Why is infidelity contemptible?

Loyalty then and now: How has the concept of loyalty changed over the past decades and centuries?

In the past, it was always there: two people swore eternal loyalty to each other and kept it for a lifetime - exactly until death then parted them from one another. 50 years ago, a divorce was the exception, if somehow it worked, then you just stayed together. A lot has changed since then. If you belong to the 40+ generation, it may well be that your parents are still together in intimate togetherness, but in this cohort, fidelity was no longer part of the standard program. And today most people seem to think a lot of loyalty in theory - but in practice every second German cheats in the course of a steady relationship. Do we just deal differently with loyalty today, is it no longer worth anything to us or is it simply no longer suitable as the final cement of relationships in modern times of love? And what was it like 50 or 100 years ago, did more people advocate loyalty as a virtue to strive for and therefore stayed together until Santa's never-a-day, in good times and in totally bad times? You probably already guessed it: It's not that simple. We once looked into our non-fiction books to see what they said about it. Continue reading


"Passion is fleeting, which is why it has always been outsourced"

The desire for eternal loyalty combined with passionate love is quite a modern desire. Franz Josef Wetz explains this in praise of infidelity. In the past, marriages were clever communities of convenience that had to be permanent because they somehow ensured the survival of the partner, the offspring, if not the entire clan. A marriage in around the 17th and 18th centuries should be permanent and stable, so passionate love and erotic desire were out of the question as the basis for this lifelong bond, writes Wetz. Because even back then, people would have recognized, even though not even remotely trained in love theory as we are today, that passion passes faster than you think. Because, as Wetz shows, from an evolutionary nature it is superfluous from a certain point, then it needs new, stronger stimuli to rekindle. In short: our ancestors knew about the transience of passionate love, which is why they often outsourced it, so to speak: mistresses, courtesans and maidservants were often responsible for the core erotic business in previous centuries, while the wives remained undisturbed. However, they usually held first place, which corresponds to a somewhat pragmatic concept of loyalty that was probably quite widespread at the time: married couples stayed together, no matter what happened, usually the men enjoyed a little more freedom than the women. In theory, many couples were certainly true to each other back then. In practical terms, however, unfaithfulness, the secret, approved, had good cards.

Author: Prof. Franz Josef Wetz
Book: In Praise of Infidelity
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"Loyalty is a cultural achievement and is not anchored in our real needs"

Around 86 percent of all women equate love with sexual loyalty - a modern phenomenon, as Gerti Senger proves. In Shadow Love - Never Be Second again, she explains that love marriage did not emerge until the 18th century, the basis of which was no longer the economic alliance and child rearing, but sexual attraction. Today, says Senger, monogamy is the pairing system that we base our attachment behavior on. However, it is a cultural achievement - and does not have its cause in our real needs. The phenomenon of love is estimated to have arisen about four million years ago, when humans developed from nasal animals to eye animals because they straightened up. Man and woman suddenly faced each other and man adjusted his sexual behavior accordingly: At that time, according to the expert assumption, the basis for the chemical systems that are responsible for our feelings of love was created. And they ultimately formed the basis for the love bond and thus also for something like loyalty. So today, like yesterday, it is nothing more than an evolutionary biological mechanism? Just not, says Senger, loyalty is in fact a cultural achievement. To put it quite unromantically: It is part of our cultural self-image to resolve a biological conflict - we check how great the risk of infidelity is and weigh what the price is. The renunciation, according to Senger, of the excitement and the ability to tolerate frustration are then the triumph of culture over nature.

Author: Prof. Dr. Gerti Senger
Book: Schattenliebe - Never be second again
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"Even today, sexual infidelity is rated differently among men and women"

Everything was better before? Ha, whoever believes it! Nowadays the couple relationship is overwhelmed by the fact that it is based on decisions. But Wolfgang Schmidbauer doubts that it should be better to initiate love through parents. Nowadays, writes Schmidbauer in The Secret Love, intense love wishes, which in the past were lived out through religion, are completely secular: we project all desires onto our partner. And loyalty is one of the high demands we place on ourselves and others. However, according to Schmidbauer, there is no uniform external authority today that regulates the handling of what can be demanded as sexual fidelity. In the past, for example, the church, as a powerful supervisory authority, had the matter of desires under control, indulging in carnal lust, i.e. becoming sexually unfaithful, was a sin that had to be stopped. Today we no longer have such an anchor in the sea of ​​possibilities of love - and that's a good thing. Nobody can force us to be faithful, there are an infinite number of variants and even if infidelity is still frowned upon by society, a vow of loyalty that cannot be kept in the long term is not a real break in the leg. In the modern age, we are far from the times when women had to face the death penalty as adulterers while the host had a free choice of sex, writes Schmidbauer. Nevertheless, sexual infidelity is still rated differently among men and women today: If a woman repays the unfaithful man for the betrayal of love with the same coin, the saying is still often made that it is something completely different with a woman.

Author: Wolfgang Schmidbauer
Book: The secret love
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"Love and sex have been two pairs of shoes since time immemorial"

Andrea Bräu pulls out quite a bit in It was just sex and shows us a love past with archaic values ​​and unjust rules of conduct. Love and sex, so their résumé, have been like two pairs of shoes since time immemorial. In antiquity, external sexual relations were common, in the Roman Empire adultery was a criminal offense - but only for women. They had no right to sexual self-determination, which was closely related to the inferior role of women. Then in the Middle Ages the church stretched out its mighty fingers and sanctioned inappropriate behavior: Any form of sexuality that was not for procreation was declared sinful. This made fidelity in the broadest sense a religious duty, what happened under the covers or in brothels was conscientiously ignored. Later in the Middle Ages, the courtly ideal of love brought another nuance to the interpretation of loyalty to love: minstrels, for example, targeted married women from courtly circles, to whom they professed their platonic love by singing minnesia - without love ever being fulfilled. Normal people should be fertile and multiply properly, but without having fun. In steady relationships, sex became a compulsory exercise, and anyone who found passion there could consider themselves very lucky. The Enlightenment in modern times then led to rapid individualization - and suddenly love also had something like a meaning and was not only used to enforce evolutionary biological instincts. And in the 20th century at the latest, people came up with the idea that love and sex could still exist in a double pack - marriages were no longer just communities of convenience, they should also bring fulfillment as love relationships. Loyalty suddenly became a precious commodity that was no longer fed by material or economic constraints, but was based on voluntariness. And if people used to be strongly oriented towards norms, nowadays most people have their own norm, writes Andrea Bräu. We are free in our choice, that is all well and good at first, but nowadays we have to consciously decide for (or against) loyalty, because it is no longer imposed on us from outside as a compulsion. And those who have the choice are often spoiled: It is not that easy to choose from the many options for love.

Author: Andrea Bräu
Book: It was just sex
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"Loyalty to oneself is becoming more and more important than loyalty to others."

While the individual used to see himself as part of a comprehensive whole to which he had to subordinate himself, today self-realization has come to the fore, says Hans Jellouschek in Why did you do this to me? He writes that the focus is no longer on securing livelihoods and continuing the succession of generations, but rather on the mutual fulfillment of individual ideas of happiness. This also has an impact on our understanding of loyalty. If in earlier centuries care and care of the partner formed the core of loyalty, today it is passionate, erotic love. That is why the bond between the partners is understood less as an objectively existing marital bond, but as an emotional fact that either exists or does not exist. In doing so, as Jellouschek puts it, loyalty to oneself is becoming more and more important than loyalty to others, with which she is increasingly in conflict. According to him, loyalty as a value in itself is becoming more and more a matter of interpretation or an individual commitment: If partners remain loyal to each other today, then they do so less and less for family, economic or ideological reasons, as was the case in the past, but because it is theirs The need is to remain loyal and to experience their relationship as subjectively satisfying and meaningful. And if exactly that is no longer the case, loyalty can also quickly become a problem: Those who are unhappy, unsatisfied or bored in their relationship have less and less convincing arguments for maintaining the partnership - and thus loyalty. Because it is ultimately subject to incalculable fluctuations, because everyone has a different subjective feeling.

Author: Dr. Hans Jellouscheck
Book: Why did you do this to me?
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"We have only known the principle of love marriage for about 200 years"

Infidelity may no longer be a real taboo today, but it is definitely a hot topic, says Wolfgang Krüger. While working on his book The Secret of Faithfulness, he repeatedly found that people react sensitively to the topic. No wonder, he thinks, when you consider that there is hardly a thing where ideal and reality diverge so widely: More than 90 percent of all people want loyalty, he writes, but more than half have committed an affair at one point or another . Accordingly, the loyalty that Krüger describes as an ability that requires a certain strength, steadfastness and perseverance - nowadays - cannot be that far off. With the Babylonians, for example, sexual activity outside of partnership was quite common, and the Romans were also quite lax with loyalty. The principle of love marriage, writes Krüger, which makes infidelity so problematic, has actually only been known for 200 years. In the past, people got married for objective reasons, in the romantic era the desire to realize love with a single person emerged as an ideal - that was, so to speak, the hour of birth of our current concept of loyalty. Faithfulness exists as a value as long as one loves one another. When you stop loving each other, you break up. Material aspects play an increasingly subordinate role; we seek emotional fulfillment in marriage. And for many, especially in our fast-paced times, the other is the rock in the surf, which is why, according to Krüger, loyalty is so important. Standing up for loyalty, says Krüger, seems almost a little old-fashioned today. It is very contemporary, because we all need reliability and strong social roots in order not to be blown away by the storms of life. Nevertheless, Krüger does not believe in letting loyalty become a rigid principle of life from which one must not deviate. Ultimately, loyalty must prove to be personally beneficial for everyone. Whereby we are back to the individual interpretation of fidelity in modern times.

Author: Dr. Wolfgang Kruger
Book: The Secret of Loyalty
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"The understanding of loyalty is the individual responsibility of each couple"

Loyalty, apparently, used to be a standard thing in marriages - many simply couldn't afford to be unfaithful. A few decades ago women, for example, were financially dependent on their husbands, and also with regard to their social and societal status. It goes without saying that loyalty had a slightly different meaning than it does today. Sexual delicacies have surely been tacitly approved by many a good wife, the main thing is that the man ultimately stayed with her (and the children and the house). Conversely, men enjoyed a little more freedom and were sometimes forgiven for an affair as a petty offense, on the other hand, they too were not infrequently dependent on the wife organizing the familiar family life at home. So he too had good reasons, at least from a purely theoretical point of view, to tolerate unfaithful marital infidelity. Here, however, two standards were measured: What a man was allowed, a woman could not necessarily afford. The rule was rather: you refrained from doing some things, the price was just too high. Today we attach a completely different value to loyalty - according to surveys, for many people it is the be-all and end-all of a partnership. However, today more than ever it is subject to the respective interpretation. What a couple understands by loyalty is very different from one to the other: Some hold on to sexual exclusivity, others are more tolerant and see honesty and solidarity as the core of their loyalty agreement. Ultimately, it is always up to the couples themselves how they define loyalty and, above all, how they live. Because today, that is the quintessence, there are social norms that also regulate our should-be dealings with loyalty. But actually everyone has to find out for themselves how, why and where they want to be loyal.

More information on loyalty

    Book Reviews: In-depth advice on the subject

  • The secret of loyalty A book for everyone involved in the triangle: For partners who have been tempted, for those who have been betrayed and the third parties in the love bond
  • Fidelity is not a solution either. The two couple therapists Lisa Fischbach and Holger Lendt encourage an examination of fidelity
  • The end of love Sven Hillenkamp illuminates very vividly in his book the impossibility of love in times of infinite possibilities
  • More books on loyalty