State of Nature

I often see discussion in the infidelity blogosphere aimed at identifying some condition or ailment that compelled adulterers to cheat and lie.  This diagnostic quest strikes me as backwards.  I think of Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature, in which all are in competition against all, and life is “nasty, brutish, and short.”  Living beings would exist this way in the absence of some organizing system such as family, pack, tribe, or society.  It’s not that there is some ailment or condition compelling the competition of all against all.  It is the pre-existing and normal state.

Civilization, interdependence, and perhaps love and compassion are the antidotes to this state of nature.  I believe that in most cases people don’t move, psychologically, away from civilization, interdependence, love, and compassion due to some condition or ailment.  Rather, they stay in a metaphorical state of nature because they fail to acquire the ingredients of civilization, interdependence, love, and compassion.  Have you read Lord of the Flies?

I also see our late, great Belgian Shepard as an example of this.  I think we’ve described before how she was loving to us but sounded aggressive to some strangers.  She was cowardly.  She did have a traumatic puppyhood.  But, her problem was not that her troubled youth caused her to lose the quiet canine confidence that makes for a well-behaved dog.  Rather, her problem was a failure to acquire the courage necessary to behave properly. We never invested the time and energy it would have required to modify our dog’s behavior.

I hear betrayed spouses asking, “What’s wrong with my poor, traumatized adulterous mate? Why can’t he cope properly?  What about his troubled youth caused him to behave this way?  Why must he cope through adultery?”  That’s the wrong question.  They should be asking, “What’s right about me?  What’s right about me, that allowed me to remain faithful regardless of any difficulties I may have experienced?”

The adulterous spouse does not need to be coddled and “cured.”  Rather, he needs to learn some things he should have learned long ago.  If I am physically weak, I cannot remove weakness from my body.  But, I can add muscle mass, stamina, and agility.  That reduces weakness.  If I am academically weak, I cannot remove stupidity from my mind.  But, I can add education and intellectual rigor to my life.  Doing so reduces ignorance, and potentially alleviates stupidity.

So, what does the adulterous spouse need to acquire?  He needs to acquire responsibility:  acceptance that he must either change things he does not like, or stop indulging in self-pity.  He needs to take responsibility for his own happiness, and stop blaming his spouse, his mother, other people, or God.  He needs to take responsibility for his own happiness, and stop hoping that someone will join him in pitying him and grant him happiness as some cosmic act of mercy or justice.  I speak from personal experience on this point.

Second, the adulterous spouse needs to acquire an understanding of love.  Love is not the hope that my mate will meet my needs.  Rather, my love is my hope for the best for my mate, regardless of my needs.  Love is not my expectation that my mate will be perfect for me.  Rather, it is my complete acceptance of her, regardless of perfection or imperfection.

Those are the two most important things he ought to acquire.  He would also do well to acquire compassion, empathy, listening skills, and sincere concern for something greater than himself.

I’m trying to nurture my positive, loving skills, and, in so doing, to exorcise my negative, self-centered instincts. I’m feeding the good wolf.  You know that story, right?  Two wolves fight for dominance within us, one good, one evil.  The young boy asks his grandfather which will win.  The older man answers, “The one you feed.”  As you feed the good wolf, by the way, you are simultaneously starving the bad wolf.


3 thoughts on “State of Nature

  1. Great insight…but this: ” If I am physically weak, I cannot remove weakness from my body. But, I can add muscle mass, stamina, and agility. That reduces weakness. If I am academically weak, I cannot remove stupidity from my mind. But, I can add education and intellectual rigor to my life.” So true…IF you even realize you are physically weak, or academically weak. Some people dig their stories deep…don’t think they are seeking pity or recompense from others for past wrongs, yet those quiet stories dig into their souls with consistency. I am NOT making excuses in any way for my betrayer – he OWNS his betrayal from my perspective, and from his. And yes…his understanding of love was upside down, and now that it is righted…well, it is a much better life for me. But coming to terms with deeply rooted backstories – quelling them – taking responsibility – along with learning to be vulnerable and love – it is a different man that shares my heart now. For that I am thankful.


    1. That’s an interesting point: that we must realize our weakness before we can address it. Your point made me think about how and when I realized my real weakness. It wasn’t right away. It took time. Nonetheless, I did work on acquiring healthy skills in the meantime.

      In the summer of 2012, shortly after D-day, I told our first counselor that I had long struggled with intrusive thoughts of jealousy; irrational jealousy directed at people TL had encountered before we even began dating. In those irrational, jealous thoughts, I compared myself to other people; fearfully, negatively, and full of self-pity. But, at the time, I didn’t realize self-pity was part of the equation. Our counselor told me those thoughts were “sick obsessions.” On a rational level, part of me had long known that. But, it wasn’t until I heard it from a credentialed professional that I really gave myself permission to believe those thoughts were sick obsessions and to start weaning myself off them.

      So, I set about working on avoiding my sick obsessions. It took another eighteen months or so for me to learn that sexual misbehavior was not my root problem; that my root problem was self-pity. My back story had been that I had those sick obsessions I must avoid because I had used them to justify adultery. But, I couldn’t quite understand why I was so tempted by the sick obsessions.

      Then, in about May of 2014, I found the truth. I was alone in my room, separated from TL by an ocean due to my job. I had a rare moment to rest and look at some stupid magazine, for fun. I think it was Men’s Health. It had some asinine article about how to pick up women. I sat there and started to feel sorry for myself. “Woe is me,” I said to myself. “Oh, poor me. When I was in high school and college I had such poor luck picking up women.” I went on and on, talking myself into feeling self-pity. Yes, the things I was telling myself were about trivial matters, of constantly decreasing importance. But, I sat there and wallowed in that self-pity for at least an hour.

      Then I realized what I was doing. I got angry at myself for wasting that time and energy. More importantly, I realized that self-pity was my true demon, my real temptation. I was still dogged by self-pity.

      What could I do about it? Due to our moves, we’re now on our third counselor. In addition, I have also worked with books, online programs, religious conversion, and daily introspection and discussion. And, as far as I can tell, the solutions are the same solutions I began pursuing back in the summer of 2012: take responsibility, practice real love, and learn compassion, empathy, listening, and concern for others.

      Why, if I had started working on those things in 2012, did self-pity still tempt me in 2014? I think it’s because this stuff is just not easy. I’m making real progress, but this is a journey with no final destination. So, yes, realizing your weakness helps a lot, and it may take time. But, in the meantime, there’s still much a betrayer can do to acquire more positive skills.


      1. What an incredible description of the process. It parallels much of what HUSBAND has/is going through, and I am grateful he is both digging deep, looking for those root causes and strategies to overcome them AND working on positive skills. Thank you so much for posting this.

        Liked by 2 people

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