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The Stupidity of Cheating

Some folks cheat on their wife or their husband to put one over on them, to win at some game of deception. They might get more sex, but they lose intimacy. You cannot feel close to someone you treat as your opponent. You cannot feel known by someone you must lie to. You cannot have a close relationship and one on the side.

Some folks cheat because they feel they deserve it. They continue to provide whatever they view as their spousal duties robotically, with no living, breathing relationship left. Then, perhaps because they have seen others do it before them, they take the lover they feel they deserve. Oddly, they seem surprised when neither partner is all that delighted to have access to only half of the man or woman they could be.

Some folks cheat because they want their marriage to survive. Ironic, no? Something huge is missing from their marriage during their spouse's illness, addiction, layoff, or pregnancy, and they figure if they can just get this from someone else, they can keep their marriage alive long enough for it to recover. Again, it does not work. When you add deception and divided loyalties to an illness, addiction, layoff, or pregnancy, ti makes recovery a lot more difficult.

Some unmarried folks join in, helping one spouse cheat on another. A few do it because they somehow expect a healthy marriage to emerge from such a compromised beginning. They feel certain the odds that apply overall do not apply to them. Others do it because they want what married people have without any of the risk of loss.

Unfortunately for them, tolerating the risk of loss is the only way to get what happily married people gain from their relationships, which is far more than sex or money. The other benefits include loyalty, protection, kindness, acts of service, the intimacy of being known and appreciated without any mask, synergy, shared goals larger than those you could tackle alone, shared memories, being part of two families instead of one, and opportunities for great personal growth.

To put these at risk by cheating on your spouse or to miss out on them by cheating with someone else's spouse? Pure stupidity. Happy people have good relationships.

Comments

Thank you so much for these excellent interpretations. This is going to be a great help when trying to talk some sense and emotions with my teenaged daughter who is having an affair with a 32-year old married guy. She knows she has "daddy issues" because my ex-spouse is a serial cheater, yet she seems to think her "boyfriend" is different. Famous words from Ann Landers - "If you marry a man who cheats on his wife - you marry a man who cheats on his wife" seems to have evaded her understanding that his "promises" of marriage when she finishes school are hollow.

Thanks, Diane. I really hope she sees the light before he jades her to love.

I have a question as a last resort on what to do. Brief explanation. My wife of almost 10 years has had an affair. Now because we are female it does change some things. I went through a 3 year depression where I let a physical injury dictate my life and my spirit. It put me in a state of depression I cannot explain. My wife had begged for help begged me to see the light and the damage I was causing. I however did not see it, until I was too late. We recently purchased a house ad that's when I started to feel alive again. However too late. She was involved with someone else that I found out about. I confronted her and at first was a lot of anger. She has a lot of anger towards me. She continued without my knowledge to see this person who she claims to need in her life. Now she is claiming it's just friendship nothin more. However still needs her in her life. She Blames me in ways of her affair. I didnt love her enough. This person showed her love again made her happy. She's not sure she can feel that way about me again but wants to try. But when I say try it's more just exsist and give me time. I have asked for couples therapy and nothing. I am in therapy for myself but I need my wife back. Any suggestions on how to be ok with this other person still being in the picture?

Nik, I rather doubt your marriage will be okay with this other woman still in the picture. But I also understand your all-too-human wife being reluctant to cut her loose yet. However, your wife CAN fall back in love with you, and that would make it a whole lot easier to do. And I have this sneaking suspicion that agreeing to buy a house with you was a sign she would like for this to happen.

(In a just world, she would be penitent and agree immediately to no further contact, because she promised you better. I don't deal here with what our partners should do, only what we ourselves can do. And it sounds from your comment like you have already figured me out.)

It is good you are in therapy. You will learn a lot you can use to improve your relationship singlehandedly and stave off future bouts of depression.

I have three other resources for you. The first is the Dear Peggy website, which is all about extramarital affairs and chock full of good stuff. The second is a book by John Gottman and Joan DeClaire called The Relationship Cure, which will teach you better ways to bid for your wife's attention and respond to her bids for yours. The third is this blog, in particular these posts about feeling love again:
Flow and Your Marriage
Micro-Moments of Positivity Resonance
Learn Marriage from the Experts

I hope you find these helpful in your quest to woo your wife a second time.

Nik sent me some more information and questions by email. I want to share my reply here:

I have seen no research on the subject, but I have personally heard many stories of people on the verge of abandoning someone they still love -- because they simply don't know how to make the pain in their relationship stop -- fall into an affair as a way to relieve the pain long enough to hold onto the person they love. If they are lucky, they find someone else taking the same stupid approach for the same reason and not someone who will want to stay with them.

Unfortunately, it's a lot like painting yourself into a corner in your hurry to get the floor painted. There is no easy way out. It takes honesty to restore the marriage relationship, and honesty inflicts pain on the partner and shame on the one who took this ill-considered detour.

It also makes it a LOT harder for the one originally in pain to get resolution of the problems that were causing that pain, because now she is the pain-causer. And while she is on the defensive, it is a lot harder for her to get the perspective to see that some problems she attributed to her spouse may not belong to the spouse or be fixable by the spouse.

And yet, somehow, lots of these couples get back on track, and the cheater is highly unlikely ever to try cheating again or to remain close to the person with whom they cheated.

What it takes is to resume those daily moments of sharing positive emotions, one mind resonating with the other so that you both release oxytocin and stimulate your vagus nerves and feel felt. And you really cannot negotiate or threaten your way there, because in healthy, sustainable relationships, there are at least five of these positive, shared moments for every negative moment.

You have a choice. You are entirely justified to make ultimatums about this other woman or about couples therapy and to walk away if they are not met. But they may not be met, and the reason you would make them is generally not for justice, but to hold onto someone who means a lot to you -- with a lot less pain. And this gives you a lot in common with your wife. She was in great pain while you were depressed, and she chose a really dumb remedy for her pain. If you love her and want her in your life, ultimatums would be your dumb remedy. And so would "just existing."

Your other options are in the resources I listed for you.

And I know I have given you a lot to read, but I am going to suggest a couple more, if you want help dealing with your anger. One I am reading right now and have not yet finished, but it's brilliant. It's called Mindsight, by Daniel Siegel. It is a dense book with a strong research base. The other is a much easier read, so much so that I have read it three times already. It is The Art of Possibility, but Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander.

If you can let this anger pass over you like a wave, without lashing out, you will have much better opportunities for resolving the things that anger you once you two can again feel each other's love.

I hope you read my Author page about some of the pain I was dealing with and the anger I felt toward my first husband and what happened to make it clear he was not actually the source of my pain nor the one who could relieve it. In my second marriage, when I am in pain, I move in, get closer, find enjoyable things to do with my husband, and when my raw anger over my frustration subsides, I ask for what I want or ask his help in figuring how to get it.

Hi Patty, you seem very responsive to comments and I'm looking for some perspective. I've been married to my wife for nearly 16 years we have four kids. I converted to her religion before we got married. I have been happy to live the standards expected. My wife had a bit of a checkered past sexually; multiple partners and a child prior to our wedding. She has also dealt with some emotional issues. I still saw her as a sweet, virtuous woman and was willing to gamble on love. I adopted her daughter and we had 3 boys together. My life was always what I wanted. In the past three years things have gone south in our marriage. In 2010 her father died of cancer and that sent her already fragile emotional mind into a downward spiral. She started contacting ex boyfriends via facebook and text and even friended new male friends. I always trusted her and didn't think too much about it. About 2.5 years ago, she discovered some of my internet history with content objectifying women (NOT hardcore pornography). Anyway, she came in contact with a high school friend of my through her facebook account. He was trying to contact me. They ended up starting a relationship and met for lunch. She confessed this to me and confessed that their interaction turned sexual (no intercourse). She also told me she felt lost b/c of what she saw on my computer (though I never questioned her internet behavior). I felt horrible and was anxious to forgive and repair the damage done in our marriage. We went to marriage counseling and addiction recovery for pornography. After 6 months, she walked out of our last session of counseling. Time constraints forced the end of addiction recovery, but I felt we were making better efforts at communicating and spending quality time together. In the fall of 2013 however, she confessed an cyber sex relationship with an old male friend of hers complete with sexting, graphic images and videos. I was numb and wasn't sure what to do. While I was looking for my answer, she confessed she committed adultery with an old boyfriend of hers and was pregnant. There was my answer, I thought. Keep in mind, this boyfriend was one she was communicating with via text and email, though our counselor, bishop, and family told her to stop. Obviously she was seeing him periodically in person. My view of my wife flipped like a switch. I no longer wanted to be with someone who behaved like this. Well, she miscarried and have since tried to reconcile. I'm not interested, but I don't want to hurt my children or my financial situation. I've already filed for divorce, but am having a difficult time figuring out how to make arrangements work logistically. When I think about staying with her, I get a pit in my stomach of what that entails. Why should I have to get past what she did? Keep in mind she's been in personal counseling off and on throughout our marriage and I just don't think it has an impact long-term. She was seeing her former boyfriend during the time she was attending counseling in fact. If it weren't for the kids I would have removed myself from her months ago. I still want to, but I worry about how our kids will respond. They are 17, 15, 11, and 9. The older two know what she did and have said they would understand if we divorced, but I know they cannot appreciate the repercussions of a broken up family. All I wanted was a long, healthy marriage with a wife I can be proud of. How can I be proud of a wife that gave herself to another man and only by God's will didn't have his baby?

Hi, Ridge. I am so sorry that you find yourself in this miserable situation. It's a life-changer, isn't it?

It's always interesting to see what facts people offer up, because it often appears to me as an outsider that they already know the answer to the questions they ask and just haven't noticed yet.

Your question is, "How can I be proud of a wife that gave herself to another man and only by God's will didn't have his baby?"

I'm not sure what your beliefs about God might be, and I am surely not someone who can advise you on God's plan for you, but if God ended this pregnancy, what do you suppose His plan for everyone involved in this mess might be? And why do you suppose you chose these words to describe what happened?

Second, you state that you were "willing to gamble on love." We all do. That's why so many wedding vows include promises like "for better or for worse." Life throws us some huge surprises, and it's human to want to run from them. No one else can decide for you which ones to ride out and learn from and which ones to run from. But why do you suppose you chose these words to describe your decision to marry her in spite of some signs that it might be a challenging journey, including knowing she had slept with and gotten pregnant by another man?

Third, you say you "have been happy to live the standards expected" by her religion, then add that you spent time on the internet looking at other women as objects, and that time constraints forced the end of addiction recovery. In any case, have you considered whether soft porn is within the standards expected by your wife's view of your shared religion?

I ask these questions only because I suspect at some level, these statements reveal your thoughts on what you need to do now.

Let me add mine. As you might guess from the title of this blog, I invite everyone who wants a happier marriage to Assume Love. This does not mean pretend that sexting men and having unprotected sex with them are fine and dandy as long as she loves you. What it means is try on the notion that when she did these things she still loved you and was still the same sweet, virtuous woman you saw when you chose her. See if it offers up any alternative explanations for what happened.

When you're angry at or disgusted with your spouse, this can be hard to do. So I suggest you imagine you're watching a well-scripted movie about a family in which the wife does these things.

In the first few minutes, we see enough snippets of their life to understand that she is a sweet, virtuous woman in love with her husband and a bit fragile emotionally. We see her proud reaction to his decision to convert to her religion and live by it. We see her alone with her daughter before the marriage, then marrying, adding three sons, and raising them together. Therapy isn't making her any less fragile, but it's holding her together. She's not gotten any worse, despite four pregnancies and the work of raising four children.

Then her father dies. You don't mention whether she was Daddy's little girl, Daddy's sexually abused daughter, or still trying desperately to get Daddy's attention and approval. But the movie surely shows one of these, so we understand the impact of his death on her.

She responds by getting in touch with men who have exited her life in the past. Whatever she's getting from all this must feel good, because she starts reaching out to men she's just met, too. Maybe it's about her relationship with her father. Maybe it's about something she feels is missing in her marriage.

After a year or year and half of this, she discovers that while she's been searching for something that feels missing in her life, her husband has been spending his time and attention and their money to look at other women, women who are not grieving, haven't had babies, aren't trying to raise teenagers, aren't emotionally fragile, have been airbrushed to look younger and prettier than they really are, which is younger and quite possibly prettier than she feels she looks, and are play-acting that all they need in this world is her husband's erection.

The script writers and director attempt to convey the depth of her horror, which is quite possibly as deep as yours is now. She's been betrayed. She is now convinced she was never enough for him, is not pretty enough, not sexy enough, not pleasing enough for the man she loves. She's lost her father, and now she's discovered she also lost her husband some time ago.

His reaction? It's not that bad. It could have been hard core, but I don't do that.

The action picks up. One of his old friends shows up on her Facebook page. The perfect person to show her husband she's still desirable to other men his age. It goes too far, because she IS desirable to this new man, and it feels good. But she loves her husband. This was about reconnecting with him. So she confesses. She's evened the score, so it now feels safe to tell him just how much his behavior hurt.

They go to counseling. He goes into porn recovery. The way porn is created and marketed in this age of Big Data makes it pretty darn addictive and destructive, and he's willing to stop before it goes any further. There is hope for them. They both can feel it.

After six months of counseling, she is already involved with another old friend who appreciates her photos and videos and sexting. He's getting real-life porn, and he's getting it from her. She walks out of counseling.

He walks out on his porn recovery.

He thinks things are going better. She confesses to what she's been doing, making it clear they are not.

He's taking his time deciding what to do about this. It feels like she has no respect for him at all.

She's waiting.

She thumbs her nose at him, the counselor, the bishop, and her family, all of whom know she's involved by phone with another man now, an old boyfriend, someone she's had sex with in the past, someone who knows well how to seduce her. Things with her husband are pretty darn cold and uncertain right now. She's an easy target. She confesses the affair and announces she's pregnant. (Unless you saw evidence your wife really was pregnant, and not just testing your reaction to the possibility, you might want to leave this scene in the movie a bit vague.)

He's done with her. Files for divorce.

We've reached the movie's climax.

In the next scene, she tells him she's miscarried and wants to reconcile.

Remember, we're assuming for this movie that none of this was ever done because she's through with him, but in spite of or because she loves him. She wants things to be right between them, but they are not, even after six months of counseling. She's frustrated and angry. Her feelings about her father are now conflated with her feelings about her husband, because she's been trying since her father died to shake him up.

In the final scenes, everything becomes clear and they start over, building a new relationship in the ashes of the old one.

What is it that we learn about her behavior and her thinking that leads to this ending?

If you can answer that question, you will find your way back and get past the awful feelings you have right now that she was never sweet and virtuous, has no respect for you, and can't be trusted.

I cannot promise you that your worst beliefs about her motives are not accurate ones. But you won't be able to find any others to test them against unless you set aside your anger and your fears and look at the story arc from this different vantage point.

If the love is there, and you see it (from your front row seat that none of the rest of us have), and you can follow the path of her frustrated attempts to restore life before her father's death and her discovery of your interest in two-dimensional women, and you can see them as something other than disdain for you, you can find your way back.

And that, of course, is the easiest answer to your logistics problem. It's also the answer to, "How can I be proud of a wife that gave herself to another man and only by God's will didn't have his baby?"

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

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