In many cultures love is typically a very complex emotion and love between adults (unless it is a platonic relationship) implies that there will be both romance and (physical) passion to some extent. Without the absence of one, it is not considered to be a wholesome relationship. In fact the concept is so powerful in the western world that it might actually be responsible for the sad state of relationships today. Every one out of two marriages in the United States ends up in divorce. Millions of couples do not wish to marry or delay their marriages for as long as possible. Millions of other couples are leading dull and unexciting lives. Europe is supposedly even worse with fewer couples opting to marry or have children.
While it would be scandalous to say that the institution of marriage may be falling apart (we will be told by advocates of marriage about countless studies suggesting that married people are happier, ride the corporate ladder faster, blah blah...), it is definitely an issue that has gotten the attention of the authorities. Reportedly the US Government is so concerned that it wants to 'promote' marriage. The reason for this sad state of affairs is that the concept of love (with its implications that romance, passion, friendship, emotional support (Emotional intimacy), and of course the role of parents for their children) continues to emphasize that all this has to be achieved through one person. Thus, how many times have we heard that the mother who is taking care of the kids is not the passionate woman she used to be in the bedroom. Or the husband is not your best friend any more. Or the wife is no longer attractive and there is no passion left.
While we do not think that Japan has the solution to all the problems of the world but it is helpful to look at the system in Japan with still a very low rate of divorce (current estimate puts it at half of United States though it has almost doubled during the period 1991-2001). Joint families are very common and there are very few instances of child abuse/foster parents/single parents, etc. However, adultery is far more common, though no one would ever admit it since there are not too many magazines doing surveys on infidelity.
How do the Japanese handle the situation?
The Japanese society understands that romantic and passionate love might not always be provided by the same person. In fact, Japanese language has two separate words to distinguish between passionate love ('seiai') and romantic love ('renai'). For centuries, men and women have had very different ideas of what they want from each other but the American society has refused to accept the reality and instead keeps pushing us to love our partners - get everything that we want from one person even if that is not what the other person really wants. Japan has taken a totally different view - it has clearly recognized the differences between romantic and passionate love and admitted to the possibility that both may not be received from the same person. Thus, for centuries, it has been accepted that in case there is something missing in a couple's life, it is perfectly reasonable to accept that each partner has the right to go seek it elsewhere. This does not mean that the couple's relationship is jeopardized or a divorce needs to be contemplated or the couple should start fighting - something that happens almost immediately in the rest of the world. In fact Japanese have a very mature attitude towards this - they respect the right of the other partner to have a level of privacy that would allow him/her to go seek what is missing without necessarily sharing it with the rest of the world.
The Japanese society has also put a system in place that allows both men and women to indulge in whatever is missing in their lives - there are all kinds of institutions and providers of services and almost all of them have a level of privacy that the rest of the world would envy. More importantly, it is how the overall society treats these institutions and practices.
Are we suggesting that you should adopt these practices wherever you live? Maybe not! But this is what we would say - if there is something missing in your life then you need to have a serious conversation with your partner and let her/him know if the Japanese option is something that can be considered as a solution if she/he is either incapable/unwilling/uncomfortable with the idea.