Is it Bad to Leave a Marriage for Someone New?

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The media is still trying to figure out the recent splits between rockers Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale after 13 years, and country singers Blake Shelton and Miranda Lampert after four years when it was revealed that The Voice co-hosts Gwen and Blake were an item.

According to Gwen, “There’s been loads of people that have helped me with this tragedy. There’s definitely key people that have pointed me into the right direction. Blake really helped me.”

I’m sure they’re not the first co-workers who have turned to each other for support and then suddenly fallen for each other. The rebound relationship is fairly common.

I’m also not discounting the possibility that they may have feelings for each other — or more — before each of them announced their divorce earlier this year, and that those feelings may have had something to do with their divorces. At least that’s what Gavin reportedly believes.

As someone who has been cheated on and cheated herself, I have long believed that you should leave your marriage first rather than use an affair as an exit strategy. If the decision to uncouple isn’t mutual, trust me — the divorce alone is hard enough on the person who doesn’t want the marriage to end. The discovery of an affair on top of that can be devastating.

Then I read Astro and Danielle Teller’s book Sacred Cows: The Truth About Divorce and Marriage, which, despite the sometimes too cutesy cow references, I loved — except the final chapter, The Other Cow. Initially.

The Tellers are questioning the status quo about divorce just like The New I Do is questioning the status quo about what marriage “should” look like. They certainly are not encouraging infidelity in their final chapter, but they acknowledge it exists (in fact, they cite a study that indicates that in a third of divorces, one or both of the spouses were already in some sort of romantic relationship with someone else). The question they wish to explore — and a valid one — is, are you a bad person to leave your marriage because you want to be with someone else?

Most of us don’t like when that happens, yet our thoughts are, well, fuzzy at best.

As they write:

“It may not seem obvious at first, but between remarriage (acceptable to most of us) and adultery (unacceptable to most of us) lays a long continuum. The continuum consists of the time when the new partner appears relative to the end of the marriage. If partner #2 shows up while the marriage is intact, we call it adultery. If partner #2 shows up years after divorce, we call it remarriage. If partner #2 shows up while the marriage is on the rocks but before the divorce decree is signed, well, it’s not clear what to call it, other than an uncomfortable situation.”

Perhaps Gavin is right — what Gwen, who has recently said that the last few years of her marriage were hard, and Blake are in is a “uncomfortable situation.” After all, their romance became public relatively soon after their respective divorces, which were announced, suspiciously to some, just weeks apart.

Are they bad people if that’s true? If a marriage is effectively over — and let’s face it, happy marriages don’t end in divorce — and one of the spouses falls for someone else, it may not be the smartest idea but should he or she be shamed and judged?

We don’t like the idea of people leaving spouses for new love yet, as the Tellers beautifully point out, many of us consider Sleepless in Seattle to be an uber romantic love story although it’s essentially about a woman cheating on her fiance to be with a man who’s a much better match for her. Yet we root for Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan … even though she’s engaged and is lying to her fiance, a “nice guy.”

Think about that!

There was one thing, however, that bugged me about the book’s final chapter — the voice of the children, who may or may not be as enthusiastic about living with the person whom they may see as the reason their family fell apart, is conspicuously absent. Gwen has three young boys, Kingston, 9, Zuma, 7, and Apollo, 20 months.

That’s something for the adulterous parents to figure out, the Tellers say.

“Because society makes it so hard for people to leave their marriage, it sometimes drives people to do extreme things, like have exit affairs,” Astro told me. Societal pressure to be married and stay married, and to honor a marital commitment “until death” no matter what — even when a marriage isn’t working anymore — is so strong that it influences “a lot of the dynamics that lead to adultery.”

Maybe that’s what we should more upset about.

Want to have a time-limited marriage? Learn how by ordering The New I Do on Amazon, and, while you’re at it, follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook and follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

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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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