Option A: Cheat
Option B: Leave
There is clearly no right answer to this question. And, where are the other options?
Should I cheat or leave sounds like a lose-lose scenario. This proposal is apt to arouse strong opinions and polarizing viewpoints. There is a fine line without implicitly sending a “pro-marriage,” “pro-divorce,” or “pro-cheat” message. So, let’s consider it a rhetorical question and walk through the process.
When we have strong negative feelings about a person, event, or situation, this is actually our problem to solve. We do not have the ability to “fix” the other person or make them stop engaging in behaviors we find disturbing, maddening, frustrating, or even annoying. Our feelings are OUR responsibility. Their actions and feelings are THEIR responsibility. A good place to start is to look at what is it about the situation, person, or event that is so disturbing to us. Gaining that self insight is critical for our own psychological growth, regardless of what actions we take or what the outcome is. We all have triggers and patterns of responses that come up and may be more about us than the external circumstance. Until we discover some of these reasons, it may remain unresolved within us….and subsequently could come up again in another relationship.
Emotions are fleeting and feelings are not facts. People in strained or healthy marriages may have twinges or even strong urges of temptation when they least expect it. However, most people do not act on such temptations – and they are just that – fleeting. They will pass. Feelings are intended to provide us information and they are real. However, feelings are incomplete interpretations of our environment. Our feelings should inform our actions, not determine our actions. Without discernment and thought, emotions can be distorted and even dangerous. Pulling back from strong emotions can create a sense of healthy detachment. Making more space to look at a situation more objectively, challenge your assumptions, and consider alternative ways of interpreting can lead to a more complete and accurate understanding of reality. Broadening our perspective requires distance from negative emotions in particular.
Empathy is critical in any relationship. Empathy is also difficult, especially when emotions run high and there is interpersonal tension or conflict. Here is a challenge. Consider for a moment what it is like to be on the other side of the relationship. Try to imagine viewing the situation from your spouse’s side of the situation. What might it be like for them? What concerns might they have? What are their needs? What would be better for them? This exercise could shed new light on your interpretation or foster different insights.
Staying in a long term marriage may be the road less traveled because it is hard work. Hard work is uncomfortable and can cause significant distress. That being said, clearly some situations are simply not worth staying in because the distress is unbearable or dysfunctional.
Onto the cheating part. Psychologically speaking, cheating is not considered a healthy option for any of the parties involved. Cheating behaviors will lead to bigger problems down the road, for some, irreparable damage. At the least, there will be the pain of betrayal for the victim, and very often deep shame that can occur in the one who cheated. If this is the choice you make, know this is what you are likely signing up for. Not to mention, the potential collateral damage on the additional party involved.
How about Option C: Seek professional help. Making a life impacting decision related to your marriage is paramount. It deserves intention and your investment to explore further. Ideally, we make decisions coming from a healthy, resourceful place of integrity because that will foster our own sense of well-being. We can deal with difficult, stressful situations and still come out whole. Ideally, we do so without leaving unfinished business behind. When there are two undesirable options on the table, expand your thinking to consider another way of looking at the situation to create a healthier alternative for all.
Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.