Dear Michelle, Here’s a question for your new ‘Advice Colummn.’ When one spouse cheats, are both guilty? – Not that Innocent
Something tells me there is a lot more to the story than just a cheating spouse, as is very often the case when it comes to matters of the heart. My first thought is ‘guilty of what’ and by that I mean guilty of adultery or something else. Neglect, perhaps? When a person questions whether he or she should feel some sense of guilt the odds are that the person is feeling guilty for something. Sometimes this guilt is misplaced partly because another has projected their own negative behavior onto the person and/or perhaps society has certain expectations or generally accepted moral codes. In the case of a cheating spouse very often the person who has broken the sacred vow of marriage and gone ahead and engaged in an extramarital affair is seen as the louse. Only sometimes there is far more to the story than what is on the surface. Could cheating be rationalized and even justified? Some might think so because the circumstances that lead to one person seeking comfort of a third party might be understandable. For example, let’s say that one spouse is abusive or neglectful and the cheating spouse finds that he or she is drawn to another due to the horrific circumstances of the marriage. On the flip side should that cheating spouse have gone to such lengths and perhaps it would have been better to end the relationship before committing adultery. Who can say?
There are those who will judge a cheating spouse based on very little knowledge of what’s transpired. Those people will tend to see things in black and white. There are others who might point out that when a relationship fails that both parties are to blame. It’s truly impossible to say without knowing all the circumstances involved. There are many times when a spouse does everything he or she could to make their partner happy but the marriage still ends because of an extramarital affair. There are also times when an extramarital affair can actually bring to light underlying problems and cause two people to realize that they might have been neglecting one another. Does one spouse-cheating mean the relationship has to end? Maybe. Maybe not.
What I think might be best is to do an inventory of your own behavior and see if you have done all you can to be the best you can be both in life and in the marriage. If you are the one who cheated, then ask yourself why you chose to cheat rather than look to separate and/or work on what was wrong in the marriage. Maybe you did that. If you are the one who was cheated on, then maybe ask yourself if you had been neglectful. Did you miss telltale signs that would have indicated your spouse was trying to tell you something before the affair?
Guilt, by the way is often described as a useless emotion but I do not think that is the case. I think guilt can help us to examine our own moral compass and we can use it in a way to grow. Life is about learning and if we use guilt to grow then it’s not useless. All I can say is that nobody knows what might have gone one in the marriage and responsibility to have a relationship grow and flourish is on both parties. Cheating is not healthy because it causes a person to lie to another and to one’s self. Why do I feel that you already know the answer to the question you asked? If you can look in the mirror and be honest about the circumstances that lead to the affair regardless of which side you are on, you should be able to move forward. Forgive yourself for the part you played and look toward the future. The past is the past and if you live an authentic life and treat others with the same respect you owe yourself, chances are you will find yourself in a relationship that is more solid at the core. All the best – Michelle