I’ve come across many articles and discussions on infidelity lately and find that there is a consensus. Infidelity, adultery, having an affair, cheating, betrayal... or whatever it is you want to call it, is a growing problem. Why is this? Some say that our culture has contributed to an increased discontent and unhappiness in our lives. We seek pleasure and expect our partners to meet our needs. If they don’t, we blame them for our unhappiness. Marriage becomes more about meeting my needs and making me happy.
We lose our sense of commitment to the marriage when we focus only on ourselves. And, it is commitment we need for marriage to work. Researchers have found that commitment is a key predictor of relationship durability. Rather than giving up on a potentially good marriage, committing to work through hardships can make our relationship stronger and more intimate. In the process, we learn to negotiate and accept one another. We learn how to overcome difficulties together.
As long as our expectations of a happy marriage or the right partner are distorted, we will continue to consider infidelity as the solution to our unhappiness.
Self-centeredness has been identified as the root of infidelity in much of what I have been hearing. The cheater ultimately wants pleasure, and as long as his or her partner is not providing it, the cheater will go outside the marriage to find it. The cheater is painted as the villain who is deceptive, selfish, and thoroughly enjoying his or her life. Little has been said, however, about the internal anguish and unresolved anger that the cheater may be experiencing. Whether or not the cheater experiences any guilt or shame depends on his or her values, morals, and culture, some say. The cheater doesn’t necessarily believe his or her actions are wrong. This may be the case, but not always. I would propose that it is less the norm than some may think.
Following I want to share a story about a cheater who wanted more than “pleasure.” He wanted his spouse to hear his cry for love and intimacy, but he felt he was constantly being pushed away. He turned to someone else to express his anger and frustration, to get revenge. In his mind, his spouse rejected and abandoned him. Now he was asserting his voice. And, it is heard through his infidelity.
It wasn’t long into their marriage when Angie and David began to have problems. They married young and had a lot to learn about marriage and each other. One thing they both agreed on was to stay committed no matter how hard it became. When David lost his job, the financial strain tested their marriage. They survived and learned about teamwork and how to better manage their finances. When Angie had to care for her sick mother, the exhaustion and irritability it caused put pressure on their marriage. Then there were the challenges of raising their twin daughters with very different parenting styles.
After ten years of staying committed and surviving some difficult hardships, it seemed nothing could come against their marriage or family that they couldn’t overcome. Maybe that’s why it didn’t seem like a big deal to Angie when she lost interest in sex. She loved David, and it was nothing personal. She felt it was no longer an important part of their marriage to her and she would prefer to do without it. She had the children and family she always wanted. She just didn’t want sex. What’s the big deal, she thought. To David it was a big deal. He couldn’t bear the thought of not having a healthy sexual relationship with his wife. He repeatedly told her how he felt about it. Occasionally she would give in to his advances, but most of the time she would push him away.
David’s frustration and anger grew. Angie wasn’t listening. She didn’t understand. She was rejecting his affection and thwarting his expression of love for her. Why didn’t she care? Why was she being so selfish? Did she still love him? David was hurting like never before. He tried to make her understand but felt he was fighting a losing battle. Eventually, he lost hope of things ever changing, and David did what he thought he would never do. He looked for another woman with whom he could have a casual relationship. He soon realized that it was not very difficult to find someone else who was discontented and looking for affection. Kim was looking for a guy just like David. Strangely, she resembled Angie in many ways. Was David trying to substitute Kim for what he hoped to have in Angie? Was this the closest he felt he could get to her now? Angie continued to push David’s affection away. As a wife, did she have a right to withhold sexual relations with her husband without his consent? David didn’t think so. But, Angie would not listen to him. He felt he had no voice. Anger and frustration pushed him into making a decision, a costly one. Angie did not know of David’s infidelity, but David had to live with it. Justification was the only thing that made it seem alright…sometimes.
David’s story is not very uncommon. It doesn’t condone infidelity, but it does show us that it is not always about seeking pleasure. Sometimes it is about meeting deeper needs, that is, love, respect, and appreciation. David once expressed that he didn’t care if he was found out. He was so angry at Angie and felt he was paying her back. He justified his
actions, yet he felt cheated and blamed Angie for causing him to become so vulnerable and desperate. Ultimately, David is responsible for the choices he made. Blaming Angie does not make the pain and frustration go away. It actually makes it worse.
Cheaters may justify their actions, blame their partners, claim they have tried, or complain that life isn’t fair. There are a myriad of excuses for having affairs. David’s story is not everyone’s story. There are cheaters who are looking for pleasure and don’t place a high value on being faithful to their partners.
In sharing David’s story, I want to show that no one is immune to the temptations of infidelity. Even commitment can be weakened and values compromised in some situations. Affairs are becoming more and more prevalent today. They are becoming easier and more acceptable. No marriage is totally immune to the pressures that breed them.
If we gain anything from all of this, I think it is to place a higher value on our marriages, and to love and appreciate our partners. Do not take them for granted. Be thankful for them and don’t look for opportunities for something better. Listen, understand, and care about each other’s needs. Try to bring out the best in each other. Be supportive. Stay committed and value our vows to stay faithful and true. Satisfying relationships are hard work. They need our time and attention. Continually investing in them will help to guard us from the dangerous trap of betraying our marriages, our families, ourselves and our God.