Thursday, December 3, 2009

Men vs. Women, Part 10

In light of the Tiger Woods scandal, which seems to get worse minute by minute, today's blog will be about infidelity -- and privacy. Again, this is for both sexes, though statistics say that 1 in 4 men will cheat. This is also directed towards married couples, though in my opinion, this applies to anyone in a committed relationship.

First, in order to understand it, we must define infidelity. Merriam-Webster defines infidelity as "marital unfaithfulness or an instance of it." Okay, but what does being unfaithful actually mean? One definition, again from Merriam-Webster, is "not faithful to marriage vows." Traditionally speaking, marriage vows are basically as follows:

Will you take (Bride’s name) to be your lawful wife, love her, honor and keep her in sickness and in health and forsaking all others keep only unto her so long as you both shall live?”

Wow. With that definition, I dare say I don't know one single person who hasn't been unfaithful. Most of us, as imperfect human beings, don't honor our spouse every single second of every single day. While we love our partners, it is very difficult (perhaps impossible) to like and respect them at all times. People do stupid crap all the time, and sometimes we don't like each other. I dearly love my husband, but sometimes I don't like him.

In addition, keep in mind that each couple has their own set of "rules" regarding infidelity. For example, some couples are swingers and engage in sexual acts with other people with the full knowledge and support of his or her spouse. So while I would consider that an act of infidelity, others would not. As a couple, we mutually agree on what is acceptable in our relationships and what is not. Further than that, in the event there is a marriage breakdown and separation, some people believe it is infidelity to develop a romantic relationship with someone else. I do not believe this is infidelity-- unless both parties are actively and wholeheartedly working to repair and renew the marriage. Some will disagree with that, but again, definitions vary from person to person.

So I asked what your personal definition of infidelity is, and strangely, most men and women polled are in complete agreement. I was really shocked by this, though I am not sure why I was so surprised as I know some pretty smart people. With the exception of two men and two others who overanalyzed the question (yes, Kael, you are one of those overanalyzers), every person said there are basically two types of infidelity: emotional and physical.

Most people agree that sex with someone other than your spouse is cheating. While one guy said infidelity is "sleeping with someone other than your spouse stone cold sober," the vast majority don't add the alcohol caveat.

Only 3 described infidelity as purely physical. Everyone else agrees that there is emotional infidelity as well, and usually, the emotional infidelity precedes the physical infidelity, and overwhelmingly, we believe the emotional infidelity is far more hurtful than the physical.

I personally believe infidelity consists of any and everything you would not want your spouse to know about and will lie to prevent the act being discovered. (Obviously, I don't mean gifts, surprises, etc.) If you lie to your spouse about money, that's unfaithfulness, plain and simple. If you lie about where you are or are going to be, that's unfaithfulness. Denying you are married or involved if asked by a hot guy or girl is infidelity. Not wearing your wedding ring when you go out is infidelity, too, and 1 in 3 married men take off their rings when they go out. In addition, to me, lies of omission are exactly the same. Clearing your history so the average spouse can't see you've been looking at porn or are visiting a matchmaking site is infidelity. If you have promised to have no more contact with someone in your life, and either continue to have contact or renew contact behind your spouse's back, you are committing infidelity. Sending a friend a text and asking if he or she is naked is infidelity, not a joke as someone once asserted. Again, if you wouldn't want your spouse to know about it, it is infidelity.

What consitutes emotional infidelity?

One person I asked said infidelity is when you confide things that should remain between you and your spouse. I am *bad* about this. I have more male friends than I do female, and for the past three years, I have consistently confided in Matty and James. I realize now that was wrong of me. I did/do confide in both of them because they know my husband better than I do and I didn't/don't know how to approach things with him and actually get results (which, in itself, is tragic), but our marriage should be our business and no one else's. So I have been unfaithful. Honestly, that kills me. I have failed both of us.

Other examples of emotional infidelity I received are as follows:

Flirting with others
Sexual talk/innuendo with someone other than your spouse
Exchanging personal e-mails or text messages
Buying intimate gifts and presents for others
Chatting online with someone else
Developing a crush or feelings for another individual
Sharing their most private thoughts and feelings with someone else
Not being loyal to your partner
Holding another man or woman in higher esteem than your partner
Anything that takes away your focus from your bond with your partner (ie., internet porn, video games, cars, friends, family, etc.)
Any act that threatens your spouse and your relationship
Spending time with someone of the opposite sex and lying to your spouse, either outright or by omission

While I don't agree with one of these, as I am a harmless flirt, I agree with every other one. I can also say I have violated one or two of these "rules" in a couple of my relationships. I can also say, without hesitation, every person I have ever been involved with has emotionally cheated on me in one or more of the above (not including flirting). There is a line with flirting, as well. Someone I love crosses this line all the time, to the point that his girlfriend gets practically homicidal every time they're in public. Let me tell you - it is not fun running interference so no one gets hurt.

While I believe if both people try hard enough, any marriage can be saved, how do we prevent infidelity in our relationships? First, we must close the door to emotional infidelity as it will lead to physical infidelity.

1. Stay true to your word, especially your vows. Forsaking all others means forsaking all others.
2. Realize if you wouldn't want your spouse to know about it, it is wrong.
3. Do not engage in inappropriate and/or sexual conduct with anyone else.
4. Communicate. If your needs aren't being met by your spouse, you have a duty to tell him or her that and mutually agree on your plan of action. Refusing to communicate will cause your spouse to look to others for acceptance, support and understanding.
5. Steer clear of friends and family who lead you astray by deliberately causing issues in your relationship. Family or not, these people have no place in your lives.
6. Respect and honor your spouse's feelings ~ whether you agree or not.
7. Don't lie. About anything. Because when you get caught in your lie, the distrust begins. Especially when you lie about little things. If you will lie about the small stuff, we know you will lie about the big stuff.
8. Make time to do things together, just the two of you, at least once a month.
9. Keep the focus on your marriage and each other.
10. Pay attention to each other and compliment each other regularly.
11. Talk about your goals, hopes, fantasies, dreams, etc.
12. Surround yourselves with people who have healthy relationships. Too many single friends threaten a marriage.
13. Do not take each other for granted. Remember, there are hundreds upon hundreds of people out there who will give your spouse the love and support he or she is craving.
14. Accept responsibility for your own actions and feelings.
15. Don't stop having sex!

So what do we do if our spouse has an affair, physical or otherwise? The firs step is to have a very frank discussion about how this happened. You need to know how your spouse was feeling when he or she sought out another. You must both take responsibility for your actions. It is very rare that a spouse strays without reason or warning. While you absolutely should not accept responsibility for your spouse's infidelity, you do have to accept responsibility for what you did to destroy your marriage to the point that your spouse strayed. And if you are the cheater, you have to be honest with your spouse and yourself. You also have to accept the consequences.

Your next step is to determine whether you want to divorce or try to repair the marriage. Initially, the betrayed spouse is going to be angry and want the divorce with every ounce of his or her being. I caution you not to make your decision rooted in anger. DO NOT do what I did last year and just leave. Truth be told, absence doesn't make the heart fonder. Absence means you can't work on your marriage. Absence also means one or both of you is going to start acting like you're single and doing all the stuff that you can't do all the time when you have a family (like partying). Also, do not repress anger and hurt. From the time we got engaged to the time I left, I let a lot of anger and hurt fester and simmer and I couldn't let go of it. Some of it I still haven't let go of, and I will probably never let some of it go. In order to let go of hurt that runs really deep, you have to have love and support from your spouse. If you don't, you won't be able to shake it.

You have to tell your spouse when something hurts you. And when your spouse comes to you and tells you that you've hurt them, then you need to be sorrowful and make a conscious effort to ease the pain you have caused. Dismissing his or her feelings is relationship suicide. Ignoring him or her because you don't like confrontation causes complete destruction.

If you choose to stay together, then you must both work on the relationship. Whether or not your marriage can survive depends on whether or not you are both willing to seek therapy, work and move forward. You have to forgive. People respond differently to being wronged and although they are hurt, they often want their relationship back. This is why you need therapy; a professional can help you learn how to forgive.

You have to respect your spouse's wishes. If you both decide to make your marriage work, you are going to have to be held accountable. This isn't to say the wronged spouse gets to dictate everything, but if you catch him or her checking your text messages, you have to suck up and deal with it. I am a snooper, and I always will be. Once you betray me, I will be all up in your business until we are able to restore our trust in each other. If you continue to betray me, I will continue to snoop. If this means checking your texts and phone calls and e-mails, then so be it. And if this means you have to allow your spouse unlimited access to your facebook, cell phone, e-mail, etc., you must suck it up and do it.

And remember two wrongs don't make a right. Should you both stray and then agree to make it work, you don't get to keep your lover around as a friend just because he cheated first. It doesn't work that way. Two people I love have experienced this recently. One of them strayed, and they are trying to put their lives and marriage back together. It irks me to no end that other so-called friends consistently invite the former lover out with the couple. While it doesn't seem to bother the husband, the wife is less than thrilled. Having that constant reminder shoved into her face at every opportunity is extremely difficult. Further than that, it is a respect issue. If your friends respect you -- and your marriage -- so little that they constantly show up with your spouse's former lover, they are not your friends.

Most importantly, do not fool yourself into thinking things will go back to the way they were because they will not. It is up to you as a couple to forge a better, stronger bond and recover from the infidelity. One person cannot fix the marriage. Neither can five others fix your marriage. It's going to come down to you and your spouse. You have to respect each other individually, and respect your marriage. Do not fool yourself into thinking all your friends will still be your friends. Unfortunately, when we are wronged, we talk about it to our closest friends. Then they talk about it with other people, and before you know it, half the city knows and has an opinion. My personal favorite is the people who haven't been around in years who suddenly crawl out of the woodwork and want to spout off pure vitriol -- as though they have been affected in any way.

While I realize Tiger and Elin's marriage will keep the tabloids in business for months, the truth is repairing a marriage after any type of infidelity is a private matter. Unless you are the husband or the wife, your opinion doesn't matter. In fact, your opinion isn't even necessary. It isn't your place or your responsibility. This especially goes for those of you that have never even been engaged, much less married. It's easy to be righteously indignant and place the blame, but the truth is, you don't have the slightest idea what happened. It's not your marriage. You weren't there. I assure you that it takes two to screw up a relationship, and your knowledge is limited. If you haven't talked to both parties, you know nothing. And of course, even if you have talked to both parties, you can throw out about 50% of what each person had to say.

The best thing you can do is mind your own business. Because you should never, ever forget that it could be you going through this pain, and if it were, I highly doubt you'd be so eager for everyone to tell you all about your business.

Marriages can be repaired. I know of at least seven marriages that have survived physical and/or emotional infidelity. The only guaranteed end to a marriage is death.

I honestly hope Tiger and Elin can work it out. They have two beautiful children, and the children deserve for their parents to try. If it can't be worked out, at least they really, truly tried. Fortunately, Tiger seems remorseful. Remorse is the first step. He also doesn't know the meaning of quit, so I bet he works very, very hard to restore her trust and their marriage. If only everyone would do that - we'd be a much more stable country.

I promise the next one will be funny. I'm taking suggestions for lighter men vs. women topics. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail.