Is Adultery Ever Justified?

Many people offer theories explaining why adultery happens and what factors make it more likely. Some argue that monogamy is unnatural, therefore cheating should not be surprising. But theories can’t tell us whether adultery is right or wrong, because such judgments do not depend on explanations. Scholars can explain why it can be hard to stay monogamous, but we wouldn’t even try unless we had a reason to, and most of the time, that reason is moral.

Before we plunge into the morality of adultery, let’s agree on what adultery is. If we define it by what counts as cheating, we’re stuck, because different things imply cheating for different people. For some, it may be just sex, but for others it may include kissing or even coffee with another person.

Cheating is whatever one’s partner is uncomfortable with. Each partner has the right to set boundaries for what is acceptable, and the other person has no right to violate those boundaries. If you don’t like the boundaries your partner sets, then either talk about it or leave, but don’t stay in the relationship while doing things that you know will upset your partner. No one deserves that.

However it is defined in any relationship, most people—including ethicists—agree that adultery is simply wrong. Adultery involves the breach of a commitment, a broken promise by one person to be faithful to another (according to the boundaries upon which they agree), which is a basic violation of trust. It also usually involves deception more broadly, since the adulterer must sneak around his or her partner’s back. And as a result of the betrayal and lies—which are usually considered wrong in and of themselves—adultery simply hurts the other person, adding personal harm to general wrongfulness.

However, simply saying that adultery is wrong is not much help when it comes to specific cases. All the things about infidelity that make it wrong allow for exceptions themselves. Lying is wrong, but we can think of situations in which it may be justified, such as to save a life or to avoid hurt feelings. Promises should not be broken, but there may be cases in which something more important is at stake, such as an emergency. And causing someone pain is always bad, but sometimes cannot be avoided. There may be reasons to compromise a moral principle, but they have to be good reasons. This is the only thing that keeps us from rationalizing every bad thing we do—including cheating.

What kind of reason might justify violating a moral principle like fidelity? It has to be a more important principle, one that outweighs the first in the person’s judgment. The principles that tell us not to lie, break promises, or hurt people guide us to consider the feelings or interests of others, and are usually considered more important than simple self-interest. That’s why “because I wanted to” is never a good reason to do something wrong; as moral principles go, it’s awfully weak!

Nonetheless, there are valid moral principles that are self-focused, the most essential being that of self-preservation. As important as concern for others is, we have a responsibility also to look after ourselves, both physically and emotionally. If a person is in a horrible relationship, which he or she cannot leave for some reason (financial, perhaps, or concerning children), and feels an affair would help to endure the situation or perhaps get out of it, it would be hard to dismiss an affair as immoral out of hand. This is a case in which staying loyal to one’s partner comes at a greater moral cost—to oneself.

It is no contradiction to say that adultery is wrong in general, but there may be extraordinary circumstances that justify it. There’s a lot of room between “nothing is allowed” and “anything goes,” and sound judgment must draw the lines in between. It’s great to have firm moral principles, but only if we realize that sometimes the cost of sticking to them is too high—especially when that cost is a more important principle. Ethics can help determine what the principles at stake are, but each person must use his or her judgment to decide which ones are most important. And when it comes to using judgment, there is definitely no cheating allowed!

Health Tips for Women in Their 40s and 50s

No matter what your age, making mindful health decisions is important for your long term well-being. Many common diseases, including obesity, diabetes, and some forms of cancer, are directly related to our lifestyle decisions. Quitting smoking, consuming healthier foods and beverage options, increasing activity levels, and reducing added sugar intake can make a significant difference in your health throughout the decades.

In recognition of Women’s Health Week (May 11-18, 2014), here are tips on how to live well through each decade of your life.

If you’re a 40-something…

Your 40s are a critical decade. By the time a woman reaches her 40s she typically has many roles, such as mom, wife, caregiver, and working professional. As women age and their responsibilities and demands increase, they can lose themselves in the activities of their daily lives. The health decisions women make in their 40s don’t affect just them. Studies show that 80 percent of family health care decisions are made by women.

The decisions and habits from this decade set the stage for the next few decades for women and their families. To start, cut free sugars (adding to coffee/tea, desserts, orange juice, etc.) and salad dressing from your diet. Additionally, she recommends adding leafy greens and taking control of your metabolism by living a more active and mobile life.

These simple changes can make a large impact on both your health and your waist line.

If you are a 50-something…

Many 50-something women start feeling unlike themselves. But the good news is that the healthy habits you adopted in your 20s, 30s, and 40s will continue through to your 50s. If your health decisions weren’t as wise during those decades, it’s not too late. Start by being your own advocate. As a woman in her 50s, you’re not alone in the changes that are happening to your body. Speak up, and take advantage of the collective wisdom of your mother, sisters, or girlfriends who have been through it all.

You can also start by registering for a race. Whether it’s a 5k or a marathon, running can be a safe, healthy exercise. You won’t be alone either; this year approximately 1400 of Pittsburgh Marathon runners were women in the 50+ category. Regardless of your previous activity level, there are a number of resources available to assist you, including:

American College of Sports Medicine physical activity readiness self-exam
Training tips and techniques from UPMC Sports Medicine experts
PRIMA program for masters athletes

Regardless of your age, establish a relationship with your healthcare provider. The first time you meet your doctor shouldn’t be in an emergency. A physician is able to offer better treatment if he or she is familiar your needs and history. Additionally, having regular exams and annual check-ups are essential in maintaining good health and detecting any possible issues early.

To find an expert to fit your health needs, visit the UPMC website.