Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Parenthood on Adultery

In episode 10, the adult children confront Zeek about his financial woes stemming from a bad real estate investment. For some reason, they do this in front of his wife Camille, who is predictably upset. In her anger, she reveals what we had long suspected: Zeek had an affair.

The show is remarkably honest about how the dynamics of this play out. Camille had turned a blind eye to the affair while she believed Zeek to be financially successful. But, a few years after the affair had already run its course, and Zeek is on the rocks financially, now the affair becomes her justification for putting him out of the house.

In an era in which no-fault divorce is a moral norm, obviously Camille can divorce Zeek for any reason or no reason. But to those who, like me, believe that adultery is a singular justification for divorce, I ask you: is there a "statute of limitations" beyond which an affair can't be considered the real reason for divorce, as opposed to a mere pretext?

7 comments:

Professor Hale said...

Short answer: yes.

I don't know where that line is. There is a point at which the injured spouse may claim he/she forgives the other... but it isn't really true yet. Until it is really true, the adultery can still be a mortal peril tot he marriage. But as some point, the injured souse accepts the adulterer back. Afterwards, it no longer counts.

Unless it happens again. Then it will be used to establish a pattern of bahavior.

I have seen the "unforgiveness" state fester for a few years before breaking the marriage and often something trivial brought it back to the front. But in reality, the adultery was still the primary cause. This situation looks a lot like the person who seeks divorce because of the financial hardship but points at a years-old adultery as the cause. Even though no-fault divorce exists in most states, most people still want there to be a clear fault and they want other people to know it wasn't their fault.

Elusive Wapiti said...

Adultery can be a bottom-line cause. It can also simply be a pretext for divorce if it needs to be. And in the absence of such misconduct, evidence will simply be made up.

If a person wants out of a marriage, some offense, real or imagined, will be cited.

Professor Hale said...

The best defense of no-fault divorce is that it removes the incentive for people to falsify a legal cause to get what they want. But it turns out, that for cultural reasons, many people still feel the need to have a justifiable cause, even if they have to make one up. This way, they can feel good about their choice.

trumwill said...

I don't watch Parenthood, so I can't make any judgment on Camille and Zeek. I think that largely, though, it depends.

If he infidelity had been hashed out before, most of the time I think that there is a statute of limitations of sorts. Particularly if he came clean about it. However, if it's one of those things that has been simmering under the surface, and that he allowed to simmer under the surface, that's different. It's an explosion that's liable to occur at any time.

Another thing is whether it's part of a larger pattern that has resurfaced. If a guy cheats again, previous indiscretions are fair game whether they've been forgiven or not. But even if he didn't cheat, if it's part of a pattern of selfish behavior on his part or a pattern of failing to take the marriage seriously, I think it's fair ball long after it's occurred.

Grey's Anatomy had a similar but different dynamic. The hospital's chief cheated on his wife many years ago. When he refused to retire as promised, his wife left him citing both his refusal to retire and the infidelity which he never knew that she knew about. I didn't consider that foul ball even though it was decades past in part because it was something that had been simmering, in part because it was part of a larger pattern of selfish behavior on his part, and in part because it was being used to modify his behavior (to get him to live up to his promise to retire) rather than simply something put out there to make him the bad guy.

Φ said...

The aggravating circumstance was that the affair took place in the context of Zeek's initial involvement with this particular investment. (Exactly how was never specified.) My impression was that the adultery had never been hashed out, although Zeek didn't seem especially surprised that Camille knew about it.

On the other side, though, Camille turned out not to be a model of chastity herself. But they seem to reconcile at the end of the season.

One of the unrealistic aspects of the show, to my mind, is the way the family enjoys upper-middle-class resources while exhibiting lower-middle-class behaviors. For instance, all four grown siblings live within drop-by distance from their parents. Daughter Sarah was the only one who spent any time away, and also the only one who suffered economically. I'm pretty sure that very few professionals manage to pull this off in the real world unless they live in a megalopolis like, say, Atlanta or Dallas, or join the family business.

Sheila Tone said...

Well, you need to think of the affair as being linked with him making money. She was willing to accept a money-making affair. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a money-losing affair. When she found that out she dumped him.

Φ said...

Sheila: exactly. But if the variable here is the money and not the adultery, then divorce becomes ethically problematic in a way that it otherwise isn't.