Today more than ever we see a need to revisit and incorporate an age-old practice that could well eliminate a syndrome of cheating between partners that many marriages and relationships fall victim to.
A friend and associate of mine at Yahoo AC, Donna Cavanagh, recently wrote a humorous anecdotal piece on a serious issue – relationship cheating. As usual Donna was in rare form addressing a topic in a way that only she can giving it a lighter side a’ la Erma Bombeck. This comical depiction of Donna’s was praised in the comments section of the article but I found myself stepping into territory that addressed an aspect of the article at a more serious level.
In so doing I may have been misunderstood by some and a later effort of mine in the comments section perhaps did little to rectify that. Thus I found material to write on today that was not there before and an opportunity to not only clarify where I was going with my comment but to in fact do a little soul-searching that is always helpful and healing. So thanks Donna for being my muse today.
In her article entitled “The Ultimate Cheating Excuse: the Devil Made Me Do It” Donna reveals a cheating incident with a girlfriend of hers whose boyfriend (now an ex) used as silly an excuse as any person can employ – “the devil made me do it”. Obviously he was channeling Flip Wilson but the girlfriend was having none of it, and rightfully so.
In my comments on the article I pointed out that the sex drive with many people is a strong one and often overcomes any personal commitment we may make. It’s a necessary urge that promises to perpetuate the species and is every bit as strong as urges to quench our thirst and feed ourselves. But in any relationship, sealed by a wedding contract or not, there is an understanding that this sexual urge must be constrained. When it’s not we are guilty of cheating in its foremost meaning of violating one’s trust.
Where I was trying to go with my comments however is that cheating in such relationships doesn’t alway occur just with the physical responses of our urges. It also includes emotional cheating that fails to make our partners aware of our true feelings and acceptance of any real or unwritten code in that relationship.
In Donna’s witty tale the relationship was not between married partners and there were no children involved. Obviously there are degrees of cheating where more is at stake than hurting the feelings of those we profess to “love, honor and cherish”. Donna’s friend did not have to go through the agony and expense of a legal divorce and custody battles for kids did not result.
In such examples as Donna’s friend, the cheating perhaps started with the perception of the boyfriend’s that he would be a sexually faithful partner yet not fully realizing he was incapable of restraining a strong innate drive we are all born with. Later in the relationship when this became apparent to him he began to cheat on his girlfriend by not confessing this to her and cheated further even still before committing the physical no-no by conceiving of having sexual relationships with another partner.
Now some may think this is less harmful than actually following through with our cheating weakness but I would argue that the physical act is only the ultimate manifestation of an attitude that is less than honest. By not fully contemplating that a relationship is more than an amorous experience between two people at a given time is a failure on our part to later deal with sustaining a bond that will endure hardships we little anticipate.
In the old school of marriage, long before my generation came along there was an understanding by our ancestors that marriage was a life-long commitment and one that would be tested over the length of that relationship. That’s why the words of our marriage vows still contain the mandate, “for better or worse”.
This is not a legal obligation to endure abuse of any kind from one spouse over another but it is a sincere statement that recognizes youthful romances evolve into substantive necessities apart from sexual pleasures to make a marriage last, like getting and holding on to a job, having kids (if that is a goal) and raising them in all the good and bad experiences that entails and planning for a retirement; all with the same individual over the entirety of our lives.
Clearly the thought that we would not feel as strong about our mates over the duration of a lifetime was never seriously contemplated and the exceptions to this reality are rare. In their wisdom our elders established a system to prevent marriages from failing by overlooking this object lesson. Pre-marital rituals were established where men would court their “betrothed” for lengthy periods of time in order for both partners to better understand their true feelings, warts and all, before plunging into a legal arrangement that in earlier times would become sinful and unacceptable to break under most circumstances. “Irreconcilable differences” was not an allowable premise for divorce at this earlier time.
Such rigid applications of marital agreements are no longer the norm and women now have as much cause to break the bonds of marriage today as men; something they did not have in older times. But had both parties conceded to a courtship period of reasonable time, these irreconcilable differences would have been meted out and determined whether a relationship had a viable future.
I don’t know Donna’s friend well enough to suggest that she and her boyfriend rushed head-long into their relationship but clearly a timeout period between them before exchanging keys and sharing the bathroom may have discovered the boyfriend’s inability to control his sexual urges. It turns out she endured four other violations of trust with this dude and one has to wonder if she did so because she had committed herself to him; a commitment that may never have occurred had she got to know him a little better.
Today’s youth seem to sense a need to revisit the traditions of our ancestors, if not in real form then in the spirit of it all. As an example of this I found on the Stronger Families website, one twenty-something individual who conveyed a fear of divorce being “very real in the minds of Generation Y/Millennials. Many have seen their parents, friends’ parents, and/ or close family members go through divorce—adults they look up to, admire and trust. The inevitable question is “If they couldn’t do it, what makes me think I can?”
In a study by the The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia (NMP) it was found that “the number of adult women aged 35-44 who are married has decreased 23% since 1960–from 87.4% to 67.3%. For men, the numbers are similar, with a decrease of 25%.” An article on this went on to report that this “doesn’t mean people aren’t ‘settling down.’ The [NMP] report goes on to say:
“The decline in marriage does not mean that people are giving up on living together with a sexual partner. On the contrary, marriage is ceding ground to non-marital unions.”
To wit, the number of cohabitating, unmarried adult couples has increased a whopping 1,414% since 1960! (from .4 million to 6.7 million)
To my surprise and delight, the remedy for lasting relationships as stated on the Strong Families site was something in the form of a courtship ritual. “Talk openly about some of the major reasons people get divorced and how those things can be avoided and/or overcome. [W]e have to realize that marriage isn’t about getting/taking, it’s about giving/exchanging. It’s not anchored in what you feel; it’s anchored in what you believe and who you are committed to. It’s not self-focused, it’s self-sacrificing. By doing this, we can really improve the chances of successful marriages for Generation Y.”
I think once this practice is realized fully, cheating may become significantly less of a reason for divorce and relationship break-ups than it is today. My friend Donna, may she and all of us live long enough to see this occur, could well find herself writing humorous anecdotes about relationships that last for a lifetime instead, with all the bumps and grinds that accompany the joys that two people live out when they have consented to become one.