The idea of infidelity being big business is not a new one. There are numerous articles that are published freely without other motive other than to provide affair help to others, while some are published to promote research, books, or professional standing in the ‘infidelity world’. The posts Affair Help: The Business of Controversy and Affair Help: Reaction and Response touch on some of that issue.
We recently looked at some articles by author and relationship expert Kate Figes, written to publicize her book. Ms Figes explains that:
For the past three years I have examined all of the research, interviewed hundreds of experts such as marital therapists, divorce lawyers and people working in ‘the infidelity business’ and talked to 45 men and women who have lived through the experience of an affair themselves.
Kate Figes’ articles explored a variety infidelity issues and she explained that she had made considerable effort to research the issue of infidelity, as part of her research for her affair help book. She published some of the responses that she received from those she reached out to as experts, and one in particular by British psychologist and author, Brett Kahr, caught my attention:
It is worth noting that Kahr’s starting point is a clear declaration of the sexist thinking he started from – something that, by his second paragraph, he doesn’t appear to have shaken off despite his years of experience.
I agree that each partner contributes to the tone, nature and issues within their relationship. I equally agree that each must share the responsibility for the state of their relationship (and some are good, some are bad). I can even go so far as to say that sure, 50/50 is a reasonable notional proportion in terms of blame allocation.”
I’ve used a similar line myself, “You own 50% of the issues in the relationship.” However, I have a Part 2 to that idea and it is, “You own 50% of the issues in the relationship, right up to the point that the cheater went outside it: The cheater is entirely to blame for their decision to have an affair.“
I take issue with the vocabulary often employed in statements and articles about affairs and infidelity – it is often indolent, sometimes sexist, and frequently seeks to deflect the issues of ethics and choice. This statement by Professor Kahr is an example of language that highlights this point:
If you are in a bad relationship, or even a normally imperfect relationship with problems (and no relationship is ‘perfect’), how does that inescapably drive or propel someone else to an affair?
“I don’t feel that you love me, and that FORCED me to enter a two concurrent relationships instead of simply exiting the one I am in.” “You didn’t give me the attention I feel I am entitled to, and that MADE me have an affair.” Asinine.
What these ‘experts’ are doing is painting a picture of the cheater as some hapless victim of their heinous partner, doomed by external forces to the certain and unavoidable catatonic response of screwing someone else.
This type of language hurts the general understanding of infidelity and affairs. I can get behind language that says that whilst the both partners share responsibility in fostering a certain climate within the relationship, the cheater ultimately elects to cheat of their own volition, acting in response to their own internal narrative around not only their perceived maltreatment by their partner, but their perceived plight/lot in life in general.
If one partner’s imperfect behavior compels the other into an affair, does it not suggest that in EVERY relationship with imperfect behavior (i.e. all of them), at least one partner will be driven to an affair? There is clearly some fuzziness about which partner will be forced into the affair, because if there is a 50/50 contribution to hurtful behaviors that force an affair, why aren’t they both ‘driven’ to the same result?! Using the, ‘if your partner is imperfect it drives you to an affair‘ theory, it means that if you’re in a relationship, you’re cheating. That is what I call Swiss cheese.
What is further damaging are statements like these:
The shameless sexism in the suggestion that most faithful female partners are bitchy harpies or that faithful male partners are somehow spineless wimps, is just part of how woefully out of touch and offensive these statements are.
The implication that if you have a shrew of a partner then it’s entirely justifiable to cheat, is wholly objectionable. Being unhappy with your partner or your relationship doesn’t entitle you to cheat – it entitles you to leave.
Similarly, it’s abhorrent to suggest that if men would simply ‘man up’ and beat their chests a bit and keep the little women in line, it would secure them in the marital bed. This is a step away from suggesting that all it will take is a smack to keep her under control and therefore, faithful.
What is further inferred from Professor Kahr’s statement is that men cheat because they’re desperately -and understandably- seeking refuge from abuse and are left with nowhere to turn, but that women cheat out of anger and vengeance, like the vindictive little bitches they are.
This poorly veiled misogyny continues to to subtly inform the perception, understanding, and handling of infidelity. This type of characterization implies that if men were more aggressive and women could just learn to be submissive and sweet, affairs wouldn’t happen at all.
The truth of the matter is that both men and women cheat because they choose to. Yes, cheaters may be unhappy in their relationships (equally, they may not be) but their infidelity is not thrust upon them by their partner. Infidelity is an internally driven issue, not an externally driven one. No matter how negatively one perceives their partner’s behavior, their behavior is NOT what decides a cheater to cheat. Imperfect relationships similarly don’t ‘drive’ someone to cheat – they are not that directly causative. If they were, then BOTH spouses would be cheating, having been ‘driven to it’ by their experience of the same imperfect relationship. In fact, we’d ALL be cheating – there would be no monogamous partnerships at all, because no relationship will ever be perfect.
Infidelity is ‘driven’ by the cheater’s world view and internal narrative – how the fit into the world, what they are owed, what they deserve, their entitlement to pursue their desires, and the value they place on themselves and their spouse. They are led to cheating by their internal justifications, their ethical framework, and their core character. The cheater’s justifications for their affair are intended to:
- preserve their self-image
- deflect blame
- normalize their choices
- avoid consequences
- defend their affair as the only choice that they saw available to them
Affairs are planned, sought out, and engaged in with full cognition and selfish aforethought (setting aside the cognition issues of drunken one night stand). They are carefully orchestrated and engineered, and intend to allow the cheater to benefit from their marriage while also benefiting from their affair – they are not intended to improve or repair a relationship, and they do not resolve any of the issues that the cheater faces.
We all have the right to leave a relationship in which we are not happy, but cheating neither seeks to resolve issues, nor is it an inescapable outcome for an unhappy relationship.
Broad exposure to the type of thinking illustrated in just five sentences quoted from Professor Kahr, damages the already vulnerable, and provides fodder for the cheaters who seek to heap the responsibility for their affair on the heads of their faithful partner. It is the kind of controversial nonsense that feeds the popular media, absorbs into pop-culture and to then be recycled by Joe Shmoe as ‘fact’, and it normalizes infidelity as a legitimate response to personal dissatisfaction.
We’re fighting an uphill battle.