Can you forgive a cheater? Well, yes and no... or somewhere in between

published Aug 02, 2006, last modified Dec 09, 2016

Dave and Katy took keen interest on my response to their original article, and they drafted a fairly thought out response to mine at Can You Forgive a Cheater?.

First off, let me start by saying the following: I'm both amazed and feeling great about the latest blog technology. The fact that they picked up on my response is due to none other than the famous Pingback specification. The fact that I picked up on theirs is due to the same reason. This is exactly how blogging technology should work: it should enable individuals and groups to have meaningful conversations across cyberspace. Props go to Dave and Katy for their prompt response.

Now, on to the core of the argument.

I'll admit, I tend to see things in "black and white" sometimes, and that's a flaw of mine. I can certainly sympathize with most theses set forth in Dave and Katy's articles, though I can only agree with just a few of them. Let's give the latest response a targeted review. Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, though I might have been cheated on, I've never ever been informed, so I can only imagine what it feels like to find out about sentimental betrayal.

I don't believe that If you have a good relationship, there is no chance of adultery. I actually believe that you could be cheated by a number of reasons:

Wrong choice of partner

Basically, you could have picked up a pathological cheater -- yes, those exist, and most of them cheat because of the ego boost. For this kind of person, cheating represents a worthy goal unto itself, whether it's because they need self-esteem highs, or other reasons I couldn't explain in much detail without resorting to multisyllables (I hate them!).

An inability to fulfill your partner's needs and wants

Yes, you could have an unhappy partner. You could be spending hours and hours at work. You could be spending days binging with your buddies, feasting on alcohol and loud techno music. You could be emotionally off for weeks at a time. You could be depressed for months.

Do any of those reasons warrant "forgetfulness" in cheating matters? I don't think so.

Of course, if you were cheated because your partner was unhappy with you, you're partly (or mostly) to blame for your own situation. You need to get yourself together and change for good. Otherwise, the same will keep happening, over and over, with your future romantic affairs.

Notice how I said "future romantic affairs". Not "your current love affair".

Yes, because he/she cheated. It means it's over. It means his/her interest in you is, quite possibly, below recovery point. But, most importantly... means that he/she wasn't honorable enough to break up with you, instead choosing to "play it safe" and getting his/her fix somewhere, but deliberately concealing the real facts to you.

Again, "honest people don't lie" is an exaggeration of mine. I'm guilty as charged. But I tend to think that honorable people that hold moral values as their compass in life usually tend not to lie in the important matters.

And, wouldn't you say fidelity is on the list of important matters?

Dave and Katy are honest people who can and do talk straight about issues

Dave: I'm going to address your case personally.

I'm sorry to hear that your wife cheated. I'm positive you two did your homework and you made the right choice. The proof is in the pudding: you're still together and happy with each other.

I don't doubt what you're telling us in your story a single bit. I can see that your wife went to great lengths to make amends in your case. And that counts. And, fortunately, both of you were absolutely certain that you were made for each other.

That's great for you.

But, as you can probably dig up in marriage and divorce statistics, you guys are a minority. That doesn't make it wrong or bad. But your case is far from being the ordinary one, and it's hard to see how it should apply to most cheating incidents, seeing that a great majority of them have been set in motion because one or both partners just aren't into each other anymore.

Now, while I'm truly happy for you guys, I wouldn't have gone your route at all. Both because of principle and mostly because, for me, it wouldn't have made sense to go on at all with the relationship. Knowing me, I would have fallen out of love, even felt disgusted, in a matter of seconds after finding that a partner cheated on me.

Not that my case is frequent at all -- in fact, few people I know think and feel like me. If anything, I've seen quite the opposite: the cheated partner usually careens into an emotional ditch, craving for the cheating partner while experiencing a truly nauseating mixture of dejection and sorrow.

In most cases, no advice is usually the best advice you can give, but I tend to advise cheated people to stay strong and break emotional ties as soon as possible, and try to move on. That takes an enormous amount of willpower, because of the way most people are built, but it pays dearly, because you end up a stronger person in a much better position to bargain in future relationships.

I can see where you're coming from with the pride perspective you laid out in your latest article. That's because I have a lot of friends who imply (or actually have said) I wouldn't be seen dead with a woman who cheated on me, dangit!. I disagree with them: this mindset stems from a lack of self-esteem (okay, let's drop the pop psychology, I meant "a negative view of their self") -- and it's no wonder the same people are machistas as well.

But that's not my case. People can (and most certainly will) see me with someone who cheated on me. They might see me with her drinking coffee, going to a movie, or generally having a nice, civil conversation. They can whisper and gossip about me all they want. But (should I find out about the cheating) I'm certain that they won't see me with her in a relationship (love, sex or business), ever again.

Just a thought

I know for a fact that most people who have been cheated try to crack the "ultimate reason" as to why they were betrayed. I also know that very practice can be extremely painful, and it most certainly won't lead to anything productive.

Again, trust is not a matter of "black or white". Trust comes in all colors and shapes. I know I can trust my best friend with a certain fact, but I know I cannot trust him with others. You, too, can apply the same principle to your relationships.

So, the saying doesn't go "once trust is broken, you can never regain it again". It goes more like "once trust in a domain is broken, you can never recover that domain of trust".

E.g., you can certainly trust your cheating wife to be a good mother, because, in principle, one thing has nothing to do with the other. But it's going to be very hard and painful to regain trust in the love and sex domains.

Reasons for cheating? Pin them down, then move on

Dave and Katy seem to be suggesting that, once the reason(s) behind a cheating incident (or several) have been located, it's "time to make amends" on solid ground, therefore it's easier to rebuild a relationship. The high numbers on infidelity they quote certainly seem to support this argument.

What they fail to mention is that:

  1. Even if the reasons are known, fixing things so the "causes" for the betrayal go away usually tends to be very hard, for one or both parties.
  2. While forgiveness will certainly aid a great deal in healing a wound of the heart, not everyone is prepared to let go completely. Many couples who have "forgiven" each other argue about past incidents, reliving the pain vicariously through their own versions of the story, and throwing their mistakes at each other's faces.
  3. "Kissing and making up" is, in principle, akin to extending a permanent license for the incident to repeat itself. In real life, the cheater almost always feels less pain that the cheated. Yes, don't kid yourself -- the period between initial argument and definitive reunion (if any) is actually punishment for the cheated one.

Mistakes, and how we cope with them

Certainly, people's eyes stray.

And it's cool. We sometimes cannot afford not to check the gorgeous chick/guy out, even when we're strolling down a mall with our significant other right beside us.

But (unless you've reached a compromise with your partner beforehand) there's a big line in the sand. It's called "look but don't touch". I don't really care about soccer moms or heavily stressed out businessmen in suits. This line applies to everyone who hasn't consented otherwise (and most haven't).

You see, human beings have willpower. We can choose what we do. We can choose whether to respect an implicit contract, or to forego it and deal with the consequences. If we're not into a person anymore, or this person isn't fulfilling our needs temporarily, we can choose between calling them up and talking about the issues / breaking up with that person, or cheating and fooling around behind their back.

For me, the line "people make mistakes" sounds like an excuse. I wouldn't want to be with a person that can't make the right choice, even if she's sexy, smart and my friends and family "approve" (not that I or anyone else need them to ;-) , by the way). I try to be open and receptive, and I wouldn't expect any less of the person who's chosen me for their boyfriend/fiancée. Please forgive me for speaking about only women in this fragment, but if she can't give it to me straight (no pun intended), I'd rather not have her.

My confession -- yes, I'm not a saint

I think that, basically, Dave and Katy and me, our chief difference in perspective is that, for them, romantic betrayal might not be a deal breaker.

Yes, that's the main difference. For me, it's always a deal breaker. You see, I have cheated, once, in my lifetime (I can't name whom I was with at the time, because I don't want to risk being emasculated, and because it wouldn't be gentlemanly). You'd think I should have felt a moral hangover long after the fact -- but here's the surprise: I didn't. Not a bit.

Why didn't I feel bad? Because, at the time I cheated, I already knew the relationship was over. It was dishonorable from my part not to have broken the relationship off like a gentleman would, and I can never deny it -- breaking up with my girlfriend a few weeks later was too little, too late. But, the fact stands, I knew the relationship was over -- I just couldn't deal with it.

Most cheating falls under that department. So, what's the point in trying to mend a "relationship" in that state?

Back on track

But I'm straying off the subject here. It's neither cool nor gentlemanly to cheat. I wish I could say "I'd never do it", but I can't -- the best I can offer is I wouldn't do it again.

Indeed, maybe my opinions sound a little too harsh because I'm a young guy and I don't really have serious plans for my near-term to mid-term future romance. Of course, I may change my mind later on -- and I'm entitled to do so... but I really don't see what could make me depart from my principles.

And this is why we couldn't possibly reconcile our views in the subject, Dave and Katy -- even though we share a lot of common ground.

No, this specific principle is not a matter of pride -- not that I'm particularly humble myself -- it's just a moral value. I just happen to believe in it firmly, for the same reason I believe in fairness.

As it currently stands, while I could forgive someone who lied to me in an important issue, I would make a point not to trust that person ever again, when dealing with things of the domain she/he failed me in. Would yo do business with someone who stole from you, even if he/she did hard time? I don't think so, and neither would I.

That extends to cheating. To me, cheating is a deal breaker. And I would expect none the less from any of my future partners.