16 January, 2009

The Fault Line

In a comment to my post on single and married men, L commented: 

“I'm sort of floored that there are people that think affairs and infidelity are okay if "it works for you." I don't buy it AT ALL. Who does it work for? The other spouse? The person dreaming of something that will never come? The dumbass trying to balance the two? The children learning what it means to be a trustworthy adult? Or maybe I'm overshooting? Maybe no one in an affair or a broken marriage ever thinks that far ahead.

Anyway, I know that wasn't the entire point of your post, so I'll stop.”

And no, that wasn’t the point of the post, but L raises an interesting idea in her comment.  Are there people who believe that infidelity and affairs are okay?

This is a question I can only answer for myself – and my answer might differ than what one might expect.

Infidelity and an affair are subjective.  We all have a different working definition than the person in the next room, possibly even the person with whom we are involved.  As a society, we understand them to mean a person stepping outside a long term/committed relationship to have intimate relations with another person.

But is it still an affair or infidelity if the relationship is open?  Society would say yes, but the people involved would not.

For some infidelity is just about the physical intimacy while others (and yes I know a few women who define it this way) believe that a close friendship between their husband and another woman is a form of an affair – especially if the relationship developed after the committed relationship began.

The way I define the terms or apply them in my own relationships is more about honesty – the cheating or the infidelity occur when the person decides that this is a topic the he can not discuss with me – when his interest in another woman… as a friend or something physical… is something we can’t discuss or he feels he needs to hide.  It is not the physical act or the close friendship; it is the dishonesty and loss of intimacy in our relationship that defines the situation, the problem, the challenge.

Society sees things differently as a collective.  We like to see the problems, analyze the problems, give labels to this and that situation, and then find fault.  There are lines that we see; lines that, when crossed, result in blame or fault being determined.  How often does society stop to consider that we see things from the outside – we do not know what is happening within that relationship, the conversations, the communications, the intimacy, the ins and outs of any given relationship we are observing.  We only know what we see and that is often filtered through our own definitions, ideals, and beliefs.

A man has a crippling disease and is unable to be physical with his spouse, if she seeks physical intimacy elsewhere with his blessing, is it an affair/infidelity?  If a man fantasizes about another woman and doesn’t tell his partner – is he cheating?  If a woman stops having physical intimacy with her husband for a year, or two, or ten…?  Given the push to keep parents in the same house for the kids even though the marriage might be lifeless, is there room to permit the parents to find love elsewhere?  Society is more than willing to place labels and find fault when no one truly knows what happens behind the closed doors that is a relationship – as of yet, we do not live in glass houses.

I don’t have any answers to my questions stated above nor do I know what exactly to tell L.  Yes, infidelity can result in great pain and hurt… but is it the infidelity or is it the dishonesty?  Is there room for affairs in marriages as there are in other cultures and societies?  If we accepted them here, would we be better served?

I am not an advocate for affairs or infidelity.  I am, however, a firm believer in accepting that each relationship is vastly different – that it is not just to ask everyone to live up to an American ideal of what we, as a society, think marriage should be.  Adults need to consider their families, their kids, and the results of their actions.  Society needs to learn that it doesn’t always know the answers nor have all the facts regarding an individual situation.

There are two books I would like to read that talk more about this subject – human behavior fascinates me greatly – Lust in Translation and I Don't: A Contrarian History of Marriage.

Thank you L for reading and commenting and for giving me a chance to think about the issue and to write about it.


justrun said...

(You knew that was *me*, right? :) )

I know a lot of people will see my statement as a sweepin generalization, which I did not intend to make, but in the context of the post (and the comments) we weren't talking "what ifs", we were talking our own realities. Yes, to each his or her own, but in the majority of cases, I still don't buy it.

The Exception said...

I am simply happy to have had something interesting to type about!! I loved the comment for that and your honesty!

dadshouse said...

I know there are people who think it's fine, and even healthy, to engage in extra-marital affairs. I don't think that way. I think affairs are destructive, mostly because of they lying and deception involved. I mean, how great can your marrige be if you feel a need to chase tail elsewhere?

As for debilitating problems that take away sex - it seems to me the couple would have a conversation about that first.

Thoughtful post.

The Exception said...

DH - I would guess that they have that conversation. I would hope that couples, in marriages, have such conversations all the time regardless... I mean, I simply can't imagine not talking to someone with whom I have chosen to share my life...but that is my ideal thinking...

MindyMom said...

I agree with Dads. I would also add that when the cheater cheats knowing they are hurting the other person it's just wrong. It's never OK to hurt someone for your own personal gratification. The person he/she is cheating with also has some accountability for causing harm.

Aaron said...

1. Not sure, but really -- how many men in that position are going to give their wives the go-ahead to start chasing other men?
2. Yes.
3. No.

Here is some more blog fodder for you. I notice that you always use intimacy with the adjective "physical." Do you do this on purpose? Do you believe there are different types of intimacy? Personally, I believe it encompasses all things, spiritual, emotional and physical. I'm not sure I believe you can be physically intimate without being emotionally intimate.

The Exception said...

Mindy - Yes, when it is cheating it is cheating. The pain that can result from cheating is... beyond words for all involved.

Aaron - I think that intimacy doesn't have to by physical... that is why I specify when it is physical intimacy. Can people have intimate friendships without the physical? I think that there can be sex without intimacy too... but that is just me. It isn't ideal in the slightest.

Jen said...

I have read your post for awhile and now feel like I must comment:)
First- aren't dishonesty and infidelty the same thing???
Also, I understand the fact of being "incapable" of being intimate with your partner, but wouldn't that be the minority??
Infidelity is awful, destructive and I see that there should be no place for it in any relationship.
I realize there is a point for staying together for the children but that has many disadvantages as well.

Lad Litter said...

You're right, there are probably layers of meaning in infidelity. But less so with affairs. You know when you're having one of these, or looking for one.

The Exception said...

Jen - Thanks for reading and for leaving an opinion!!

That situation is th eminority, yes, most likely. For me, in my relationships, there is no room for the dishonesty. Personally, it can cause more lasting damage then the rest... but that is just me.

I suppose my idea is that we need to understand that things aren't always as they seem from our armchair looking in.

Does society have such a strong and negative reaction to them that the reaction has made the actuality of an affair that much worse? Not to minimize it at all, but have we made a mountain of a molehill?

LL - And what is the Ausie take on it - society speaking?