Infidelity: It’s not whom you lie with. It’s whom you lie to

A woman reader asks, “How do you react when you find out that your mate has been unfaithful to you?” A question like this is fraught with difficulties. First, the degree to which infidelity, adultery, or unfaithfulness is condemned varies from culture to culture. In much of the world, for example, polygamy is still practiced. Second, the person posing the question represents only one side of the issue. I haven’t heard from the adulterer.

Third, the grievousness of the breach of trust depends on the circumstances. For instance, was it a onetime isolated event (a one-night stand)? Or a prolonged affair for which the husband is repentant? Was or is it a lengthy affair that he continues to conceal and deny? Did it involve sex with a minor, friend, or relative? Finally, is it part of a pattern? That is, is her mate a womanizer or philanderer?

In my reply to our reader’s question, I will try to offer some general advice that is based on sound North American thought. Perhaps she will be able to extract some useful ideas, which she can then apply to her life. The topic of infidelity is of interest to more than one reader. After all, adultery occurs at least once in the relationships of roughly 50% of couples. The fact that a commandment had to be made shows just how widespread the practice is. The problem is that too many people believe the commandment says, “Thou shall not OMIT adultery.” Although adultery has always been with us, there is a growing acceptance of it as ‘normal’ behavior. An example of which is how sex is depicted on TV, for only about 25% of the time does TV sex take place between married couples.

Make no mistake about it; infidelity is a grievous offense because it is a betrayal by the most important person in your life. Paraphrasing what Dr. Frank Pittman said in his article on infidelity (Newsweek 9/30/96), it’s not whom your mate lied with. It is whom he lied to. Yes, it’s not about whom your mate slept with, but about whom your mate betrayed. Acknowledging the seriousness of the offense is one of the critical steps that must be made before you can take appropriate action. The second critical step is to understand that it is not the act or acts of infidelity that destroy marriages, but the underlying CAUSES that led to infidelity. In other words, infidelity is merely a symptom. The causes of the problem must be treated before we can expect a full turnaround.

One-night stands, or onetime indiscretions, are the easiest to recover from because there is little time for any bonding to occur with the other woman. Nevertheless, once your mate has broken the bond of trust, the potential exists for repeated and more serious offenses. So, swift, firm, and uncompromising action is called for. Here are the steps you must take if you are serious about restoring your marriage.

1. SEPARATION. You need time to think clearly. If your mate stays at home, your judgment will be clouded. The separation clearly points out to your partner how serious you consider his breach of trust, and also gives him time to think carefully about the inappropriateness of his actions and their possible effects. Because it was your mate’s first offense, a short separation -such as one week- may do.

2. COUNSELING. You should attend counseling or therapy sessions together to discover the causes that led to infidelity and the steps you both can take to resolve them.

3. REBUILD TRUST. Your mate must rebuild your trust by proving by his actions that he has learned his lesson and will never repeat his mistake. If he lives up to his responsibilities, it is possible for your relationship to grow deeper than ever before.

If your mate had a long extramarital affair, even if he appears repentant, it is more serious and needs to be treated differently than a one-night stand. Is this case, the steps are as follows.

1. SEPARATION. The separation must be long enough to carry out all the following additional steps.

2. Your mate must end the illicit relationship.

3. He must enter counseling or therapy sessions to find out what led him to stray.

4. You need to have counseling to learn why you have been ignoring the signs that he was cheating.

5. If the both of you are experiencing personal growth and wish to reconcile, you need to go to joint counseling sessions.

6. As you attend therapy together, you may restart your relationship by dating (not living together), applying what you learn to the relationship, and slowly developing the intimacy you once felt for each other. You should not reconcile until your mate has proven himself and earned your trust.

If your husband cheated by having sex with a minor (child), close friend, or relative, the matter is much more serious and probably not worth salvaging. Likewise, mates that cheat and refuse to admit it are merely saying that they have no intention of stopping. You have no need for such irresponsibility and inconsideration, so drop them at once. Womanizers, which make up about 20% of the male population, almost never reform, so if you discover your husband is one, permanently end the relationship.

Note that I did not say anything about children influencing our decision whether to separate or not. This is because our primary role is to rear them to be self-sufficient. If we ‘forgive’ (accept the abuse of) a philandering husband, all we do is teach our sons that it’s okay to abuse women and teach our daughters that the ‘relationship’ is more important than happiness. Refusing to do the right thing because of children is NOT the right thing. Do what is right for you and you’ll be doing what is right for your children.

Beware of a cheating husband that refuses to accept responsibility. When confronted with the evidence of his cheating he is likely to say, “It didn’t mean anything.” (Then why did he do it?) Other excuses include, “It just happened. I had too much to drink,” or the President Clinton defense, “It wasn’t sexual intercourse.” Regardless of the excuse, refusal to accept responsibility is merely a refusal to change. To get on with your life, you must insist that the necessary steps are followed before there can be a reconciliation. If you are wondering whether you should forgive him, remember that Christ forgave the adulterer, BUT he added the stipulation “go and sin no more.” That is, forgiveness is EARNED because of a change of heart and change of behaviour. If your mate is unwilling to change his heart, he needs to change his location and move out of your home.

Let me end on this positive note, two-thirds of marriages survive infidelity. However, your aim should be not mere survival, but a return to a full and happy life, which is possible only when the steps to recovery are strictly followed. Good luck on your difficult journey.