real life

BEC: Is this the easiest way to save a marriage?

“If my husband has a one night stand, I’ve told him he is absolutely NOT to tell me. I don’t want to know.”

Say whaaaa?

Last week a woman I met at a birthday soiree uttered that sentence. A veritable VERBAL HAND GRENADE amidst the small gathering of 30-something women gas bagging in the kitchen (pretending to wash wine glasses).

“He is absolutely not allowed to ruin our family,” she said to me making me nearly choke on my barbecued chicken wing.  “He can live with the guilt. And he can keep it to himself.  I will not allow him to ruin what we have created because he screws up and wants to get it off his chest.”

OH MY GOD LADY YOU ARE CRAZY, is, oh, pretty much the first thing that went through my head.  Who wouldn’t want to know if their partner cheated?  Welcome to Denial Island: Population One.

Aren’t relationships meant to be built on trust? The truth?  Then you need to know exactly what the state of play is. And if one of you cheats, then I think it needs to be out in the open.

Am I right?  Amiriiiiiiiight?

Actaully, I’m not sure I am.

Okay, I’m pretty sure I’m not.

Before I got married, when I was in my 20s,  I was so certain I’d leave any man who cheated on me (and my perm). No hesitation. No second chances. You cheat?  You get your arse thrown to the curb, buddy. And then I’d cut up his clothes while singing “Movin’ On Up” by M People. Or something.

But now? Weeeeeeell, I’m not so sure.

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“And calling quits on a relationship – particularly where there are kids involved – is a lot harder to do than you realise until you’re in it.”

It’s taken me 41 years to understand there is rarely one right way to view a situation. No one correct way to respond or behave.

“If someone cheats, you  leave” is nice in theory.  But what I now know is that every situation is different. The people involved have different back stories. And histories. Different priorities. Different values.

And the fact is, people fuck up. Good, decent people fuck up.  They make bad judgement calls. They do stupid things.  And calling quits on a relationship – particularly where there are kids involved – is a lot harder to do than you realise until you’re in it.

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In it and contemplating moving out or selling the family home or realising that shared custody means you won’t have your kids with you every second week.

But what would I know? I’m a writer. So I went to Today Show psychologist Dr Jo Lamble to ask her whether Lisa was completely bonkers or actually pretty smart. Here’s what Jo had to say …

“I surprised my 17-year-old daughter by agreeing with Lisa-type sentiments recently. I think it’s often good to be kept in the dark. Many people say that if their partner ever cheated, then the relationship would be over …. until it happens and then they realise how much there is to lose – the family unit and a long term relationship.

If an individual has been unfaithful, they are usually wracked with guilt. If it was a one-night stand and they’re not usually the type to cheat, they often want to confess and gain absolution and forgiveness because they can’t stand the burden of guilt. But how does that help the person who has been betrayed?

They are left feeling hurt, angry, betrayed and with the added burden of having to decide whether to forgive and trust again. If you have been unfaithful and you honestly believe it was a once-off mistake, then learn from your mistake and have the constant reminder of guilt to prevent you straying again.”

Right on, Jo.

So when it comes to Lisa and her “I don’t wanna know if my husband has a one-night stand” stance, it seems she has a point.

bec sparrow
Rebecca Sparrow

She has two kids.  And from what I could glean – a happy marriage with her husband.  She just isn’t wiling to bin all that just because her husband might screw up one night. One time. (Look if he’s putting his ‘man candy’ around town then get thee to a marriage counsellor. Or to a gun shop. Either or.)

Sure Lisa’s husband could confess and she could forgive him but as Jo Lamble points out, often there’s a big price to pay by the non-cheating spouse. You run the risk of suspicion and resentment chewing up your relationship from the inside out.

My friend Megan* will tell you that her husband confessing to snogging one of his colleagues at a work conference ended up destroying their marriage.

“They were both completely smashed. And he told me the moment he arrived home because he felt such awful guilt about the whole thing.  But from then on I couldn’t trust him, I was obsessively checking his mobile phone and I just couldn’t let it go.

Anytime we had an argument – even if I was in the wrong – I ended up saying ‘Well at least I haven’t cheated.’  My husband eventually said he couldn’t live with being constantly punished for one stupid act. We separated last year.”

Let’s remember we’re talking about a one-off one-night stand. Not turning a blind eye to a serial cheater or a partner whose been having a five year affair with your son’s Maths tutor.

So what do you think? Have you forgiven a cheating partner and did you ever wish you hadn’t found out?  

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