News & Politics

Pretending You're in an Affair Can Spice Up Your Marriage, Relationship Expert Says

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Kelly Richardson wants to have an affair… with her husband. In an article for Scary Mommy, Richardson, a psychotherapist and relationship expert, writes that seeing our spouses “as the flawed and blemished humans they really are” can take a toll on our marriages. “I want the spark,” she explains. “I want to feel like a teenager in love.” Her solution? Begin to treat your husband like your clandestine lover.

Richardson’s idea fits into a theme that may seem familiar. Lots of parents talk about going on “date nights,” or “wooing” their spouses. We’ve heard of people keeping “the thrill alive” or doing something unexpected every once in a while just to keep the “spark” from dying out. And, while I don’t like this trend — you shouldn’t have to go on a fancy date with your spouse to remember that you are lovers — I find Richardson’s idea even more problematic.

I mean, let’s call a spade a spade here: Richardson is talking about sex. She mentions “shopping in Victoria Secret [sic] or wearing a booby-top when I’m out to dinner with my husband.” (Forgive me, but what on earth is a “booby-top”?? And why is it hyphenated? Is she wearing the top of a booby while out to dinner with her husband? But I digress.) She wants to pinch her husband’s “a** in public,” get a hotel room with him, or leave “a note with a lipstick mark on the windshield of his truck.” What Richardson is saying is: she wants her husband to think she’s sexy, which is totally understandable. But what does an affair have to do with it?

Framing this scenario in terms of an affair implies that marriage is something boring and dull, whereas an affair is interesting and exciting. It’s as if Richardson is saying that the only way to inject any romance or sexual chemistry into her marriage is to pretend she’s not in one. “Having an affair with my husband,” Richardson explains, “means more about feeling sexy than having sex. It means more about being longed for than longing for something or someone else.” She’s looking for a feeling and, apparently, that feeling can only come from a clandestine sexual relationship.

Look, I’m all for married couples keeping their sexual relationships alive. Sexual desire for your spouse is part of a healthy marriage. And, in the depths of the nitty-gritty of laundry, bills, kids, etc., it can often be something that must be kept alive, rather than simply being there all the time. If your husband thinks you look great in booby-tops (whatever the heck those are) you put on that booby-top, girlfriend! If you like having sex in places other than your home, rent that hotel room. Whatever floats your boat — so long as it’s legal — you go for it. But what makes any of that akin to an affair?

See, I kind of wonder if what Richardson — and anyone else who’s trying to keep their romantic flame alive by talking in terms of “dates” and “affairs” — is really saying is that she wants to be seen as sexy. She wants to feel that exciting sexual spark that got lost somewhere under piles of laundry and the “few extra pounds here and there (or possibly everywhere).” And she’s saying that it requires some work to keep that front and center in a relationship. We shouldn’t expect a va-va-va-voom response from our husbands if we shuffle around in slippers and pajama pants all day every day with dried up Cheerios in our hair. But, an affair??

The excitement of an affair — or so I’ve been told — comes from the fact that it’s forbidden. It’s the thrill of doing something you shouldn’t with someone you don’t know all that well. It’s sex with someone who doesn’t also ask you to fix the dishwasher, or take out the trash, or wonder aloud whether there will be enough money to pay the rent. And, ultimately, an affair is a lie. If you actually left your spouse for your lover then the lover would become the spouse and start asking about the dishwasher and the rent. Is a marriage really so terrible — and mood-killing — that the only way to spice things up is to pretend that your spouse isn’t actually your spouse?

The fact that you know your spouse better than anyone else and your spouse knows you that way too can be a turn-on in and of itself. The hardships you’ve gone through together, the joys you’ve known, that too can bond you together. The fact that your husband has seen you “vomiting with the flu” deepens the connection you share and that emotional bond can make him find you all the more sexy when you do put on that booby-top. The real love you share ought to feel much deeper and more meaningful than the cheap thrill of an affair.

See, I think Richardson is actually on the right track. You should take the time to do the things that make you feel sexually connected to your spouse. But those things are part of a healthy marriage. Richardson calls marriage the “hardest thing most of us will ever do.” Part of the work of marriage is not letting your sex life fall by the wayside, or assuming that, because you’re married, your partner is obliged to find you sexually appealing even when you’re yelling at him all the time and wearing a muumuu.

But maintaining your sex life with your spouse isn’t having an affair with him. It’s being married to him. That’s what marriage is: a partnership that includes sexual attraction. We don’t need to escape our marriages in order to feel sexually attracted to our spouses. Sex — and sexual attraction — is part of a marriage, not contradictory to it. Everything that Richardson describes sounds like marriage, not infidelity. Except maybe the booby-top — but only because I don’t know what that is.