The "Marital Bed" Is Going Too Far

Whenever a movie wants to telegraph that a character's a low-life — be it Love, Actually or Sliding Doors — they're caught having sex by a partner in the shared bed. Because the "marital bed" is sacred.

I remember learning that I'd been cheated on, and immediately asking, "was it in our bed?" (It wasn't.) Rationally, this wasn't my first question. Before the fact, such a concern would never have occurred to me. And yet, that was my instinctive worry. According to the New York Times, this kind of visceral territorialism is not uncommon — and extends beyond the wronged party.

"In my experience, the affair that takes place in the marital home shocks the conscience of everyone involved - and the judge," said Mr. Roane, the divorce lawyer in Grand Rapids. "I have represented the wandering spouse, and that's where I strongly encourage my client to get this thing settled and give slightly more than 50 percent of the assets to keep it out of court...He added: "Home is where your children are. When you find your spouse is stepping out, and it occurred in the most personal space in your home and your bed, it's a breach of trust. It's about as mean-spirited and insensitive as it can be."

It's also harder to dismiss as a one-off or something meaningless. It's breaching trust in several different ways — not least because you know the cheater wasn't able to just compartmentalize and put his or her relationship out of his head; this was conscious. Not like it's ever okay, but adding the shared bed thing adds insult to injury. If it's been a family bed, so much the worse. The piece is somewhat flippant, but for anyone who's been in this position, it's a real issue.

The "reasons" people list for doing it are unconvincing, to say the least: "hostility to the partner; a desire to be found out; it's more discreet than a hotel; it's convenient; it's a decision made in a perfect storm of impulsivity, impunity and availability; home is where the nanny is." All of them imply a level of forethought that in itself is pretty icky. And, yes, apparently women mind it more — at least if you're prepared to hew to stereotype. As one expert in the piece puts the difference, "

Women feel it about the bed, the guy feels it about their home: ‘You have invaded my territory.' Women are more people-oriented, involved in those kinds of details: ‘This is the very bed in which we make love' - that is more of an injury to her. For the guy, it is ‘This guy is in my house with my wife, with my property.' "

The piece is actually seriously depressing, given the number of assholes it profiles. However, there's one element that may restore your faith — well, in stereotypes, if nothing else.

"Some years ago, I was representing a family of gangsters. Make that, ‘They allegedly had ties to organized crime,' " said the New York divorce lawyer Raoul Felder. "The boy who I was representing is explaining he had this affair: when his wife was away, he brought this woman to his home in Bay Ridge. And his father stood up and slapped the boy's face and said, ‘Certain things you don't do.' So even amongst lowlifes there is some kind of code."

The twin stereotype of the lover cowering in a closet or leaping down a fire-escape is not addressed; perhaps in the age of no-fault divorce, it's less of an issue.

Don't Try This At Home: Adultery In The Marital Bed [NY Times]