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How to Deal With Cheaters and the Ethics of Infidelity

  1. Mar 3, 2010 #1
    Since it is an interesting topic for a relationship forum which is derailing another thread I figured I would create one for it.

    I posted a thread a while back regarding how I had made a decision about how to deal with someone who had cheated on my via a bit of game theory.

    The logic I used was something like this.

    I could break up with her as the consequence of her actions. I could forgive her completely and continue our relationship with no consequences. I could withhold forgiveness as a consequence and continue our relationship.

    Now if I forgave her for cheating with no consequence she could not respect me for allowing her to get away with abusing my trust in such a fashion. This may lead to further abuse of my trust and will result in the eventual deterioration of the relationship beyond the poor state it already stood in. And forgiveness must be complete or it is only an emotional bait and switch where I reserve the right to throw her indiscretions in her face when ever I feel it appropriate which is no sort of forgiveness.

    If I withhold forgiveness but stay in the relationship then I am only abusing her and myself. If I can not forgive her and trust her than I will only be suspicious of her. It does not seem possible to maintain a healthy and stable relationship without trust. To string her along with the prospect of a trusting relationship in the future if she allows me to punish her by being indefinitely paranoid and suspicious of her seems worse even than cheating on someone.

    If I break up with her it is all over. I do not need to worry about being abused or being abusive myself. If we have time apart and my ability to trust her with other men and women is irrelevant than I may be able to have a stable and worthwhile friendship with her again someday.

    So this is my reasoning for believing it best (in most if not all cases) to not continue a relationship with a person who has cheated on you. What do you all think?

    edit: I almost forgot. I invite DanP to have his discussion on ethics and infidelity here in this thread too if he so chooses.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 3, 2010 #2
    You can only forgive those who want to be forgiven, remember.

    1. Is she sorry for what she done?

    2. Did you find out on your own about the affair? Did she confess?

    3. Does she want to continue the relationship?

    These questions are very important. If you truly love her, you would do whats best for her. Most of the time in these situations, it is best to let her go.
  4. Mar 3, 2010 #3
    More questions to add to your theory:

    1) How long and how intertwined is your relationship?

    ex: a) been dating for a few months, live in separate residences, etc.
    b) been living together/married for 15 years and have entirely intermingled lives
    c) somewhere in between those two

    2) What part did you play in that infidelity, if any? (Here's a hint: it's rarely a one-way street.)
  5. Mar 3, 2010 #4


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    It may be common for the cheatee to have played a part in the cheater's behavior, but "rarely" is probably an overstatement.

    There's just too many instances where:

    Person cheats on wife #1 because she's abusive, frigid, alcoholic, insert applicable flaw. He divorces wife #1 and marries person he was cheating with. Unfortunately, wife #1 is a bitter b-- and he never sees the kid from marriage #1 (something that doesn't bother wife #2 at all, since she wants her and the cheater to build their own life together).

    Person then cheats on wife #2 because she has psychological disorder, cheats on him, insert applicable flaw. Divorces wife #2 and marries person he was cheating with. Unfortunately, wife #2 is a bitter b----, (note the four dashes instead of only two - having finally met wife #1 and hearing her side of the story, wife #2 is twice as bitter as wife #1 ever was). Person starts a new family with wife #3, who is very happy to discourage person from associating (or supporting) all those brats from previous marriages.

    Next thing you know, person is having a child with wife #4 at the age of 50. He'll be 68 by time that kid graduates from high school (as if that's even a relevant statement).

    There certainly are a lot of instances where a person is too weak to escape a bad relationship on their own and wind up needing something to escape to - and a relationship based on desperation isn't likely to turn out well. So it's hard to say whether multiple relationships ended because of cheating are a sign of a serial cheater or a person that just isn't strong enough to establish their own life alone. But the serial cheaters aren't uncommon enough to fall into the "rarely" category and I would personally try to avoid even the latter group.

    Which leads right back to your item #1. How long has the marriage lasted? How many times has the other person cheated? Etc.

    If you've been married 15/20 years and this is the first instance of either spouse cheating? Then you start looking at how this could occur and how each contributed and is this a problem that can be fixed.

    You were married the day after the person's divorce was final and they're cheating on you after just one year of marriage? Odds aren't good.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2010
  6. Mar 3, 2010 #5


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    Fourth option, but only if you don't have irrefutable evidence she was cheating. Get very upset, threatening to leave, but then finally believe her when she says she really wasn't cheating.

    Benefit - You haven't lost relationship and haven't lost total respect. She knows she was lucky and knows what you'll do if her cheating is ever proven beyond a doubt. She'll quit cheating because she won't risk having the relationship end.

    Con - Quit kidding yourself! Of course you lost her respect. Now she knows all she needs to do is tell very good lies. In fact, now it will become a game on how obvious her cheating has to be before you quit naively believing whatever she tells you.

    It actually could go either way. I guess it would seem more logical if the relationship were so important that you really wanted to give complete forgiveness, but needed some face-saving way to preserve your self respect.

    And, sometimes strange things happen. One of the couples in our neighborhood came very close to divorcing when the wife of a man with a vasectomy wound up pregnant. Shockingly, it turned out the vasectomy had reversed itself over the years. (And, it turns out that an uncauterized vasectomy can reverse itself about 1 out of every 4000 vasectomies, so a doctor that didn't see the risk as significant could set you up for a surprise.)

    Likewise, there's no guarantee that screening you did for STD to get your marriage license gave a correct result. And how could your positive test be proof of your spouse cheating when her test was negative?! Do you really want to see the actual test slip? The doctor won't be able to show it to you because of patient-doctor confidentiality. You'll just have to take his word her test was negative. Of course, he can't actually tell you even verbally what her test result was - he can just give possibilities on how your test could be positive while hers was negative even though you didn't have extramarital sex.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2010
  7. Mar 3, 2010 #6
    There are another 2 approaches which fits well in game theory.

    1. You caught him/her cheating. You confront. There is the necessary scene, maybe he/she wants to salvage the relation. You pretend to think it through and you tell him/her that you forgive her. You continue to have sex with her and enjoy life. The other person will probably be slightly off-guard, because it stringed you relatively easy in forgiveness. Meanwhile you are looking for opportunity. When you found something suitable you abruptly end the relation.

    PROS: basically you win the game big time.
    CONS: this is really unethical even for someone with very liberal views like me. There is a enormous dose of deceit in this.

    2. You know you are cheated upon and have proof. You do nothing. You let her string you along and continue with her affair. Meanwhile you are again looking for opportunity. When you find it, you end the relation. Nicely. No reproaches, no "I know you where cheating on me".

    PROS: You win. Slightly more ethical than version 1. You own no allegiance to someone who betrayed you.
    CONS: It's still a bit unethical, but it's a pretty used strategy IMO.

    I believe that most of relations in which cheating is an early problem does not worth salvaging. If she cheated on you just after several months, you are better off without her.
    Hence I think this particular approach is very good for most of the cases. I agree with you in this case totally.

    For very long term relationships, which spawned many years, I believe that both man and women should be allowed some "indiscretions". It's damn hard (not impossible) to sleep with the same person for 7 years. It's not always a indication that something is wrong. It really may be a great relation. A **short** adventure is IMO sometimes beneficial. The policy should be "don't tell, don't ask". No knowledge, nobody gets hurt, both partners benefit individually from their respective indiscretions. But if it becomes a habit for any of the persons involved a relation, than it's bad.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2010
  8. Mar 3, 2010 #7
    Thanks man.

    Well for me it can be summarized like this:

    1. Cheating is a decision. As both man and women you can be more drawn to do it then other persons, and depending on your job, position , social context, looks you you may have more or less opportunity. When the opportunity presents itself, you have to decide whatever or not to pursue it.

    2. Cheating is personal thing, and should remain between the two partners who committed to each other, and one was "betrayed". There is no place for blame assigning from the 3rd persons or society in general. With the obvious exception of women and man who are in public office. If you represent some politic ideals, campaigned under certain values, you should better keep to them. Society has here a right to assign mild blame.

    3. I believe it's OK for singles to hit on married man or women if the opportunity presents itself. Remember, you are single, you own no allegiance to anyone. If a married person hits on you, and you like her, why not , use the opportunity. If you see an attractive women somewhere and you hit on her and she hints she is married, but accepts your advances, again, why not.

    I believe it;s not OK to hit on other persons wife for example, seduce her, offer her the paradise, get her to divorce and dump her several months later. I think this is miserable.

    There is another case when you as a single are "used". A married person decides to get a divorce, but he/she needs a lot of emotional support to make the final step. She may decide to hit on somebody , and use him for several months as a support. Get a divorce, then break-up with the support, and get on with its life. It happened to me personally, a woman managed to con me pretty well into such a relationship. I was bewildered, but tbh, I didnt cared too much. I recall that after a couple of days of bewildering I just said "Well, I lived this one too. Great". And tbh, I benefited a lot form the months spent together, besides enjoying the time together, which I did, she had a lot of connections, and introduced me to some persons, so in the end it was a mutual benefit.

    4. I believe cheating may be sometimes beneficial for both partners involved in a long term relationship. Not all humans are built for this, but you know, after many years together you really realize whatever your women would enjoy the company of another man, even for brief moments. Maybe for nothing else that being bored to sleep with the same person over and over again. You *do* get to know your SO in long long times. Set her free, and trust her judgment you wont end with a STD at home :P There is no shame in being human and desiring a bit of variation in your sex life. Dont ask, Dont tell works well.
  9. Mar 3, 2010 #8


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    A more important question than the ethics is whether that strategy is even healthy. How desperate does a person have to be for a relationship for that strategy to be worth it?

    I guess it gets you sex, if that's all your looking for, but I don't see it getting you anything more than that.

    Plus, it creates that age old dilemma: if "Mr/Ms Right Now" is taking up all of your time, how are you going to have time to find "Mr/Ms Right"?

    As soon as you reach a point where there is no future, end it and get on with your own life.
  10. Mar 3, 2010 #9
    Destroy the unfaithful soul and forever doom them to walk the earth!
  11. Mar 3, 2010 #10
    Ive seen it used once, and it my guess was that it was done for revenge and as a display of manipulation to the one who cheated. Something on the lines "you think you are clever ? Look at what *I* can pull out right under your nose."

    I believe you are right in one thing, it does approach psychopathology.

    Ive seen the second approach used much more times. It was used by persons who wanted to end the relationship in which they where involved, but couldn't do it right on spot. So they delayed several months, meet some new ppl, and ended when they where ready and had the "support relation"

    I don't think anyone in this situation is looking for Mr Right. Generally, you find time , unless you are a "stay home" with children. The second strategy fits well with ppl looking for "support relationships" after a hard relation, while the first was simply used IMO as revenge.

    I agree. I think it;s the best solution in the vast majority of cases.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2010
  12. Mar 3, 2010 #11
    How do you do that ? Burn the ground where you bury them and then salt it ? :devil:
  13. Mar 3, 2010 #12
    Look guys what I just found:

    UCLA Psychology M176: Communication and Conflict in Families and Couples.


    I will listen to this course over the next couple of months. See what experts has to say about the difficult subject of success in relationships. If I recall correctly, UCLA is rated as one of the top schools for psychology.
  14. Mar 3, 2010 #13
    I have some things to get done so I will try to get to some responses here as I can.

    There are factors to consider. I figure that what is required for the relationship to work is complete forgiveness and definite knowledge of respect and love.

    One needs to be able to give complete forgiveness. It is not right to tell a person that you forgive them and then hold their indiscretions against them when one feels the need. Similarly it does not seem right to try to use guilt to trap a person in a relationship with a person who does not trust them and will not forgive them until some undetermined time in the future when they may perhaps 'earn' it. While these scenarios often play out and people continue on with these sorts of relationships, sometimes for years, I do not think that they are very healthy or stable relationships.

    To give complete forgiveness one must have certainty of the others ability to love and respect them. If they have cheated then most likely there has been some loss of love and respect there. The likelihood that any one who has cheated on someone has the sort of respect for that person that they deserve is incredibly unlikely in my opinion. In the case of relationships that have lasted several years then perhaps you can know that person well enough though it again seems like you did not know them as well as you thought if they cheat on you.

    So those two things are necessary in my personal opinion and what I have seen of the relationships of others playing out. The father of one of my exs cheated on her mother and they stayed together. It has apparently worked out. Their children have all moved out and they are still together. I never knew them well enough though to know what they were like and how that must have worked out for them. I assume that they had those two things I mention.

    I have to agree with Bob that it is not rarely a one way street. In what way would it not be a one way street?

    I cheat on her and so she has cheated on me? Why is she with me if I cheated on her and she feels the need to do the same to get revenge? Not a healthy relationship.

    I beat her and treat her like crap? Why is she with me?

    I call her ugly and insult her regularly? Why is she with me?

    I bore her and she does not enjoy sex with me? Why is she with me? If she loves me and would like to stay with me and make things better then why would she cheat? How does that make sense or at all establish a 'two-way-street' scenario?

    I can not honestly think of any healthy relationship situation that a person ought want to hold onto where in one partner may be able to claim that the other is partly at fault for the cheating. The ones I know of that are generally used as excuses such as not spending enough time together, being ignored, being bored, ect, are all just excuses. Cheating is in no way an appropriate response to any such thing. Its like saying that my wife is partly at fault for my beating her because she didn't have dinner ready on time. Its a horrible rationale used by cheaters to make themselves feel better and try to pass along some of the guilt.
  15. Mar 3, 2010 #14


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    Can't we move this to 'What nerdy guys like in girls?'

    I like UCLA women.
  16. Mar 3, 2010 #15
    I agree that cheating is in no way an appropriate response to such things.

    But all the reasons you enumerated above are valid issues in a relationship, and can contribute to the end of a relation Little, trivial problems tend to compound in time. They get ignored, because we really want things to work in our relationship, so we dismiss the little issues until is too late.

    Differences in perception (if she fills ignored and unappreciated, there is of no use to think you dont ignore her. The key issue here is perception. What she perceives. What you perceive. It's often very different. ) of everyday facts like the one you enumerated will lead to lack of communication. Lack of communication may end in petty power struggles.

    And before you know it, you are nearing the end. And the end may come with a nice clean split-up, or it may come after an agonizing period which may include cheating, domestic violence (not necessarily physical) and so on.

    But yeah anyway, if he/she cheats pretty fast after you get together, he/she is just not into you.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2010
  17. Mar 3, 2010 #16
    That is another option, if it is possible, to resolve the issue that led to the cheating in the process of reconciliation. It reminds me of the episode of Dexter where his wife kissed the neighbour. He did not care and simply told her that he forgave her though that did not resolve the issue. When he went and punched the guy she saw (or believed she did) that he was more emotional and passionate about their relationship than she had believed and so the issue was resolved. Outside of a relationship being unhealthy to begin with I think that the most common reason for cheating is people who feel their partners are either weak or not passionate enough. I think that this is why people often target the third party and attack and vilify them.

    I've heard of this sort of opinion before. The problem is that most people can not keep such things under wraps. They cheat with people whom their partner may know or come across. They tell their friends about it. They break down and confess under the weight of their guilt.
    The main issue is that if you try to hide it and your partner finds out then you are even more guilty for have had the indiscretion and then hid and lied about it. Potentially it hurts the relationship even more. I've never met anyone who has successfully hid an infidelity for more than maybe a couple years. I've also met people who thought that they had successfully hidden one when they had not and their partner simply had not told them that they knew.
  18. Mar 3, 2010 #17
    I would have to say that I agree for the most part. As I mentioned in another post I think that people in couples dealing with an infidelity target the third party as part of their rationalization for staying together. Its a sort of defense mechanism. Not one that I agree with myself.

    As for sleeping with married people I would have to say that it is not entirely innocent. You are facilitating their infidelity and so partly guilty though like you say the partner has not much right to target you for blame. It is really only an issue of your own self respect and strength of personal conduct. I suppose that if a person were intent on cheating you could even rationalize that you facilitated the opportunity for their partner to find out about their unfaithfulness.

    As for wanting variety in your sex life that is why they invented the threesome. ;-)
  19. Mar 3, 2010 #18
    Like I said, this doesn't work for everybody. Because it involves to "set her/him free" for a short indiscretion. And it takes a lot of trust in the solidity of your relationship. Dont ask / Dont tell, dont seek knowledge about with who she was with and viceversa.

    There is really no guilt, no pressure to reveal anything, no hiding, no lies. Because you was set free by the other one.

    If I really think this well, it really may be that its not even cheating anymore. It is good that you wrote this message, since it really makes me rethink this.
  20. Mar 3, 2010 #19
    I have known people who had "open" relationships. They were allowed to sleep with other people if they so choose. There was no hiding it or pretending as though it did not happen though. I've not met a couple who had this of relationship and made it last though.
  21. Mar 4, 2010 #20
    Such a relationship lacks commitment which is a important part of a relation. Yeah, with no commitment, how do you expect to last.

    Im only talking about brief indiscretions every couple of years.

    I have a friend in UK, he and his wife found another solution to the problem. Every now and then they'll go on "swinging" with another couple. It seems to work well so far for them. 15 years and 3 children, last not very long ago.

    But those are pretty much a variance. Most humans wont fit in.

    Probably is not entirely innocent. But I found out it fits OK with my own value system, and it never caused me any moral turmoil. With one exception: don't doit with the wife of your friend or a of a relative. Even if throws herself to you. I believe you owe something to them.
    Let them doit with whoever they want, except yourself. Ironically, in most cases the next target it's yet another friend :P Too bad, no one should poo on their doorstep.

    Free for all, or with rules ? Rules suck! :devil:
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