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Husbands Who Cheat

Husbands who cheat — and wives who cheat — cause great harm for selfish reasons. A lot of them have made the news recently, in part because our strong reactions to such news help pull in viewers and readers.

Why do we have such strong reactions? Whether we want to see the harm avenged, can't abide public scrutiny of any private relationship, or don't believe such a commonplace act of selfishness warrants attention, almost all of us react with alarm to news of cheating spouses.

Maybe we react because of the clarity. Being unfaithful violates most folks' rules for a good marriage. Only two questions remain: what will be the penalty and who will impose it?

The rest of the time, the line between a good marriage and a failing one gets lost in the details. Fighting? Might be bad, but could be nothing serious if the ratio of positive to negative interactions exceeds 5 to 1. Avoiding fights? Might be good, could be bad if it prevents emotional intimacy or builds resentment.

Self-improvement or education? Could be great, might be the start of one partner looking down on the other. Self-sacrifice? Might cut off avenues for receiving love even more than it creates avenues for giving it.

We like cheating, because we know where things stand. We know who's guilty and who's injured. It would be unkind and unfair to bring up what happened leading up to the big transgression. No accumulation of small damages justifies this huge one.

So, we pay attention to the cheaters. And we allow ourselves to become smug in our partners' and our own faithfulness. If we're not actually enjoying the marriage, we assume there will be plenty of time to fix this, as long as neither of us steps out and cheats.

And then a well-known couple like Al and Tipper Gore, married more than 40 years, obviously in love with each other very recently, with none of the money problems the rest of us deal with, calls it quits.

It makes us so uncomfortable we have to speculate if they are lying about their fidelity.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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