The Modern ‘Affairs Save Marriages’ Myth
We came across a particularly nauseating article by Dr Michael Broder, ‘Can an affair make your relationship stronger?‘. There is a very simple and concise answer to the question Broder posed of course, and it’s this: No.
Affairs are not red flags alerting you to your failure to meet your cheater’s needs. They are not alarm bells signaling a midlife or other existential crisis. They are red flags that your cheater is a manipulative, self-serving asshole who felt entitled to have an affair while continuing to benefit from their marriage.
We’ve seen this ‘affairs save marriages’ nonsense before where therapists or self-declared experts explain to all you ill-informed, narrow-minded, and selfish faithful spouses out there how a cheater whoring around can somehow improve the marriage. It’s one asinine step away from validating the, ‘I did it for you, baby’ defense (and yes, we’ve actually heard that one).
Leaving this kind of hideous pontificating without comment allows the idea to gain traction (Google will evidence this if you’re interested), so we chose to respond to Broder’s bunkum.
Setting the scene by suggesting that those ‘who play by the rules’ are in some way less broad minded, less reasoned, or more rigidly controlled by false societal rules is a ploy.
It’s intended to suggest that if you react normally by blaming the cheater (because that’s where the blame lies) and feeling rage (which is a reasonable response) then you’re either too conservative, or poorly educated and ill-informed, and should re-examine your stance on affairs. It also implies that your conventional, unenlightened attitude might be partially to blame for the affair itself.
An act of infidelity, by definition, is an act where fidelity has been broken. Fidelity is the observance of a promise or vow (or conjugal/relational faithfulness). An act of infidelity assaults the promise of faithfulness and that is entirely destructive.
To say that infidelity makes a marriage stronger is like saying that a wrecking ball makes a wall more robust.
Broder would have you believe that bitter and grudge-y rage and finger pointing is entirely out of place. His sage advice? Learn to be the bigger person.
On the surface this might sounds like reasonable advice to a cheater. It’s true – many affairs are escapist.
However, Broder supports typical therapist-approved nonsense that cheaters should identify what part of the relationship failed them, not the world view and sense of entitlement that permitted them to abuse the relationship.
Broder also perpetuates the absurd notion that someone else is somehow responsible for making you happy, implying that if your each and every desire isn’t pandered to by your spouse that’s a failing in the relationship and a legitimate cause to cheat. It isn’t.
Being in an unhappy relationship doesn’t entitle you to cheat – it entitles you to leave.
Broder doesn’t make it incumbent on the cheater to act ethically when faced with feelings of dissatisfaction. He doesn’t focus on why, instead of behaving with integrity and respect, the cheater instead chose to engage in another relationship despite their obligations within the marriage.
It’s a simple issue: Why, when faced with feelings of dissatisfaction, didn’t the cheater either seek to resolve the issues or ethically leave the marriage if they wanted to pursue another relationship?
Again we are painted a picture of the cheater being some hapless victim, doomed by external forces to the certain and unavoidable catatonic response of screwing someone else. Why not go one step further and commend the cheater for the affair? With the right spin it could be painted as virtuous that they chose to soldier on with the marriage, preserving home, family, and the sensibilities of the faithful spouse – they only broke a couple of rules, after all.
The drive to have an affair comes from the cheater, not the faithful partner. The marriage simply does not have the capacity to compel, force, impel or propel someone into an affair, unless they CHOOSE it.
In the previous passage Broder concedes that it is indeed a choice. A choice, again by definition, means that there were other options available. Where there were options, there were other possible outcomes – no one is ‘driven’ unavoidably into an affair.
So now we’re blaming the lack of sex or the quality of it for driving (again) the cheater to having sex with someone else? It is either ill-informed or indolent to perpetuate the popular myth that affairs are the result of a poor sexual dynamic within a marriage. Either way, it is damaging.
No relationship is perfect. In an imperfect world populated by imperfect beings, the results are imperfect. When faced with lack of sex in a marriage, or incompatibilities in desire or willingness to engage in certain sexual acts, the idea that you’re somehow justified to respond by cheating is absurd.
The answer is to resolve it, or get the hell out of it.
Cheating neither attempts to resolve the issues nor removes you from the relationship. Cheating serves only to keep what you have, while you indulge in more elsewhere.
If an act is entirely self-serving, then it cannot be held up as somehow making a relationship stronger.
Broder is implying that blaming your cheater and being a victim of their disregard and disrespect for you is a shameful attempt on your part to garner sympathy.
As for your rage and your willing and determined residence in Victimhoodville, well, again, shame on you. How dare you be devastated by your cheater’s affair? That rage of yours? It’s not healthy for your relationship.
Please note that you are not given the free pass here by Broder that you were ‘driven’ to your rage. No. You get to own that entirely. So stop acting in such rageful, blaming ways, because your role is to massage your relationship’s genitals until the excitement is reigniting, and then swallow (your pride) and learn how to behave in more relationship-healthy ways.
The affair IS a symptom of an ongoing issue – it’s a symptom of ongoing assholery.
Again, Broder is telling you that YOU are not permitted to behave in relationship-destructive behaviors by being uncivil or outraged.
Also, please note that your response is expected to be that you will change and work on the relationship. There’s no room for you saying, “Oh hell no, I am out of here!” No. Your poor cheater requires you to look at your faults and failings, and then spend the next phase of your life trying to please them, show them how sorry you are, accepting fault for their affair, and being entirely responsible for meeting whatever needs they happen to have today.
Cheaters feel entitled to their affair and reconciliation. Broder and similar therapist cronies presuppose that your life should be your marriage and fulfilling your cheater’s desires, and that you can’t legitimately consider divorce as a desirable option. They’re telling you to sit down, STFU, know your place, and be grateful.
If that’s his best advice it’s probably best for Broder to bow out of the advice business altogether.
Oh again with the collusion nonsense too? Broder is taking the Tammy Nelson approach of telling you how you knew (or at least suspected) that things weren’t perfect so you colluded/secretly cooperated/tacitly agreed to your cheater’s affair.
A whole book of strategies for heinous pandering to a cheater and admonishment that you should know your damn place? That makes me wonder if book burning has a place after all. We removed the link, and the book title.
Couple’s counseling in this vein provides the cheater with a therapist-assisted platform to manipulate you, keep you in place, and ‘share’ the blame for their affair.
Affairs do not make relationships stronger; that is a simple, unassailable fact. But therapy certainly lines the pockets of therapists who profit from you floundering in dysfunction.
As we said in The Divorce Magazine,
It is rare for a marital therapist to encourage either party to pursue their personal goals and dreams for themselves if those goals and dreams potentially lead them away from the marriage, and the therapist’s service.
Affairs Don’t Make Relationships Stronger
In our experience, successful, fulfilling, and long-term reconciliation is very rare. Possible, but rare. Very few cheaters are personally motivated to work to reframe their view of the world, and without this that pesky cheater thinking will resurface.
Reconciliation founded in manipulation, codependency, idealization, or some moral ‘standing‘ viewpoint isn’t successful reconciliation – it’s a Divorce Avoidance Plan. It masks dysfunction and damage with pro-marriage sensibilities that are spurious in view of the affair.
Affairs don’t strengthen marital bonds – they highlight that one partner is willing to behave in ways that are destructive to the relationship. Affairs attack any sense of partnership and demonstrate that the cheater definitely doesn’t have your back.
On the plus side, a discovered affair potentially weakens the power of gaslighting, removes blinkers to the assholedom that is the cheater, and rather noisily interrupts any blindly determined attempts to idealize the marriage.
Believing that affairs do not make relationships stronger does not make you a selfish, bitter and narrow-minded harpy – it’s evidence that you’re thinking clearly.