I’ve tackled the question of can cheaters really love you while they are cheating on you (as many of them claim). My opinion is that betrayal and love are incompatible. Love is action. It’s hard to claim you love someone if you’re hitting them, or cheating on them, or robbing their wallet.
And yet, many cheaters report being perfectly happy in their marriages despite cheating. Well of course they do, cake is delicious. What’s not to love? A faithful spouse and a bit on the side. Apparently, when it comes to infidelity our brains are capable of compartmentalization. Your love for your wife is this nagging little background noise, while you’re engrossed in lust/love for your fuckbuddy. There’s Wife Love, and Fuckbuddy Love, and probably a bunch of little boxes of neurotransmitters for other loves — Breaking Bad, chocolate donuts, evening campfires…
Actually, I can see a cheater saying, “My love of chocolate donuts has NOTHING to do with you! I am large. I contain multitudes!” All these competing loves… is there any hierarchy? Is one pleasure as interchangeable as the next? If we claim love is compartmentalized, isn’t that rather narcissistic? Where are the other virtues like empathy, loyalty, or duty? Shouldn’t love be interconnected and not compartmentalized?
I love chocolate donuts, but I won’t eat them in front of you, because you’re on a diet and I don’t want you to feel bad. So I will exercise restraint around donuts for your sake. That would be an example of a connected kind of love. I put your welfare above my love of chocolate donuts.
But I am going to say for the sake of argument, that cheaters CAN love us (in a compartmentalized, stuff it down while fucking around kind of way) while they cheat. A reconciling chump will cling to that — but the cheater Loved Me All Along! You need that conceit if you’re going to reconcile, because how much more difficult would it be to admit, that no, the cheater didn’t love you one bit. (But they’d be game to love you again if you’ll perform the pick me dance.)
So let’s say your cheater loves you. Okay, I’ll buy it. What is inarguable, however, is that you cannot cheat on someone you respect. I think it is possible to love someone you don’t respect — but is the love of a superior being to an inferior one. It is not a relationship between equals. Cheaters may claim they love you, but they can never say they respect you. To lie to someone, to hide important truths about their life, to make unilateral decisions — these are acts of arrogance and disrespect.
After discovery, it’s a power battle. Who will be in the superior position and who will be in the inferior position? It can go in different ways.
If you get a remorseless cheater, they retain their superiority. The chump eats the shit sandwiches, doesn’t do anything to upset the cheater, and continues to perform the “pick me” dance to ensure the cheater sticks around.
In a “successful” reconciliation, the chump stays married, but does not respect their partner for their infidelities. Ironically, now the position changes, to something paternalistic — the superior being (the all-forgiving chump) loving the inferior being (the fucked up cheater for whom they have lost respect).
Then there is the rare path of unicorns. The chump leaves and doesn’t take this shit, and files for divorce. The cheater then has to respect the chump’s moxie. Wow, this chump will impose consequences on my ass! Then the cheater does the long, hard, humiliating work to earn the respect of their chump. The years of therapy, the financial reparations, the self reflection that yes, they fucked up and the chump owes them nothing. They limp along towards something like equality. We all know from painful experience how likely this outcome is.
So let’s change the argument. Instead of getting hung up on I can’t leave this person, because I still love them, perhaps the better question is — can I stay in a relationship in which I do not respect this person and they do not respect me?
If your cheater says “But I loved you all along!” — the answer is “Yeah, but you didn’t respect me.”
R-E-S-P-E-C-T. You either need it, or you don’t.