All the things you hear, see, and digest about infidelity would have you believing that it is the single most worst relationship sin in the world. Listening to Michael Baisden’s radio show a few weeks ago, I found out many black mothers teach their daughters to leave a man as soon as he cheats on you. Don’t ask him any questions. Don’t give him any second chances. Just leave! Then, watching Oprah Winfrey Network’s Unfaithful–a show dedicated to telling the painful realities of infidelities–taught me that 69% of marriages do not survive a case of infidelity. Apparently even God has a cheating clause in the Bible, siting adultery as an approved reason for divorce and public stoning. And I’m sure many of you have experienced firsthand the debilitating effects of extramarital affairs, whether with aunts and uncles, your own parents, or maybe your own marriage/relationship.
Now I do not want to undermine any life experiences or religious beliefs, but I am here today to challenge the most commonly held ideas on infidelity and present you with a new–maybe even radically revolutionary outlook on the issue. Dare say I, cheating is just an unhealthy byproduct of negative feelings and patterns in a relationship and a healthy couple can completely overcome a case of infidelity. For men and women under 30, the chances are pretty high that you’ll either cheat or be cheated on at some point in your dating/married life (See “Truth About Deception“). So it’s high time that we face these situations with a bit more modern knowledge and know-how, hence An Intelligent Person Under 30’s Guide to Infidelity in the 21st Century. Let’s begin with some cold, hard facts.
Myths on Infidelity
(1) All Men/Women Cheat
I hear this one spewed around a lot by both men and women and it’s simply not true. One report I read stated only about 20% of men actually cheat on their spouses. Another report claimed a whopping 50% of men violate their wedding vows. The naked truth is that any clinical studies or research polls on infidelity rely on self-reports of it which can vary greatly depending on something as simple as the time of day you asked the question. So researchers can only estimate anywhere from 30 to 60% of married individuals will go looking for sexual gratification elsewhere. But no matter how unreliable the numbers, we logically know that no one group–male or female–make up all those cheating cases. We also know that gender is not the best means for predicting cheating behaviors. In fact, female cheating has almost completely caught up to male cheating. A 2011 university study saw 23% of men admitting to cheating to 19% of women (See “Is Female Infidelity on the Rise?“) Making us ladies what we’ve always wanted to be, equals–at least in the cheating department.
(2) Cheating Is/Isn’t a Big Deal
Interestingly enough, though 30 to 60% of the married population may engage in extramarital extracurriculars, 99% say their vows expecting full faithfulness from their spouses. And a significant majority 80% of Americans still believe adultery is wrong, a 10% increase from the 1970s (Check out “How Common Are Cheating Spouses?“). Wait wait wait, so what’s going on here exactly? More of us believe it’s wrong but at the same time more of us are doing it? So is cheating a big deal or isn’t it? It appears we haven’t decided. Alarmingly, that says we’ve become an increasingly hypocritical nation when it comes to this issue. For the 30 and under set, in particular, it seems we use our parents’ outdated rhetoric and beliefs to negatively judge behaviors we partake in more and more frequently. In short, infidelity expectations aren’t meeting infidelity realities. It might be time to modernize the expectation.
(3) Eatin’ Ain’t Cheatin’
At times, we are the get-over generation. On one hand, we often find innovative ways to do a task smarter and faster than generations that came before us. But on the other hand, we are always looking for a shortcut or loophole to something–like girls who technically remain virgins because they only have anal sex. -__- Infidelity proves no exception. Nowadays, every man and woman has a different definition of cheating and therefore ways to technically circumvent the whole thing so that technically you never did anything wrong (Peep “The Definition of Cheating In a Relationship“). I suggest adapting the simplest definition of cheating–behaviors and acts meant to mislead, fool, or deliberately break rules. That would expand cheating to include something as diminutive as chatting your ex-beau up on Facebook if you lied about it. But that definition simultaneously frees you from the burden of anything done in truth. So if your girlfriend allows you to have sex with another woman with her full knowledge and coherent consent (also known as a threesome), well, go for it!
(4) Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater
I don’t know who started this sack of lies and frankly I don’t care. This is almost as absurd as saying once fat, always fat or once a smoker, always a smoker. People make mistakes! All of us. And sometimes people learn from those mistakes and make changes for the better. Yes, cheating hurts for all parties involved but there are ALSO cases where couples work through the infidelity and find themselves closer and even more in Love than before. I can honestly say this is precisely what happened to me when Mr. Right-For-Now stepped outside. His cheating brought to light some issues we hadn’t yet been able to talk about. And when he expressed himself to me, I actually felt sympathy for him despite what he’d done. To go a step further, I even saw how my own actions contributed to the situation that drove him into someone else’s arms. That didn’t make him any less wrong or me any less hurt. But when those initial feelings dissolved, we made it out on the other end. So I can tell you firsthand some devastating affairs have extremely positive effects for couples who dare move beyond it (Not convinced? Also read “Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater?“). This is not to minimize the existence of serial cheaters, playas, and sex addicts. I’ve dated some of those too. But you have to be able to distinguish between a Lover who made a mistake and a Lover who lives to lie to you. One of the first signs you have something worth saving is when your partner admits their wrongdoing to you.
(1) Don’t write a person off immediately for cheating. The first phase is disbelief, shock, hurt, and anger. Try hard not to make any irrational decisions while in this phase. Because when the smoke finally clears, you might see things a little differently than you did during your fit of rage.
(2) Do take the time to explore the person’s reason for cheating. When you’re ready, it’s worth it to ask why. One way to help prevent future cheating is to figure out the factors that caused the past cheating. If you know why you made a mistake, you’re less likely to make that same mistake again.
(3) Don’t think yourself above cheating. This applies to getting cheated on or doing the cheating. People with this haughty attitude often find themselves falling victim to it because they weren’t ready for the possibility of it. A person who cheats isn’t necessarily a certain type of person. Almost anyone under the right or wrong circumstances can cheat.
(4) Do forgive a cheater. Even when you don’t stay with the person, forgiveness is worth looking into. If you don’t take the time to heal and forgive, you’ll just carry those trust issues into the next relationship.
(5) Don’t belittle the damage cheating does. One of the worst things the cheating partner can do is play the blame game, continue to lie and keep secrets, or shrug off the feelings and emotions of the hurting party. Emotionally, cheating IS a big deal. But it doesn’t have to kill your relationship.
(6) Do take the time to heal yourself. A person could read this and think I’m fully advocating for excusing all cheating partners. And I’m not. I’m advocating a less emotional and more intelligent approach to dealing with infidelity. This calls for balance. Take the time you need to heal and go through all the emotional phases you will go through. But don’t let your pain, which shall pass, keep you from seeing light in a dark situation.