Here are three real scenarios from couples I know well. And they have turned everything I thought about fidelity on its head.
1. The Open Marriage
Kim and Troy have been married for 25 years and have two children. If one was an outsider looking in, they are the perfect couple. They are both beautiful people, have a beautiful home with a shiny pool in the back yard, two dogs and a cat, two perfect careers, two nice cars and a boat. They are fun to be with, always up for an adventure or a night out. They laugh and are affectionate with each other.
But Kim confided in me that they have been going through a rough patch for years. Troy has been fantasizing about being with other women and wanting her to be with other partners, men or women. They are both bored and have been considering divorce for a few years. Troy cheated on Kim throughout their four year relationship prior to marriage and to this day, she thinks that maybe Troy has cheated on her after their wedding, too. Every time he texts or picks up a call, she wonders.
Finally, at Troy’s encouragement, she slept with a friend of Troy’s. They filmed it and texted it to Troy. And instead of it destroying their trust and relationship, it has revitalized it. She says they have sex all the time now, they are open with each other in ways they never have, and she actually trusts Troy because she feels, at last, he’s honest. Brutally honest, not always easy to hear. But at last, she doesn’t wonder anymore.
I asked Kim if she felt guilty about having the one-time sexual tryst with Troy’s pal. No, she said, because she did it for Troy and the outcome has been good for them. She was on the verge of a divorce and, time will tell, it has perhaps saved their marriage. I asked if she would do it again. Probably not. What will she do if Troy has an affair, or many affairs? She’s not sure she cares that much, as long as it’s “just sex.” And what if it isn’t? What if one of those “just sex” women become something more? Kim says that she and Troy are strong, they have been together so long, and that no woman will end their marriage. She’s that sure of it. And she, the jealous type, is all of a sudden, more sure of herself than ever, and not feeling so jealous anymore. She feels… at peace.
Kim has decided that she will sacrifice her monogamous marriage in order to have honesty, transparency and openness in their relationship. Honesty and almost any cost. The rules of their marriage have now changed. Will this lead to long-term happiness? Time will tell.
2. The Known Cheater (And Looking The Other Way)
When Lori met Sam, he was already married. She helped break up his marriage and it was an ugly split. Sam’s wife fought hard to keep her guy but, ultimately, she failed. A year after their divorce was final, Lori got her wish– Sam married her amidst great fanfare and a huge wedding. It’s been 15 years and they have three sons. As an outsider looking in, they are also the perfect couple. A beautiful home with a pool, two great careers, beautiful boys who are in every sport one can imagine, and one awesome Golden Retriever. Sam and Lori go to all their boys’ games and activities and they have all the beautiful photos on Facebook to prove it. They are one happy family. Except Sam cheats on Lori all the time. Whether it’s with his co-worker, the neighbor, his ex wife, or the daughter of a family friend. And Lori knows it. Most of the time, she pretends it’s not happening. But a few times, it’s been so “in her face” that she’s had no choice but to confront it. Not long ago, she asked Sam to end his current affair. He promised. She demanded they go to counseling. He agreed. But then Lori never made that counseling appointment. Truth is, she doesn’t want to go to counselors, she doesn’t want to confront any of it. She wants the image and her intact family. Lori explains to me that she loves Sam and she’s going to save her marriage– period. They have their children, home and, well, there you have it.
In Lori’s defense, she knew what she was getting when she married Sam. She got a serial cheater. She wasn’t the only one that Sam cheated on when he was married to his first wife. Lori knew the rules of the game of life with Sam and she’s willing to play it. As long as Sam keeps the affairs out of her face, Lori will ignore it. For Sam, his job is to keep the cheating hidden. At least Lori isn’t demanding her husband become a different guy just because he married her.
Is this a healthy relationship? Um, no. But there are couples like Sam and Lori all around us. And I suppose if they are decent to each other, then the children never need to go through the trauma of a divorce and that’s a good thing. Right?
3. The Quiet Cheater
Mira and Chris married two years ago. During their three year courtship, Mira caught Chris cheating on her. She broke up with him but Chris came back, promising that he changed. After many months, Mira believed Chris, they reconciled and got married. I know Chris well and he tells me a lot about what goes on behind Mira’s back. He has cheated on Mira twice. He feels huge guilt but he can’t help it. Mira pretends that she trusts Chris and if she ever finds out, I’m quite certain she would divorce him. Mira is constantly checking Chris’ phone and emails. She has also been known to show up at his work unannounced, and even the occasional guy’s fishing weekend, to ensure he really is where he says he is. Chris finds it really annoying. Mira feels she’s going insane. How long can their marriage survive? Probably not for long.
…And there are five options
As much as I’ve thought about these three stories over the past many months, I’ve decided there are five options for ladies who date (or are married to) cheaters:
1. End it. There are men who don’t cheat. Find one.
2. Open up the relationship. Allow it, value honesty, and put your jealousy and fear aside or otherwise you’ll go insane.
3. Look the other way, again and again and again. You’ll live a life of dishonesty, but if you value your family and guy more, then perhaps you can live with it.
4. Make yourself crazy by always looking for signs that your guy is cheating. There will never be peace in your life and when you do catch him, you can take the moral high road and blame, scream and… live with it until the next time. Or eventually end the relationship when you’ve finally had enough of the insanity.
5. Decide to simply trust your guy. Don’t look for signs he’s cheating. Simply take your relationship at face value.