Surviving the Affair: Accepting Their Right to Cheat
Before you reach for the smelling salts, no, infidelity is not an ethical or just choice. Yes, it’s unfair that someone else’s choices have a negative and destructive impact on us. Causing someone else pain by our own selfish choices is reprehensible. I agree.
However, we are not, and should not ever be mandated to stay in relationships that we don’t want to be in. We do not, and should not have our rights to develop relationships curtailed by others. We have freedoms afforded to us, which we lay down lives to defend, that protect our liberty to behave in (sometimes) unconscionable ways.
I feel fortunate that I live in a culture where I am permitted to be friends with whomever I choose, and that I am not mandated to stay in a relationship that I don’t care to be in. I feel fortunate that I have the right to choose the person who I marry, and that my husband doesn’t have a right to beat me as his property and me not be able to legally leave. I feel fortunate that I am not stoned to death for having a drunken one night stand, and that I am not guilty of adultery if I am raped. I feel fortunate that I live in a culture where Sharia law doesn’t prevail in which no woman has rights to custody or guardianship of her children after they reach a certain age, no matter how abusive or unfit the father is.
It might be honorable, ethical and honest to exit one relationship before entering another, but we are privileged to have the freedom to behave improperly if we so choose.
We are fortunate to have free choice that is supported by our societal structures, and our religious teachings about free will … “Thou mayest”. Our liberty comes at a price, and that price is that others are free to choose things that we disagree with and that impact us, without our consent.
Because to take away a man’s freedom of choice, even his freedom to make the wrong choice, is to manipulate him as though he were a puppet and not a person.
~ Madeleine L’Engle
Part of the misery in an affair is our inability to prevent, stop, or ameliorate the hurt that is being caused to us. Even if we understand that it isn’t possible to control our exposure to this pain, we still fight to find ways to control the things that impact us, in the hope that it will somehow change how we’re affected.
It can seem incomprehensible that someone you know and love, whom you believed shared similar values, can suddenly make choices that take them tangentially away from what you believed was a shared foundation.
From here often springs the assertions that a cheater is ‘insane’ and ‘crazy’ and ‘in the fog’. In reality, the cheater is simply making choices of which you don’t approve, and don’t accept as having any reasonable, valid or healthy foundation … but it’s far easier to justify why you’re fighting reality if you’ve told yourself that it’s not reality you’re fighting, but insanity.
One person’s craziness is another person’s reality.
~ Tim Burton
In infidelity you have no control and very little influence over a cheater’s affair choices, and even if they stop their affair, the fallout isn’t something you can dodge to escape further pain. If you were in pain because you were continually plunging a spork into your thigh, you’d stop stabbing yourself, get treatment, take a painkiller, and the wound would heal. What you’re experiencing is pain by someone else’s hand, and you’re wishing for them to stop hurting you and make it all better somehow.
It’s an unrealistic expectation that someone else can take this pain away. You can however, not make your own suffering worse by your refusal to accept reality and your continual railing against the injustice of the breach of promises made to you.
There are many life situations that are painful and that are not in our control. We can’t avoid that pain, but we can control how much we suffer over the pain that we experience. Suffering is the part we can control.
~ Dr Karyn Hall, Radical Acceptance
Pain is a relatively objective, physical phenomenon; suffering is our psychological resistance to what happens. Events may create physical pain, but they do not in themselves create suffering. Resistance creates suffering. Stress happens when your mind resists what is … The only problem in your life is your mind’s resistance to life as it unfolds.
~ Dan Millman, Way of the Peaceful Warrior
Trying to engineer or cause a different reality by fighting or denying what is, is futile. Here’s the truth: Fighting reality for control is exhausting and it mires you in pain.
‘Affair Fog’ in the Faithful Partner
- Why would you want to be with someone if they don’t want to be with you?
- Why would you want to be in a monogamous relationship with someone who doesn’t want to live a monogamous lifestyle?
- Why would you want to commit more of your life to someone who has already deemed that what you have to offer is insufficient and requires supplement?
Wanting a one-sided relationship isn’t in your best interests. Want and demand better for yourself than a relationship where you’re committed but your partner is simply present.
- Would you be satisfied in a relationship with your cheater if they were shackled by their neck to a wall in the basement, answering, ‘Yessum’ to every question or instruction, fearful of the torture that would be their punishment if they dared to say no?
Manipulating someone into a life they don’t want, under threat of divorce, financial ruin, loss of the kids etc, is like shackling them to the wall. Forcing someone to live by your values and standards, denying them their right to choose differently, isn’t a loving relationship. It is not your job, your place, nor in your own interest to engineer, force or coerce a cheater into a life with you in the way that you want it, when it’s not something they want for themselves.
Fighting to keep a relationship in these circumstances is far foggier thinking than your cheater’s choice to cheat, or your acceptance of their ‘right’ to do so.
Understand that your world view is not the gold standard to which everyone else’s ideals, values and choices should be held: Others can and will act in ways that you would censure, without regard for your opinion or wishes.
If someone’s actions go against their stated religious or ethical beliefs, it is not a battle for you to fight on their behalf. Demanding that someone live to your rules, wishes, priorities, and ethical views to somehow ‘save’ them from themselves, is nothing more than trying to impose your will upon someone else. It’s not your job to resolve their inner conflicts, it’s not your role to secure their peace and happiness in this life, or any afterlife. Accept that others are at liberty to make choices without your approval.
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive … those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences.
~ C. S. Lewis
Your way through this mess is to stop resisting reality and accept that you can disapprove of it but that you cannot change it.
Your job is to redirect your energies into finding ways to distance and protect yourself from the affair drama. Your fight is to create a life for yourself that allows you happiness, regardless of your cheater’s choices. Your struggle is in understanding what you want truly want for yourself, and if a cheater fits that goal.
- Identify problems in your life that you can solve or influence, and apply yourself to that.
- Practice living in the moment when you are emotionally flooded and feel pulled into upset, tears, and negative thinking.
- Develop some mantras like these that help you through a lack of acceptance, or if you find yourself fixating on what you can’t control:
- It is what it is.
- By accepting this as it is right now, I am leaving space for new life.
- I am at peace with who I am no matter what life throws at me.
- Now is the only time that matters.
- This too shall pass.
- I will stop holding on to what hurts to make room for what feels good.
- I choose to be happy because it’s good for my health.
Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.
~ Elizabeth Edwards
To the Cheater
Having an affair doesn’t make you intriguing, it doesn’t make you edgy, and it won’t resolve the problems in your life. If you don’t want to be in the relationship you’re in, then exit it with care, concern and respect for the person you are with.
We value virtue but do not discuss it. The honest bookkeeper, the faithful wife, the earnest scholar get little of our attention compared to the embezzler, the tramp, the cheat.
~ John Steinbeck
Cheating may bring you attention, but it’s negative attention at the cost of someone else.
Just because you can cheat doesn’t mean that you should.