Question: Although married for over ten years and with kids, a man still has many intimate girlfriends. His wife knows about his affairs but chooses to live with them. With ‘consenting adults’ on all three sides, does such extramarital affairs break the third precept, which is to avoid sexual misconduct (including adultery)?
Answer: Yes. First, it is most likely that his wife is exasperated but gave in to the situation eventually, which means there was disrespect for personal commitment, thus breaking the third precept by him in the beginning. Second, just because there is resignation to an unwholesome situation by his wife due to any reason (such as wishing to keep the family unbroken) does not make continuation of the affairs any more harmless, wholesome or neutral.
Through such affairs, the fourth precept, which is to avoid false speech is continually broken too, as all three parties are most likely living a lie to everyone else, pretending to have healthy relationships when it is not the case at all. The kids are probably continually lied to as well. When they eventually realise the truth, they are likely to lose respect for all the adults involved to some extent, due to their lack of respect for personal relationships and truthfulness. As the breaking of precepts karmically leads to loss of peace of mind and to suffering sooner or later, they should always be upheld well after immediate repentance of wrongs done.