Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Infidelity: Should It Always Equal the End?

When I was much younger, the world seemed very black and white to me. Some things were wrong, and you were bad/immature/unwise if you did them. Over time I realized that life and people aren't as clear cut as I wanted them to be. I learned that people are going to let me down. We're all imperfect and are going to disappoint each other and make horrible mistakes. I know I've done things and said things that I never thought I would. Still I thought cheaters were a special class of awful. A lot of experiences have changed my condemnation of the unfaithful, including personal experiences and a better understanding of my faith. Oddly, one of the first things that changed my view was the movie The Bridges of Madison County

So anyway, today AM and I were chatting and cheating was a topic of conversation. AM and I both agreed that cheating in a dating relationship should signal the termination of said relationship. In my mind, there's just not enough of a commitment there to warrant the effort/therapy/heartache. There's also a part of me that thinks that if you'll cheat on me when we're totally still in the new-exciting phase and I'm not that old, then you'll really have a hard time staying in line when I'm old and have had a couple of kids.

Marital infidelity, however, is different in my mind. I would hope that despite the betrayal, anger, and sadness, I would not automatically end my marriage if my spouse cheated and wanted to attempt to repair the marriage. I've seen the type of despair that infidelity causes, but I've also admired the people I've watched who tried to keep their family together. And yes, I've seen some of those same people ultimately get a divorce, but they had the peace of mind that they tried to save their marriage and did everything they could to fulfill the commitment they made. While the commitment of marriage makes the discretion worse, it also warrants more reflection than "you cheated, it's over." Granted, a spouse who isn't remorseful, isn't willing to try, and/or had so many affairs it's clear that he'll never change, may result in little reflection being needed. In short, life isn't as simple as I once tried to make it, and the dissolution of a marriage requires at least as much thought and prayer as any other major decision, regardless of the why. There are a lot of other caveats I want to throw out, but I'll resist. So here's the question: would your reaction to cheating in a dating relationship be different than your response if you were married and why?


PeeJ said...

IMHO it always means the end, full stop. Either because things are never the same afterwards, no matter how much you decide to try and make a second go of it - or there's the constant nagging feeling of guilt, and also the questioning and reasoning why one was an infidel in the first place, if something was inherently broken then why would trying to gloss over it fix it.


Aaron said...

A cheat is a cheat is a cheat.

Having been burned more than once by a cheat, I'd have to say it's over. Forgive != forget. Trust is hard to come by and to repair that after it's broken is twice as hard.

I'd like to believe that I could repair a marriage after infidelity, but I doubt it. It'd certainly plant a seed of dissent that I'd be hard pressed not to nurture over time.

Allen Madding said...

From my personal experience...a spouse cheats on you. Until this point you had unwavering trust in them. You try to put it behind you and move on. But now, they've shaken your trust, so if they go to the grocery store and are gone 3 hours instead of 1 hour you have to wonder. They're late getting home from work, you wonder. Then they are all ill with you because you don't trust them (GO FIGURE).

The lack of trust spawns a whole new level of missing intimacy.

They cheat again. You try to move on past this one. They decide they missed a whole chapter of life by not living on their own and sewing their wild oats.

I'm thinking the hurt would have been less if things had of been ended after cheat #1, but who's to say? All I can tell you is that I found it very hard to put trust back in someone after discovering they had cheated. Perhaps that one of my character flaws, but I remember as a child my Dad said "Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me." I still see value in that statement. Looking back on my first marriage I apply that statement and think, I should have ended it after her first cheating episode came to light.

That's my take, your mileage may vary...

e.b. said...

As an aside - I often have a hard time as not seeing issues in black and white (as it seems you pointed out), but on some issues there should and can be black and white. With cheating it creates a grey fuzzy middle. But really if you feel one way about it - you are never going to back off that.

allbilly said...

i think you need to be married or have been married to have a real answer here.

and I think you and AM should have a "comment whore" competition.

Still just me said...

I cheated on my first husband with my current husband. I am not proud of it, but I never felt any guilt either.

People cheat for different reasons, I did because of the pure unhappiness I was going through at home, an unhappiness with my ex that I tried over and over again to work out with him without his cooperation.

"A cheat is a cheat is a cheat" may apply to some people, but I really don't see myself ever doing it again. I would never cheat on my current husband, even if I wasn't happy. I saw the hurt it caused and really wouldn't want to put anyone else through that again.

Whether you are married or dating, if you cheat, something else is seriously wrong. It will hurt the relationship, and trust is very hard to re-establish.

Accidentally Me said...

Billy - Ally is much more virtuous than me, so I feel like I will win and "whore" contest easily.

As for the subject at hand, I can not imagine a set of circumstances under which I would take someone back. To avoid being overly repetitive of what has already been said, I feel like it is an unforgiveable relationship-crime.

Ally said...

Billy: You've been married, and you still don't have an answer though:)

e.b.: I definitely believe in absolutes, so I agree that some things are black and white....but even in my profession, I'm constantly seeing shades of gray.

Allen: Thank you for sharing your experience. I imagine that rebuilding trust and intimacy would be incredibly hard, and I realize that if the cheating spouse is unrepentant there's no hope really. I guess I just wonder if sometimes people make an isolated mistake and truly regret it and want to make amends. Anyway, I am so sorry to read that you had that experience.

Aaron: So would your attitude be different in you're married vs. in a dating relationship? It sounds like it might be. And I agree--this is all what I'd like to believe, but of course, I'm not married and haven't faced infidelity in that context.

Peej: Bravo on answering the question:) While I'd like to think I wouldn't automatically end things in the case of marital infidelity, my one experience with a cheater confirms what you wrote.

brookem said...

This is hard to answer since I've never been there. I think if it were just a dating relationship, not a marriage, then I'd be more quick to walk away. I don't know for sure how I would respond if it happened in a marriage.
Very thought provoking though.

ella w. said...

I'm still recovering from being cheated on by a boyfriend 7 years ago. Trust is a hard thing to earn from me. I'm not sure my spouse would ever be able to regain my full trust if he cheated on me. I think it's biblically acceptable to divorce if your spouse cheats on you. Or am I confusing it with something else?

Jeff Price said...

You need to look at the reasons for getting married in the first place before you talk about why, when or how to end it. If it’s based on that “the new-exciting phase” or solely on how you felt about the person at that time then there certainly isn’t going to be much reason to stay in a relationship when those feelings change. However; if you believe that marriage is a commitment made before God and the vows go beyond words spoken in the past, then as you said Ally, much more reflection is needed.

The biblical basis for divorce is founded on sexual immorality and abandonment, of which cheating certainly applies. That doesn’t make it black and white necessarily because where there is true repentance there also should be true forgiveness. That is why; “I’ll forgive but never forget” is a fallacy. When you harbor the memory of an offense there is not true forgiveness.

At the end of the day, the answer as to whether you should end the relationship or not when someone cheats lies with the level of commitment that is made to each other and if true reconciliation has taken place.

Now the only question is why you and AM were talking about this?!? lol

Kimberly said...

The only disagreement I would have with Jeff's comment is that I believe forgiveness can occur even when it's something you can't forget. Forgiveness is a process, and there are things that are impossible (and maybe stupid) to forget, but you can still choose to extend grace and love and mercy to restore a relationship (instead of throwing it back in the person's face all the time - I do believe that the past should stay in the past). It's definitely hard to restore a relationship after something as painful as infidelity, but it does happen.

Ally said...

Still Just Me: I appreciate you sharing that, and while I've never cheated, I agree that "a cheat is a cheat is a cheat" does not always hold true. I think people make mistakes and can learn from them--and not repeat them. And you're right that an affair is not usually the start of the problems.

Brookem: I agree; I'd be quicker to walk away if just dating too.

Ella: See Jeff's response; he says it better than I can.

Jeff: Yeah! I had hoped to read your two cents. Excellent response. AM and I were actually talking about something we'd read on another blog....imagine that:)

Kimberly: I wonder if Jeff means forget not in a literal sense but how you describe forgiveness--you don't throw it up all the time and hold it against the person (but obviously you don't ever forget something like that). I think we just hear more about cheating that ends in divorce b/c when it doesn't, it's kept more private amongst the couple.

Ally said...

AM: Thanks for making me think and adding a word to my dating vocabulary: relationship-crime.

Anonymous said...

Cheating is cheating, I agree, but marriage brings about a whole different set of rules, standards, and commitments.

Being the cheat-ER, I can say that once a cheater is not always a cheater.

Trixie said...

For me, if he cheated all throughout the marriage, that's a deal breaker.

If it was a one time fling and I was sure it was over.... If he was remorseful, perhaps I would try to work it out through counseling and all. I would try to save the marriage.

It's hard to predict the reaction, I'm sure if it happened in real life, my feelings may be completely different.

Jeff Price said...

Kimberly: When I wrote "harbor the memory" it was in the sense of continuously dwelling on it. Not that the memory would be erased from your mind altogether, which is just not possible. Although when I told Amy what I said, she initially had your same reaction until she understood what I meant. Must be a counseling thing lol

Ally: Thank you for being a non-counselor and clarifying my statement :-)

Ally said...

FC&F: I agree that marriage is a whole other ballgame.

Trixie: I imagine the nature of the infidelity would play a part in one's response too and especially whether the spouse was remorseful.

Jeff: My pleasure....my mom and aunt are counselors, so I'm used to the type:)