Affair Insight: When an “Open Marriage” Isn’t What He Says It Is

Affair Insight: When an “Open Marriage” Isn’t What He Says It Is

“The Marriage is Really Over”

NYTimes illustration

A married man almost always uses a version of “My wife is crazy, she doesn’t understand me, and the marriage is really over” to reassure a potential mistress that she’s not breaking up a marriage.

Recently, The New York Times’ The Ethicists column—”Do Another Woman’s Marriage Vows Bind Me?” July 5, 2015—brings us another version of “The marriage is really over.”

Variations on this theme include, “Everything’s over in my marriage. The divorce is just around the corner.” Or, “We’re separated. We’re just waiting for the kids to finish high school to get divorced.”

The New York Times column brings us a woman who has gotten too close to a married man. The woman says, “He said that while he wasn’t in an open marriage, his wife knew how he felt, and they were negotiating some arrangement that might allow him to pursue his feelings if they were shared.”

How The Man Pretends He’s Not Having An Affair

What the man she’s quoting is really saying is “An open marriage is just around the corner. If you share my feelings and we have sex, this would NOT be an affair.”

The only thing is that it’s not true.

The truth is that the woman who has gotten too close and is wondering whether it was OK to go to the movies with this man and have personal conversations with him finds out that “his wife took a far more traditional view of their marriage.”

This man lied.  There wasn’t any “open” anything.

The Ellen Pao Case Redux

As I discussed in a previous blog post, this is just the same behavior pattern as the man with whom Ellen Pao had an affair exhibited. [Pao vs. Kleiner Perkins, a discrimination suit heard in a San Francisco court, March, 2015]. In that case, the partner at Kleiner, Perkins lied about a divorce from his wife being just around the corner. The jury heard all the details about this affair and apparently also took into consideration Ellen Pao’s poor judgment in having an affair with a married man. They also concluded the she too readily believed what he told her, and they decided against her in their verdict.

The members of the panel commenting in The Ethicists column seem to feel that the “open marriage” man is at fault because he broke his marriage vows to his wife and lied to this potential mistress. They imply that the woman is also at fault for getting too close when she knew this man was married and for accepting as fact his pending open marriage.

Both fell into the ‘affair head’ state of mind where risks and responsibilities and consequences don’t come into play.  It’s hard to think skeptically when this happens and ask oneself “Where’s the truth here?”

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