What’s Wrong with Adultery?

The problem with marital infidelity is the loss of the relaxed intimacy that lets us be ourselves.

Excerpted from Judaism for Everyone: Renewing Your Life Through the Vibrant Lessons of the Jewish Faith (Basic Books).

The beginning of mental torment and illness is the development of a dual personality. When we are uncomfortable with who or what we are, or what we have become, we try to conceal the aspect of our personality that is base and pretend to be something different.


even jews get embroiled in adultery.This compartmentalization is a great waste. The best way to succeed in life and to create human friendships is to allow our fullest personality to be manifest. Confidence is essential to both personal and professional success. But how can one be confident when hiding something that one is ashamed of?

Like a brilliant sun at high noon, the human personality is sufficiently warm, vibrant, and compelling to make every acquaintance into a friend, and even turn a foe into a comrade. But when partially concealed, it loses its potency. We simply are not very effective in creating loving relationships with half our personality tied behind our backs.

The same is true in marriage. A husband or wife who is unfaithful damages him- or herself and threatens their marriage. The damage will not occur because of the transgression. People are forgiving, and a couple must try to get beyond an act of faithlessness. Rather, the damage will occur because it takes all one’s self to be successful in showing love to one’s spouse.

When a husband is hiding half his character because of wrongdoing, he will be an ineffective lover and companion. Rather than using his creativity to find new ways to be passionate with his wife, he will be using his intellectual faculties to hide his infidelity.

The whole beauty of marriage is its naturalness. It is with one’s marriage partner that we can be the most genuine and sincere at all times. Once there is a big secret that cannot be disclosed, we excavate part of ourselves in which to hide the infraction. But like a cancer, it grows, and slowly we become two different people. We cannot be ourselves with our spouse, and our informality and loss of constraints is forfeited. Soon petty irritations erode the foundations of the marriage. But the real issue is that the husband and wife have ceased to be each other’s soul mates. They have forfeited the expression of vulnerability and emotional nakedness that is such an essential part of every marriage. [Instead] they now wear the garments of deception.

The ancient rabbis declared that a man without a home is not a man. The only place where we all feel completely comfortable, where we can really be ourselves, is in the privacy of our own homes. But the man who has lost his innocence has no home. Everywhere he goes invites discomfort. There is no place left for him to let his hair down. Even in the presence of his wife he is always on his guard, trying to remember never to be himself because he might reveal his indiscretions.

Without innocence there can be no peace. Without peace, there can likewise be no happiness.

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