As life goes by, we sooner or later get confronted with infidelity. Sometimes it is through the actions of relatives, friends or acquaintances; sometimes it is through personal experience. When I was younger and full of hope and optimism, I simply believed that cheating was bad bad bad! Trust and honesty have always been very important to me and the thought that someone close to me could simply choose to betray me was utterly inconceivable. I have always believed that “one’s freedom ends where another’s begins” and that “one should treat others the way he/she would want to be treated”.
But it turns out that life is a bit complicated. You find out that this married family friend has been having an affair for over a decade, going as far as having all of his work colleagues believe that the mistress is actually the wife (that was back in the 80’s, before everyone had land lines or even mobiles or Internet); then there is the close friend who is asking you advice on her relationship while forgetting to mention that her boyfriend is actually someone else’s husband; or this other friend who is simply choosing to cheat with someone half her age and would wish for her husband to simply let her explore her sexuality.
I was personally confronted to infidelity a few years ago: someone I had met and fell for turned out to be a husband of 20 years and a father of 3. When I confronted him after discovering the truth on the Internet, he admitted that he had indeed ‘omitted’ to mention his children and that he was no longer ‘really’ with his wife, whatever that was supposed to mean. I was devastated: sleeping with a married man while his wife and children were waiting for him at home was never something I would have allowed myself to do and finding out that I had been manipulated into doing it against my own wishes was extremely difficult to overcome. It took me a long time to forgive myself and understand that 1) I cannot be held responsible for things that happen to me when I absolutely did not mean to make them happen in the first place and 2) I was not the one who had committed his/her life to another human being and who had willingly chosen to betray those vows and that trust.
When I was married, I told my then-husband that it was ok for him (and for me) to have extra marital sexual relationships. The rule was just once with the same person, nobody should ever know (I never wanted to even unknowingly find myself in the same room as someone who would know about my husband’s affairs) and we would never tell each other, ever. I never strayed and I do not believe that he did. At one point, while apart for more than 3 months, I told him he should just go ahead and have some fun if he wished to do so. I honestly am myself surprised by how open-minded I was at the time.
These days, I am not so sure that I could offer the same deal to someone but I actually think it might be a good idea. I have met many men who are very unhappy in their marriage because the woman in their lives no longer wishes to have sex. Now I am not talking about women who are going through sickness, or other challenging times. A friend of mine needs to get up every 2-3 hours every night to take care of her very young kid while he sleeps through it all without ever hearing a sound… so yeah, she is not often in the mood… but I would find it appalling if he would go somewhere else. You can’t just sit there and complain that she does not want it anymore; you also have to invest time and energy in the relationship, remember that women need to feel connected and loved in order to feel sexual, and plan accordingly. But if in spite of honestly trying, if in spite of the conversations and the patience, the courting and the kindness, the compassion and the understanding, you still find yourself in front of someone who is just never in the mood and does not even want to talk about it, then I might have to say: go for it, men and women included!
Well no… Probably not! But I do believe that marriage is about sharing everything and sexual connection is just as important as spiritual, emotional or intellectual connection. As per Deepak Chopra, if someone has no appetite for sex, it means that something is fundamentally wrong in the relationship on an emotional level; and if you are no longer bringing love to the relationship, neither are you receiving any. So you do need to take responsibility for what might happen because of that unilateral choice you are making to no longer have sex. For many men and women, secretly straying might be the best option as they might feel content with most of their daily lives and unwilling to break the status quo or simply too scared or, dare I say it, too weak to bring up the conversation. Now don’t get me wrong: I do not support infidelity. I have both a lot of anger and a lot of compassion for cheaters as I have met some who went down that path with arrogance and never showed remorse while others truly struggled with it but sometimes ended up giving in as a way to keep on feeling alive while at a loss for finding some kind of solution.
As explained by Esther Perel in her Ted talk Rethinking Infidelity, “affairs are an act of betrayal, [but] they are also an expression of longing and loss. At the heart of an affair, you will often find a longing and a yearning for an emotional connection, for novelty, for freedom, for autonomy, for sexual intensity, a wish to recapture lost parts of ourselves or an attempt to bring back vitality in the face of loss and tragedy.” She believes that “death and mortality often live in the shadow of an affair, because they raise these questions: is this it? Is there more? Am I going on for another 25 years like this? Will I ever feel that thing again? And […] that perhaps these questions are the ones that propel people to cross the line, and that some affairs are an attempt to beat back deadness, in an antidote to death.”
As always, there are many sides to a story and one can never really know someone’s story and what went into his or her choice or decision. But cheating does bring deep feeling of betrayal and somewhere down the line, someone will get hurt and might never fully recover. So whatever you may choose to do or however you may treat your loved ones, ask yourself whether this is really the person you want to be… I know that if I ever loose all sexual desire and could simply keep going without sex, I hope that I would not expect and force my partner to do the same. Marriage is not about telling people what to do and have them live the exact same life you are choosing for yourself. Marriage is about empowering the person you are with, to love them without judging them so that they have no fear of failures and can keep on trying to be the best they can be because they know that there will always be someone, right there, to love them and help them stand back up on their feet; marriage is about seeing the vulnerability and the shame but never bringing it up; marriage is about forgiveness and humility and about simply letting someone be. Marriage is about being the tool, not the way.
So yes, in the end (or at least these days), I hope that I would be open minded enough to let him know that he can physically stray a little bit as long as we keep a deep connection on other levels, howsoever we might be able to achieve that. And yes, I am really curious where this way of thinking could possibly take me. I guess I will keep you posted…
If I make this choice, am I loving myself?
If I really love myself, will I make this choice?