Saturday, April 3, 2010

"It's a Deal-Breaker"...and Other Things We Don't Always Mean

My friend, who doesn't know about my husband's affairs, dropped by the other day in search of a cup of warm tea and consolation. She had married her high-school sweetheart...and four of her closest friends had married theirs. Of the other four, all marriages were crumbling because of cheating, the wives in two cases, the husbands in the other two.
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.


  1. Interesting... For me it was never a deal breaker. In fact I told my husband that I was OK with whatever as long as he did not bring diseases into tge family and as ling as I didn't ever find out. Welllllllllllll.... I found out. And my ever so classic reaction surprised and continues to surprise me. I guess it was not ok with me after all. We are going to make it but every word in all your posts is so true... Nothing and neither one of us will be 'the same' ever again. It is all still rather fresh as my DDay officially was January 6, but really was it? I have 'known' all along if I go with my gut. So I suppose I am 6 years out already. Time to heal and move forward, build, repair, be thankful for the opportunity to do so. I have read every one of your posts and all the comments and truly this is excellent therapy, support, self realuzation and awakening. I would have never done the work had it not been for the affairs and me finding out. He would never have done the work either and we would have continued to co-exist and co-parent, but now we have a chance at so much more, richer, better.. At love again.

  2. Why on earth would you tell him it was ok to do whatever he pleased and then get upset about it?? I'm sorry. You have not suffered like the rest of us. You gave him a mixed message. Of course he's going to fool around if you told him he could!!! Of course he was going to lie to you! What a dangerous and silly game you were playing. I"m glad you got therapy because that is really mixed up shit.

    It is NOT the same as those of us who took our vows seriously and our spouses knew we were never going to be ok with being cheated on!

    1. Anonymous,
      I'm glad you found this site if you're finding it helpful be please refrain from judging others or making derogatory comments. We're all here to heal from an incredibly painful experience. What we need is compassion and support. You don't have to agree with the choices we've made and continue to make...but you do need to respect them in order to comment.

  3. That's the difference between men and women. Most MEN would count an affair as a deal breaker. Women, on the other hand, despite the betrayal, will usually try to keep the marriage together. And while there are men for whom this isn't a deal breaker (and vice versa for the women), statistically, most men will file for divorce.

    1. Yes, statistically that is true. Men also tend to be more hurt by the sex than the emotional aspect of an affair. Men view it as an attack on their manhood – the only way to redeem themselves being to leave. Women, on the other hand, are more threatened by the emotional aspect of an affair. Generally speaking, of course.


  4. Actually, according to everything I've read more & more men r now trying to reconcile post affair, although they may not admit it. But one of the main differences btwn married men & married women who have affairs is that women more likely say they do it for love; they justify it's ok because they don't love their husbands anymore. It's more likely to be an exit affair, telling them they want out of the marriage if they don't know it already. With men they are more likely to justify as they don't love the ow. They are often happily married but being opportunistic as my husband put it.

    I kept asking him why & he gave me so many answers-- he's approaching 50, balding, was depressed because he was always working, we were in a rut in our child centered marriage, I was always falling asleep & not interested in sex, I wasn't paying attention to him, I'm not ver affectionate in general, etc.

    But out of all these excuses probably the most honest answer he gave me was when he said one day that he was being opportunistic. They were friends & she flirted with him heavily even tho she was married with a child & he knew she was moving away. She kept offering him sex with no strings attached. He figured it was safe. She wouldn't want a commitment because she was married with a child ( tho as he saw later this was her exit affair). He figured I wouldn't find out because she was moving away, etc.

    And therein I think is the fundamental difference between men & women-- not so much that it's a deal breaker for men but that they are still committed to the marriage-- he said he never intended to leave me & the kids & that women have often already checked out of the marriage when they cheat.


  5. No one can really know how they will react to a situation until they've actually lived through it. I always thought that if my husband cheated on me, I would be throwing his stuff out on the lawn and keying his car and filing for divorce that day. But when it happened, it turned out to be so much different. Honestly, my very first thought was, "Can I save my marriage? Can we fix this?" I never would have imagined that would be my reaction. Neither did my husband, he thought he'd ruined everything forever, and that there was no way I'd ever give him another chance.

    I told a close friend of mine. She is supportive of my decision to try and work things out with my husband, but immediately said that if her husband did that, it would be a deal-breaker. I told her I always thought so too. But it turns out that just because someone betrays you doesn't mean you automatically stop loving them. It probably would be simpler if it worked that way, but it doesn't.


    1. Gee,
      I had a similar experience. I confided in a friend because she had gone through it and I figured, of all my friends, she'd be the most compassionate. Instead, she responded to my decision to work it out with a "well, I certainly wouldn't..." Even though she had stayed and tried to work it out for eight months. Even though, years later, she said she regretted leaving. Sigh...



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