Is Lust Ever Worth Breaking Up Your Marriage?

"Regrets. I've had a few," Frank Sinatra crooned in his famous song. But how often do people regret their divorces?
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"Regrets. I've had a few," Frank Sinatra crooned in his famous song. But how often do people regret their divorces?

Even thrice-married Donald Trump once revealed to a former employee that he wished he didn't detonate his 15-year marriage to Ivana Trump by having an affair with -- and later marrying -- Marla Maples.

According to the New York Post, Maples' former publicist, Chuck Jones, recounted a conversation he had with Trump before his divorce from Ivana was final. "I think it was lust ... and had I the opportunity to do it over, I would have stayed with my family," Trump reportedly told Jones.

The wake-up call that Trump speaks of often happens when people realize how the split will affect their family -- but it's likely too late. The momentary high from being with someone new often blinds people to the realities of what life is after divorce, especially when kids are involved.

Still, it has to be satisfying and simultaneously heartbreaking for Ivana Trump to hear her errant husband acknowledge that he may have made a mistake.

Celebrity divorce attorney Raoul Felder believes that many people -- like Trump -- regret breaking up their marriages for lust. "You exchange boredom for lust, and the end result is that you end up sharing nothing with the new person except bouncing around on a bed. Your life gets more complicated and certainly not easier," he told me.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard clients say, "If I only knew what this involved, I may have not rushed out of my marriage."

Part of the problem is that the media focuses on hot, passionate sex. Couples feel that if the heat isn't blazing in their bedroom, that their marriage is dull, diluted and unfulfilling.

I am not saying that lust isn't an important component of a relationship. That pulse-quickening, heart-beating passion makes you feel alive. But it must be put into context when you are considering breaking up for someone else. Lust makes you impulsive.

As my colleague Dr. Mark Banschick, a psychiatrist and author of The Intelligent Divorce, observes, "Lust is a binder and intimacy maker early on when you have little else holding you together. But the muscles and bone structure of a long-term relationship are formed by compatibility and history. You can't replicate the wife being there for the father's illness, the birth of a child, the small funny moments on a Sunday morning, the disappointments you've worked through, the family birthday parties. People will miss the history if it's just about lust."

That's why it's best to wait before making rash decisions. So many leave their marriages too quickly because they are intoxicated by the sugar high of a new relationship. When the high is over, what are you left with?

As Dr. Bonnie Eiker Weil writes in her book, "Make Up, Don't Break Up," only 7 percent of people who separate end up getting back together; the pain of rejection shatters so much trust. Spurned spouses ask, "Are you no longer in love?" If the cheating spouse is deluded by the thrill and excitement of an affair, he or she may truly believe they are no longer in love. Thus starts the spiral toward divorce, and the spurned lover may feel that he or she must end the relationship out of respect for themselves, instead of realizing that their spouse may not be rational at this moment in time.

It would be more productive if the spurned spouse asked, "How can we bring back that fun and playfulness into our relationship?" This is why many therapists and coaches like myself try to help couples in crisis by summoning memories of their initial attraction and using them as a way to reactivate connections.

Sheila Weber, executive director of the Let's Strengthen Marriage Campaign, believes that many couples throw in the towel too early. Looking outside of themselves for excitement, they are susceptible to affairs that have long-lasting consequences.

"Of course, there are cases where marriages cannot survive the destruction of addiction, abuse or chronic infidelity," she says. "But if you look at the research of sociologist Linda Waite from the University of Chicago, two-thirds of unhappily married spouses who stayed married reported their marriages were happier five years later. When couples work on themselves and their relationship, they can often jump the hurdle of conflict and eventually land on the happier side where there is a safe haven in which to raise children and the comfort of life-long companionship."

Maybe as a culture we have to better manage expectations about the ebbs and flows of passion in long-term relationships and place even more importance on history and compatibility -- we vs. I, hot sex vs. warm sex. After all, as comedian Carl Reiner said, "Lust is easy, love is hard, like is most important."

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