November 4, 2010 at 5:34 pm , by Jennifer Castoro
To be sure, infidelity in a marriage is a particularly sensitive subject. There are your high-profile celeb cheaters (the list seems to grow every day . . .) who really just seem like scummy jerks, and there are your egregious cheaters who get it on right and left and seem to believe that marriage vows expire (a la the entire cast of Mad Men). But far more often there are couples for which cheating is the result of some denied unhappiness, or a reaction to a tragedy, or a myriad of other reasons that are a little more complex than an obvious right-versus-wrong situation. Clearly, cheating on your partner is never right, but whether it’s forgivable is another question entirely.
In this week’s judgment session, we have Kelly, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mom, and her husband, James, an accountant of the same age. They’ve been married for 10 years and James has cheated three separate times: once with a temp from his accounting firm, once with a receptionist at his gym, and finally with a fellow guest on a cruise ship while on a trip with his wife. Read their stories and decide for yourself if you think Kelly should forgive James’s cheatin’ heart.
Kelly’s view: Every time James cheats, he says he’s sorry and begs her to take him back, and she can’t bring herself to say no. She can’t decide whether she wants to work on the marriage or not; one day she loves him and the next day he’s out. Each time he cheats he returns, and she desperately wants to believe all his promises to change, so she does, which means she ignores the signs and denies the facts the next time he steps out on her. Plus, as an at-home mom, she’s stuck with all the household drudgery while he works and does the fun stuff, like three-day fishing trips with his buddies. For the length of their marriage she’s tried to overlook the cheating because he’s a good father, they live well and she made a commitment, but she just can’t take it anymore.
James’s view: He’s a bit confused by his own behavior. He doesn’t know why he cheats and hurts Kelly, but he knows he’s feeling totally suffocated. She’s always calling him with childcare and household issues, sometimes 20 times in a day, and she keeps him on a short leash, always asking where he’s going and what he’s doing. She’s also a total perfectionist and he can’t take her freakouts about the mess in the house, and she doesn’t acknowledge the things he does do for their kids, like coaching sports teams and putting them to sleep each night. He loves Kelly and knows what he’s doing is wrong, but can’t really understand why he does it – or stop himself.
The counselor’s call: James is terrified of intimacy so he bolts whenever he’s pressured, and Kelly is a stage-one clinger. While James was spoiled and self-centered and made excuses for his cheating, he never learned what a happy marriage was like and bent the rules because he could, with no repercussions. And she felt neglected, so she tried to control their marriage to feel more important and valued. Once Kelly laid down the law, telling James he had to move out and could only visit at specified times, James got the wake-up call he needed and vowed to change his ways. He learned he had to address his wife’s concerns instead of running away, and he had to give her time to work through the pain of his repeat cheatings before they could move forward. While they both won’t forget his affairs, they kept the marriage going with a new understanding of the other’s needs and feelings.
So what do you think? Should she have forgiven him, again? Do you think cheaters can reform? Would you give a repeat cheater another chance? Tell us why in the comments!
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