The Trap of the False Equivalency

I was posting over at and someone, very conveniently, posted several tropes about reconciling that are false equivalencies. A false equivalency is a logical fallacy, where someone attempts to draw conclusions about things that seem equivalent, but in fact are very different.

An example of a false equivalency would be: “We’re all born naked. Therefore, we’re all no different from each other.”

There are a lot of reconciliation false equivalencies that fall under the umbrella of “Hey, most people are crappy and will cheat, so you should manage your expectations accordingly and reconcile, because, well, better the devil you know.”


That has a certain sicko, twisted appeal when you’re doing the mental gymnastics to reconcile. But it feels utterly absurd when you’re partnered up with someone who has not cheated on you and treats you right.

Below is our exchange.

False equivalency 1.

After someone cheats you are never going to have 100% trust in anyone, nor should you. Looking for 100% trust is a pipe dream.

This is a false equivalency. As someone who is remarried, and was cheated on before (my H is also a betrayed spouse), it may be impossible for me to exclude the possibility of cheating (which I give odds of not happening at about 99.9%). Reconciling with a cheater? Well, since past behavior is the best predictor of future conduct, I think you’re looking a far greater odds that they will reoffend. PLUS there is the whole issue that they already destroyed this relationship with their cheating. It’s risk assessment and a cheater has already shown they’re a bad risk.

This is like saying, hey, no car is 100% safe, so you can drive a Volvo station wagon or a Ford Pinto with bald tires and 200K miles — and it’s the same thing.

False equivalency 2.

With a sincerely repentant person you have the main ingredients for a good partner.

No, you don’t. My cheating ex, was really “sorry.” Most serial cheaters are intermittently repentant. People are sorry and reoffend all the time. People promise to quit drinking, gambling, compulsively shopping, over eating, etc. The world is full of good intended people who do bad, self destructive things.

False equivalency 3.

You are never going to get anyone without some flaws, that person does not exist in real life only in dreams and movies.

Ex-husband? His flaws were serial cheating, rage, exposing me to STDs, etc. My husband’s flaws? A penchant for cabbage, making lists, polka music.

You can’t reject someone for their flaws? Of course we should reject people for their flaws — if those flaws do us grievous harm.

False equivalency 4.

Life is give and take, compromise, and settling for less than your dreams most of the time.

Yes, be a grown up and have grown up expectations. That is not to say be a doormat and accept crap treatment. Know your worth.

False equivalency 5.

If the cheater shows with his actions for a long period of time that he is serious then hope in love is the best choice.

First you have to give them that “long period of time.” Which is a RISK. A bad risk IMO, see item 1. They may be consistently wonderful (and there are no other issues, like a pregnancy, or a harassing affair partner, or ruined finances, or they screwed around in your bed, etc.), or you might waste more of your precious life on them. Why not divorce them and see if they stay sorry and do the work regardless of what YOU do? If they’re serious, they can win you back. But you get to move on with your life and not twist in the wind waiting.

False equivalency 6.

You would probably want the same chance if you were the cheater, or did something else that is so damaging to your relationship. Sooner or later you will do something that is very damaging to your relationship.

Seriously? Sooner or later you’re going to screw around on your spouse? Gamble away the pension fund? Molest a cousin? Create a Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme?

No, I’m pretty certain I know that I’m not going to betray my husband. Forget to pay the cable bill? Say something awkward to his mother? Get grouchy? Yes. Sleep with someone I’m not married to? No.

And if I did something so egregious to my husband that he felt the need to divorce me, I’d understand that hey — “life is give and take” — and I’d take my lumps like a grown up. Actions have consequences.

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11 years ago

Just excellent hole poking, CL. Sometimes I wonder if people do an analysis before posting that crap. What is thie “trust but verify” crap(and , who, in his right mind, would quote something from Ronald Reagan in any context?)

Diana L.
Diana L.
10 years ago

Wow this really puts it out there – the equating of cheating with any other marital problem.

These are all good arguments for why you shouldn’t try to replace a faithful partner – it makes sense for a cheater or pre-cheater to think about these things. It isn’t fair to bring them to a betrayed spouse. A new spouse might nag or argue about money – I should say will – but a new spouse isn’t guaranteed to cheat.

The thing is there is some evidence that people in unhappy marriages will end up happier on average if they don’t divorce – but that is based on data that did not include couples dealing with abuse, adultery, or addiction.

7 years ago

Hey, having a penchant for cabbage is a virtue! Did you know that serotonin is mostly manufactured in the gut? Feed those good bacteria!!!

On a more serious note, thank you for untangling this logical fallacy, which is so easy to get thrown by.

The very real insult (spiritual, emotional, material, physical, financial) of infidelity is so dismissed in our society. Surgeons called the trauma to tissue after operations ‘insult’.