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.