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Beyoncé Now Knows: Putting a Ring On It Doesn’t Guarantee Fidelity

Jay-Z just released his latest album, 4:44, and it’s gathering the same buzz as the last record put out by his wife, Beyoncé — not just for the music, but because of what they’re talking about. In last year’s Lemonade, Beyoncé alluded to her husband’s alleged infidelity — remember that video showing Beyoncé’s sister Solange physically confronting the rapper in an elevator after the Met Gala while Bey stands by? — with lyrics such as “How did it come down to this? Going through your call list,” and “This is your final warning / You know I give you life / If you try this shit again / You gon’ lose your wife.” In 4:44, an apologetic Jay-Z responds.

Maybe it’s a clever marketing call, maybe it’s a sincere public airing of the challenges of marriage and monogamy, maybe it’s both. What matters most is that here are two high-profile, talented people who are talking about some hard stuff, and who — given the recent birth of their twins — apparently haven’t let it tear apart their marriage.

Which is why all of us in a romantic relationship, or who want one, should be paying attention.

Rethinking infidelity

Infidelity has broken up a lot of high-profile marriages and long-term partnerships, as well as the marriages of everyday people. But some couples have worked through it, which is why therapists like Esther Perel, author of Mating In Captivity, and Tammy Nelson, author of The New Monogamy, suggest it’s time to rethink infidelity.

As a woman who was cheated on, rethinking infidelity, in some cases (like serial adultery), may be easier said than done. Still, Jay-Z and Beyoncé may offer hope to those who are against divorce for personal or religious reasons, or who truly are regretful and want to make their marriage better, or who have young children and fear what divorce may do to them.

We don’t know why Jay-Z and Beyoncé are seemingly able to work through it, and neither Lemonade nor 4:44 offer answers. But Jay-Z offers some clues:

And if my children knew, I don’t even know what I would do If they ain’t look at me the same I would prob’ly die with all the shame “You did what with who?” What good is a ménage à trois when you have a soulmate? “You risked that for Blue?” If I wasn’t a superhero in your face My heart breaks for the day I had to explain my mistakes

And the mask goes away, and Santa Claus is fake

It’s clear that at some point, Jay-Z realized what he might be giving up — his child, Blue Ivy. Beyond that, he recognized how she would judge him (honestly, shouldn’t he be worried about losing his wife and how she would judge him? I guess not, because people can love their partner and still cheat on him or her). And she still may when she’s older. It’s now a part of their family story.

Infidelity impacts kids, too

Not to say that dealing with an unfaithful spouse when you don’t have kids is easy — I’m sure it’s not. When you have children, however, the infidelity doesn’t just impact the spouses — it impacts the children, too. And that gets everyone upset.

As I wrote before, there isn’t enough long-term data to understand how a parent’s sexual transgressions impact children as they enter adulthood. But, experts say, there are patterns similar to what’s seen in children whose parents are addicts or abusive. “It’s not just a behavior, it’s a whole dynamic of relationships,” says Azmaira Maker, a family therapy psychologist. And it begins to impact the kids before the actual infidelity is exposed.

A handful of therapists tried to analyze what Jay-Z’s saying in his new album’s songs. He seems truly sorry, many conclude. That’s an important step — remorse. But as therapist Sheri Meyers notes, after a confession and an apology “the next critical step is growing up and showing up strong and ready to face and repair the issues that led to infidelity in the first place.”

And that may or may not happen, and now they have three young ones.

Not every couple can survive infidelity

Many people may see their story as an excuse to say, “hey — this high-powered survived a very public betrayal and still put their marriage and children first; you can do it, too,” as if maintaining a troubled marriage no matter what is the only or best thing to do when you have children. It’s not; as most therapists will tell you, not every couple can survive infidelity and come out stronger and more committed (and didn’t Hillary Clinton get slammed for keeping her marital vows despite Bill’s multiple affairs?). So if you decide not to stay with an adulterous spouse, please — give yourself some slack.

After Lemonade was released (about the same time as Kanye West’s Life of Pablo), an article in the Atlantic declared that the two mega-stars were making marriage “cool” again by illustrating that:

‘Till death do us part’ really is an ideal worth striving for and that ‘For better or for worse’ can encompass some very bad things. But success also entails the effort to reach out beyond the self to something larger, not just community and religion but the well-being of children, who figure in both albums. Despite plenty of profanity and sex talk, these artists are modeling surprisingly conservative ideals about the seriousness and irreversibility of wedlock. They’re also proposing that culture can support attempts to live up to those ideals.

Except, as I wrote at the time, while I strongly believe couples should understand the seriousness of tying the knot, I equally object to the idea of marriage being irreversible, kids or no kids. Not only are those “surprisingly conservative ideals,” but they’re also perpetuating the shame-based model of marriage that we should already have moved past.

If nothing else, Jay-Z is once again drawing attention to how hard monogamy is, and if 4:44 makes us talk more honestly about that and about infidelity (and how a couple defines it) and — hopefully — about consensual non-monogamy, then, really, we should listen. But decide for yourself what’s best for you. And as Beyoncé now knows — and you should, too — putting a ring on it is no guarantee.

Want to learn how to talk about monogamy? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.

Written by

Award-winning journalist, coauthor of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels,” mom, changing the narrative about older women

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