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What Is Marital Cheating?

Transcript (More of Less–I ranted A Bit)

You got to love this Huffington Post headline: “The Surprising Behaviors that People Consider Cheating.”

The headline makes me think they will report some really strange behavior. You know, like some women consider it cheating if their boyfriends or husbands ask other women where diapers are in Target. Or, some men consider it cheating if their wives or girlfriends sit next to other guys on the subway or listens to songs written by men.

Yet, as predictable as the sun setting, Huffington Post once again astonishes me with their stupidity.   For it turns out that the surprising behaviors that people consider cheating is really not all that surprising.

Did you know that 97.7% of people interviewed in a University of Michigan study said that having sexual intercourse with another person other than your spouse is considering cheating?

Holly Crap! No Way! That’s Crazy! I am blow away with “SURPRISINGNESS!”

Did you know that 96.8 of people considered oral sex with another person other than your spouse is considering cheating?

Oh My Goodness! The World is going to end. What a bunch of wackos. What’s this world coming too? It’s like we’re living in the Victorian age or something. (Is this the response they were looking for?)

If the editors and writers at Huffington Post had half a brain, what they might find surprising is the 11.8% of people that thought emailing naked pictures to another person was not cheating. Or, the 17.4% of people that thought it was okay to text erotic messages to people that weren’t their spouses.

What I find surprising is the 47.6% of people that thought forming a deep emotional bond with someone other than their spouse was somehow not considered cheating.

Now that I think about it, what I find most surprising is how I thought Huffington Post was going to actually surprise me.

Cheating And Social Construction

The problem with these types of articles is they can give the impression that “cheating” is somehow only a socially constructed phenomena. In other words, cheating is simply based upon the opinions of one’s culture.  So, if you are in a culture where sleeping with your next-door neighbor’s wife is not considered cheating, then it isn’t cheating.

Now to be fair, it’s important to take into consideration one’s social context. Kissing someone on the check is considered an act of friendship in one culture but not in others. When I was n Africa, I was a little taken back the first time a guy grabbed my hand. We walked down the street talking about theology and I couldn’t help but wonder what my girlfriend back home would be thinking if she knew. Luckily for me, I had just learned a few hours prior that men in this culture hold each others hand to signify deep friendship.

But these social differences needn’t entail that all behavior is socially constructed.

To make long story short, human persons are not designed to co-construct all their own realities to make it be whatever they want it to be. This is the false philosophy of the 1960’s that has become so prevalent in our culture.

Rather, the human person has a certain functionality that entails that some behaviors will lead to flourishing and other behaviors to certain ruin.

So, take sexuality for example. Regardless of what our culture says, sexuality only blossoms within the bonds of marriage between a husband and a wife. The reason being is the very nature of sexuality is a sort of language that communicates a full giving of oneself to the other. Nothing is being held back. This is why we say, “We made love.”  The love here is a mutual, exclusive, and a totally sharing of each other.

Anything less is simply exploitation of the other for what they can give you.  In this case, the couple should say to each other, “I selfishly used you.  I wanted to have sex with you but not to be with you.  I was really only attracted to what you could do for me.”

What this all means is regardless of what our culture says, some actions will ALWAYS be cheating even if our culture says it’s not cheating. For you can’t change the nature’s language. You can try to distort and rebel against it all you want, but you are only bringing about confusion and disarray.

The Language Of Marriage

The language of marriage is supposed to communicate certain concepts between the husband and the wife. Sexual intimacy is just one of these concepts.  The special emotional bond, close marital friendship, and deep intimacy are other concepts.**

So basically, cheating occurs when you seek, allow, or communicate these martial concepts outside the martial relationship.

This definition doesn’t say you can’t or shouldn’t be friends with people of the opposite sex. What it says is you shouldn’t allow those friendships to meet the needs that your wife or husband is suppose to be meeting or fulfilling.

Furthermore, this definition forbids a person from seeking these martial concepts with “things” as well. This might sound a bit strange, but have you ever heard the expressions, “he’s married to his car,” or “he is married to his job” (it could be she as well).  What these spouses are complaining about is the other seeking martial satisfaction outside of their martial relationship. We are seeing an increase caseload of clients coming in with one being “married to porn.”

While we typically think cheating is simply having a sexual relationship with another person, doing martial therapy will teach you otherwise. It goes way beyond that.

So once again, cheating occurs when you seek, allow, or communicate these martial concepts outside the martial relationship.

Added Clarification

Let me make a clarification. It might be the case that your spouse is not meeting your needs. This is certain tragic, but this doesn’t give you the justification to meet your needs somewhere else.

You don’t return evil with evil. Our culture loves fairness, but as I tell my son, it’s not fair to cheat even if others do. Keep your character from being corrupted. To do otherwise is simply to make matters worse.

As Dr. Bing says, “your spouse spilled the gravy on the table, but you’re burning the house down.”

Instead, come see us or another wholesome therapist. Be careful, though. Therapists are like car mechanics. Some of them will just take your money and fix the wrong thing—often times because they don’t have the foggiest idea of what a human person is.

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** This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. Certain the begetting, caring, and educating one’s children are other concepts meant to be fulfilled by marriage.

Brandon Wall is a marriage and family therapist in Iowa City: http://www.cedarrapidscounselingcenter.com/

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