A number of popular Hollywood movies involving the farm and ranch population have portrayed extramarital affairs as acceptable, such as The Bridges of Madison County, The Horse Whisperer, and Brokeback Mountain.  However, most extramarital affairs usually have devastating effects on the participants, and also on any children in their respective families.  

Recently a farmer in another state emailed me about an affair he had with his neighbor’s wife.  He asked if I would write about marriage and infidelity.

I thank this person for bringing up a matter that troubles many farm and nonfarm people alike.  

After learning about the affair, the neighbor’s husband filed for divorce.  The wife of the man who contacted me wants to put the matter behind them but he feels unresolved about a number of things.  Between the two couples there are five children.  

I don’t have personal experience involving adultery because Marilyn and I have always been faithful during our 40 years of marriage.  As a professional psychologist, I have worked with many individuals and couples involved in ongoing or past affairs; this article draws on what I have learned about marital fidelity.

Children are likely to emulate their parents.  Almost always, their parents are their most important role models for their own marriages.  

How their parents behave makes these behaviors more acceptable to the children.  Children who witness – or learn later on – that their parents divorced, have an increased chance of getting divorced from their own spouses.  

The divorce rates of farm and non-farm couples have been about the same for 30 years, whereas in previous generations farm couples divorced less frequently.  Somewhat over 40 percent of first marriages involve divorce; about 60% of second marriages end in divorce and the odds of divorce increase with each successive marriage.

In my experience, considerably less than half of farm and non-farm divorces involve extramarital sex, inappropriate internet or telephone contacts, or engaging in pornography with persons other than their mates.

Survey statistics suggest that 35-65 percent of marriages involving an extramarital affair end in divorce.  Even though one or both parents cheated on his/her spouse and they did not divorce, their children still have a higher risk of cheating in their own marriages.

Conversely, if children observe their parents repair their marital relationship, the children are more likely to take similar steps when “the going gets tough” in their respective marriages.

An extramarital affair does not have to lead to divorce.   The sequel to this is even more important: It takes a lot of work to fix what’s wrong in the relationship.

Usually there are many underlying issues that contribute to unfaithful behavior.  Physical or sexual attraction to participate in an affair is usually temporary and diminishes as the participants realize their thrills are not necessarily love.

As persons withdraw from an affair they typically experience depression, uncertainty about their marriage relationship and themselves, and they may seek renewal of illicit relations or a new lover.

All these matters require much time and effort to uncover and resolve to the degree that both the husband and wife feel they can go on together.  The healing process takes at least a year and usually much longer for both partners to reestablish trust and full commitment to faithfulness thereafter.  In a sense, it takes the rest of their lives.

The farm persons I see in my professional office are a little different than the nonfarm persons I have assisted over the years.  

The reasons why farm persons have approached me for marital assistance include these, from more to less frequent: gradually growing apart due to excessive and often continuing farming-related stresses, financial problems, overindulgence in work, problems among in-laws, involvement in alcohol or drug abuse, child or spouse abuse, and failure or refusal to obtain treatment for other behavioral health problems such as major or bipolar depression.

Almost always the troubled marriage partners need outside help—such as a trained mediator, psychologist, marriage and family therapist, professional counselor, pastor or other competent professional.  The profession of the helper is less important than the skill and wisdom of this person or persons.

As the partners resolve the issues that contributed to the affair, it is beneficial to conduct a Renewal of Vows ceremony.  It is beneficial to incorporate the children and trusted friends and family members in the service, even if they are not aware of the extramarital affair.

Sometimes the marriage is beyond repair and trust can’t be rebuilt.  There are occasions when divorce is best for all the involved parties, including the children.

Perhaps one partner decides to not endure another affair or deed that earns further mistrust.  Like the repair work, the decision to divorce is best made with outside consultation and after giving the partner opportunity to change destructive behaviors.

– By Mike Rosmann, Ph.D.

Share your thoughts. Email Dr. Rosmann at [email protected], or visit his website at www.agbehavioralhealth.com.  You can call him at his office in Harlan, Iowa at 712-235-6100.