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Most of us believe marriage is for life, and that adultery is wrong — and yet 22% of men in their first marriage admit to an affair, and about 40% of British marriages end in divorce

Date: 2007-01-16

You have one, perhaps. I certainly do. So do most of the people who live on my street in west London. Sometimes a marriage is fabulous and wonderful, a miraculous union of souls connected in eternal bliss. And at other times it’s a bit tarnished, wretched. One day it could be a shiny Aston Martin, the next a scruffy Ford Fiesta. And sometimes it might be in between. We’re talking holy wedlock here, perhaps the most difficult journey we’ll make in our lives. Some consider it so arduous a path that they do not even attempt it. Others, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Rod Steiger and Marlon Brando, make a habit of it. Each trip up the aisle a triumph of hope over experience.

So how’s yours doing? If you are feeling the strain at the moment, there may be an explanation. You have just lived through “Black Monday”. This is the day in the year when divorce lawyers and counsellors such as Relate receive the highest volume of calls. The bleak month of January is when many people who have endured the “pressure cooker” fortnight of family life reach breaking point – and for the nearest helpline. This year, Gloomsday fell last week, on January 8. So if you’re still living under the same roof as your spouse, you’re a survivor.

But for every unhappy husband or wife who makes for the exit this month, there will be many more who acknowledge their differences, learn to resolve them and stay put. As Henry Thoreau, the American writer, put it so succinctly, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” So the married and harried couples muddle through.

So what better time than the present to put the nation to the test? We set out to investigate the state of modern marriage in Britain today. Is it “quiet desperation” behind the curtains? Or a sea of love behind those bedroom doors? We wanted to hear your views on marriage and family, sexuality and divorce. Do you still believe in marriage “till death us do part”? And should splitting up be made easier?

To find out what you thought, The Sunday Times commissioned the research organisation YouGov to carry out a comprehensive survey. It polled thousands of people belonging to four groups: the cohabiting, those in their first marriage, those on their second and subsequent marriages, and divorcés who had not remarried. The questions ranged from the intimate to the more mundane. How many times a week do you have sex? Who puts the washing on? Do you think fidelity is important? What do you argue about? Do you think cohabitation is just as good as marriage? Who does the supermarket run? Many of the questions were similar to those posed in a British Social Attitudes survey in 1983. Some of our attitudes had shifted radically from those days; others remained steadfast.

What emerged was not so much a love map of Britain but a series of contour lines, rising and falling, of our attitudes.

And it’s good news: love is all around. You just have to find it. You tell us that you prize love, fidelity and commitment. Older people told us that sex was just as good as ever, not in frequency but in quality. No wonder our search for the One True Love makes us a nation of romantics. And we have only to look at the statistics for confirmation. We are not, contrary to popular opinion, a nation of serial monogamists. We have had more than 30 years of liberal divorce laws, yet divorcés remain a minority. Most of Britain’s 11m married couples will stay that way, till death do they part. Rates of divorce, which rose during the 1970s and 80s after the Divorce Act was passed in 1969, have remained relatively stable since 2000. The so-called “crude” rate (number of people divorcing per 1,000 of the married population) remains around 13. After the divorce-athon of the past few decades, we now appear to be standing still. According to some experts, we may have reached a “tipping point” where divorce rates start to fall away. You also tell us that you value great sex. But some things you say are plain contradictory. There is a tendency for each gender to emphasise their own contribution. When husbands in their first marriage were asked who does the cooking, 52% of men say it’s mainly their wife and 20% mainly themselves, while wives say it’s 63% themselves and 15% their husbands. To some extent, “new men” are more prevalent in the minds of men than in the minds of their wives.

Another measure, though less scientific, of how highly Britons rate faithfulness is that faultless social barometer of Middle England, Radio 4’s The Archers. Ruth may have been tempted to betray her husband, David, by sleeping with Sam, but she stopped herself just in time. Listeners who wrote in to the BBC were horrified. Adultery in Ambridge? Never. But if we are not a nation of lotharios, then who are we? It turns out, when we asked you what you think, that our permissive society is fast becoming the prohibitive society. We may just be the New Puritans, the New Monogamists.

Compared with 1983, we are far more relaxed about homosexuality and premarital sex, but not about adultery. Then, 62% thought gay sex was always or mostly wrong. That figure has more than halved, to 29%. Meanwhile, the proportion saying it is rarely wrong or not wrong at all has more than doubled to nearly 50%. We are more liberal, too, about premarital sex. Criticism has almost disappeared, with the proportion saying it is always or mostly wrong down from 28% to 6%. The numbers saying it is rarely wrong or not wrong at all rose from 50% to 78%.

But there is no sign of a shift when it comes to fidelity. Regarding adultery, whether by husband or wife, 84% say it is always or mostly wrong, much the same as in the early 1980s. And there is no sign of any change: the under-thirties polled were just as condemning as the over-fifties.

And what of marriage itself? If one of the biggest sociological trends in Britain is the rise of cohabitation, with more than an estimated 2m couples living together, where does that leave the holy sacrament? Asked whether people should commit themselves for life when getting married, 77% of those in their first marriage agree. So do 60% of people in their second marriage, and even 66% of those who are cohabiting. Only among divorced people does the majority evaporate, with 49% backing marriage for life and 36% saying: “It’s perfectly reasonable these days for people to stay married for a while, then move on.” If you break down the figures by age group, there is no sign of a trend towards “disposable marriage”: 80% of under-forties, compared with 76% of the over-forties, back “till-death-us-do-part marriages”.

Then there is the yearning for the lifelong soul mate. The romantic ideal is hailed in Ovid’s love poems and Shakespeare’s sonnets. Asked why they married, 60% of respondents in their first marriage said they knew their partner was “the one”, overshadowing all other reasons to marry, such as desire for children or family pressure. And all the groups in our survey ranked respect, mutual appreciation, understanding and tolerance ahead of sexual satisfaction and having children.

We have only to look at civil partnerships to understand the deep need for the significant other. Homosexual marriages are booming. The government predicted that between 11,000 and 22,000 gay and lesbian civil partnerships would take place by 2010. In fact, figures released last month show that more than 31,000 have taken place in just nine months.

Our respondents did not view marriage and cohabitation as having equal value. The former is seen as more than a piece of paper, remaining the “gold standard” to which couples aspire. Among the groups polled, not one has a majority believing that cohabiting is better than marriage. Even among those living together, just 10% think this, whereas 16% think marriage is better.

Despite decades in which divorce has become relatively easy, don’t expect New Monogamists to cut you any slack. In 1986, 40% of married people agreed that “divorce in Britain should be made more difficult to obtain than it is now”. That has risen to 45% today. The proportion disagreeing has fallen from 26% to 21%.

But scratch the surface of your answers and a slightly different picture emerges. What you say and what you do tend to differ. Peter Kellner, the chairman of YouGov, who analysed the poll results, says: “There seem to be three conditions expressed in our society. There’s the ideal, such as marriage for life, to which we aspire. There’s the unacceptable, such as infidelity. And there is the grey area, a flawed reality, where things are not quite accepted but tolerated.” So you value fidelity, no question. But 18% husbands in their first marriage and 11% of wives admit to having had an affair. If we add in the proportion who prefer not to answer, on the assumption they have something to hide, the figure rises to 22% of husbands and 15% of wives. And how well do we conceal our transgressions? Among married people who acknowledge their adultery, 61% of husbands and 45% of wives say their spouse has no inkling. However, husbands’ affairs seem to end up being detected or admitted more often than wives’ affairs – at least among those couples that end up separating. And among divorcés who acknowledge having had an affair before separation, just 33% of ex-husbands say their ex-wife never knew, while 44% of ex-wives say their own adultery went undetected.

When it came to sex, 44% of married people under 40 had sex at least once a week. But that proportion fell to 25% in married people over 40. Thirteen per cent of married people under 40 have sex less than once a month, or never have sex these days. That figure jumps to 32% among married people over 40. Asked who usually initiates sex, most people say either the husband does, or it’s about equal.

But while the amount of sex tends to decline sharply with age, the enjoyment of sex declines only slightly. Among those under 40 in their first marriage, 52% say their sex is “very enjoyable”, a figure that declines only to 47% among the over-forties. When it came to second and subsequent marriages, 59% of under-fifties say their sex is very enjoyable, while the proportion is still as high as 51% among the over-fifties.

Our overall findings regarding the importance of marriage as “the gold standard” express a deep desire for conformity – a retreat from an age of uncertainty to one of certainty. As many psychologists and sociologists argue, that can be explained as a reaction against today’s protean and free-form living arrangements. In his essay on liberty, the 19th-century philosopher John Stuart Mill famously called for “experiments in living” so we could learn from one another – but he could hardly have foreseen the different kinds of household that would emerge in Britain more than a century later.

Stigma, whether of the unwed mother or the illegitimate child, has steadily diminished. But perhaps the biggest change is a historical one, brought about by the growing importance of the individual and his or her personal fulfilment. As the historian and author Julie Peakman says, “We have seen a shift from marriage as an institution which is tied to wealth and property and the extended family, to a more companionate one, where the pure relationship between the man and the woman is the cornerstone of family life.” Peakman, whose history of sexuality is published later this year, believes that the emergence of the idea of “sensibility” in the 18th century began to change the landscape of marriage for ever, albeit slowly. Even as late as 1955, fulfilling the roles of breadwinner and housewife were seen as the most important requirements of a successful marriage, one study concluded. By 1970, it was for husbands and wives to love each other.

Family life has been transformed since the war. The years 1950-70 have been dubbed “the golden age of marriage”, when it was almost universal and couples wed at a young age. Since the 1970s, however, the number of marriages has halved, divorces have doubled and births outside marriage have quadrupled. This has coincided with the rise of feminism and the economic power of women, many of them choosing single motherhood. In 2003, just over 40% of births were outside marriage, more than four times the proportion in 1975. Rates of cohabitation, with and without children, have soared. If we look at the past three decades as a social experiment, the results are not in the least comforting. “We can now see what 30 years of high divorce rates have done,” says Dr Janet Reibstein, professor of psychology at the University of Exeter and the author of several books on marriage and sexuality. “A whole thirtysomething generation has grown up with their parents divorcing, and they are now starting their own families. They don’t want to repeat mistakes, they want to do better.”

Research on both sides of the Atlantic, notably from the American psychologist Judith Wallerstein, who has spent the past 30 years following a group of children in California whose parents split up, not only points towards the negative effects on such offspring, but also to positive outcomes for those from stable unions. Recent studies by Paul Amato, professor of sociology at Penn State University, have found that children whose parents stay together are more likely to have stable marriages themselves and are more likely to wait until they wed to become parents, a phenomenon that sociologists call “intergenerational transmission”.

Research in Britain shows that both divorce and unmarried childbearing increase the economic vulnerability of children and mothers. Last month, the head of David Cameron’s social-justice policy unit, the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, launched a report called Breakdown Britain. It identified failing families as a key driver of social breakdown, claiming that children from broken homes are far more likely to fail at school, fall foul of the law or turn to drink or drugs. Abandoned mothers were “20% worse off the moment the man walks out the door”. The unit’s findings and recommendations for promoting marriage through possible tax breaks will be published later this year.

Meanwhile, a recent study by academics at Bristol University drew on evidence from the Millennium Cohort Study, which is tracking the lives of a group of children born after 2000. The data shows that during the first three years of a child’s life, the risk of family breakdown faced by unmarried parents is 5.5 times greater than that faced by married parents. Among unmarried parents who describe themselves as “cohabiting”, it is 3.5 times greater. One in three unmarried parents will split up before their child’s third birthday, compared with 1 in 17 married parents.

The instability associated with cohabitation remains high, although other factors, such as poverty, background and attitude to commitment, come into play.

We might well have come to such conclusions ourselves from anecdotal evidence, but it requires the discipline of social scientists to confirm them. And when it comes to forging public policy in an attempt to stem the tide of family breakdown and assess its cost, folk wisdom is singularly unhelpful. A report produced for the Lords’ and Commons’ Child Protection Group estimated that the cost to the taxpayer of family breakdown in Britain in terms of welfare and housing was at least £15 billion a year.

More recent figures, produced by Duncan Smith’s unit, suggest it could be between £20 billion and £24 billion a year. The emotional costs are, of course, incalculable.
Difficult to measure fractured hopes, dreams and aspirations – for either parent or child. One of the questions posed in the Sunday Times poll concerned happiness. Not surprisingly, it showed that strong, stable relationships brought lasting contentment. Among the least satisfied groups were divorcés with children.

“Some relationships are so destructive that they have to end,” says Penny Mansfield, director of One Plus One, a marriage and partnership research body. “But many people with children who divorce will witness the distress they are suffering and that will cause them extra misery. Then there are all the other factors, such as financial strains and the logistics of children having to spend time with each parent.”

Naomi is 36. Her parents divorced in 1975 when she was five, her brother was three and her sister just a baby. Her father left home, having begun an affair with a colleague. “My mother was knocked sideways,” she says. Both father and mother remarried, going on to have more children. Naomi believes her parents put themselves first. “They were caught up in a great social experiment, a culture that told them it was fine to follow their heart. I don’t think they thought about the fallout. Where was their obligation to us?” She remembers a childhood shuttling between homes. “It was terrible. We were constantly on the move. And there were all these warring factions to deal with. My stepfather once hurled a television at my father. It was like living in a war zone.” At her school, everyone’s parents were splitting up. “It was like the Divorce Olympics.”

Today, Naomi, a broadcaster, is happily married with two sons. If there were ever problems in her relationship, she would do anything, she says with feeling, to spare her own children the pain she suffered.

Lucy Sharpe’s parents divorced when she was 11, her father gaining custody of her and her four siblings. “In a way I think my generation, which has grown up with divorced parents, takes marriage more seriously,” she says. “The societal pressure to get married is off, it’s for us to choose. And we have been in the unique position of seeing a marriage unravel. As a result you learn about the fundamentals of relationship in a way, perhaps, that the children of parents with strong marriages are never really pushed to do. You learn how important honesty, loyalty, kindness are, but also how to argue well and, hopefully, something about forgiveness.”

Men and women of Naomi and Lucy’s generation, born in the late 1960s and the 1970s, are appearing in Dr John Gray’s consulting rooms. The American author of the bestselling Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, a study of gender differences in language, Gray is also a respected clinical psychologist. “I look at these people as ‘Generation Trauma’,” he says. “Many are too frightened to commit themselves. Others will come to me if they are having problems in their relationships. They don’t want to inflict upon their children what was done to them. I certainly see a backlash generation with a real will to work through those difficulties.” Another American, the sociologist Mike Males, highlighted the destructive legacy of divorcing baby boomers, those born between 1946 and ’64, in his study, Boomergeddon, published last year.We could learn a thing or two about relationships from those Boomergeddon survivors. We could look at them, as Janet Reibstein suggests, as “Generation Wisdom”. “This is our chance to learn from past mistakes,” she says. “Marriage was seen by some women almost as enslavement, and divorce could be a path toward liberation. But I don’t think that’s such a clear-cut case any more. I think we may have reached a tipping point when it comes to divorce rates. I think we are also seeing a moving away from a desire for individual satisfaction towards valuing responsibility for a collective good. There are glimmers of hope that men and women are stopping running away and turning inward and trying to heal.”

So what can we take from Generation Wisdom? Are there top tips to learn about getting someone to love us for ever? With greater life expectancy, a couple marrying in their twenties can confidently expect to celebrate their diamond wedding. If researchers, as we have seen, have focused on family breakdown, there is an equally respectable body of psychology that seeks to learn from lifelong unions. This discipline looks at the positives of marriage and committed cohabitation, at what binds people together.

Are there predictors that we can test? A growing number of psychologists believe there are. They are studying the “glue” of a couple – the bond that keeps them together despite adversities. Such a discipline is part of the trend towards positive psychology. Just as researchers studying depression look at happy people to understand why they remain cheerful despite their difficulties, so psychologists are analysing happy, lasting unions – “hardy relationships” – to find out why they endure. Much of the work in this field was pioneered in the 1990s by the American psychologist Dr John Gottman. He looked beyond the obvious factors blamed for the sharp increase in rates of marital failure, such as easier divorce laws and women’s financial independence, pointing out that they did not explain why some marriages last and some fall apart.

The author of Why Marriages Succeed or Fail and How You Can Make Yours Last demonstrates that if you want lifelong union, you must learn to praise more and criticise less – it being a case of Diss and Make Up.

He studied couples in conversation by videoing them in what he called his “Love Laboratory”. Their exchanges were studied intensively over about 20 hours, and they included a subject that created tension between them, such as money or heavy drinking. He looked for signs of disgust, contempt, belligerence and validation. He concluded that a lasting marriage was about resolving conflict, and the key lay in the balance between the positive things said and done and the negative. After reviewing thousands of couples, he came up with a formula: a very healthy relationship needs to be in a 5:1 profit of praise over blame. It isn’t enough to say sorry.

If you have been rude or cross, you must carry out another four kind actions. Gottman believes that if your ratio of positives to negatives falls to 3:1 your marriage is probably in trouble. If it drops to 2:1 you are highly likely to part. His message is that learning praise and kindness might just save a marriage.

For her study of enduring love, Janet Reibstein analysed couples who had been together for over nine years. Her book, The Best-Kept Secret, is being reissued next month. She interviewed husbands and wives, and homosexual couples, who had all suffered pain – through a spouse’s infidelity, serious illness, the death of a child or unemployment – but who had stuck together.

“All of them understood about ebb and flow in a relationship,” says Reibstein. “They shared the same narrative about their lives, interpreting events the same way, and they willed themselves to stay together – they drew on their memories of the good times to get through the bad.” In other words, they could heal their own wounds. She cites the work of Linda Waite, a sociologist from the University of Chicago whose book The Case for Marriage, written with Maggie Gallagher, was published in 2000.

Waite found that more than half of divorces occur in what has been termed “low-conflict” marriages, which means they have a high potential for being salvaged. She tracked a group who fell into this grumpy, low-satisfaction category but who were still married. When she followed them up five years later, 64% reported that they had resolved their differences and described themselves as “happy”. A salutary tale.

Penny Mansfield, who has also carried out research into hardy relationships, agrees about taking a long-term view. “It’s important to understand that people’s feelings wax and wane,” she says. “They need to ‘normalise’ tough times and situations; to stand back and say, ‘This is not a lousy relationship, it’s just a difficult time.’”

All of which means that we do not have to win any medals in any Divorce Olympics. Our own badge of honour, perhaps, will be awarded one day as we sit in an armchair opposite the man or woman we married 50 years ago – if we are so fortunate. It would be as well to try. As the poet W H Auden said, “We must love one another or die”. Reibstein’s injunction is less poetic, but much more immediate. “Wait!” she exclaims. “Hang on!… It gets better.”

Full details of The Sunday Times/YouGov poll on marriage can be found at

What makes a good marriage?

If we only knew. Such mysteries are subject to change even within a generation. Most of us expect to give and receive fidelity in marriage. Yet over the past 20 years, a good sex life itself has diminished in importance as a prerequisite for a good relationship. Instead, mutual appreciation and respect, tolerance and understanding have risen in importance, while a happy sexual relationship and good housing have declined significantly. Having children is also regarded as far less important to the success of a marriage than in previous generations — dropping from 34% to just 10% from when a similar poll of views was conducted in 1983. And while couples increasingly regard mutual respect as vital to the success of a relationship, they also display the need for independence: becoming more cautious about their joint incomes, with an increasing trend towards keeping their money separate

Are you a puritan?

Few of us need politicians to remind us that marriage is ideally a commitment for life. Even the majority of cohabiters believe this to be true – only the divorced disagree with the trend. Most of us also think adultery is wrong, with the under-thirties as censorious as the over-fifties. And even more people than in 1983 think divorce should be more difficult – 45% of us. The concept of ‘till death us do part’ has never been more alive; serial monogamy is not yet either the norm or considered acceptable

Do you have a good sex life?

Among first-time marrieds, 17% admit to having sexual problems. This rises to 21% for those who have remarried. For those people who say they aren’t completely happy with their marriage, 30% say they’re unhappy with their sex life. Yet the number saying their sex life is of primary importance in their relationship has declined in the past 20 years. Age mellows us, and doesn’t appear to reduce our enjoyment of sex by much — of first-time marrieds under 40, 52% admit to “very enjoyable” sex, while over 40 the figure declines only slightly to 47%, even if the frequency of sex diminishes. Forty-four per cent of the married under-forties have sex once a week, but over 40 this falls to 25%, while 32% of the over-forties first-time marrieds have sex less than once a month. But is sex more important to women? More women than men say that an unhappy sex life was responsible for their divorce (56% as opposed to 44% of men in the same age group).

The truth about affairs

Eighteen per cent of husbands in their first marriage and 11% of wives admit to having had an affair — and this rises to 22% and 15% if the proportion who preferred not to answer is added in. While faithfulness is the ideal for most, adultery makes little difference to the likelihood of divorce. And while 61% of adulterous husbands and 45% of wives say their spouse does not know about their affair, men’s affairs are most often detected. Among those who strayed most, twice as many women as men cite falling in love as the reason for the affair above having sex. For all, the ex’s adultery was a greater reason for divorce than their own adultery.

Women who stray: Case study - Elizabeth, 58

Their marriage had been fine for 30 years - and then her husband retired. His constant presence at home led to myriad problems - and finally drove her to sexual subterfuge. All interviews by Danny Danziger

My marriage rubbed along like most people’s do after 30 years. But, usual thing, a husband retires, and he’s home all day, and when that happens there’s enormous adapting. It may be great to be together all the time when you start a relationship, but I was used to him leaving the house at seven in the morning and coming home late at night. It suited me fine.

Now he was always under my feet. My husband doesn’t play golf, didn’t go out and meet his mates; he was just happy to sit at home and do nothing. It was a huge invasion of my space.

Also, if men become used to being captain of the ship, when they come home they start acting the same way. So I’d find my kitchen tidied — although my husband doesn’t cook. He’d arrange things in order of size. Well, that’s not the way a cook cooks. It may be the biggest thing in the cupboard, but I’ve put it nearest to hand because that’s what I use most. God, he was annoying.

It’s my character to do something about problems, so I started an interior-decorating business and created another life — an escape route, really.

My being away didn’t help our relationship. Once he retired, he expected me to be around for him. But deep problems were there anyway — though there was no reason to do anything about them; I had a good life, a lot more pluses than minuses, a lovely home, reasonable friends, no financial pressure.

I began to find him less and less attractive, not that I’d really ever been keen on him sexually. After having children all those years ago, I had thought, “Well, that’s that,” but he was always very active sexually: he used to be doing something at least once a day. I could just about tolerate that. Now he’s got arthritis, there’s been no sex at all in the last two years, which is a relief. I couldn’t handle a physical relationship with him now. Unfortunately, if you’ve got a husband who’s a bit older than you and has become ill, you can’t just dump him, can you? It’s like shooting the family dog.

A year ago, I met someone through friends. Physically I got hit by an Exocet missile. I feel completely alive and sexy. It’s absolutely extraordinary to suddenly have this immense passion at my age. Every nerve end is tingling. Mentally I’m turned on by him too, because he’s full of ideas and very creative.

In the beginning, I wanted to shout about our affair from the rafters, and I didn’t care if I was found out, but as it’s become more serious, it has had to be put in a box. I don’t want to be found out. My husband would be devastated — he’s always loved me more than I’ve loved him. And Philip’s married too, and probably has more to lose than me if he gets discovered.

Lying doesn’t come naturally to me, but I have had to lie. I went to the country with him for four days, and said I was with a girlfriend. I’ve set up a different e-mail account from the one I share with my husband. Philip’s got a different BlackBerry account from the one he shares with his wife. We always text before we have a phone call.

It’s quite nerve-racking. Last November I lost four kilos, which wasn’t good. The fact is, I’m 58; I worry about my age, so I exercise for at least an hour a day, and get as toned as I can. I’m very tempted to have surgery. But Philip finds me attractive. That’s what matters.

He’s very romantic. When I first met him at a hotel, he took over the whole restaurant, and ordered two sets of flowers to find out which colour I liked the most. And he’ll fly anywhere in the world to see me for two days, which is making a bit of an effort, isn’t it? So I wouldn’t call this an affair. It’s a love story.

It would be very selfish for the two of us to run off into the sunset, leaving scattered people devastated, so there’ll be guilt if that happens. But there’s no guilt over this relationship. If I could put the clock back, I’d certainly have done it sooner.

All names have been changed

Women who stray: Case study - Victoria, 42

She has a happy marriage, children aged eight and six, and a good career. She has also had two affairs. Victoria believes that if you really like someone, why not have sex with them - whether you're married or not?

You know, I don’t really do fidelity. It’s not high on my list of priorities, and it’s not high on my list of priorities for a man, either. We put a huge effort into thinking about fidelity and possession when we should simply try to be kind to each other, because life is short. Sex is such a precious thing that if you meet someone you like, you might as well have sex with them. Sex in that case is a gift. I really can’t see the problem with that.

After getting married, I resumed a relationship with an old boyfriend, because he’s handsome and lovely and I just thought it was a waste not to. We went out to dinner and I said: “Let’s go somewhere…” Sex with him was absolutely lovely, but sex was just part of it. It didn’t drive the relationship, it was a progression, an added bonus. We would talk about books, the theatre and the cinema, and it would have been very silly to do all those things and then stop at the bedroom door. That went on for about six or seven years.

I was fantastic at keeping it secret — out of politeness to my husband, if for nothing else. There’s no need to cause unnecessary pain. I cannot understand why people say in a selfish way: “I’ve got to tell my husband that I went to Majorca on a work outing and slept with the sales director.” Why? How cruel and unnecessary to cause pain just because it makes you feel better. If you’re going to feel guilt, don’t do it in the first place. You know you are cheating, you know it’s not in the rule book.

What happened to my lover was that he got divorced and moved away to a different country. Oddly enough, once he got divorced it was much more difficult to have an affair. The safest, most stable way to have an affair is when both parties are married, because there’s no expectation of marriage then, it’s only adultery. There’s a balance about a relationship between two married people, which relationships thrive on: when one person is not married then there’s a huge imbalance.

When that ended, you bet I was looking for someone else. As James Goldsmith said, “When a man marries his mistress he creates a vacancy.” I wanted to fill the void. I was really upset when he left. What was I looking for? Someone to talk books with, share things with, kindness, a lovely voice — what I like most in a man is the voice. Sex isn’t even high on my list, although there needs to be attraction.

Not only does it seem perverse not to let sex happen if both parties want it, but I think that every time you have sex you roll back death, it’s an affirmation of life. That’s very important to me, because my parents died when I was young. I wonder what they’d think about my affairs. My father had affairs too.

I’ve only had two affairs since I’ve been married. No 2 was very recent. I’m sad that’s over. It was his decision, and it was because I was married. He couldn’t take it. When you have an affair, you can’t phone up, you have to be clandestine; he found all of that too difficult. If he’d been married, it would have been perfect.

These affairs have nothing to do with my marriage. They’re like a hobby. In fact, sex with my husband is absolutely fine, it’s never been a problem. Although I have to admit for the past few years there have been huge areas of anger. It’s to do with not being listened to when I counselled him against going into business with some people. He decided to invest in a start-up. I said he shouldn’t do it, but he ignored me. He lost £100,000. And now I find it incredibly difficult to forgive him.

I will stay in the marriage — for my children. The happiness I get from them is huge, much greater than anything I could ever feel for a man. Having said that, I’d like another man. I’ve met somebody I really like. We’ll have a second supper, and then probably another supper after that, then we’ll see. The fact is, I like him a lot: he’s lovely and clever, and has a beautiful voice.

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Excessive alcohol consumption is being blamed for a big rise in deaths from the liver disease cirrhosis in Britain.Is that lipstick on your PDA?Hotel Chain's Room Rates Go Retro -- Circa 1946
While deaths from the disease are falling elsewhere, a Lancet study shows they have soared in England, Scotland and Wales since the 1950s. Total recorded alcohol consumption in the UK is estimated to have doubled between 1960 and 2002. The study was carried out by King's College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Experts said the UK Government had not done enough to try to tackle the problem. New licensing laws came in at the end of last year allo...Call it crazy, paranoid or cynical, but the next time you peruse the personals on Craigslist or scan profiles on MySpace, consider this: There's a good chance you just ran into a cheater. Just as purchasing concert tickets or checking baseball scores has become as simple as logging onto a computer, infidelity is a simple keystroke away. Cheating is on the rise because technology eases the search to find a willing partner, according to therapists, researchers and relationship experts. The unfai...Best Western Celebrates 60th Anniversary The Best Western hotel chain is turning back the clock on its room rates -- to 1946. Hundreds of lucky travelers will get to pay the 1946 room rate of $5.40 at Best Westerns across the country on Wednesday. The hotel chain is offering the rate to celebrate its 60th anniversary. On Wednesday, March 29 only, hundreds of hotel guests in the U.S. and Canada will find a 60th Anniversary Commemorative Card under their pillows awarding them the special ra...
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