When I published my post I Had an Affair and I’m Not Ashamed, I received a lot of hate mail. One friend posted on my Facebook wall about her husband’s infidelity and then promptly unfriended me. Another spoke of how her cheating father had left a trail of destruction she still had trouble forgiving.
I understand that affairs can cause deep pain and horrific memories. I am not discounting another’s experience for one second. But the way we handle the real or imagined unfaithfulness of our partner perhaps needs unpacking and re-examining.
When our partner cheats, instead of reaching for our coats, perhaps it might help to first consider the following points.
You Can’t Control Someone Else
In any relationship we like to think that we can influence the other person’s actions. I don’t believe this is possible. People behave the way they do for a variety of reasons, and although they may pause to consider another’s feelings or opinions, in the end they mostly think primarily about themselves.
When we stand at the altar and pledge life-long commitment and fidelity, we push back against our inability to exert control over our partner. We trick ourselves into believing that public promises will be harder to break.
Sadly, this is a fantasy. If we find ourselves with someone naturally monogamous, it is the result of our partner’s preferences, not because of his/her vows. And not only that, if such a marriage lasts a lifetime, it is because our partner hasn’t changed his values over the years.
On the other hand, if we find out our partner has cheated, maybe we shouldn’t damn them for being morally bankrupt, but instead recognise that our partner simply prefers non-monogamy. Once we take away the righteous indignation and blame from the situation, we are better equipped to make rational choices and decisions.
Monogamy is a Social Constraint
Monogamy became the lynch pin of marriage in times where there was no such thing as contraception. A good wife should stay virginal before marriage and faithful afterward so her husband knew he was only supporting his own biological offspring. Similarly, an ideal husband was not out fathering multiple children and being distracted by competing demands on his time and money.
Nowadays, we are free to have sexual relationships without fearing pregnancy and yet the coupling of marriage and monogamy still remains. Some would argue that monogamy is unnatural and only earned its status as morally superior because of our social history.
Is it possible to see monogamy as an archaic tradition which might not be the best choice for everyone, for ever, in every situation?
Unconditional Love Has No Conditions
Unconditional love demands that we love others not matter how they behave. It would seem to me that marriage should be the cornerstone of unconditional love — and yet we demand that our partners practice unwavering monogamy in order to deserve our love. Once someone is unfaithful, many people pack their bags and walk away citing cheating as the “deal-breaker”.
Perhaps modern, grown-up, mature love is unconditional, even in the face of non-monogamy. Of course, you are entitled to uphold your personal boundaries, but it doesn’t hurt once in a while to ask yourself why you hold the values you do.
Is Monogamy the True Metric of Love?
In an earlier post, I asked How do you know if someone really loves you? and of all the possible answers, staying sexually faithful wasn’t one of them. I know plenty of couples who are monogamous who can barely tolerate being in the same room, and couples who have open marriages who love each other fiercely.
The depth of a relationship should be measured in the gap between two people, not by how far away they are from everyone else. Every person is unique – my boyfriend cannot love anyone the same way he loves me, because I’m the only me there is.
If he has fallen (or falls) in love with someone else, it doesn’t diminish the love he has for me. Love is not finite, it does not get smaller the more it’s shared around, most of the time it gets bigger.
Over a lifetime, you have probably been intimate with more than one person, so technically you’ve practiced serial non-monogamy yourself. None of those relationships take away from what you have now with your partner.
Is there room in your heart to consider the possibility that your partner being with someone else doesn’t necessarily mean he loves you any less?
All Things to All People
In the past, we lived in large communities surrounded by family, friends and acquaintances. Our wide circle of relationships meant we had all manner of ways to have our intellectual, spiritual, emotional and physical needs met.
These days we live a more solitary life and we expect most of our needs to be met by our partner. What if that isn’t enough for you? What if that isn’t enough for him/her? What if needing to be your entire world has helped push him/her out into the world? Perhaps your partner has more needs than you can meet — do you not want him /her to be happy and fulfilled?
Enforcing the Rules
People come up with all sorts of rules about what constitutes cheating. Sending personal emails, playing Second Life, having a drink after work, flirting, touching, kissing … and the list goes on. Enforcing all these rules is exhausting and spreads the poison of distrust.
Creating and policing a list of banned behaviours makes them more rather than less appealing. There is excitement and delicious danger in breaking the rules. What would happen if everything your partner did was okay? I wonder if that would make him/her less likely to wander?
My boyfriend and I have abolished the rule book. I can flirt with, kiss, and sleep with whoever I want. And so can he. Curiously, so far neither of us want to.
Some Men are Dicks
It goes without saying that not all men are enlightened, mature, relationship ready beings. Some just wander around putting their penises into anyone and everyone. Such a man is unlikely to be giving you any of the things you long for.
He is probably not caring, affectionate, giving, open, vulnerable or supportive. His infidelity is just part of a litany of behaviours which cause you pain. If there is nothing else to salvage beyond his cheating, then you are better off alone.
Speak Your Truth
The only way to unravel the potentially catastrophic consequences of being cheated on is to communicate openly and honestly. This means being vulnerable enough to consider there are many different ways to make a relationships work. You may decide to stay, you may decide to leave, and you may decide to explore all the light and shade this event has brought out into the open.
I know quite a few people who have stayed with a partner who has been unfaithful. They haven’t just been forgiving or naïve, but they have completely redefined what it means to be in a loving, complex relationship. I applaud their courage.
The fairy tales of happily ever after tell us that love and sex belong together and anything kind of deviation from that is a cruel betrayal. But in the end, we get to choose what stories we believe, we get to decide how much of what we are taught is our personal truth, and we get to script our own dramas.
The only thing we can control is how we see the world. I believe it’s time to think about love, marriage and monogamy in a revolutionary new way.
Is cheating always wrong? Or is non-monogamy a viable choice in a relationship?