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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Relationship Advice for Americans from Elderly British Aristocrats

Posted by on Tue, Aug 21, 2012 at 2:36 PM

Got online to look this up this morning. Good advice for long-marrieds from the Duchess of Devonshire:

She was famously lovely; her husband was famously dashing. He inherited the dukedom only because his older brother, Billy, was killed in World War II. It was a time of constant loss. “Two of my brothers-in-law,” she said. “My only brother; Andrew’s only brother; my four best friends—all killed within a month of each other.” But her generation believes in self-pity about as much as it believes in self-esteem. “What can you do?” she asked. “Blow after blow came, but there was absolutely no reply, was there?”


Her marriage lasted 62 years, surviving Andrew’s long bout with alcoholism, as well as his discreet dalliances. “It was absolutely fixed that we shouldn’t divorce or get rid of each other in any way,” the duchess said. “It’s completely different to Americans, who all divorce each other the whole time. Such a bore for everyone, having to say who’s going to have the dogs, who’s going to have the photograph books.”

Encouraging people not to regard divorce as the only possible response to an infidelity would go a long way toward strengthening the institution of marriage. It would do more to undermine our "culture of divorce" than preventing same-sex couples from marrying ever could.


Comments (64) RSS

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i don' think that infidelity's the reason for most divorces, and i don' she was referring only to that.
Posted by ian on August 21, 2012 at 2:44 PM · Report this
Reminds me of this story about Norris Church Mailer, sixth wife of Norman Mailer. People would ask her which wife she was, and she would reply, "The last one."
Posted by minderbender on August 21, 2012 at 2:49 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 3
"Such a bore" is such an English cliche, applied to any unpleasant situation regardless of whether it truly lacks in stimulation. Although I suppose dividing property IS less exciting than coping with a drunken cheat.
Posted by Matt from Denver on August 21, 2012 at 2:51 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 4

According to Savage then it would have been so much easier to keep slavery legal.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on August 21, 2012 at 2:54 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 5
it was such a bore when my grandma divorced my grandpa for beating and cheating on her.
Posted by Max Solomon on August 21, 2012 at 2:59 PM · Report this
MacCrocodile 6
What a lovely lady. I wish I were old and rich enough to be pleasant.
Posted by MacCrocodile on August 21, 2012 at 3:01 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 7
I think it's boring when married people brag about shame marriages and then think they give good advice.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on August 21, 2012 at 3:05 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 8
I think it's boring when married people brag about shame marriages and then think they give good advice.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on August 21, 2012 at 3:05 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 9
How boring!
Posted by Pope Peabrain on August 21, 2012 at 3:07 PM · Report this
Fistique 10
I don't care as much about encouraging everyone to stay with a spouse who strays as I do about exhorting everyone to leave a spouse who abuses them.
Posted by Fistique on August 21, 2012 at 3:10 PM · Report this
Comments 3-5, I think 6, and 7-10 are why we can't have nice things.
Posted by minderbender on August 21, 2012 at 3:11 PM · Report this
MacCrocodile 12
@11 - No, you shut up!
Posted by MacCrocodile on August 21, 2012 at 3:14 PM · Report this
It would be different if we knew that he beat her. Then it would be like, "Dan, how could you?" But Dan isn't allowed to make a point about infidelity and divorce, because sometimes divorce is a good idea? Give me Leonard Cohen afterworld.
Posted by minderbender on August 21, 2012 at 3:15 PM · Report this
Is Dan allowed to post that felons should have the right to vote? "Dan, I'll have you know that RAPE is a felony!" That there should be more bicycle lanes? "Dan, if there were no streets, then ambulances couldn't rescue gravely injured people!" And so forth.
Posted by minderbender on August 21, 2012 at 3:18 PM · Report this
While I do not believe that infidelity is a good idea, I concur that more talking and communication and less giving up would be good. However, I do not think this is necessarily what the duchess was trying to say. It does have an undertone of "Let's mock the Americans for lazily doing what I have once or twice secretly wished I could do--kick that cheating cheater where it hurts! Oh well. Might as well be proud of my ability to endure less-than-ideal situations."

Posted by DRF on August 21, 2012 at 3:23 PM · Report this
Can we concede here that there's a difference between divorcing a guy who's a serial adulterer but otherwise "good company" (as the article says) and a guy who beats and abuses his spouse?
Posted by DRF on August 21, 2012 at 3:26 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 17
Rumors in Punch at the time were that he had an unnatural fondness for horses.

And yes, that means what you think it does, not a Dressage fixation.
Posted by Will in Seattle on August 21, 2012 at 3:27 PM · Report this
rob! 18
Keep your pecker up, old girl.
Posted by rob! on August 21, 2012 at 3:28 PM · Report this
Opposing defaulting to divorce in the case of a routine infidelity in an otherwise loving/serviceable relationship ≠ opposing divorce in cases of DV, marital rape, emotionally abusive relationships, etc.

Posted by Dan Savage on August 21, 2012 at 3:31 PM · Report this
TVDinner 20
@19: Shouldn't you be writing a book instead of trolling your own thread? Huh? HUH?!
Posted by TVDinner http:// on August 21, 2012 at 3:43 PM · Report this
MacCrocodile 21
Posted by MacCrocodile on August 21, 2012 at 3:43 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 22
You know what's really boring? Dan
posting the exact same quote from the exact same woman repeatedly to "prove" that women ought to tolerate infidelity in long-term relationships.
Posted by keshmeshi on August 21, 2012 at 3:57 PM · Report this
MacCrocodile 23
@22 - Not quite as boring as people who consistently miss the fucking point, either out of willful fucking ignorance, or sheer fucking stupidity.
Posted by MacCrocodile on August 21, 2012 at 4:14 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 24
"Loving/servicable relationship without sex is just friends/roomates in my opinion. But I guess friends is better than some of the vitriol brought into divorce proceedings.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on August 21, 2012 at 4:15 PM · Report this
nocutename 25
I get your point, Dan, but really, I don't think that using a titled member of the aristocracy to make it was a the best idea.

Not only is the "such a bore," attitude one that signals a deep dislike with dealing with emotions (her mother's journal entry story about her own birth might be eccentric and amusing now, but would you want to be reared by someone who thought it in poor taste to allude, even in her own diary, to your birth?), it also is an attitude born of a class of people for whom divorce is not a frequently-employed option because there are titles and gigantic estates involved--"all this," as one of the Duchess' sister's literary creations said to describe fabulous wealth and prestige. It's not just the "photograph" books that Debo would have had to give up, had she divorced her husband. And there's no knowing how much pain her husband's "discreet" affairs might have caused her. To admit as much would also be classified as "a bore."

Pick a model we can actually emulate.
Posted by nocutename on August 21, 2012 at 4:18 PM · Report this
@19: Forgive them Dan, for they are obviously too young or naive, or both, to know that there are far worse things in life than spending it with someone who is "great company".
Posted by crone on August 21, 2012 at 4:33 PM · Report this
Posted by venomlash on August 21, 2012 at 5:03 PM · Report this
Kevin_BGFH 28
I miss Downton Abbey. The Duchess of Devonshire plays Cousin Violet, doesn't she? ;-)
Posted by Kevin_BGFH on August 21, 2012 at 5:12 PM · Report this

There always seems to be such an undercurrent of misogyny in these types of posts. We women are to grin and bear it because it's the way it's supposed to be.

My experience across three continents is that it's not heterosexual/bisexual women married to men that are the problem. We've been "tolerating" infidelity since time began. The men? Not so much.

I know a lot of heterosexual women who would LOVE to have an honest open marriage. The problem is that their husbands are either dead set against it or they are "cakemen" (i.e., have your cake and eat it too). Too emasculating. They'd be cuckholded.

That, and the slutshaming that is still pervasive in our society.
Posted by ABW on August 21, 2012 at 5:27 PM · Report this
You want more "open" marriages and less divorces because of infidelity? Great!

It's simple: combat sexism, particularly slut-shaming, and make casual sex safer for women (wrt to costs of unwanted pregnancy and potential rapes). Would also care if women could be guaranteed to come close to having the same type of pleasure-payoff than men do (e.g., having an orgasm most of the time). Until then, the game isn't worth the candle for most het women.
Posted by ABW on August 21, 2012 at 5:31 PM · Report this
if infidelity is "routine" than you hang out with a lot of assholes and should probably stop doing that
Posted by Reader01 on August 21, 2012 at 5:33 PM · Report this
curtisp 32
If this woman came from a place where she had the same level of power that her husband did she would have more credibility. If she screwed around like he did she would have been thrown out and shunned. That is how women of her class were treated until very recently. Bogus. Better example please.

Divorce as a means to deal with infidelity is often a good thing as infidelity so often involves a double standard. If it was not what the person who was cheated on signed up for they do not need to tolerate it.
Posted by curtisp on August 21, 2012 at 7:19 PM · Report this
Today is the one-year anniversary of my discovery of my husband's affair. We are still married -- we have kids -- and I have been trying to follow Dan's advice. But Dan, you should know how fucking hard it is to stay together and try to forgive. I find your attitude a little too flip and misleading. People who want to try to keep their marriages together should know that it is the most difficult thing I have ever attempted. And I have taken on significant challenges before in my life (as a reference, I am a working mom of 3 elementary school-aged children and I am a CEO.) The difficulty lies not in my husband's lack of effort, nor in mine. It is just that this betrayal is so very painful. Truly, Dan, if you want to make your point, you could do it without such a dismissive quote. You do a disservice to those of us who are struggling to keep things together.
Posted by sad in Chicago on August 21, 2012 at 7:39 PM · Report this
@32 I was unaware that Harold Macmillan threw out his wife and shunned her.

I sometimes wonder if people might make sweeping, exaggerated claims about a society they know little about, and then I think, no. It couldn't be.
Posted by minderbender on August 21, 2012 at 8:28 PM · Report this
kim in portland 35
33: sad in Chicago,

I wish you joy. And, I'm sorry for the pain you have suffered. I'm sending you encouraging thoughts. Take care of yourself and do your best to try and keep your chin up.

Kind regards,
Posted by kim in portland on August 21, 2012 at 9:14 PM · Report this
@35. Thanks, Kim.
Posted by sad in Chicago on August 21, 2012 at 10:12 PM · Report this
@33, your kids will not appreciate you being a sad martyr. And they can see that happening; don't think you're hiding it; probably all five of you would be happier if you split up.
Posted by sarah70 on August 21, 2012 at 10:26 PM · Report this
@33, dealing with infidelity is really hard, I agree. That said... in my view, if you're still struggling to try and forgive after a year... then maybe the marriage is really over...

The way you say: "We are still married -- we have kids" makes it sound as if the only reason you are still there is because of the kids. Feel free to tell me I'm wrong in this case, but I believe it's often better for the kids to see you and your husband each happy and confident in different homes, than to see both of you miserable for years on end.
Posted by EricaP on August 21, 2012 at 10:33 PM · Report this
In other words, I don't think Dan says: "Stay married for the kids."

I think his point is: infidelity is common; people make mistakes. Some people can see the infidelity as Not-a-Big-Deal, especially if someone reassures them that it's okay for it to be Not-a-Big-Deal. Other people end up seeing the infidelity as a symptom of other problems -- then they can deal with those underlying problems, and, if successful, the marriage emerges a better, stronger relationship.

But for some people, the betrayal is too much, or the underlying problems are too much.

Dan's not saying to stay together if you're miserable. He's just saying divorce shouldn't be the default reaction to infidelity. A year later, you are allowed to move on and seek happiness in your life.
Posted by EricaP on August 21, 2012 at 10:41 PM · Report this
nocutename 40
Sad in Chicago,
You and your husband have my sympathy and best wishes. Somethings some of us can get over. Some of us, no matter how much we want to, can't forgive and forget some things. Or we can forgive, but not forget, and the memory gets in the way of forging a renewed or the old closeness. What you're trying is admirable. You both are to be commended if rebuilding is possible. And if it is not, that doesn't mean you were weak or a failure. It just means that one or both of you found what was at this point in time, a hard limit. There is life after divorce. There is sometimes the possibility of strong friendship and mutual parenthood and good shared parenting/child rearing after divorce. Divorce isn't synonymous with failure.

Miserably sticking it out forever, becoming bitter is not the solution anyone advocates.

Are you getting professional counseling? Do you have a support system both individually and as a couple? Is your support system doing more than saying, "he's an asshole!"?
Posted by nocutename on August 22, 2012 at 12:16 AM · Report this
I am not unsympathetic to her stated philosophy, and might be a little more comfortable with her point of view, were it not for that whole "long bout with alcoholism" thing. How long a bout are we talking about, here? Years of unaddressed alcoholism? Decades? At a certain point I feel less like we're talking about a woman who is willing to forgive human foibles and more like a woman who is willing to put up with more misery than any healthy human should be expected to do--which then casts her views on other such foibles (like infidelities) in a different light.
Posted by lulubelle on August 22, 2012 at 6:48 AM · Report this
I'm with 25 and 32.

There are a lot of monogamous marriages I would not want to emulate. Happens there are a lot of nonmonogamous ones I would also not want to emulate. The duchess seems to have one of those. (Questions that arose: this doesn't sound like the statement of someone who didn't mind her husband's affairs. And if they were discreet, how come we all know about them?)

I also conclude the book is about nonmonogamous marriages. Confession: the nonmonogamous series of letters was depressing, where I wanted to nod supportingly and feel all open-minded, but instead kept thinking 'Why do you go along with this when you don't seem happy?' Or in the case of the other woman, 'Would you not blither on about how great your older supervisor was to worry about your professional reputation before bonking you anyhow? Or about how he announced that his less experienced wife--who doesn't seem to, um, have a lover in your telling of things--needed to have an open marriage so she could experience sleeping with more people, which by great karma meant he could now bonk the interns?'
Posted by IPJ on August 22, 2012 at 6:59 AM · Report this
@33 I am so sorry for you and wish you the best, and hope you are aware of the research that shows that infidelity has no correlation with prior relationship satisfaction. It just happens.

To others: note that the pain of infidelity is often the betrayal. Those of us in agreed upon relationships that can become open don't experience this, we will know ahead of time what's coming and, while it isn't always easy (what is in life?) there will be no betrayal, no breaking of trust.

That is what Dan is suggesting with people *considering* monogamish relationships, i.e. the possibility (not requirement) of being non-monogamous in the future -- and if the desire / opportunity does become strong, you can pre-talk and pre-plan what to do and handle it together.

Even joke about it. Or have dinner with your partner's lover. Or have three ways. Or don't ask don't tell. Or go to sex parties together. There are many permutations of monogamish -- none involve betrayal.
Posted by delta35 on August 22, 2012 at 7:41 AM · Report this
@37, 38, 39, 40-- thank you for your kind thoughts. Yes, we have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in therapy, including at one point, an individual therapist for all 5 of us. We have a couples therapist and my husband has a psychiatrist as well. (He's been diagnosed as bipolar as a result of all this.) I am not being a martyr; the consensus among our therapists is that we are among an elite minority who will likely make it through. I just feel that Dan has been so dismissive in his cheer leading of the real sincere effort it takes to stay married. A recent survey of more that 16,000 people who had ever been married revealed that among those people still in their first marriages, infidelity is present in only 10% of those. For the divorced, separated, and remarried folks, more like a third (it varies among groups) have infidelity in their marital history. If Dan wants to grow that 10% number, he should have something more to offer us than divorce is "such a bore."
Posted by sad in Chicago on August 22, 2012 at 8:04 AM · Report this
@44 "the consensus among our therapists is that we are among an elite minority who will likely make it through"

Do you want to make it through? Do you like him?
Posted by EricaP on August 22, 2012 at 9:54 AM · Report this
@45. It's complicated. I do like him. Not sure about love. But I work in the field of children and youth services and the data is pretty clear: kids are best off in a peaceful, 2-parent home. I am committed to see if I can provide that for them.
Posted by sad in Chicago on August 22, 2012 at 2:50 PM · Report this
@46, I'm glad to hear you don't hate him. If you want to talk more about this by email, you can reach me at

Posted by EricaP on August 22, 2012 at 4:33 PM · Report this
curtisp 48
#34 Yes sweetie, back in the olden days women who had affairs were thrown out and shunned. Hell, women whose husbands dumped them were also often shut out of the group. One woman I know lost custody of her kids because she had an affair after he started and continued a long term affair. That was in the early 80's. You know, back when marital rape was still legal in most places. Having lived on the other side of the pond I can tell you for a fact that the same bull shit applied over in nice old England. Even to charming rich people who make dumb generalizations about us Americans. Nice try kiddo but you really should not assume that people don't know what they are talking about when you know nothing about them.
Posted by curtisp on August 22, 2012 at 4:59 PM · Report this
[kids are best off in a peaceful, 2-parent home. I am committed to see if I can provide that for them.]

While I hope, Ms Sad, that you get what you truly want, whatever that may be, I could never sleep without highlighting that last sentence and a half and pointing out that, however good your intentions, such provision is beyond the capacity of one person. Best of luck to you.
Posted by vennominon on August 22, 2012 at 7:49 PM · Report this
@33 it can get better, if you still love him and vice versa, don't give up yet. One year is NOT a long time after an affair even if others think so. I think it's been.... 3-4 years? Since my husband cheated last time on me (I can't remember the actual date of the last time anymore, it's a milestone I finally hit sometime this summer and I am delighted!) and it's only now that it doesn't occupy most of my thoughts and make me ache all over. It is only within the last three month I can say it was worth it, and that I would do it again if I had to. It wasn't easy. We had ugly angry fights. I ran to the literal other side of the world to get away from him for six months. We separated for almost a year. There were complicated issues making me stay, which I cursed then and am grateful for now. But I just had to grieve a long time. And then one day it just didn't hurt so much anymore, and it got better and better every day.

Actually *stopping* the cheating helped though. If he hadn't I know we wouldn't still be together. We're sort of monogamish (threesomes are okay) and always were (which was a BIG part of what pissed me off and hurt so much) but his affairs had more to do with mental health issues which he finally worked on than anything else. Best of luck.
Posted by wendykh on August 22, 2012 at 9:11 PM · Report this
@50. Yes, I think one year probably isn't long enough and right now with the anniversary of everything blowing up, I am probably much more sensitive to it all. Unaddressed mental health were definitely a factor (see bipolar diagnosis above) and his taking responsibility for his mental health is among my requirements for remaining married, along with no more lying and cheating. And to give him credit, he has been working diligently to address the underlying MH -- and it's a substantial improvement.

He says he is passionately in love with me. My feelings are a lot more complicated. Your time horizon seems realistic ... And that's what I wish Dan would acknowledge.
Posted by sad in Chicago on August 22, 2012 at 10:38 PM · Report this
@49. Please sleep with an unblemished conscience. We are both working to make it a peaceful home. My therapist has noted that my husband's sincere efforts go far beyond the common experience in her practice. He has apologized to me and to our children and he has taken responsibility for his choices and is working to make amends. Still, and for lots of reasons which include the fact that the other woman lives on my street, it really hurts. That makes it hard for me to just move on. Thanks for your concern.
Posted by sad in Chicago on August 22, 2012 at 10:46 PM · Report this
@50/51, everyone's path is different. For myself, I chose to accept that the extramarital sex would continue, because otherwise I couldn't find my way to trusting anything he said. (And we've had setbacks on trust even so.) I'm at two and a half years out, but things got much better after a month or so. Apologies if I seemed to be lecturing; I can only speak to my own experience and what worked for me.

Posted by EricaP on August 22, 2012 at 11:58 PM · Report this
1. Post from a married woman talking about tolerating infidelity.
2. Dan's position (as usual) isn't gender-driven, but fairly simple: infidelity shouldn't necessarily be a deal-breaker in a relationship, i.e. it shouldn't inevitable, merely an option.
3. Mischaracterization of thread as only about women tolerating infidelity. (keshmeshi @22)
4. Accusation of misogyny (ABW@29). Sorry, but if we're going to go into "mis" words, isn't assuming that men said things they didn't say and saying that they are advocating things they didn't misandrist, not misogynist?

PS, keshmeshi: You might want to learn the difference between an illustrative example (which Ms. Mitford is) and a single example advanced as proof (which Savage didn't do).
Posted by seeker6079 on August 23, 2012 at 7:15 AM · Report this
nocutename @25 FTW. The Mitford girls and their families are excellent examples of the operation of received class privilege in wealthy English society: such massive benefits are far too valuable to lose over mere mis(heh)placement of genitalia. You don't, for example, get to know Hitler personally and be one of his biggest fans, and then be shielded from arrest and proper investigation when you return if you are just a Smith or Jones, as Mitford's sister was, or get your own private house in prison and an early release in wartime despite being Britain's most prominent fascist, as Mitford's brother-in-law was.
Posted by seeker6079 on August 23, 2012 at 7:16 AM · Report this
Tangent, but interesting: Documentary on Unity Mitford starts here:….

Posted by seeker6079 on August 23, 2012 at 7:23 AM · Report this
@32 I was unaware that Harold Macmillan threw out his wife and shunned her.
If Wikipedia is to be believed, he didn't. They stayed together despite her long-term affair.
Posted by seeker6079 on August 23, 2012 at 8:19 AM · Report this
Ms Sad - I'm glad it wasn't a Freudian slip. Best of luck.
Posted by vennominon on August 23, 2012 at 11:02 AM · Report this
@53. No offense taken, I assure you! On the contrary, I appreciate your compassion. Unfortunately for me, the violations were not confined to extramarital sex (see woman living on my street, use of our children to further the affair, etc.) and so the totality of the betrayal is what we are trying to overcome. That's not to say that the outside sex was trivial in its impact either.

@58. Thank you.
Posted by sad in Chicago on August 23, 2012 at 4:15 PM · Report this
One DOES wonder why people bother getting married at all considering how likely it is they will need to divorce. Divorce is exhausting, expensive, and leaves a sense of betrayal in its wake yet people choose to marry each other, often they marry several times, sometimes to the person they just divorced.

One thing is clear. Tolerating the differences in another person and not freaking out about how their behavior reflects on YOU all the time is an interesting relationship saver. I'm not talking to people getting their asses beaten or compromising their own core values (neither was Dan, btw).

Perhaps less about affluence, misogyny, or "the changing times" and more a question of "is marriage a contract and if so could you keep the contract simple and balanced enough that it works for the people engaging it?"

Posted by totallycarey on August 24, 2012 at 8:53 AM · Report this
The Mitford family once had a rather enormous transatlantic fight about a photograph album. I can see how staying married might be preferable to another of those.
Posted by Eirene on August 24, 2012 at 1:48 PM · Report this
@54 I don't see your #3 as a mischaracterization. Historically, women have HAD to tolerate infidelity and men have not had to tolerate it. They have almost always had options not available to women, such as chucking her out, living independently, etc. etc.
Posted by DRF on August 26, 2012 at 5:10 PM · Report this
I wasn't talking about history, I was talking about this discussion. keshmeshi's comment was in the context of this discussion, and so was a mischaracterization. Pointing out that if we'd been having a different, wider discussion then it wouldn't have been a mischaracterization means exactly zilch.
Posted by seeker6079 on August 27, 2012 at 7:52 AM · Report this
I have to agree 7. And yeah maybe people do jump the gun when it comes to infidelity. But just because someone sticks out doesn't mean it's the right choice or their doing it for the right reasons. Just as if someone leaves it doesn't mean it's the wrong or they're doing it for the wrong reasons.
Posted by msanonymous on August 27, 2012 at 5:26 PM · Report this

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