Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cheating and Abuse

I was pondering about what—and if—I should post any more about abuse. At the same time, I was still mulling over Dr. Oz's recent show (yes, it was still bothering me.) I finally think I've put my finger on why his show impacted me so strongly.

According to the show, 90% of men who cheat claim they do so not because of lack of sex or attraction to a prettier woman, but because they do not feel appreciated at home. Something about that ached like a sore tooth, and I just couldn't stop pushing it around with my figurative tongue. It bothered me partially because "not feel[ing] appreciated" seemingly puts the responsibility on the men: after all, realistically no one can make another person feel anything, and yet it carries the implied assumption that if only the woman had done more in the relationship, the man would not have cheated. In other words, it places blame for cheating squarely on the spouse's shoulders.

Now, why would this be, and why does it bother me so much?

The answer came as I was re-reading a document profiling abusers in custody disputes. It reads, "most batterers do not have an inordinate need for control, but rather feel an inordinate right to control under family and partnership circumstances."

In other words, it is generally not an emotional lack on the part of a batter which drives him to abuse, it is a feeling of entitlement: that for whatever reason, the batterer deserves control.

That is when it came to me: cheating is only another form of abuse.

If a cheater truly felt an emotional lack at home, there are many honest means open to him to deal with that lack. Instead, the cheater uses that supposed emotional lack from his spouse to justify his behavior, to make himself feel entitled to sex with another woman.

Add to that the fact that many cheating men still have sex with their wives, opening them up to sexual disease without disclosing their philandering to them, (a fact which Dr. Oz used to emphasize the importance that every woman be tested for sexually transmitted disease yearly,) and a very ugly and strange picture of emotional and sexual abuse is painted. How disgusting is the concept that a woman who is legally married must fear for her health and safety, let alone that she must carry the responsibility of detecting sexual infidelity?

As a woman who was in an emotionally abusive relationship, I can testify that the last thing I would have done was confront my spouse or tried to determine the truth of his behavior. I didn't want to know. I felt that I was nice, a good wife, by looking the other way and allowing him to repent in his own time.

So I call baloney. 90% of men might claim they cheat because they don't feel appreciated at home, but in reality they are just like abusers. They cheat out of a complicated tangle of low self esteem, a childish inability to accept responsibility, and a sense of entitlement.


  1. I agree. It goes back to the old excuse, "You made me do it." The abuser has freedom of choice just like everyone else. They don't have to choose to cheat.

  2. SilverRain,

    It is very difficult to make blanket assessments. People cheat for many reasons. Some people do it will little thought and little provocation. Other people are quite deliberate and maybe after years and years of painful rejection. Be careful.

  3. Thomas, there is NEVER a reason that justifies cheating on your spouse. If you are so unhappy, so unappreciated, so go to counseling, you get a divorce. You don't go have sex with someone else while you are still married.

    That's exactly her doesn't matter what is going on in your relationship, you always have other options of dealing with it besides cheating. No one should ever feel entitled to have sex with another person if they are married. Its an excuse. And a lame one at that.

  4. SilverRain,

    I'm happy to see more posts from you. This subject also makes my blood boil.

    There is another side to this - the men who don't cheat. How does this popular opinion paint them? That their wives are doing everything right and that's the only reason they don't cheat? Give credit where credit is due. Men who don't cheat have a handle on many things, it's not due to having a wife who meets their emotional and sexual needs. Although some men who don't cheat may also happen to have such a wife.

    I agree with anon - no justification for cheating. Man or woman. The ideas presented in this post seem valid to me, but that doesn't mean the person cheating always consciously understands that their cheating is due to certain interpersonal issues.

  5. What if the other spouse absolutely refuses a physical relationship --- say for 10-11 years?

    Doesn't that change the equation at all?

    1. No, it means the marriage is dead and you should either decide to fix it or decide to leave. There is no justification for cheating.

  6. Abuse is not only something men do to women. There are some husbands who are responsible and faithful, only to find that their wives are viciously cruel when their own whims are not met. I've met one or two of those kind.

    I'd view a woman who refuses to have a physical relationship with her husband [unless there is good reason] as bordering abusive in her own right, but it still doesn't excuse or justify cheating on her.

  7. Anonymous,

    I wasn't making an excuse for anyone. Although, I don't believe in absolutes here or anywhere - I agree that in 99% of cases it isn't justified. A person may have to really use their imagination to find that 1%, sure. However, unless it is me or my spouse involved, it is also none of my business, and I always come down on the side of mercy. I always assume there is something I don't see, and I'm always right. Not as a justification for a person, I'm not capable of justifying anyone, including myself. God sees, I let God form His opinion and let Him deal with it. People can get many many things right and still get one thing very very wrong.

    No single act defines a person. To not see this is generally do to an attachment to axe grinding, or because it touches a personal hurt.

    Confutus, many many studies show that physical abuse are more often woman against man than the reverse. See link below. Of course, usually a man can do more damage, so that from a physical standpoint man against woman physical abuse is more dreadful.

    Best! ~

  8. If you can justify an instance of cheating on your spouse because you "don't believe in absolutes", then you must agree that there are at least 1% of cases of justifiable child abuse, rape, kiddie pOrn, murder, etc etc.

    Some things are absolutely wrong, no matter the excuses, axe grinding, or personal hurt that may make a person say otherwise.

  9. C Jones,

    You're right. I give you the kiddie pron and child abuse (where the word abuse is unquestionably called for) as absolutes. I don't grant murder, see Laban. I also don't put "cheating" in that category. (see things beyond the scope of this discussion)

    I certainly do not imagine a situation where cheating on my spouse (I don't currently have one) would be justified.

    I think guarding against a kind of witch hunt mentality is called for in the case of a human sin, often committed by people in a great deal of pain, confusion and even love, is warranted. Something like 45% of married women cheat on their husbands. Maybe very few of them are in situations that we could easily empathize with. But surely some of them are. And perhaps some very few would even be justified in their actions.

    It simply isn't impossible, considering the gamut of human situations, for me to imagine.

    Best to you! ~

  10. Cheating is wrong. Blaming the wife/husband reminds me of the stat that troubled teenagers don't feel loved by their parents. Probably a lot of parents love their teens but the teens just have too many problems to be able to feel that love, or recognize it.
    I do feel that women are more likely to be co-dependent which often makes them victims of abuse. What is sad is that it seems like it is a pattern of behavior between the two of them. I do not like the "blame the victim" idea, but the victim does often choose to stay because the dynamics of the relationship have gotten that bad where she can't imagine leaving, so why can't we be as understanding about the pattern of years have brought the abuser to the same place where they do not know how else to act in the relationship. Both the abuser and the abused need help to break the cycle.
    So while the cheater is completely wrong to cheat, why is the spouse choosing something she knows to be wrong? Or at least, shouldn't a spouse know that it is wrong to stay married to a cheater?
    I'm not trying to be difficult here. I find it difficult to know how a spouse knows where and when to draw a line.
    How easily could I find myself being emotionally abused. If my husband is grumpy or angry, I can shrug it off and give him a pass. How many passes do you give? When do you say enough is enough.
    It is very complicated.
    So it is easy from the outside to be objective and say what a person should or shouldn't do. It seems obvious that the cheater shouldn't cheat, he should work on the marriage or end the marriage if he really wants to sleep around. And it is easy to sa the spouse should end the marriage before the marriage gets to the cheating stage if the cheater isn't willing to step up and be a good husband.
    When you are the spouse or the cheater? Not as easy to make the call.

  11., nothing justifies cheating. NOTHING. Again, no matter what the problem is in your marriage, if it is THAT bad that you would consider cheating, then you need to leave the relationship and get a divorce. Period.

  12. I never said that anything justified cheating.
    I'm just asking what justifies the victim's actions that are also wrong (even if they are less wrong than the cheater's actions, aren't some of them actually wrong)? It just seems like both partners need help to break the cycle of abuse, so I was throwing that out there to try to gain more understanding of couples in this situation.

  13. SilverRain, thanks for posting on such a sensitive topic. While I don't think every man who cheats is necessarily merits the label "abusive" it is absolutely true that a man who cheats on his wife is not usually the type of man who is willing to take responsibility for his own actions.

    The biggest problem here is that we are allowing offender to frame the debate.

    The best thing to do is to hold people accountable for their actions. A man who cheats has violated civil, community, ethical, and religious rules on top of violating the trust of another human being. He married for richer or for poorer. But he either lied or has changed his mind. But he is responsible for his behavior and bringing up mitigating factors is a ploy to divert attention.

  14. Jen—That's a very good point. It also doesn't give the men who DON'T cheat the credit they are due. The fact remains that there are good men out there (at least 40%, according to the survey) and they are likely the emotionally adjusted, responsible men. So men are not incapable idiots. They can control themselves.

    Thomas—I'm sorry to disagree with you, but I feel that in this case, a blanket assessment is appropriate. Sure, the details of the cheating may change, but when winnowed down to the basics, there is a choice between cheating and not cheating. I feel that the difference between men who cheat and those who don't is the propensity to make excuses and justify behavior. I think those excuses are made because a person (and let's be fair, the same thing goes for women who cheat, though that's not the topic of Dr. Oz's show) has an inability to accept responsibility, and an overblown sense of entitlement.

    And, to be blunt, you show me a man (or woman) who has completely refused to have sex with their spouse after cheating until s/he is screened for VD's and I'll consider entertaining the notion that s/he might have a shred of honor.

    And IF someone who has cheated has understandable reasons, that still does not mean that they were justified. A person who hunts down the man who killed his daughter and shoots him dead is still guilty of murder, however compelling his story is. It might garner pity, but it does not absolve guilt. Someone in such a pitiable circumstance ought to still own up to his own misdeeds and not try to excuse it away. (That is exactly the sort of sense of entitlement I find so disgusting.)

    Confutus—I couldn't have summed it up better. I fully agree with you.

    Nathan—Thank you for your comment. Let me clarify one thing. I think that cheating is ALWAYS a form of abuse. That does not necessarily make the person who commits it an abuser, any more than one lie makes a person a liar. In order to be an abuser, a person has to demonstrate a pattern of abuse.

    After all, I suspect that probably everyone abuses someone else at least once during the course of their lives. It's part of our selfishness and natural wo/man. However, not everyone turns those mistakes into a way of life.

  15. Silver Rain,

    I continue to say that I'm not talking about either excuses or reasons but on how we choose to view people who 'cheat'. Blanket assessments are not appropriate where, in fact, we have no grounds to make any assessment. The entire matter is between the 'sinners' and God, to some extent the spouses and family that they may have hurt, and in some circumstances a bishop. I firmly believe that our responsibility is to keep our nose in our own business, and treat other sinners as we, who are also sinners (where are thy accusers?), not only would want to be treated but deserve to be treated.

    Really, the stridency of your response ... terms like 'shred of honor' ... baffles me in that it seems out of character for you. And what my concern is is that you have gone through some period of hurt, the cause of which we are not privy to, and that you are emerging from the other end not more merciful but less. Always a possibility. Blanket assessments, on any subject, smack of self-justification and sometimes even vindictiveness. I'm not saying your post rises to that, but I catch a whiff of it - and that was my honest worry about it.

    As always, my very best wishes for you. ~

  16. I appreciate your concern, Thomas, but please remember a few things. First, I'm not talking about all people who cheat, I'm talking about those who seek to excuse that behavior by blaming it on genes or one one's spouse, and on those who put their faithful spouses at risk for lethal diseases because they're not grown up enough to own to their mistakes.

    Do people mess up? Of course, I've made more than my share of mistakes, too. But I try my best not to blame those mistakes on others, and if I did, I would hope someone would chastise me about it.

  17. Hi - yeah, we've probably been talking past each other a bit. There are plenty of scoundrels. Sometimes the people who look like scoundrels are not what they seem. I'm sure we'd agree with each other, by and by ... :)


  18. Cheating is cheating - just as integrity isn't selective when it comes to specific behavior. By blaming someone else for cheating, hitting them, etc., then they justify their behavior while keeping their integrity intact. Lack of sex is not life-threatening, and "feelings" are not acceptable when it comes to any actions that come at the expense of someone else. Marriage is not an entitlement to abuse behind closed doors, and if "cheating" can get you thrown out of college and jobs, I think cheating on marriages should be included on resumes as a reflection of character. If its not with the consent of your spouse, its deceit and abuse, cut and dry.

  19. actually cheaters may find a multitude of excuses or things that lead them to that choice but they all do it for one reason selfish sense of entitlement. I deserve this because of ...... I know not all cheating is done at the same level but it all pretty much has the same source what leads to it is more individual.

  20. Infidelity is not just emotional abuse it is also physical abuse. Many women have been maimed or even killed by STD's contracted from a trusted partner.

  21. About 10 years ago, I was married to my very best friend. I loved him with all my heart. He was ridiculously busy with college and work and I stayed home with 4 children under the age of 6. I longed for more time together. Every time we were together, I tried to be close, but he was "too tired" or "didn't have time". I was supportive and proud of his straight 4.0 and how hard he worked for our family, but I was getting sick. I was so tired all the time. One day, I had a sharp sudden pain and ended up in the hospital. What they thought was appendicitis was really a ruptured fallopian tube and a major infection. I was close to dying. I had an STD. Getting to the point of near death was the breaking point. My husband came clean. He had been cheating on me for two years. His "nights at the library" were actually nights at the bar picking up strangers. I tried to leave him, but I was literally too ill to pack my bags and the only place I had to go was temporary and wouldn't even last my surgery recovery. Abusers always blame their victims and the quintessential quality of addicts is selfishness. He was addicted, my family became the victim. Who suffered for his actions? I certainly did. My children suffered in spades. Not only did they not see their daddy for 2 years, they potentially could lose him from the rest of their lives. I was nursing a broken heart and a broken body. Being able to see that it WASN'T my fault and would have happened no matter WHO he had married helped me to support him in his addiction recovery. I wasn't his wife, but I could be his friend. That was the only way I would be able to co-parent with him wither or not we divorced. He was sorry for hurting me. Nearly killing me was the start of his recovery. Looking at our perspective futures, I could see that if I left him, he would eventually repent, move on, become a successful attorney, be ridiculously happy with some cute, naïve, LDS girl and live Pinterestly ever after. I would struggle with chronic illness, poverty, and raising my 4 children alone. Why couldn't I live Pinterestly ever after?!? What was holding me back was forgiveness. Don't get me wrong. If he hadn't repented and continued on with the farce that he deserved sex with random strangers I would have sent him on his way. It was the fact that he was going to be able to be a good husband to somebody eventually that made me want that somebody to be ME. 10 years later, I'm still chronically ill with auto immune disease that hit me like a bus during my early married and pregnant years. Student loans eat up most of our income and I do a lot of the parenting for our 4 children. But, I'm not doing it alone. I'm grateful that I stayed and that my frog became a prince. I'm still working on Pinterestly ever after. I'm thinking the cake must be a lie.


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