John views a good marriage as supporting his wife by making sure she has a house and nice clothes. Anne views a marriage as a partnership where two people talk and spend time with one another.
By all accounts, Anne and John have a loveless marriage. John believes that by working hard on the farm and sacrificing, he is providing Anne what she needs in a husband. Anne thinks differently.
There was in his devotion a baffling, insurmountable humility that made him feel the need of sacrifice... That by his sacrifice he succeeded only in the extinction of his personality never occurred to him.
Anne is lonely. She feels she cannot talk to John. She feels isolated in the farmhouse all alone, even though all farmer’s wives are alone all day. Anne throws her energy into chores like painting the bedroom door. She is trying to paint over her insecurity, and her loss of faith in the marriage.
In the end, she does not succeed and she cheats on John with her old flame Steven. What Anne wants in a marriage, Steven provides. At one time, she danced with Steven five or six times, but “John never danced or enjoyed himself.” Steven, on the other hand, has “attractive qualities” like smiling. Steven is arrogant and “companionable,” everything John is not.
Anne decides that fidelity is childish, and chooses to spend the night with Steven.