The "Vows" section of The New York Times typically features romantic, heartfelt, and sweet wedding stories. At first glance, the story of Carol Anne Riddell and John Partilla appears to fit the bill: beautiful bride, handsome groom, lots of hugging. The adorable little children gathered around made the scene look "part Brady Bunch," wrote Times reporter Devan Sipher.

And then he added, " … and part The Scarlet Letter." Love had come, wrote Sipher, "at the wrong time" for Partilla and Riddell, who were already married to other people when they met, with five kids between the two couples. Partilla and Riddell met, actually, at St. Hilda's and St. Hugh's Episcopal Day School in Manhattan, where their children attended:

… [I]t was hard to ignore their easy rapport. They got each other's jokes and finished each other's sentences. They shared a similar rhythm in the way they talked and moved. The very things one hopes to find in another person, but not when you're married to someone else … Ms. Riddell said she remembered crying in the shower, asking: "Why am I being punished? Why did someone throw him in my path when I can't have him?"

Whether "someone" threw Partilla in her path or not, Riddell finally decided that she could have him after all, as the two left their families for each other. Partilla's take on the situation: "I did a terrible thing as honorably as I could."

So far, the story is sad but not earth-shattering; such betrayals happen all the time. What has readers riled up is its appearance in Vows, a longstanding feature meant to celebrate marriage.

Considering the "terrible" things that Partilla and Riddell had to do to get to their wedding day, this particular piece reads more like a denigration of marriage. True, there are the obligatory references to "distraught children and devastated spouses," but hey, it worked out in the end. They were "brave" for being so honest, or so they tell us. They're going to have "a big, noisy, rich life, with more love and more people in it," said Riddell. Love conquers all, right?

Most Vows readers didn't see it that way. As one commenter quipped, "Tell me again what the reason is for vows?" Several others speculated cynically on what would happen when the initial glow wore off and the couple's second marriage settled into the same sort of domestic routine as their first marriages.

That's the part that really caught my attention. As the author of a Christianity Today op-ed titled "God Loves a Good Romance," I'm on record as being all in favor of warm and mushy feelings in romantic relationships. But stories like this—even if some journalists actually think they are worth celebrating—remind us that feelings are only part of the equation. If they're going to survive and help build the relationship instead of tearing it down, we have to master them, not let them master us.

The commitment that married couples make to God and to each other means that they need to keep a guard on their hearts. Romantic feelings for someone outside their marriage should have made these two people back away from each other, not seek each other out.

In fact, Partilla recalls that when he expressed his feelings to Riddell, she jumped up and ran out of the restaurant where they were meeting. Five minutes later, she came back. If only she'd gone with her first instinct, two families might have been saved.

If the promises they had made to their original spouses meant anything to them, Partilla's and Riddell's feelings for each other would have been a danger signal leading them to work harder on their marriages. Instead, they chose the path that was easiest for them—which meant the path of heartbreak for the families who loved them.

I'm a fan of romance, but many of my favorite romantic stories, both in real life and in fiction, are about married couples, the ones who are still close and still romantic after many years because they chose to stick together and work on being close. It may take a lot of effort to get there—and it may look uninspiring to The New York Times—but the payoff is both unmistakable and beautiful.

As for Partilla and Riddell, now they get to try to build a marriage after demonstrating that neither one of them can be trusted. Good luck with that.

Gina Dalfonzo is editor of and Dickensblog. She wrote "The Good Christian Girl: A Fable" and "God Loves a Good Romance" for CT online, and "Why Sex Ruins TV Romances" and "Don't Think Pink" for Her.meneutics.