Madwoman Out of the Attic

a feminist trudging forward in a patriarchal world

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My husband's free adultery pass

A couple of years ago, I announced to Mike, “If you ever cheat on me (and then confess and feel really bad about it), I’d forgive you. I wouldn’t divorce you.”

This marked an important turning point in my conception of marriage. Before I was married, and even into the first couple of years of our marriage, I was convinced that if my husband was ever unfaithful, I would immediately kick him to the curb. The marriage would be over. Period. And how could anyone think differently?

But with eight years of marriage and one baby behind me, my views on this topic have become more nuanced. I can still see how a marriage with an unfaithful spouse could descend into a pit of broken dreams, crushed expectations, and destroyed trust. I can see how love could die from such a huge mistake, and I wouldn’t judge any person who decided to end their marriage after such a betrayal.

But as for me and my marriage, I now think that I’d be unlikely to leave a loving and contrite Mike, a Mike who was willing to change and try to work things out. Perhaps this is due in part to my extreme pragmatism. I like being married. What would my chances be of finding a man as nice as Mike, particularly with baby in tow? And what about money? I have a couple of graduate degrees, but as a teacher, my earning potential is less than half of Mike’s. I could survive, but it would be difficult on my own with the baby. These are my sobering realities, and I suspect these are the sobering realities that a lot of women face when they consider whether or not to divorce a cheating husband.

Beyond all the pragmatic considerations, however, there have also been my dawning appreciation of Christian forgiveness and my realizations of my own fallibility. Let’s face it. I’m a screw up. We’re all screw ups to some extent. We all do stupid things. I want to think that my heart could be big enough to forgive the (nearly) unforgivable.

Don’t get me wrong. I would not stay in a perpetually bad marriage. I could accept and forgive an episode of regretted cheating more easily than I could accept continual unkindness, disrespect, or emotional distance.

My husband and I refer to my bald announcement as his get-out-of-jail-free pass. I suspect we are able to joke about it because Mike is about as likely to commit adultery as I am to fly to the moon. But I think it’s an intriguing topic. Is adultery a deal breaker? How bad does a marriage have to be before you would leave it? And how much should one take into account the pragmatic considerations when deciding whether or not to leave a marriage?


Anonymous cchrissyy said...

i undertsand what you're saying but I can't imagine blogging a reply shorter than a novel. let's see...

If we set aside the assumptions that it can be OK to divorce and that of course you should pray about it and not be hasty, then,
I do agree the decision to leave is a balance between what is so bad about staying and if your condition apart would actually be an improvement in the short or long term. That includes money, it includes raising a kid alone, it includes the child's perspective. It includes show happy you could be together if you really worked at it.

I totally see how offenses of all kinds get more forgivable given the pain and risk of separating. And I totally see why a person with more options as a single would be less scared of that move. Though the social pressure and stress of the transition are awful from what I've heard. The author of "eat, pray, love" describes her necessary divorce like being hit by a bus, every single day for a year.

3/26/2008 5:12 PM  
Blogger mindy said...

oh man, in my heart I feel like adultery would be a major dealbreaker. I realized long ago that as far as DH is concerned, I am insanely jealous. But the cold realities of life, especially divorced life, would likely cause me to reconsider. It's one of those things I just can't think about because the very thoughts devastate me.

4/04/2008 10:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's somewhat possible to imagine forgiving an instance of adultery in the abstract, but let's focus a bit more on the reality here. When a husband commits adultery, he not only risks the emotional health of his marriage, he risks his own physical health and that of his wife. (The reverse is true for a wandering wife, of course.) What if that side relationship results in another child, who you will have to incorporate into your life and your child's life in some fashion?

How humiliated would you feel if your entire social community was aware of this transgression? As contrite as your husband might be, even his sincere repentance and regret would not be enough to spare you the ongoing pain of these consequences. I forgave once and learned that, the second time around, there is even more subterfuge and more gambling with your partner's health. Pass.

4/06/2008 11:08 AM  
Blogger Maraiya said...

Believe it or not, my husband and I have discussed this. At one point I told him that if he ever had a "oops, messed up once" kind of moment of temptation that I didn't want to know about it as it would be harder on the marriage than it was worth. If is was an ongoing affair though, that was carefully plotted and knowingly undertaken, that is a fish of a different stripe.

Currently, I've told him that he should tell me regardless. I do think that the first - moment of weakness affair - could be forgivable. I would certainly try. The other, I'm not sure if I could ever get over that.

4/24/2008 3:19 PM  
Blogger Samantha said...

My guess--before adultery was actually committed there would have to be a whole lot leading up to it. Either things would be rocky within the marriage or there was some baggage the cheating spouse had forgotten to take care of (or mention) prior to the marriage. I'm not a great believer in "adultery on a whim." I'd need to know the root causes before I'd make the decision of whether or not to continue the marriage.

4/25/2008 8:48 PM  
Blogger Anna Maria Junus said...

Having been there, and tried to move on I will have to say this...

Never again.

For a spouse to commit adultery either they hate their partner and want to punish them with the ultimate betrayal, or they don't even think enough of their spouse to stop themselves from committing it. Their partner simply isn't important.

You can't love someone and commit adultery. The consequences are too devastating.

I've learned that I don't want to be in a marriage where my spouse doesn't care enough about me to not want to destroy me.

5/06/2008 3:57 PM  
Blogger John (with an h) said...

I disagree that betrayal's only roots are hate or disregard. There are a universe of potential things that can go wrong. By the way, hate and disregard are would be a deal breaker for me even without adultery.

Desire overrides reason every time I eat a donut. :-(

It's very difficult to know whether it would be a deal-breaker without knowing the actual circumstances. Pure bad judgement? Intoxication? Depression?

5/06/2008 4:44 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

anna, I totally understand where you're coming from. If I had experienced what you had, I'm sure I'd feel the same.

At this moment, though, I could see how a person might be able to salvage the relationship. Like John said, it would definitely depend on the circumstances.

5/07/2008 10:09 PM  
Blogger OldManRunning said...

My wife and I have been married for 44 years. Part of the glue that holds us together is trust. Trust of a promise to be "true" to each other, trust of respect for the other, trust of common goals, trust of our children. I think that even a one-nighter would break that trust, and with trust gone, so would be the glue that holds us together. If we were to live together for economic reasons, it would be as roommates. Our marriage would be over.

5/18/2008 6:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, as someone who is currently in this situation, it's interesting to read the 'what ifs' written by others.

I would've never thought myself to be the type of person who would contemplate divorce and adultery, yet this has been my struggle for about two years now.

I've been married for 18 years, and we have 4 children. During our marriage, my husband and I have had little to no intimacy. No sex. Probably less than 50 times in almost two decades.

When I first began thinking of divorce there was no other man involved, I simply knew that I didn't want to spend the rest of my life this way - with a roommate.

But, about seven months ago, I began talking to a man online who lives in another part of the world. We haven't met, but we both want to.

I've told my husband at least four times, clearly and plainly, that I want a divorce, and each time he fights me on it, and I always end up compromising that decision out of guilt and shame in terms of the pain that it will cause those around me.

And I begin to question myself - which is worse? Divorce or adultery? This is the mental game that I play will myself everyday. Is it better to divorce and cause the chaos, or commit adultery and allow my children the illusion of 'family' with a two parent home.

It's not as easy as saying that it takes hatred to motive someone to lie in marriage. I don't hate my husband, but I don't want to be a wife anymore - yet the thought of hurting my children keeps me right where I am.

1/23/2009 9:41 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Wow, what a tough situation. Sounds to me like you're perfectly justified in ending this marriage. You've tried your hardest for a long time, and it just hasn't gotten better. But I understand how the presence of your children complicates the decision. Best of luck to you, anonymous, in whatever decision you ultimately make.

1/23/2009 4:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before any decision you decide to make. Remember it usually takes two to make a marriage start to crumble. As a wife that has been hurt from this circumstance, adultery is never worth the pain. I learned a few things about my relationship style as well. It certainly isn't always the other persons fault for the dying marriage. Remember the small precious things that got you married in the first place. It all starts with friendship and a repect you have for eachother that slowly slipped away with time. Revive them to spare yourself and your family the pain of what may seem greener on the other side.

2/26/2009 8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What would you do if you recently found out that your own mum had an affair that resulted in a sibling? That until now, your Dad still think he married a saint? What is the consequence of adultery specially if its so well hidden. The Scarlet letter, the story of David and Bathsheeba should enlighten us about it. But even as an adult, it is simply unacceptable. How can I tell my dad about? Should I even? How will it affect him? How do I support a sister who've just found out?

3/16/2009 3:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am currently trying to learn about forgiveness and be open to my own shortcomings in the lead up to the affair- it is so hard when i challenged him about the possibility of an affair several time in the past year and my feelings of jealousy rose to an extent that I sought professional help ...........then in February a day before my counselling session - he came clean- he didn't even then stop seeing her - he is addicted to her and to dancing - I go through hate, anger, grief sadness, shame on a daily basis - wonder if I can stand seeing him so bloody miserable now he has finished with her- he is now so depressed - I think depression is what triggered this aberrant behaviour after 40 years of marriage. no they weren't perfect - what marriage is for gods sake? but I love him and continue to love him - forgiving him for being late all our lives, not turning up to pick me up from hospital, not going to parents events at school - all these things were easy - this betrayal is so hard - I know he is weak and depresssed with his little life - he wanted so much but it was 'ordinary' -which suited me but not him. I wonder if I am fighting a losing battle?

5/22/2009 1:53 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Wow, anonymous, my heart goes out to you. Best of luck in dealing with this difficult situation.

5/22/2009 6:35 AM  

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