I suppose it is true of anything in life, that once you start paying attention to something, suddenly it seems like you are surrounded by it. Recently I have been privy to information suggesting that most of the people I know have stayed with someone who has cheated on them- numerous times. Everyone has a different answer as to why they stayed but I was the one left wondering: does everyone cheat? And more so do the majority of people who are cheated on stay with the person who cheated?
I admit freely and upfront that I am a bit naïve in these types of things, because although I grew up in a less than “normal” environment, I met my husband at 18 and haven’t been with anyone else since. I have spent all of my adult life in a relationship that the thought of cheating is as close to cheating as we will likely ever get. I know for many people it may be hard to imagine a life where I can say that unequivocally but I am part of that lucky (small?) percentage that can go about their normal day with complete confidence that cheating is not an issue in my home.
Having said that I am really caught off guard by how many people I know (men and women alike) who are currently with someone who cheats on them repeatedly. These are not couples in “open relationships.” These are people who agreed to be in loving, committed, monogamous relationships (many of which have uttered the words “forsaking all others”), who see these dalliances as real betrayal… and yet they stay. I don’t get it. I mean I do, I guess on some level, but aren’t we living in a world who accepts that the normal course of action when you have been cheated on is to leave the person? Is that not one of the most “acceptable” reasons to break up/divorce? Has cheating stopped being taboo?
I asked my husband why it is that all I see around me lately is people in these relationships. “Everyone cheats,” he stated flatly. To which I angrily replied, “Is that an admission of guilt?!” The ensuing argument about how ridiculous I was for asking him that was followed by a much less productive talk about how our generation views cheating.
My husband feels that our generation (his generation perhaps?) has normalized cheating. It’s in the movies we watch, it’s freely and openly talked about with/by our friends when someone is doing it, it’s in the books we read – everywhere we turn there is sex being thrust into our face and my husband claims that what naturally follows is temptation. Enough temptation and you will eventually find yourself in a gray area which unfortunately often leads to you being in a “less gray” area.
I am furious about this explanation. I would not accept cheating as a norm in my relationship. I am a strong, talented, intelligent, college educated woman… I would never let a man walk all over me that way… right? The more I pondered that question, the more I had to take a closer look in the mirror. I have been with my husband for my entire adult life, as I mentioned earlier. Would I really throw that away because he had sex with someone else? My mind was aflutter. An angel and a (sexy?) devil sat on each of my shoulders during the argument within myself. Of course I would leave him – I have children who need to grow up knowing that it is completely unacceptable to treat your spouse with such disregard. On the other hand… we have children together and I want them to know that you don’t just walk away because you are having issues. If you say “I do” you should mean it, you should fight for your marriage, you should try to get through your problems and not just think that marriages are perfect and/or that leaving is the best solution when the going gets rough.
The angel clamored on in disbelief: but what about your dignity?! Surely you have enough dignity and self-esteem to leave and find someone who actually wants to be with you! The other side rang in with claims of how the character of a person is built not in the times when marriage is easy but when it is rough, that people who stand by their cheating spouses may not actually be weak but rather might be someone who is strong enough to trudge through it.
Someone who is empathetic enough to realize that people are human and make mistakes. Someone who has enough faith in their marriage to see it through the bad times and look forward to better days with their spouse. Someone who just doesn’t give up… The angel pleaded with me to think logically, how could I possibly save a marriage that had been betrayed after over a decade together?! To which the devil replied: how could you be so quick to give up on your spouse after spending your entire adult life together? Isn’t the investment you have in him worth the work?
It appears that I am much more conflicted about this than I had expected. What seemed like a very cut and dry issue was stirring up a lot more inner conflict than I imagined might be possible before. While turning this over in my mind I thought about my friends who have recently come forward and admitted to knowingly staying with a repeat offending cheating spouse.
I thought about their reasoning: the time spent together, the children they shared, the belief in the goodness of the other person, the unspoken hesitance to start dating again and find someone who might do the same thing or who might actually find other and more appalling ways to offend the relationship, or just the finality of saying “I do” and meaning it… what I was quick to write off as “weak” people, I found myself empathetic to.
Perhaps my husband was right, perhaps “everyone” cheats, or perhaps I’m right and it’s more of a rarity than we have been led by the media to believe. In any case, what I am finding is that no matter if someone stays or leaves, and no matter what their reasoning for doing so is, their belief in the goodness of people weighs in – they either believe that people are naturally good and that they will be able to find someone else, or that people are innately fallible and should be forgiven for their transgressions. I am firmly rooted in camp “people are naturally good”… aren’t I?