Mere Mortals We Cheaters Be

Of course, Anna Jorgensen’s 4 Stages of Cheating & When it’s Warranted in elephant journal grabbed my attention, but, after reading it, I feel a bit betrayed myself. First, the title is terribly misleading:  “when it’s warranted”, according to Jorgensen, is never…unless your life warrants it. In other words, it’s complicated, not surprisingly.

Second, the 4 stages of cheating she outlines are pretty obvious. No, the most interesting insights of this article are found in her off-the-cuff wisdom culled from personal experience. Mentioning her three observational points of view, conspirator, cheatee and cheater, she confesses the following about being cheated on (the cheatee):

I also don’t know if I was more bitter about the cheating or the lying. Lying makes me pretty bitter.

Lying makes most people crazy. Social brainwashing and the human tendency toward compartmentalization are partially to blame for that toss up, deciding which is more insanity-inducing. One may eventually understand the cheating, sexual urges and all (media reporting cheating is a fact of life), but the lying is almost always interpreted as conscious, decisive and lacerating. Lying is a knife in the heart of trust and often taken as a sign of a deeply flawed character. 

An insane world is one where truth and falsity are in constant flux, making for a meaningless existence. When the lying is revealed, it not only induces shame and blame, punched-in pride and cries of victimhood, none of which help to expedite healing, but turns the world upside down, leaving the “victim” paranoid about her own failure of instinct and understanding. She often becomes defensive and mistrusting. 

In truth, cheating IS lying–to self and others.

Jorgensen avers cheating is never warranted and argues an either-or fallacy:  fix it or forget it.
When Cheating is Warranted

It’s not. Cheating is never the answer; if only because it ultimately won’t make us feel good. We’re far better off to figure it out or part ways peacefully. Of course, that’s way easier said than done sometimes and all my experience and those of others will never replace your own experience. That’s how life works.

Strikes me as a rational imperative: work on the relationship or get out of it if it cannot be worked out. And yes, easier said than done, especially when children are involved. Balancing the needs of two people is incredibly challenging. Three, four or more components to the equation is far more difficult. Now add some children or parents with all-consuming special needs or a spouse with a congenital, contracted illness ten or twenty years into the relationship and see how the formula of fix it or forget it comes out. Jorgensen acknowledges the fallacy and backtracks from her hard stance to a more philosophical one.

If the issue were black and white, the conversation about cheating would be over.

The Blame Game: We Lose

Also, never blame the cheater. Or the other person. No blame, or blame both parties in the primary relationship. No matter how perfect one partner may seem to be, it’s a two way street. Ladies, if we hold out on giving our man the cookie, we’re asking him to cheat (eventually). Men have very few needs (primarily freedom, respect, appreciation, food, sex) to be content, but they will even put up with a lack of most of those to a large degree if they’re getting sex gratefully. Put out (happily) or put up with a cheater. I’m aware this will ruffle some feathers. I’m not saying we can never say no, but I am saying we’d be best off to not use sex as a weapon or bargaining chip. As a bonus, working out differences between the sheets is a lot more fun for both team mates.

Again, I like her homespun advice imbued with personal experience. My head nods when I read this excerpt, but my knee-jerk doubt scoffs at such an assurance of life operating in neat little stereotypes. If it is that easy to appease men, then there wouldn’t be much to write on cheating. Psychologists would go broke. 

Though, I have been told by many men that this is what wives must do to avoid infidelity: be an avid sex participant. However, each man defines “avid” and “participant” vastly differently: once a day? a week? smiling?  Most men, I suspect, are more complicated than “just feed, bathe and sex me.” 

Some men have emotional cheats that remain purely emotional. Others may have been drawn initially by the emotional support, recognition and respect perceived as missing from their relationship, appreciation for which they later translate into physical contact. Or some men are drawn to outsiders because they are outsiders, plain and simple. 

There are innumerable sources to the cheating complex just as there is an unlimited spectrum of flavors of men and women, combining in infinite ways. Hyperbole, maybe, but so is reducing men to primates.

Some humans are excellent comparmentalizers. They see the world in boxes and parcelize people into um-teen utile categories. The impossibility of the composite picture, of the ideal fed to a population, is culprit, in part, to infidelity. 

Think of June Cleaver with her clean white apron, Laura Ashley styled cotton dress, string of pearls and freshly swept up-do. She stays home all day scrubbing floors and baking cookies for the Beav, but keeps herself on-the-ready attractive with her pearls and dress for her husband’s whims and desires. She is saint and sinner. She is a symbol of the impossible ideal of an era. 

We aim too high, are fed too many fairy tales and told too many lies from birth. Thus, I say the aggregate behavior of a culture is partially to blame for cheating. We are inculcated to it. 

It is complicated. I have been beaten down from my high horse long ago. Personal responsibility, determination and justice used to be the cure-all in my mind. Judgments flew from great heights. But there is nothing like life to equalize: nothing like getting my ass kicked up and down the halls inside and outside of courthouses, by attorneys, judges, clients, business associates, trusted friends, lovers, brother, sisters, children, strangers, parents, spouse, and nature at one time or another to afford me humble perspective.  

The conversation is critical. Keep talking, observing, listening and starting anew, I silently affirm daily. Be flexibly firm, empathic and self-doubting while amused, I often think. Aspire to be the acme–saint June Cleaver–knowing the inevitable shortfall. It is all anyone can do in the face of the mystery and misfortune of mere mortality.  

“How I Came to Identify with my Husband’s Mistress”


Dogs are wise.  They crawl away into a quiet corner and lick their wounds and do not rejoin the world until they are whole once more.  Agatha Christie

A well written piece in The Huffington Post, Sophie Rosen, writing for, takes her readers through her transformation from a jilted wife railing at her husband’s mistress to knowingly tasting of the same forbidden nectar in How I Came to Identify with my Husband’s Mistress.

The article starts with the confrontation, suppressed rage:  “Are you fucking my husband?”

But then she settles into the reflective tone she adapts to chronicle moving through her thought process.

More than my husband’s actions, what I found most curious was his mistress’ lack of remorse, remorse for her part in a marriage’s end, especially where three young children were involved.

She ponders this idea that sticks in the craws of most who weigh in on the subject. What is the responsibility of the mistress to her lover’s wife? The clear dividing line is between those whose policy it is to never go near a married man and those who do. Rosen enters the nebulous area of those unknowingly lured. What of those who get involved innocently, or blindly? Again, the choice can be as clear as the no-married-men-no-matter-what policy or the struggling or not so struggling cost-benefit analysis of a relationship in those three-way circumstances.   

Some might disqualify a liar on the grounds of failing the integrity test, considering the future-going prospects of someone who starts a relationship with deceit. Others may evaluate the relationship in terms of the state of the marriage, i.e., waning or holding steady, and the aims of the parties. Two may simply share time as they may until it is no longer viable to do so.  Much depends on the parties’ intentions and expectations, which, of course, tend to be as fluid as Rosen’s in the end.

Within every lie there exists its opposite — the truth. In my eyes, this was it. The truth I saw that evening came in the form of a man desperately looking for the attention and appreciation he was obviously not feeling at home, likely why he exuded such warmth when we first met and the chemistry between us was so heated.

Empathically, Rosen “sees” the lonely man, acknowledging her own loneliness, and grows an understanding of why someone might seek comfort in another who can provide it, despite his allegiance or vows to another who no longer does. So much, to me, depends on the honesty of the individual confessing his truth and the self-awareness to do so.

Indeed, if we are not careful, marriage can become the loneliest place on Earth. I know.

Though Rosen spends only one night with someone whom she suspects lied about his marital status, she does earn valuable insight about the complexity of marriage, monogamy and human beings.

Today I question whether my husband’s mistress is the same homewrecker I had once thought.

Putting herself in the position of her husband’s mistress even momentarily or to the degree that she felt appropriate–she is not the same woman as her husband’s mistress, obviously–she concludes that the fault cannot be so easily attached to one person in a triad of lies and need. Though omitted, the underlying foundation of Rosen’s conclusion is the realization of her inattention or unawareness, her own part in the destruction of her marriage

My husband and I seemed to do a pretty good job wrecking the home we had built together without any of her help.

Perhaps I have been too much a subscriber to cause and effect, but my assumption about cheating and divorce has always been that something was wrong whether it was the character of one or both parties, self-delusion, denial, youth, mid-life crisis, incompatibility, unrealistic expectations, the failure of monogamy, fateful accidents or illness or any number of life circumstances providing the impetus.The client who tearfully confessed he or she was blind sided by the cheating, that everything seemed fine was suspect. I could not help but flash on whether the person before me was willfully “blind” in some way. 

Perhaps the cynicism of the job ripened the seeds sown in me at birth.  Or maybe I was to some extent right.

We get caught up in life. We fail to open our eyes wide enough, a self-imposed squint implemented to maintain focus on the daily business of getting through the days. How can we expect to “know” ourselves let alone the other one we have sucked up into the motion and madness, scooped up and absorbed as if two were only one?  We forget our spouses were once human beings we wondered about and ached to discover.    

It is easy to say with conviction that cheating should never happen. Accepting why it often does is what remains a challenge.

She does not excuse behaviors, anyone’s. She stops short of rationalization, only hinting at her own one night allowance and commendable perceptiveness in suspecting a lie when she smells one. The take-away is the understanding that snap judgment, the black and white of it, is an unconsidered stance, too raw. Empathy, compassion and reason gathered her into the grey.

Happy Mistress Day


Tomorrow is February 13th, unofficially titled “Mistress Day,” the day ‘the other woman’ gets her recognition since Valentine’s Day is obviously off limits.

Infidelity Examiner, Ruth Houston, reports that “Cheating Valentines” are planning their Mistress Day events with purchases of flowers, romantic lunches or dinners, expensive gifts and hotel rooms. The beneficiary industries to this “holiday” could not be happier, except for Hallmark, whose marketing teams, I would imagine, are still struggling to figure out how to navigate around the delicate nature of a card for such an occasion: “Happy Mistress Day–hope your wife doesn’t find out…Love, you know who…” I don’t see a cheerful poem for this card, but it does not surprise me that there are sites that offer such a ‘holiday’ greeting.

Apparently Houston, an “infidelity expert,” intends this article as a warning for married women, who she refers to as “unsuspecting victims,” to beware on February 13th of their husbands’ long absences or significant dip in finances. In preparation for the 12th Annual Valentine’s Day Infidelity Awareness Campaign, she provides a link to this event in her February 10th article “Cheating Valentines already making plans for Mistress Day.

Happy (or Unhappy, as the case may be) Mistress Day! Shhhh..

Infidelity is a Biological Thing


Current studies of American couples indicate that 20 to 40% of heterosexual married men and 20 to 25% of heterosexual married women will also have an extramarital affair during their lifetime.

So states Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist, Chief Scientific Advisor for the dating site and author of five books on love, sex and relationships, in a TED talk/article entitled 10 Facts About Infidelity.

Infidelity, she asserts, is part of our ancestry as prehistoric men and women found reproductive and supportive need for it–a kind of hedging your bets strategy to insure sexual procreation and survival of infancy past the first year.

A lesser known but more intriguing fact in my mind, however, it is part of human biology. The brain, she explains, is a three-part system controlling sex drive, romantic love and “partner attachment” that makes it “possible to express deep feelings of attachment for one partner, while one feels intense romantic love for another individual, while one feels the sex drive for even more extra-dyadic partners.”

In fact, a particular gene may be responsible for infidelity, a widespread phenomenon across time and cultures:

Men carrying the 334 vasopressin allele in a specific region of the vasopressin system scored significantly lower on the Partner Bonding Scale, indicating less feelings of attachment to their spouse. Moreover, their scores were dose dependent: those carrying two of these genes showed the lowest scores, followed by those carrying only one allele. Men carrying the 334 gene also experienced more marital crisis (including threat of divorce) during the past year, and men with two copies of this gene were approximately twice as likely to have had a marital crisis than those who had inherited either one or no copies of this allele.

It is always a bit disconcerting to me to read studies that nail specific behaviors ordinarily regarded as complex, affected by so many variables of time, physiology and history, to a gene. We often indulge science a great deal, affording it unquestioned authority in our everyday absorption of internet tidbits but without the benefit of perspective found in further reading on a given subject.

This article claims a gene governs the likelihood of cheating behavior, but, of course, it does not cite competing genes or other sources that govern ethics or cultural mores that influence a specific decision in any given moment. The author discusses ten facts in a bite-sized article, but are there other facts that would color the conclusions she makes?

However, for those interested in the subject, this article does reference many sources at the end of each of the “ten facts,” and for that reason and the get-out-of-fault-for-cheating free card it offers, in essence, it is a worthwhile read–food for thought anyhow.

Infidelity Stats

Infidelity Statistics
Statistic Verification
Source: Associated Press, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy
Research Date: 1.1.2014
Marriage Infidelity Statistics Data
Percent of marriages where one or both spouses admit to infidelity, either physical or emotional 41 %
Percent of men who admit to committing infidelity in any relationship they’ve had 57 %
Percentage of women who admit to committing infidelity in any relationship they’ve had 54 %
Percent of married men who have strayed at least once during their married lives 22 %
Percent of married women who have strayed at least once during their married lives 14 %
Percentage of men and women who admit to having an affair with a co-worker 36 %
Percentage of men and women who admit to infidelity on business trips 35%
Percentage of men and women who admit to infidelity with a brother-in-law or sister-in-law 17 %
Average length of an affair 2 years
Percentage of marriages that last after an affair has been admitted to or discovered 31 %
Percentage of men who say they would have an affair if they knew they would never get caught 74 %
Percentage of women who say they would have an affair if they knew they would never get caught 68 %
Percent of children who are the product of infidelity 3 %
what percent of married couples cheat on each other ? statistics on cheating marriage infidelity ? how many men cheat ? what percentage of women have affairs ? what percent of husbands cheat on their wifes wives men women spouses cheating infidelity reasons demographics ?

Chekhov on His Mistresses

Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress. When I get fed up with one, I spend the night with the other. Though it is irregular, it is less boring this way, and besides, neither of them loses anything through my infidelity.

Anton Chekhov