I’ve recently been pondering something that irks me, and would really appreciate your opinion.
In various conversations with some friends over the last couple of years, if a case of infidelity is ever discussed, usually the first thing people comment on, is their opinion of the chump.
A dear friend whose brother was cheated on by his wife several years ago, was telling me, that the man her ex sister-in-law had cheated with, was well known for serial cheating on his wife (a unicorn). My friend went on to comment that his (unicorn) wife was stunning! My friend had a look of confusion on her face. A moment later, she realised her own flawed thinking, and hastily added ‘not that anyone deserves to be cheated on’.
Last week, I had two friends over for the evening. They have a friend in common, who several years ago, cheated on her husband not long after having their third child. Think online hook up sites several times a week.
They both spoke of their confusion because her husband (now ex), had been a good-looking, really nice guy who adored his children. They decided the birth of the third child must have done something to her mind because before that, she and her husband were very happy together.
According to my friends, after he found out, and she became a single parent to three children, she sorted her head out, stopped the hook up sites, and worked every hour she could. They seemed to think this was an indication of good character. I saw it as an indication of a cheater who didn’t have a husband at home to leave her kids with while she went out screwing around. Plus financial struggles from being a single parent. But maybe I’ve grown cynical.
The only comment I made throughout the discussion, was that when an affair is brought to light, the first thing people seem to do, is scrutinise the person who was cheated on, when they should be looking at the cheater. I was met with blank stares.
But then, I think I too am guilty of this bizarre behaviour. Three years ago, I was married with a 6 month old, when I discovered my ex had been cheating on me with prostitutes since before we were married. Turned out he’d cheated on all his ex girlfriends too. When I first began to tell friends and family, I always told the bit about ‘since before we were married’ and how he’d been cheating all his adult life. To… what? Take the scrutiny off me? To let people know in an instant that it wasn’t my fault, and thus stopping them checking out my waistline/hair/face/attitude?
I know it wouldn’t have mattered/was not my fault, if it had only been the once and after we were married. Yet I still felt like I needed to defend myself in the telling of the horror story I’d found myself living in.
So what is it? Why does society first look to the victim of infidelity when trying to understand the cheater’s actions?
So many reasons, but the first is that betrayal scares the bejeezus out of people. It’s hard to imagine what could make you feel more vulnerable than realizing that those closest to you were conspiring against you.
Don’t want to feel vulnerable? Can’t imagine yourself powerless? Suppress your empathy. Assign blame.
Well, surely there is something you did that compelled this person to abuse you.
But hang on, we can’t call it abuse. We have to minimize it first. It’s “an act of exuberant defiance” (thanks Esther Perel!), it’s just messing around, it’s What Men Do (so put up and shut up), it’s What Women Do (why didn’t you treat her special?), it’s No Big Deal, it’s monogam-ish, it’s the subject of farce and rom-coms and wink, wink, nudge, nudge, naughty, naughty!
It’s never feet in stirrups for STD check after years of presumed monogamy. It’s never paternity checking your children. It’s never Junior opening the laptop and seeing Dad’s multimedia sexting. It’s never the vomiting and raw grief. It’s never the discovery of stolen monies spent on affairs.
What it is? Your fault.
Look, on your last point — I did the same thing. My cheater, turns out, was a serial cheater going back his whole life. Through two other marriages. Throughout our ENTIRE relationship, he maintained a double life.
So, what did I do to make this man cheat on me? I have no idea. Apparently it wasn’t so awful that he didn’t pursue me and ask me to marry him. (Excuse me, Esther, “mate in captivity.”)
But it’s no excuse! You’re supposed to have KNOWN he was a serial cheater. You were supposed to have SUSSED OUT that he was a player. How could you be so stupid, Lucy?
Why do people believe this shit is all our fault? Why do WE believe it?
1.) Chumps assume the blame because it gives us a sense of control. If this is our fault, then we can FIX ourselves and stop these bad things from happening. Control is a very seductive commodity when you’ve been chumped. False hope sells. The RIC is predicated on it.
The truth is that we cannot compel other people to act. We only control OURSELVES.
2.) There is a therapy tradition that believes all problems are 50/50. On the face of it, it seems like the grown-up approach. Own your shit! We all contributed to the unhappiness. We all brought issues to the marriage. But it flies in the face of what we know about addiction, mental illness, and personality disorders. No, some people can behave utterly self-destructively and manipulatively. People lie to therapists, their spouses, and themselves. And whatever issues both sides contributed to the general dysfunction are eclipsed when there is abuse. Infidelity is abuse.
For more on personality disorders and therapy traditions — check out blog friend Dr. George Simon.
3.) Some people suck. Not everyone can walk into another person’s cracked open heart. Not everyone can be present when you’re in pain. That’s okay. It’s scary stuff. But it takes an asshole to blameshift. Were you frigid? Did you get fat? Can’t get it up anymore? Work too late? Neglect him for the children?
And I would argue it also says something about another person’s values when they think looks should protect you from cheating. But, but! She was PRETTY! She got cheated on? (So what, is okay to cheat on the ugly? They deserve it?) He was a good father and she checked out on him? I wonder what he’s REALLY like? (Maybe he IS a good guy and she sucks.)
Sucky people do this to feel safe. So they can check the boxes and know it Won’t Happen to Them. I’m not frigid! Check! I’m nice to my wife! Check! Ergo I’m SAFE.
Lucy, I’m glad you’re speaking up and changing the narrative.
This one ran previously.