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March 20, 2009

Romance and Infidelity

Yesterday my post was about flaws and faults in heroes. One flaw I didn’t mention in my post was that of infidelity.

Infidelity is a real hot button when it comes to romance readers. Some people have experienced infidelity in real life, and betrayal of this nature isn’t something they want to read about for relaxation. Personally, I don’t think romance and infidelity fit well together. I mean how can a book be a romance if it’s about infidelity? It doesn’t seem right at all.

One of the writers I use to critique with said up front that she wouldn’t critique or work with me on any story where one or both of the characters were unfaithful to each other. It was a hot button for her.
If a plot does use infidelity, it usually happens off stage and is part of the hero or heroine’s back story. Or it’s a subplot that occurs in the life of a secondary character.

For example with Scarlet Woman, the first book in my Middlemarch series, my heroine was in a bad marriage where her husband was constantly unfaithful. He cheated on her several times. Just before the start of the book, her husband had died in a motor vehicle accident along with his current girlfriend. Her husband’s death was the impetus she needed to make some changes in her life. She wanted to have some fun and met Saber Mitchell at the Middlemarch Single’s ball. Things went from there. Of course, her husband’s infidelity made it difficult for her to trust Saber and to take a chance on their relationship.

Despite my thoughts above about romance and infidelity, I’ve been toying with using infidelity as part of a plot for a book that’s been swirling around inside my head. I know if I go ahead, I’ll have to give my character excellent motivation and try to make my character sympathetic to readers. A tall order, which is making me hesitate about using this particular subplot. I’ll have to give it a lot more thought.

What do you think about infidelity and the romance genre? Would you read a romance where one of the characters was unfaithful? Can you think of any romances you’ve read where the hero or heroine is unfaithful to the other?


  1. Amy Gallow

    I can’t remember whether it was Tahiti of Hawaii that had twenty-seven different forms of infidelity defined by native custom, but, even in our society, infidelity covers a gamut of situations that range from hiding the size or your pay packet (or expenses) from your partner, to full blown extra marital affairs in the bedroom and other places.
    Assuming it is the latter, I find it easier to understand than condone and would find it difficult to weave realistically into a romantic tale that ends in committment if either of the pair were the guilty party.
    I guess I’m a little old fashioned?

  2. Christina Phillips

    I would prefer the hero and heroine remained faithful to each other once they’d got together, otherwise I’d be forever wondering if they’d stray again in the future.

    As for the negative traits for heroes in the previous post, one trait a hero *can’t* be without as far as I’m concerned is a great sense of humour!!!

  3. Leah Braemel

    I think infidelity has to be done really well. The only instance I can think of it working is “Sleeping with the Enemy” where Julia Robert’s husband is the ultimate control freak who dictates every aspect of her life and she has to fake her own death to get away from him. Other than that? I think in Romancelandia it’s an extremely fine line to tread and editors don’t like it. (One of my critique partners had a ms turned down because even though the heroine thought her partner was dead before she got involved with the hero, the editor felt it was infidelity and wouldn’t accept it.)

  4. Amy Ruttan

    I prefer Heroes and Heroines that are faithful to eachother.

    Connie Mason’s earlier books had some infedility issues. One in particular was set in colonial Australia. I think is Bold Land Bold Love, but don’t quote me. It was the first book, and he totally married another woman even though he loved the heroine. He had sex with the said woman, but didn’t enjoy it. He didn’t connect with her or give her any pleasure.

    He just did it once out of duty.

    But that didn’t sit right with me, especially after he kind of forced the heroine (who was an indentured servant) into the sack.

    Then again I look at the time it was written. It was the early eighties and those were the plots of the classic body rippers.

    You’ve got your work cut out for you.

  5. Amy Ruttan

    Not forced, like not rape, but you know kept trying to seduce her. That’s what I meant to say.

  6. Fedora

    Oy… Hot button for me, too–it would have to be explained really REALLY well for me to even possibly be OK with either the hero or heroine being unfaithful and even then… I’d almost prefer the longs-for-new-person-but-doesn’t-touch, then oops, the existing partner does something that gets him/herself completely out of the picture. Urk.

  7. Voronda

    I would not read a romance were the woman or man was cheating. That is not my idea of romance. Sneaking around, cheating, I would rather leave that to the real world. I read romance to be taken away from reality not to experience it in my reading for pleasure.

  8. Jory Strong

    Infidelity on the part of the hero/heroine (in a romance story) is a definite no for me. I wouldn’t knowingly buy a book that had it, and if the author was new to me, I probably wouldn’t pick up any other story they wrote.

  9. Kaye Manro

    I’m such an incurable romantic! I like to escape inside romance to get away from bad stuff that happens in real life. But if a writer is really good, and there are good reasons for infidelity– such as a writer with 30 books under her belt– it could work.

  10. Shelley Munro

    Amy G – that’s interesting about the native customs.

    Christina – I agree about the sense of humor. I think it’s important to be able to laugh and see the funny side of things.

    Leah – having been on the negative side of a similar editor decision, I can sympathize. Mine wasn’t infidelity, it was because the pub co thought a step-sibling romance, even though they were not related and had not grown up together, was too close to incest. I guess lines need to be drawn somewhere.

  11. Shelley Munro

    Amy – author execution and the plot circumstances make all the difference between a book a reader will actually read or fling at the wall. Also, as you say, this was an older book and times change. I have to say, from what you’ve mentioned, I’d have a lot of sympathy for the wife.

    Fedora – I hear you. The plot I’m thinking about will be a minor strand and features cyber-sex rather than face-to-face. I actually think cyber-sex is infidelity – that’s my opinion – which is why I’m thinking hard about what I’m going to do with this particular plot. Oh, and it’s not with any of my current series…just in case anyone is wondering!

  12. Shelley Munro

    Voronda – When infidelity is the main thrust of the plot it becomes another genre because it’s not a romance. That’s my opinion anyway because I think romance should have a happy ending with total commitment.

    Jory – as I said, this is a definite hot button for most people. I can’t think of a book I’ve read where infidelity has played a part in the plot. I’m not saying I wouldn’t read one, but the characters would need to have REALLY good reasons for the betrayal.

  13. Shelley Munro

    Kaye – author execution would be the key. It would be a challenge, that’s for sure. I think it would also depend on the publisher as well. Most publishers would be wary about publishing a romance featuring infidelity.

  14. Fedora

    Shelley, I think so too–I really think that the cheating isn’t limited to physical contact with someone else–it’s any way in which you’re giving yourself meaningfully to another person when that emotion or heart or devotion or body should be reserved for the person you already promised it to. Anyway, keep us posted! ;)

  15. Sandra Cox

    You’re taking on a challenging subject, but if anyone can pull it off, you can, Shel.

  16. julia

    I agree that an infidelity storyline turns things into regular fiction, rather than romance. In romance, there has to be trust between the hero and heroine, and infidelity guarantees no trust.

  17. Debby

    I would prefer fidelity but can accept the infidelity if the spouse is cruel

  18. Nancy Henderson

    I agree with Christina Philips. If they stray when they’re together, I wouldn’t trust them in the future.

  19. JK Coi

    This topic is such a volatile one for a lot of people. I don’t think that readers look for infidelity in their romance novels as a conflict, mostly because it makes for some sticky happy ever afters. But I have seen it done well once or twice, and the story was enriched by the hard dose of reality.

  20. Amy W.

    I don’t know if I’d like it or not. I lean toward not but it could work if really well written. I did read one romance I liked where the guy was unfaithful to his wife, one of the Calder series by Janet Daily, and it worked there. She made the wife out to be the bad guy and so you were okay with it after the hero fought and struggled against his feelings, after all she betrayed him first. Best of luck with it.

  21. Shelley Munro

    Thanks for all your comments. It’s certainly a subject where people have definite opinions. Like all of you I have a definite lean toward no. I also have this part of me that likes a challenge so we’ll see. And I just want to reassure you all that I would never write a book where infidelity was the main part of the plot because that isn’t a romance and it isn’t romantic.

  22. Gabriele

    It would be a Pack Your Things and Leave issue in real life, but I don’t mind infidelity in books. It’s only fiction, after all. :mrgreen:

    And in historical times where marriages were arranged, I can’t blame either man or woman for getting their fun elsewhere. So yes, my characters cheat (but then, I’m not writing Romance with an R). :wink:

  23. Ashley Ladd

    It all depends how it’s handled. Especially if it happened far in the past, and handled well now, I could handle it.