Sunday, April 13, 2008

Contracts and Adultery

Contracts are great. They let us plan our life with confidence. They secure trust and obligation. Even when informal, they just make everything run smoother. Contracts, in all their forms, are at the heart of a well functioning society.

Marriage is a contract: "I give me life to you so long as you give your life to me" etc etc. Cheat on your spouse and you get what's coming to you. You made a promise; make sure you keep it. It all makes sense. But some have a very strange approach of cheating: they blame the cheating partner just as much as the one they cheated with. They call them home-wreckers, sluts, jerks, and monsters. Sometimes they are threatened with violence. Some are killed. Even if they're not married, they're called adulterers.

This is nonsense. Your spouse is clearly in the wrong, but the other party isn't (unless s/he's married, too), even if they knew about the marriage. They didn't break contract. They may have allowed your spouse to break it, but so did the hotel they stayed in. Third parties made no promises to break.

Suppose Ethan promises Steve to sell him a book for $10. Then James, knowledgeable of the contract, offers Ethan $20 for the book and Ethan takes the deal. It's hard to imagine Steve being angry at anyone other than Ethan, but yet the same logic doesn't apply to marriages. You might say these third parties aren't respecting marriages and that's their flaw, but you could say the same thing about James and contracts. And since marriages are contracts, that doesn't get us far. What's special about marriage?

I have yet to hear a good answer, though married people seem to loathe this position more than single ones. The best explanation I can come up with is that they just don't like the idea of someone they care about cheating on them and they'd rather blame someone other than the one they love. So the lesson today is that if your spouse (or girlfriend, or boyfriend) cheats on you, the problem lies with them and your relationship, not some random person you just want to be angry at.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your example raises an ethical question: If James is knowledgeable of the contract between Ethan and Steve, was is morally ethical of him to offer $20? As a member of a society, do we have an obligation to respect contracts between fellow members of the society?

David said...

I'm not sure what you mean by respect. If James knows about the contract then his offer could be due to his (accurate) opinion that somebody else would be willing to ignore the contract. Is that disrespecting contracts? Or even this particular one? I doubt it.

CalLady said...

Assuming that marriage is merely a contract between the two parties being wed, the only answer to your question about sin, not really crime. Because it's wrong (according to the Bible) to sleep with another man's wife, it is not accepted in our society.

However, I'd postulate that marriage is actually a societal contract. Everyone is involved. By recognizing a marriage as valid you recognize that you can't be "involved" with that man's wife (or that man).

Adulterers aren't just people who cheat on their spouses. Those they are cheating with are also adulterers. (At least allow them to be accomplices.)

P.S. Something happened to my first post, so this is not quite as eloquent, sorry.