THE BLOG
04/23/2013 11:28 am ET | Updated Jun 23, 2013

Rethinking Infidelity

Is Bob hitting you?

Did he smack your head into a wall and now you've got some permanent memory loss? Sure, it's disabling, but manageable. You didn't die or anything. He didn't mean to do it. It was mistake. It wasn't his intention to hurt you. Yes, he knows smacking someone's head into a wall will result in hurting them, but at the time he was introducing your head to concrete he wasn't thinking about that. He was just reacting. To you. To issues in your marriage. To your nagging and the way you fold laundry wrong. You need to own your part in this. How you colluded. You know he has a temper, and if you don't please him just right, he's going to blow. You knew that and yet you persisted. He made a mistake. He's very sorry. He promises not to hit you again.

Is Cheryl getting plastered?

Did she pass out drunk on the sofa and forgot to pick the kids up from school? Did she call in sick at work again because she's hungover? She doesn't remember the fight you had last night, that the kids saw, where she called you an asshole, and you told her if she didn't quit drinking you were going to leave her. And then she blew her last paycheck on partying. You know what the problem here is? Your anger. The way you demand accountability from her. You drove her to drink. You make her unhappy! The kids make her unhappy. And so, sometimes, yeah, she drinks too much. You should work harder to make her happy! You're not perfect either. In fact, admit it, sometimes you are an asshole. You need to own your part of her drinking problem. And stop threatening to leave her. Recommit to your marriage. Frankly, I don't think you're trying hard enough.

Do you find this perspective insulting?

Ya think? How about if I told you what you really need after being smacked in the head is to not hang around "judgmental" people who tell you wife-beating is wrong. Instead you should practice yoga. Relax! Are you offended that I said you drove your wife to drink? And put the onus of saving a marriage to an addict on you? Okay, what if I had a Ph.D. and said it? Does that make it better? No?

Welcome to Chump World. Substitute any of those scenarios above with the word cheating, instead of hitting or drinking, and suddenly hey, blaming the victim is totally cool.

Chumps are constantly told  -- by therapists, news articles, and even people related to them -- that they "contributed" to their partner's cheating. That the problem isn't what the cheater did, or risked (the chump's health, a child's home life) -- no, the problem is their anger about it. They're told that the cheater made a mistake, and didn't intend to hurt them. They're shamed into believing they must be held accountable for not making the cheater "happy" and should "own" their failings in not "meeting needs." They didn't try hard enough, have enough sex, are kind of stale and boring. And truth told, it's hard work not to cheat on a chump. Unnatural really.

The assumption is that cheating is a minor offense. Just like a generation or so ago, spousal abuse and alcoholism weren't considered all that damaging either. The partners of drunks and abusers were told they were responsible too.

But, come on -- it's our sex lives we're talking about here! It's not natural to be monogamous! Screwing around is a crime? You're going to compare that to physical abuse?

Yes, I am.

Swingers? If you want to swing, swing. Do it openly and honestly and with protection. No one is judging you. That's not cheating in my book. If you don't think you evolved to keep your pants on, bully for you. Stay single or polyamorous. But let me marshall my argument for why I think cheating is abuse, and our minimizations of infidelity are insulting and outdated.

1. Infidelity can result in physical harm. People who cheat are making a unilateral decision about your health. (You think they used protection? You want to trust them on that?) Cheaters risk your physical long-term well-being for a side dish f*ck. For men -- herpes, HIV and hepatitis C are no joke, but the risk to women is far more grave -- infertility from pelvic inflammatory disease, cervical cancer from strains of HPV. STDs can cause pregnancy risks, birth defects, and fetal mortality. What she doesn't know can't hurt her? Well, according to the Centers for Disease Control about 80 percent-90 percent of chlamydial infections and up to 80 percent of gonococcal infections in women are asymptomatic. Yep, she probably doesn't know!

But you know when it's a delightful time to find out your husband's been cheating on you? At your next prenatal health screening when you're pregnant with his child.

We're schizophrenic about this, people! Many countries, including the U.K. prosecute people for reckless endangerment of HIV transmission. But your spouse recklessly endangers your health with hookers and the result is some therapist telling you to put more spice in the bedroom? WTF?

2. Cheating is devastating. Ask a chump if they would rather have been cheated on or thrown down a flight of stairs. Most would pick the stairs. (Admittedly, both choices suck.) There's a reason primitive societies stone you for this. Betrayal hurts like a motherf*cker.

Think it's no big deal? Tell that to the man who had to paternity test his children. Or the stay-at-home mom with small kids who finds her husband on Craigslist hook ups. Infidelity makes you vulnerable, distraught, and temporarily insane with pain.

Just because we can fantasize about doing something doesn't make it excusable. You want sex outside your marriage? I imagine strangling fellow drivers in Austin every time I get stuck in traffic. Heck, I didn't evolve to obey traffic laws! I'm guessing 100 years ago, homicide due to my whims was completely acceptable in Texas. Encouraged even. Doesn't make murder OK. There's a remedy for your sexual frustrations (unlike Austin traffic) -- honest conversations, open marriage, or divorce.

3. It is emotionally abusive. There's no cheating on someone without lying to them. Cheaters deny reality to gain personal advantage. They gaslight, and the worst among them project their sins on to their chump. "How do I know you're not cheating on me?" They blame shift. I collect these absurd excuses on my blog. It's everything from "you were so cold I couldn't divorce you," to "you're a liberal, so I thought you'd be OK with it," to  "you never played board games with me." Absurd, but the damage is real. Someone abuses you and then tells you that you brought it on yourself. Classic.

Hang on, I hear you saying. Chumps aren't perfect! Stop playing the victim. Admit you "created an environment" that allowed this to happen!

Listen, a chump might be the crappiest, most sexless spouse there is, and living another day with them a toxic mistake. If you're married to that person? Get out. Don't cheat. Cheating keeps you locked in the dysfunction and makes you a villain. Why would you choose that? If you beat the tar out of them with a lead pipe, I wouldn't give you a pass either.

4. Cheating is financially reckless. Just like cheaters make unilateral decisions about your health, they do it with your finances too. Spending marital assets on affairs, hotels, gifts, travel, secret cell phones. That's your average cheater. If your cheater is a "sex addict" with a hooker habit? God help you. People write to me every day saying they discovered their partner was spending thousands on escorts and draining accounts. There are online communities for women to help them heal and understand their husbands' sexual "compulsions." It's been 100 days since he last looked at escort sites! How do I know? My key logger told me so. Who wants to live like this?

Folks, let's change the conversation and call infidelity what it is -- abuse. Why don't we do that? Because minimization makes it easier to reconcile (and more acceptable for cheaters to cheat). Who wants to reconcile? Cheaters who don't want the consequences of divorce and chumps who are afraid to start over. You know who else would like you to stick it out with a cheater? The Reconciliation Industrial Complex -- those selling the snake oil of "affair proofing" your marriage or re-dos on monogamy. There's a lot of billable hours in you staying muddled. "Hopium" sells, and it's addictive too.

We need to stop excusing infidelity. Let's begin by putting the responsibility for cheating back where it belongs -- on cheaters.