I’m not here to convince you that infidelity will undoubtedly rear its ugly head in your marriage or partnership. That’s just mean. But I will say that it’s not impossible, and that cheating is not limited to narcissists and nymphomaniacs.
Good people are capable of making terrible, hurtful mistakes, too. Good people cheat.
So why not create a protocol for how to respond when (sorry…*if*) the vow of monogamy is broken within your relationship? It’s both a practical and loving thing to do.
My husband Brian and I have designed a protocol of our own. It’s a “break in case of emergency” glass box; a game plan for when disaster strikes. We’ve also discussed the preventative measures we must take in order to heighten our chances of success.
So what does protocol design involve? Well, mostly heart-wrenching honesty. Brian and I talked about what forms of “harmless flirtation” piss us off, and what kinds of situations are just too risky (“Want to go grab a drink after work, just the two of us?” asks cute new secretary.) We agreed that if we ever had a major crush on someone we see regularly, that we would share this with one another so that secret crushes don’t snowball turn into secret affairs. We discussed whether or not a one-time drunken kiss is a form of cheating that’s worth confessing; how a small mistake like that could lead to long-lasting psychological/ emotional scarring for your partner, and how such a humongous consequence does not match the relatively small crime. And finally, we discussed our options if a full-blown affair were to take place.
Who really knows if you’ll stick to protocol if the day ever came — maybe a swift kick in the cheating partner’s groin will feel like more appropriate plan of action. And truthfully, your protocol may go through a few revisions over time. But what’s important is that you’ve had the conversation(s), you’ve negotiated, you’ve made your feelings known, and you intend to check in with each other as our attitudes change. You’ll have a tentative plan – something to hold on to when when your marriage is in free fall. And honestly, that’s better than nothing. Because trying to create reasonable options and weigh them out wisely in the middle of a crisis is really, really difficult. When you are a sobbing mess on your bathroom floor, or when you are on a drunken Hulk-inspired rampage, you are hardly in the position to make brave choices for yourself, your marriage, or your children.
Not only is a protocol for handling infidelity a smart thing to have, it’s also a loving thing to have. Why? Because if you truly want to protect your relationship, you’ll do anything to prepare for the realities of married life. You’ll muster all of your courage to have those uncomfortable yet necessary conversations. You’ll be brave enough to acknowledge marriage as it is, and not just hope for how you think it should be.
So go home, talk to your partner, and design a protocol of your own. Be brave in the name of love.