What Is the Problem with Writing About the Abuse Aspect of Infidelity?

Jun 2, 2024 05:36 PM
I’ve tried to write about this issue before. What issue, you ask? The issue that is raised — or several related ones, actually — when people make the statement that infidelity and all its related behaviors “are abuse.”
To me, the problem comes when folks offer no qualifiers or any other information besides that.
I see it a lot. I frown upon it. Oh, but then comes the blowback.
The good part about writing is, you can always write another piece. We writers are human, and as such, imperfect in the discipline. If we should discover that a piece did not transfer to the reading audience what we had hoped, why, we can try, try again!
By the way, this leads to my first point: If our piece does not confer to the reading audience what we had hoped, whose fault is that, and what are the ramifications of that?

1. Simply stating that cheating is “abuse” and offering nothing beyond that does have ramifications.

Sort of like when I write and fail to make myself clear: I want to go back and do a better job.
After all, say I decide to write at a college level for an audience that reads at third grade level, and then I am upset when I am misunderstood. Should I blame the reader? No, I need to know who I am writing for, and if I am not making myself clear, I need to go back and do a better job. Which I myself am hereby attempting to do.
The reason this is important when discussing cheating is there is a pretty large segment of the reading audience who treat cheating with extreme prejudice already.
These people don’t want to know, nor do they care, that individual instances of cheating run a huge gamut. From the quintessential narcissist with no empathy who is just running around using his (or her) spouse and the other woman (or man) …
… to the people who’ve grown up hopelessly hamstrung by a difficult childhood or problematic learning in the childhood home and now find themselves in a painful marriage, are terrified of divorce, yet don’t know what else to do …
… to the caregiving cheater with a sick/Alzheimers spouse who cannot be a spouse anymore.
Tell the folks who don’t want to know all this that “Cheating is abuse!” and they just nod their heads and get even, even more judgmental.
That’s not going to help them or anyone else when it turns out that someone they’ve known for decades is now in a third-party situation … or it turns out their child is in one … or someone at work is in one … or they themselves are in one.
We’ve got a lot of this rigid judgment rampant in society already, and what good does it do? What we need is more understanding and less judgment.
Who does all this judgment help? When we read that “Cheating is abuse!” and that is all that is said, which direction does that push people towards?
This segment of the reading audience is ignorant of many issues surrounding infidelity. I see the simple “Cheating is abuse!” statement, nothing else said, as supporting these people in ignorance, intimating to them that there’s no need to look any deeper when we find out someone’s been unfaithful.

2. “Cheating is abuse!” with nothing else said implies that intent does not matter.

And it would appear that a lot of people agree with this statement, with the reasoning that the cheating hurts others and that’s all we need to know.
I don’t agree with this statement. “Other people were hurt” is not all we need to know.
If we don’t know what happened, we don’t understand anything, therefore we can’t solve anything.
If we look carefully at intent and discover that we are with a malignant narcissist who’s running around carelessly using people and lying about it, we could well conclude there’s nothing to solve, and that we might well be served packing a bag and consulting a divorce attorney.
But I’ve seen and published the case where a husband and wife completely misunderstood the reasons one another were doing hurtful things in the marriage, literally for decades. Each party thought they knew why the other was doing the things they found so hurtful. Finally, someone had an affair.
Click that link. I invite you. To sum up, this couple looked at what was behind the hurt of the affair, started talking honestly about the problems and misunderstandings in the marriage, and now they have a whole new marriage. What would have happened to that couple had they just decided that the affair was abuse and there was no need to look any further? That series by The Adulteree is very, very enlightening. Yet to just say, “Cheating is abuse!” with no qualifiers discourages people from doing just that.

3. To say that cheating is abuse, with no qualifiers, implies that someone else did something bad to us, therefore there’s no work we need to do on our own selves — it’s all on them.

I encountered this interpretation when a commenter wrote that the guy I had an emotional affair with “abused” both me and his wife.
Whooo. What an awful thing to say. Now we’ve taken an ACoA with critically low self-esteem, someone without a single mean bone in his body, and made him into an “abuser,” as if he may be a rapist or a wife-beater. I don’t think that’s fair at all.
To call behavior “abusive” or to call someone an “abuser” can be seriously misunderstood, and we need to take that into account when we write.
I had a long think, and what I had to say about that came out sounding something like this:
The fact is, we ALL had things to learn. I needed to learn that I’m just an ordinary mortal and I can’t fix, change, or “save” another person with my love. People handle their issues in their life on their own timeline and it can’t be disturbed. I didn’t suffer for nine years because this person “abused meee!” I suffered for nine years because I grew up in a mentally ill household and didn’t get developmental needs met as a child and my MOTHER “abused meee!” And she abused me because my grandparents abused her, and it was just a long cycle of mental illness people have to get well from. Gee, it’d be great if we all just did everything perfectly, but the fact is trauma screws people up.
I would have wasted that decade anyway, because I simply didn’t graduate into adulthood with the right tools, the right help, or the right background to know, be, or do anything else.
I wasn’t just sitting there like a bump on a log for nine years. I was doing a lot of reviewing, a lot of reading, a lot of learning, and a lot of healing.
The fact is, I needed to fix myself. What I did was attract someone into my life who showed me that. I could say, “He abused meee!” and blame him for ruining my life, but the fact is I ruined my life because I was who I was. If I hadn’t chosen that way of doing it, I would have chosen another one, because I was the one with the only problem I could fix: My own.
How likely was I to do that if I just blamed him?

4. To go about informing everyone that cheating is abuse, with no further information, does not foster resiliency in people.

A lot is made these days of how painful cheating is.
And, yep. It is. I’ve seen stories of people still dealing with flashbacks and trauma years after they discovered it.
But when we play on that and nothing else, and the dominant cultural narrative is that we must not cheat, because other people are just destroyed and they can’t handle it, what else are we implying?
We are implying that people are very, very fragile. Too fragile to handle a discovery of infidelity.
And that is a problem.
Because, once infidelity is discovered, there’s a lot of work to do. There was always this work to do, but the infidelity now means we can ignore it and put it off no longer.
There’s grieving and loss and shock, to be sure. A lot of crying and a sense of being a tiny helpless child whose family has run out on him or her and whose home was built on sand and now they have no one to trust. That’s a lot to get through.
And after that? There’s even more to get through. The process of affair recovery isn’t just impressing on the cheating partner the hurt they’ve caused and the deep empathy needed for the betrayed partner and the rebuilding of the trust. It’s understanding what went wrong and tearing the marriage down to the roots of the behavior and building up a better one from the dirt up.
When all we can talk about is how abusive cheating is, we’re implying that Whoaaaa, other people are too fragile to handle the emotions and the work. People aren’t resilient, and if you cheat on them, you’ll destroy their lives forever and ever and oh, my God!!
We all feel in this society that we just can’t handle being cheated on.
We don’t want to imply to people that out of all life’s crises, cheating is the only one we can’t recover from.
Universe, give us cancer! Give us heart attacks! Give us war, death, anything but cheating. We can grow to handle all these other things, but if I am cheated on, I have been abused, and I am fragile and unable to gain perspective or cope.
Which, I don’t know, correct me if I’m wrong, but you see dozens of these kinds of pieces, and doesn’t the aggregate effect seem to imply that?
That’s a dangerous thing to imply to people, because all of being alive is about developing resiliency. And, if you are cheated on, if you cheat, or if you are a third party to cheating, man, are you going to need to rise up and handle some difficult implications and some tough truths.
And part of being resilient enough to handle that is thinking that people can be resilient enough to handle that. That it doesn’t have to be this horrible cataclysm that truly marks the end of our world.
Perhaps the article that touches best on what I’m trying to explain here is this one. And even this fellow hasn’t quite got it.
One of the reasons sufferers of rape or physical abuse keep going back is, yes, their attachment to their abuser, but also it’s a matter of confusion. These people are akin to little children in that, like the little child who has no understanding of the mind of their parents or other people, they are left with the idea that the abuse is all inside the victim, so they helplessly wonder why Mommy or Daddy would do this if they love me. And the only explanation a person so confused can come up with is, It must be me.
Because I cannot understand it, it must be me. You can see this same reasoning in the anguished pleas of the betrayed spouse who is crying and saying, “Why wasn’t I good enough? Was it my fault?” This is where understanding needs to come in, and we can retard understanding when all we say is, “That person is abusive.
This is especially sad in the case of infidelity, because physical and sexual abusers are much, much more troubled and resistant to change than most philanderers. Given understanding and the right assistance, most marriages marred by infidelity can be healed and that “abuser” can stop.
Isn’t that what’s better?
What if we had just as much of an attitude floating around in our societal miasma that cheating, while a grievous error, is full of lessons we can, must, and will handle, as we have of this attitude that cheating is so grievous it can never be assimilated, and that there is no lesson in it we should, must, or can handle?
Which idea serves people better?
I’m not saying you can’t explain what part of cheating or related behaviors falls under a clinical definition of “abuse” and why.
I’m just saying, please don’t let that be all we say.