Cheating. What hurts the most – the act itself or the lying that comes after? Lying to your lover’s face – with a straight face. Lying to your husband’s face, to your wife’s face, to your best friend’s face (after you just slept with the love of her life) – without so much as a flicker of hesitation or a trace of guilt.
How do we survive relationships in which lying and cheating are the norm? Are we as oblivious to what’s taking place as we may appear on the surface? Have we become blinded by what we want to believe?
Do we shrug and accept what’s going on until it’s so blatant there’s no denying it?
You may call it cheating or infidelity. You may prefer euphemisms like an indiscretion, a slip, a mistake in judgment – because often that’s precisely what it is – certainly for the man or woman who doesn’t make it a habit of straying. You may bristle at the lying and cover up even more than the act itself.
Why this subject?
One-Night Stands, Hookup Culture, Secret Affairs
Don’t we live in a society that is preoccupied with sex and simultaneously, the demise of “the family?” Don’t we talk about, read, and watch stories that deal with one-night stands, hookup culture, and secret affairs that go on for years? Aren’t we fascinated by all the ways that relationships ebb and flow, not to mention tie us up in knots?
For the past several weeks as I’ve browsed movies and reruns in the late night hours, I’ve been amazed at how often story lines involve infidelity. There are the long-term (romanticized) affairs of course; I suspect this goes on more often than we realize. And likewise, the drunken night that all parties come to regret, the “midlife crisis affair” that seems to be about proving something, or a careless slip that one is hard-pressed to fully fathom much less justify.
And who hasn’t heard “I love my wife, she’s a good woman, but…” or some variation?
So where does the “professional” fit into this picture? What about Internet entertainments in which there is no physical touch? What about the serial cheater?
I have my own opinions on these topics; I’m certain you have yours.
Betrayed by a Bridesmaid, a Best Man, a Sister
Naturally, the more convoluted tales include a greater level of betrayal – a wife sleeps with her husband’s brother, a father sleeps with his son’s wife, a woman tumbles into bed with her best friend’s fiancé a week before the wedding, a sister carries on an affair with her brother-in-law.
In the best (or worst) of television land, there is a pregnancy that results and the months (or years) of wondering exactly who the father may be.
Shall we add the complications that arise when a bride finds out her new groom cheated with one (or more) of the bridesmaids? Or the new husband discovers that his wife got “carried away” with her ex only days before walking down the aisle, but maybe that shouldn’t count? Is this (so-called) art imitating life? The other way around?
I find myself recalling a reality TV show I watched many months ago, in which the 20-somethings insisted they loved their respective boyfriends and girlfriends, but that didn’t prevent one woman sleeping with her boyfriend’s best friend – not once, but twice. Nor did it prevent his sleeping around when he left town. Both lied about it, fought over it, looked each other in the eye and swore they hadn’t cheated… until finally, they admitted they had.
Then what happens to trust – whether the act “means nothing” or not?
Why Do Men and Women Cheat?
There are many articles on why men cheat on women – their wives, their girlfriends – on good women, whom they say they love, respect, cherish. There are somewhat fewer articles on why women cheat on men, though the marginal difference may only be my perception. Statistics tell us that women commit infidelity with almost the same frequency as men, as some sources cite 57% of men saying they’ve cheated in a relationship and 54% of women confessing to the same.
So what are the causes of infidelity – in marriage or other committed relationships?
Here’s a sampling you may find:
- Sexual dissatisfaction
- Emotional dissatisfaction
- Alcohol-fueled “slip”
- Distance (away from home “slip”)
- Retaliation over the partner’s affair
- Boredom with the current relationship
These are only a few of the reasons, and generalized. While I put sexual dissatisfaction at the top of the list, one of the studies I glanced at puts emotional dissatisfaction as their number one. For some of us, that makes sense. We can imagine physical relationships that originate in emotional affairs, or friendship. We understand the climate of emotional distance that may leave one partner vulnerable to seeking intimacy elsewhere.
Are these affairs the wake-up call that the relationship needs, or the straw that breaks the camel’s back?
How to Forgive Infidelity
The notion of cheating is only relevant when monogamy is part of the package, and both agree on its importance. For couples who believe that monogamy is a must, I offer no moral lesson here per se. Situations are too variable, and values are ultimately a private matter.
Some will say that there is no forgiving infidelity, that it is a breach that is irreparable. Others will say that it depends: reasons matter, the extent of the betrayal matters, understanding is possible, eventually. He (or she) who genuinely regrets it may be able to work his way back toward a place of trust – if both partners give that process time and effort.
We know how hard it is to sustain relationships these days. Any number of factors conspire to divide us, not the least of which is media telling us people are commodities.
Circumstances can wear us down (as can the years); we may lose something of ourselves as we age and seek to restore it (however we can); medical and mental health conditions may play a role (in the elasticity of affection); and stresses can build and take us away from each other emotionally (as we lose the healthy habits that held us together securely once).
Or, we may never have mastered those habits, and we discover them with someone else.
Do reasons help us forgive? Reasons, not excuses?
Few of us are perfect; I am no exception. Who hasn’t felt emotional dissatisfaction at some point in a long-term relationship, or been flattered by a source of external attention?
But trust, when its lost, will drive a wedge between partners in its absence. It is difficult to remove even when there is only the suspicion of infidelity, much less proof that it has taken place.
I can only imagine that the nature of the betrayal may play a role, as for some it is easier to move beyond the one-time indiscretion than the full-fledged affair, in part because of the depth of deception involved; it may be easier to move beyond the affair with someone we do not know, but not a close friend or member of the family.
You may tell yourself that what your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend doesn’t know won’t hurt them. So why risk breaking their trust? This reasoning may even be true, at least for a while. It depends on what you do and with whom; your reasons for what happens and how you’ve come to learn from them; what you perceive you have to lose; what you value and how you live it. And of course, how you would feel if the shoe were on the other foot.
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