhappy with his philandering. Was that unfair?
I don't know the precise scope of the understanding that this couple had when they got married. It wasn't a vow to gladly accept your partner's outside relationships, was it? It was the absence — or rejection — of a vow. But why? Perhaps it was some hippie-style amorphous philosophical belief that one person can't really own the other or that no one at a given time can honestly say for sure where they will be for the rest of their lives.

Maybe, if he never agreed to that particular rule, there's some argument against saying that Mark Sanford cheated. But what can it mean to say that it's "unfair" for her to feel "unhappy"? You feel what you feel, and your actions based on that feeling might be unfair, but if he chose a marriage that did not bind him, why was she bound to anything? She had her feelings, and like him, she gets to go where her emotions lead.

46 comments:

Roger J. said...

"she gets to go where her emotions lead.... That seems to me to be rather a primose path that can justify all manner of reactions. You are talking within, I take it, the context of marriage vows. Now what would happen if your statement was generalized to society as a whole? Do you really believe that we are free to go wherever our emotins lead us? I suggest that outcome may not necessarilay be a good thing.

Ann Althouse said...

@Roger I mean she gets that within the context of the marriage they made, if that's what he got. I'm responding to the question of what is fair, not recommending marriages like that.

Pogo said...

It's been really really hard to smash marriage, despite the best efforts of bohemians, hippies, feminists, gay activists, socialists, communists, Marxists, and fellow travellers.

But they try and try again.

Quite a few straight men would like to smash marriage, or at least expand its limits.

Why women resist this in the West is unclear. it seems to work so well in the Middle East, and in certain counties in Utah.

Roger J. said...

Professor: I gathered that was your context--but thanks for clarifying it. And, BTW, I agree entirely with your assessment.

Pogo said...

What I mean more simply is that fidelity remains a virtue, despite attempts to make it just a word, like honor.

rhhardin said...

Guys in the same circumstances feel betrayed, but unlike women they don't in the meantime buy betrayal literature.

Freeman Hunt said...

Is leaving part of the vows out like crossing your fingers? Is it some get out of jail free card that you can keep in the back of your wallet to produce twenty years later?

"You say you're upset, but remember? REMEMBER? I didn't say that part."

Please.

Also, marriage is what it is. "But we have a marriage without the forsaking all others part." Then I'd venture that you're not really committed to marriage.

Pogo said...

"Guys ...don't in the meantime buy betrayal literature."

Guys generally get drunk and watch or do violence.

brer rabbit said...

Open mar riage makes for breach and damage

c3 said...

Must we watch another "celebrity" couple fight their divorce/custody battles in public?

(I feel a book coming soon to your locale.)

Ralph L said...

She may have overlooked other "hikes", but this one became public.

Ann Althouse said...

@Ralph Yes, I think that he may have, in one way or the other, promised to give her the honored place by his side in the public's eye. That is the broken promise. I suspect a similar dynamic in the John Edwards marriage.

Bob_R said...

Seems to me the inner dynamics of their marriage are pretty irrelevant to the public. If there is any "public interest" in our knowing the details of their marriage (debatable) it is in his ability to make and keep commitments as an indication of his character. My guess is that their DIY wedding vows were not prominently mentioned in his campaign literature. His reluctance to make the vow would have been seen as a big negative by voters, no?

Her opinions what kind of vows to make and keep shouldn't matter to us any more than her opinions about his leaving the cap off the toothpaste tube. (Do they sell tubes anymore?)

ricpic said...

Relative to the heart the mind is incredibly shallow.

George Grady said...

...no one at a given time can honestly say for sure where they will be for the rest of their lives.

I really don't understand what this has to do with anything (and I get that you're not necessarily espousing this point of view). To me, the point of a vow is that, no matter where you are for the rest of your life, you'll keep the vow. That's what a vow is. To say that you can't make a vow because you don't know what the future holds is to miss the point entirely.

Richard Fagin said...

I would have thought that the state putting its imprimatur on a marriage contract would impute certain terms to the contract whether the couple expressed their intent to include them or not. Is Mrs. Ssanford no less entitled to adultery as a basis for divorce under S.C. law than she would be otherwise?

Joe Giles said...

Saint Augustine included "chaste fidelity" among the three goods of marriage.

In other words, if both partners don't intend to be faithful, they are not assenting to marriage, but something else.

The Crack Emcee said...

Pogo,

"Guys generally get drunk and watch or do violence."

Not only is that kicking a man when he's down, but that stereotype is patently unfair.

George Grady,

"The point of a vow is that, no matter where you are for the rest of your life, you'll keep the vow. That's what a vow is. To say that you can't make a vow because you don't know what the future holds is to miss the point entirely."

Exactly. And there's a lot of people who, in a lot of areas of life, "miss the point entirely."

If they'd stop insisting that's not true, as they continue to rip the fabric of society, we'd be getting somewhere.

pduggie said...

If we required all marriages to in principle "forsake all others" it would put the kibosh on gay marriage, it would seem.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/29/us/29sfmetro.html

(Times article on the "open secret" of many gay marriages.)

Tibore said...

"Freeman Hunt said...
Also, marriage is what it is. "But we have a marriage without the forsaking all others part." Then I'd venture that you're not really committed to marriage."


Freeman beat me to it. That's an ersatz wedding for a sham marriage if he thinks that taking one of the keystones out of the vows doesn't undermine the whole concept of marriage at it's core. Why do people think that mere symbology without values and meaning has any legitimacy to it? Do these people need to study the Pacific Cargo Cultists to realize the emptiness of activity without understanding?

TMink said...

Yeah, but this guy states that he is a Christian and Christian marriages are a contract with God. So screw what he did or did not say, if he puts himself up as a serious Christian, then he needs to take all the lumps he has coming for the sin of adultry.

Instead, he is clinging to power like a hair in a biscuit.

Trey

Leslie said...

Miguel de Unamuno once wrote: "The man who says 'yes' in the knowledge that 'no' is to be understood lies, even though 'yes' is the truth." I think the term is "equivocation." One has to wonder, though, about Jenny's willingness to go along with such malice aforethought. Makes me think less of her, actually, and that makes me sad that I found this out.

bagoh20 said...

"She had her feelings, and like him, she gets to go where her emotions lead."

So do you have the right to be pissed off and complaining of breach of contract about the other party not breaching the contract? Usually an attorney would advise the client that they have no action, but we could sue anyway. I doubt that bitching would be advised if the relationship had value.

Pogo said...

@Crack: "Not only is that kicking a man when he's down, but that stereotype is patently unfair."

Is that a stereotype?

Guys I know who have been betrayed threw back a few beers and watched sports, or played basketball hard, rather than read about betrayal or simmer about it (see rhhardin's quote).

I think guys move on pretty well, actually, save for those that show up on Lifetime movies for stalking.

Perhaps my attempt to be brief came up short.

bagoh20 said...

"Guys I know who have been betrayed threw back a few beers and watched sports, or played basketball..."

Yea, they simply went back to the joy of not being married. But, being weak and foolish creatures, it is usually short lived. Like trained animals, they long for the security of their cage.

Pogo said...

Ooooh, "watch or do violence" with drinking.
Duh.
I meant watching the Saints with the guys and gettin' rowdy, not killing someone.


My pithiness meter thuckth.

rhhardin said...

Imus's wife and her girlfriend Lies Weihl said after 9am today that women focus on the betrayal, and men ask how he got caught.

Which probably reflects not only women's betrayal interest, but that men know about nagging and no sex at home and take the condition as male bonding.

peter hoh said...

Not including the "forsake all others" line in the wedding vows is not the same as setting up an open marriage.

The definition of cheating within a marriage is pretty well understood, and Mark Sanford cheated.

peter hoh said...

RH's insistence that a husband's affair constitutes proof that his wife was denying him sex is not supported by research in the field of adultery.

Tibore said...

"Pogo said...

My pithiness meter thuckth."


You'll need to wipe the screen clean after saying that. ;)

rhhardin said...

The male's goal is a woman who is pleased with him.

That's what's missing at home. Maybe another woman, he thinks.

Sexwise, one woman is as good as another. That's the famous male low standard.

Something other than sex accounts for male infidelity.

To a woman who said that sex in marriage for her was no longer a high priority, "Are you crazy? You have a man who would die for you, and all you have to do is like him."

Roger J. said...

Rhhardin: a corollary to your initial point about sex. It's the old joke about "the worst sex I ever had? It was WONDERFUL."
We of the xy persuasion are easily pleased with the simple things of life.

Apologies to the sisters hereon who might be offended. I do try to be an equal opportunity offender.

bagoh20 said...

Are there any job openings in the field of Adultery Research?

peter hoh said...

bagoh20, yes, as a matter of fact, there are. Do your research, publish it, and sign up to give a lecture here and you can join the ranks of Shirley Glass and Frank Pittman.

slarrow said...

Going back to Althouse's original question, I'll split a hair or two. Is it unfair for her to feel unhappy? As Althouse says, that standard really doesn't apply: you feel what you feel. However, is it unfair to express that unhappiness? I think it is.

If there's ever a time to set expectations in a marriage, it's during the wedding. Letting a spouse weasel out of the sexual commitment simply undercuts the rationale for complaining later. You left that clause of the contract and, by doing so, led the both of you to think of it as a contract instead of a formality expressing your relationship. Now you get to deal with the pain of the betrayal plus the liver-gnawing knowledge that, technically speaking, you can't really claim this as a betrayal.

Moral of the story: do what everyone else does and include sexual fidelity as part of your expectations for your marriage. (As an aside, it boggles my mind how many people take something as tested and established as marriage, freelance with it, and express surprise when it doesn't go the way they expected.)

edutcher said...

Assuming Sanford is a lawyer (no offense), I can imagine him saying something on the order of, "Well, darlin', who else in the world could there be but you?". Since his wife didn't strike me as the Hillary/Elizabeth Edwards type, I can only guess that she thought she could trust him.

How much she knew, and when, is up for grabs, but the humiliation seems to be what's driving her, not, as in the Edwards' case, the fact that his political career is almost certainly (he is a left wing Democrat, after all) toast.

WV "gasons" What Ben Cartwright thought he had.

bagoh20 said...

"you can join the ranks of Shirley Glass and Frank Pittman."

Does not sound as fun as I imagined. I was looking to be an exploited research participant. I want to bed some famous rich woman, get wealthy and be hated and talked about for years to come. That's a career I could dig my teeth into.

Joe said...

The most bizarre part of the article is that she didn't know he was very frugal. Had she said that her husband was more frugal than she thought would be one thing, but she made it an absolute. This leads me to believe that she didn't know this guy at all--methinks she got married without much thought at all. (Not entirely unusual--finger pointing at self.)

Synova said...

I agree that having an "open" marriage is not the same as writing your own vows and leaving out "forsaking all others". "We're going to have an open marriage" is a declaration of what will be. Simply leaving out a specific promise isn't the same as setting up new rules.

I'm more inclined to think that the couple were caught up in the "write your own vows" thing because it was fashionable or romantic. I certainly know people (not at all like myself) who get all mushy over the notion about saying what's in your heart and expressing your love and how wonderful that is and how much *better* it is than repeating some rote ceremony that uses archaic words like "forsake". I'm not a terribly mushy person, but other people just love that stuff. Bless their hearts.

I had no sympathy at all for making a big deal about not giving away the bride, too, because the daughter isn't property.

It misses the point of the ceremony itself, which is sad.

Might as well leave out the "richer or poorer, in sickness or in health" part and just say "I promise to love and be faithful for as long as everything goes well or until I meet someone I like better."

But at least the bride's father doesn't ritually give her away so... win!!

rhhardin said...

Giving away the bride stands for giving away the father's responsibility for her well-being to the groom.

traditionalguy said...

The older I get the more I see a profound difference between bonded families that are in a mode of protecting the others in the family, and the free people who are not bound to protect anyone except themselves. God designed fathers, mothers and families to protect the members of the House. Strangers and the enemies will do you in, but we can be discreet and prepared for them. But when the father or the mother of the family does his spouse and children in for a stranger, the damage is massive. The family is not protected by walls and by secrecy to survive such insider betrayal. I suspect that the God who put His Thou shalt not Murder in para materia with His Thou shalt not commit Adultery realised we needed this protection. Good luck without it.

Freeman Hunt said...

Also, if you read the article, Gov Sanford sounds very emotionally manipulative. His wife never says that, but if he really was begging for her permission to go back and see the mistress, telling her that she would give permission if she loved him, then it's hard to conclude otherwise. Especially coupled with the vows thing.

Sanford seems so un-man. I think men are generally extremely loyal and even among men you hear about who stray, they seem to usually be ashamed about letting the family down.

Sanford doesn't seem like that at all. All that bizarre public soul mate talk--what a spectacle! And coming from a man with several children. Very very odd.

Also, you'd think it would be obvious, but I guess it's not: If your spouse-to-be wants to leave out the faithfulness part of the wedding vows, do not marry that person. As they say, he's (or she's) just not that into you.

kentuckyliz said...

^ Agree. How large does the waving red flag need to be?

Jenny, you gotta be careful who you breed with. Why on earth did you have children with a man who refused to publicly profess his fidelity?

You get what you settle for, I guess.

kentuckyliz said...

It occurs to me an odd synchronicity--I was just yesterday listening to some music about an Argentine whore.

mccullough said...

Sanford is a vain-glorious lout. I think he and Edwards should share a bunk bed together.

Stan said...

"she gets to go where her emotions lead"

Always a bad idea. We all feel emotions. We try to control them. We should never, ever let them LEAD us. The great lesson of Viktor Frankl is that we have control.