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Herman Cain and the Definition of An Affair

With the scandal at Penn State around child molestation in the guise of a mentoring program for kids, the Kardashian’s multimillion dollar marriage crashing in moments and Herman Cain accusing the media of being out to get him, I thought I’ve done a pretty good job of not blogging about all of it and making requisite sarcastic comments.

But when Mr. Cain admits that he gave Ginger White money for a long time, and even recently,

“because she was out of work, had trouble paying her bills and I had known her as a friend….I’m a soft-hearted person when it comes to that stuff. I have helped members of my church. I have helped members of my family.

“And I know a lot of other people who had done the same thing. She was asking me to help her, and sometimes, quite frankly, it was desperation,” Cain said….

And, he acknowledged, “My wife did not know about it, and that was the revelation. My wife found out about it when she went public with it.”

Not only didn’t his wife not know about the financial assistance, he said, but she also “did not know we were friends until she (White) came out with this story.

“My wife now knows,” Cain said. “My wife and I have talked about it and I have explained it to her. My wife understands that I’m a soft-hearted giving person.”

He said his wife “is comfortable with the explanation that I told her.”

then I’ve got to write something.  He’s laid out the nature of an affair for all the world to see.

Since I deal with affairs for a living and one of the big issues is helping the couple get on the same page regarding what is and is NOT an affair so we can deal with it, these statements by Mr. Cain can help us clear the air.

There’s a widespread belief that you only have an affair if you’ve had intercourse with someone.  That’s a bunch of baloney.  Any seventh grader can tell you you can do a lot more things sexually than just intercourse and you can do a lot more things in an affair then just not have sex.

Over the years I’ve dealt with hundreds of trust issues around people outside the marriage from clandestine meetings with coworkers and texting and emails and “chatting”  and calls about issues other than work on the one hand and repeated sexual encounters with people of the opposite sex over a long period of time: emotional involvement on one end and sexual involvement on the other.   The spouses of these folk on both ends of the spectrum sound the same when they describe how they are taking their spouses’ actions.  They use the same words.  They use the same inflection.  They convey the same despair.  How could this possibly be?

The reason?  They were having the same experience.  They were just as upset when their spouses were involved with others emotionally as they were if they were involved sexually.  In fact, most people would tell me it hurts them more if their spouses were involved emotionally than sexually  because the plumbing works.  You can do it with anyone.  But in order to be emotionally involved with someone you have to LIKE them!  You have to give them your HEART.

That’s led to my definition of an affair:

Any time you meet someone else’s needs when you should meeting your spouse’s needs or any time someone else (or in the case of pornography, something else) is meeting your needs, when your spouse should be the only one meeting those needs, that would be an affair.

Obviously this includes sexuality.  The only person meeting your spouse’s sexual needs is you and the only one meeting your sexual needs is your husband or wife.

But this also includes affection.

And emotional needs.

Needs for companionship.

Needs for fun.

Needs for friendship.

Needs for someone to open up to, to talk to, to share.

Needs for recreation, fitness.

Needs for tenderness, compassion, a listening ear, banter, acceptance.

And yes, financial needs.

NO.  We’re not going to go exercise with someone of the opposite sex at work during our lunch hour. Recreation and exercise are major doorways to sexual affairs.  It connects the couple (yes, they are acting like a couple) in their experience, when they should be having those experiences with their spouses.

NO.  We’re not going to be texting co-workers about personal stuff or even texting and asking if they are having a good day.  Texting is doorway to an affair.  It is intensely intimate and private and intimate and private things lead to places that play with our heart stings and the hearts of those on the receiving end.

NO.  We’re not going to call our “friend” and talk about our day and check up and tell each other our concerns and worries.  You should be doing that with your spouse.  A good rule of thumb is to NEVER talk about your personal concerns with others of the opposite sex except your spouse.

NO.  We’re not going to eat lunch alone on a regular basis with an opposite sex coworker.  That’s too intimate and sends the wrong message to your spouse (most important), your co-worker you are having lunch with (if you do this they are probably nurturing a secret crush on you and/or you on them) and your other co-workers (tongues will wag).  Everyone is going to doubt your integrity on that deal and it’ll just bite you in the butt.

NO.  We’re ESPECIALLY NOT going to give a needy person of the opposite sex money!  Crap.  Are you kidding me?  It’s NOT our job to meet someone else’s  financial needs.  As a couple OUR money is OUR money and WE decide who to GIVE to.  This is a subject for discussion and prayer.  This isn’t anything either of us does alone.  Too much is at stake.

NO.  If he is having financial problems and you feel compelled to help him, you need to bring your spouse on board and the two of you discuss how you want to handle the situation.  Maybe give to him anonymously through your church or other non-profit group?  If you give her the money directly, especially if it is more than once, you create a very questionable and dependent relationship.

Finances are particularly dicey.  If Mr. Cain gives money to this gal, it creates an unbalanced relationship.  The key to long-term relationships is keeping them relatively balanced, with a fair give and take.  You borrow your neighbor’s lawn mower.  He borrows your ladder.  If he never borrows your ladder, the relationship is unbalanced and won’t work and every time you want to borrow his mower, he’s going to resent you, unless you give him a nice Christmas present or something to balance it out again.  If Mr. Cain gives Ginger White money, what is she going to give him back?  Over and over he gives her money and she doesn’t give anything back?

That’s just weird.

And frankly unbelievable.

Really, really unbelievable.

And if it’s true it’s a decided lack of good judgment on both their parts.

And he didn’t tell his wife?

I can tell you that I’ve had people in therapy for a lot less than this and I would guess that anyone who found out that their spouse had a “secret” friendship for YEARS and on top of that gave this person money for YEARS and never told his spouse about it, that when the spouse found out about it, she would feel a tremendous amount of violation of trust on that deal and would be screaming mad and if she didn’t I’d be trying to goad her self-respect into gear.

Here’s a good rule of thumb:  As married people we don’t have secrets from each other.  Period.  No secret activities.  No secret friends.  No secret spending of money.  Married people don’t have secrets unless they want to be unhappily or formerly married.

The whole advantage of being married is checking in with each other about whatever and getting some feedback so that you don’t do really stupid stuff, like give money repeatedly and secretly to a needy woman.  If he would have told his wife of this needy woman years ago his wife would have put a stop to it and Mr. Cain might still be a presidential candidate.  Really.  Accountability works, folks.  Secrets and marriage don’t mix.

Here’s how I think of it: If you are single you can do whatever you want.  You probably shouldn’t, but no one cares.

If you are married, somebody cares.  So you touch base.

If you have a secret relationship with somebody and you also give this person money over a long period of time and you DON’T tell your spouse, then what you are telling your spouse whether your spouse finds out or not is that you don’t need your spouse in your life and you can do what you want and you are basically living a single life.  If your spouse doesn’t figure this out and she is “comfortable with the explanation that I told her” then somebody isn’t telling somebody the truth or somebody isn’t dealing with reality and we’re living in fantasy land and we aren’t calling a spade a spade.

I don’t believe for a minute Mr. Cain’s wife is “comfortable with the explanation that I told her.”  The normal reaction in a situation like that is extreme violation, abandonment, fear, worry, insecurity, and what the crap other things is he not telling me?  Secrets in marriage = a lie, because the idea of marriage is we run things by each other and neither of us just does our own thing.  So if you’ve been doing your own thing with this other woman for 13 years and giving her money and not telling me, how do I know that you what you are telling me now is the truth?  You just got done lying to me for 13 years.   And I believed you.  Now, just like that, I’m to believe you now when just a few days ago I find out you’ve been lying to me this whole time?  And be “comfortable?”

This is just crazy stuff.

If you have secrets from your spouse you need to come clean.  If you can’t come clean come see me and we’ll chat about it and figure out a way.  Or tell your spouse and then bring him or her in and we’ll talk about building trust back.  It takes a long time.  It can be done.  But you don’t just say you are sorry and expect everything to be Okay.  That is decidedly NOT the way back to healing.

That would be insulting.

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Check out other blogs by Dr. Bing on affairs here and accountability here.

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Dr. Bing Wall is a therapist specializing in marriage and relationships and issues facing single adults with a practice in Ames and Urbandale, Iowa.  To set up a time to see Dr. Wall click here or call 888-233-8473.  For more information about Dr. Wall click here.

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