When a close friend – let’s call him S – got in touch with me recently for help in dealing with ‘a tricky situation’, I instantly knew that I was in for an emotional exchange of epic proportions. He only needed to begin with “I was a little tipsy…”. And the rest I could easily guess. He had been facing issues in his relationship for a while, and couldn’t stop gushing about a girl he recently met at a workshop.
Our conversation went on the following lines:
S: She understands me.
Me: Don’t we all understand each other in the beginning?[restrict]
S: Perhaps, but this is different.
Me: Isn’t it always different in the beginning too?
S: Okay, so can we get to the main issue at hand?
He continued with his story and asked me finally, “Should I admit to it?”
My answer? Well, a rather straightforward “No.”
Here is the rationale behind my advice, which perhaps might be considered unconventional: I believe that while honesty is certainly a virtue, and coming clean a noble thing to do, those who admit to cheating – in my opinion – are simply unloading their guilt on another person – and that is a horribly selfish thing to do.
We all make choices, and while no should judge them on blanket terms such as right and wrong, it’s important that we live with the consequences of our choices, since they are ours alone.
“But I’ll feel better,” he explained.
Related reading: My mind was my own living hell after cheating on my wife
And that is precisely where we fail to see the folly of our own argument. Coming out with the truth makes only the person who did it feel better, while certainly making the other one feel worse. It is best avoided, unless you wish to end your current relationship. In that case, it at least helps the other person move on, while assuring them that it wasn’t their fault but your own. In my friend’s case, he was clear that he didn’t want to let go of his stable relationship, and he didn’t feel any real love for the girl he met either. It was a lapse of judgement.
So my final advice to him? I simply said “End the affair before it gets even more complicated. If there is a positive to take from this, it is the heightened awareness that your relationship needs work, and perhaps your ‘mistake’ will serve as a persistent reminder to do better and work harder towards maintaining it. Moreover, while it is unfair to transfer your guilt to another person, it is equally damaging to keep yourself trapped in that guilt as well. Things happen, we’re all human, and it’s important to let go of the past and take it as a learning experience.”
I read an interesting take on infidelity recently. French psychologist Maryse Vaillant in her book, Men, Love, Fidelity,says “Most men don’t do it (infidelity) because they no longer love their partners. They simply need breathing space. For such men, who are in fact profoundly monogamous, infidelity is almost unavoidable.” She adds that the “pact of fidelity is not natural but cultural”, and it is essential to the “psychic functioning” of certain men who are still very much in love, and can also be “very liberating” for women.
I suppose that sometimes an affair can remedy a relationship that has lost its zing. However, this approach is easy in theory and far, far more complicated in practice. Human beings after all are highly emotional creatures and even the best theory can be an utter failure in practice. It is never worth the endless guilt trip.
Falling into the arms of another person is easy – and it feels great. Working out the issues in your relationship on the other hand is hard work.
As for my friend, you might be wondering: What if he felt love for the other person, too? Then what does one do in such a situation? Is it possible to love two people at one time? And how do you make the right choice? Well, those are topics for another day, with no one-size-fits-all answer. But I can attest to the fact that his little guilt trip has made him put more efforts into making his relationship work.[/restrict]