Saturday, April 3, 2010
"It's a Deal-Breaker"...and Other Things We Don't Always Mean
Her world was rocked. She was aghast at how rampant infidelity seemed to be. Why? she kept asking me. Why would these people risk their families for affairs. And, the mother of three added wryly, where the hell do they find the time?
I offered up platitudes, and women's-magazine wisdom. I mumbled about feeling broken and seeking wholeness outside. I suggested short-sightedness. I think I even said something about Facebook and predatory ex-girl/boyfriends.
"I told my husband it's a deal-breaker," she said emphatically. "I told him that if he ever cheats on me to not bother to come home. I said I'd cut off his penis, feed it to him and then take everything he's got."
I smiled. My friend is, despite her fighting words, one of the most compassionate people I know. I've no doubt she'd respond with anger should such infidelity occur – many of us express fear and hurt through anger.
But I think her husband's penis would be safe.
The thing, though, with ultimatums is that it often creates exactly the type of scenario we're trying to avoid: one in which one partner decides that lying to the other is preferable to potentially hurtful honesty.
I understand my friend's thinking...because it was my thinking, too. I was sure that if my husband believed that I would be out the door at the first whiff of infidelity, he'd never dream of it.
Thing is, anyone who engages in affairs generally isn't thinking too clearly and they're certainly not thinking they'll get caught. So consequences aren't really part of the equation. At least not at first. And then, if they do experience a crisis of conscience or someone else stumbles onto their secret, rather than come clean, they have thoughts of "But she'll KILL me!" and instead go to often ridiculous lengths to conceal it further.
All quite amusing in a slapstick kinda way...unless it's happening to you.
I confess I can't really offer up a solution except to note that it's frequently the marriages in which one partner thinks the marriage is invincible to an affair that are often the most vulnerable. Thinking that you've "affair-proofed" your marriage because your spouse is too afraid of your wrath to risk an affair is naive at best. The truth is, good marriages fall prey to infidelity. And good people do bad things.
The best way to affair-proof your marriage is to acknowledge that it's possible, statistically even likely, that your marriage will experience infidelity. Then work hard to create an atmosphere of honesty so that potential dangers can be discussed openly and thwarted before they cause problems. It's hard for one partner to feel warmly toward someone whom both partners in the marriage acknowledge as a threat to the union. It keeps you both on the same team, which is critical to a healthy marriage.