Marriage and the affair
Can an affair actually save a marriage? Helena Frith Powell argues for the continental approach to fidelity
I have a vivid memory of my grandfather sitting at the kitchen table, being consoled by my grandmother.
“What’s wrong?” I asked my father.
He looked up from his newspaper briefly and replied. “His mistress left him.”
I was 13 at the time and terribly shocked. Not only that he had a mistress (I mean imagine someone that old having sex with one person, let alone two?) but that my grandmother was consoling him. Surely she should be beating him around the head with a wooden spoon?
But this is not the way things work in continental Europe. My grandparents were Italian and very much of the “you can’t eat the same pasta sauce every night” school of thought. I have lived much of my adult life in France, where the attitude is the same.
Men have mistresses, they are even open about their existence, but they don’t let their dalliances affect the nuclear family. A recent survey on a French dating website found that 53 per cent of those asked say it is possible to cheat on your partner and still love them.
I was brought up in England and although it has taken me a while to come round to their way of thinking, I do believe the continentals have got it right. It somehow seems a much more mature approach to relationships. I would be more upset if my husband said he would rather go for a walk and long chat about life with another woman than slept with her. Viewing sex as just another sensual experience (along with eating, drinking, shopping and so forth) is better for marriages than seeing it as the be all and end all.
That is one aspect. Another is that there are instances where an affair can actually save a marriage. “I love my husband to bits, but we wouldn’t be together now if it weren’t for my fling,” a close friend of mine says every time someone brings up the topic of infidelity. A few years ago they were going through a terrible time. He was unemployed, and she was working like mad to support them and their three children. Unemployment didn’t suit him; he became irritable and resentful. He took out his frustration on her and she took hers out on a work colleague, but in a different way. “It was a phase,” she says. “I’m so relieved we didn’t split up.”
Helena Frith Powell is the author of The Ex Factor published by Gibson Square at £7.99
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019