Cheating and Divorce: Once A Cheater, Always A Cheater. Maybe…

By Jackie Pilossoph, Creator and Editor-in-chief, Divorced Girl Smiling site, podcast and app, Love Essentially columnist and author

Your best friend tells you her boyfriend slept with another woman. A girl you work with (who’s married) confides in you that she’s having an affair with a co-worker. You hear through the grapevine that a friend is getting divorced because her husband was cheating. How do you react to hearing about the cheater?

My gut reaction when I find out someone’s cheating on his or her spouse is usually to immediately despise the cheater. “Scumbag, Ass, Jerk, Slimeball and Disgusting Pig,” are some of the names I want to call the cheater. But, recently my attitude about cheating completely changed when I met Doug, a newly separated guy who opened my eyes and perhaps helped rid me of my almost always judgmental attitude when it comes to cheating.

I was with one of my closest friends, having a drink at a bar, when we began talking to two guys sitting next to us. One was Doug, the other, his friend Brian, who has been divorced for a long time. It’s not surprising that four divorced people started talking about divorce, right? We got into conversations about relationships, why certain marriages work and why some don’t work, dating after divorce, and much more!

My girlfriend told Doug and Brian how her husband had cheated on her, and had married the woman he cheated with, and this began the cheating conversation. Obviously, my girlfriend and I didn’t have good things to say about the quality of her ex-husband’s character, but Doug looked at me and said, “Not all cheating situations are the same.”

Now, just to be clear, Doug isn’t getting divorced because he or his soon-to-be ex is cheating. But, he began telling me about a friend of his whose wife refused to have sex with the guy for years. Doug told me that first of all, a man cannot physically go without sex for years. He also explained that the guy tried to talk to his wife and get to the root of why she didn’t want to physically be with him, and she refused to talk about it or get help/couples therapy. Additionally, the woman didn’t show any warmth, never held his hand, and never even hugged him. “He told me she really never even looked at him anymore,” said Doug.

“Does this give him the right to go out and sleep with someone else?” I asked.

“Yes, sometimes I think it does,” replied Doug and Brian, almost in unison.

“Why not just get separated first?” I asked.

“Because we don’t want to live apart from our children,” Doug answered.

I realized right then, that Doug might have a point. Regarding his friend, here’s a guy who wants a romantic relationship with his wife. She’s cutting him off. She won’t get help for it. She’s cold to him. He doesn’t want to get divorced because he doesn’t want to live apart from his kids, but he wants attention, he wants warmth, he wants love, and let’s be honest, he wants sex!

It was helpful to see a different perspective of a cheater, and I realized that not all cheaters are equal. I’m not saying what Doug’s friend did is right or that it’s wrong, but I think there’s a difference between him and my girlfriend’s ex-husband. I think there are certain cases that aren’t so clear cut, not so black and white.

On the other hand, if a married man is having an affair and his wife is completely clueless about it and thinks everything is peachy in the marriage, I have issues.
I currently know a woman who is separated who is in a relationship with a married man, who claims he will someday leave his wife.

The separated woman isn’t doing anything wrong, because she’s separated and her husband knows she’s dating. Actually, he is also. Yet, she’s doing something terribly wrong because she’s hurting (without meaning to) the wife of her lover. Granted, the scum would probably be cheating with someone else if it wasn’t her, but do you want to be that woman? It’s kind of like driving the getaway car of a bank robber.
Cheating is bad on all fronts. It can only cause pain to everyone involved, the spouse of the person cheating, the girl or guy who he or she is cheating with, and even the cheater himself (or herself.)

There’s no question that if you can avoid cheating you should. But, what I learned from Doug is not to be so judgmental when it comes to certain cheaters. Because, after all, we aren’t in their homes, and we don’t know the real story. Really, maybe some women and men don’t even care if their spouse cheats! Nine times out of ten, though, cheating is slimy. And ten times out of ten, someone gets hurt. That, I know.

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    Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

    Divorced Girl Smiling is here to empower, connect and inspire you. Jackie Pilossoph is the creator and Editor-In-Chief of Divorced Girl Smiling, the site, the podcast and the app. A former television journalist and newspaper features reporter, Pilossoph is also the author of four novels and the writer of her weekly relationship column, Love Essentially. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism and lives in Chicago with her two teenagers. The author of the novels, Divorced Girl Smiling and Free Gift With Purchase, Pilossoph also writes the weekly dating and relationships advice column, “Love Essentially”, published in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press and the Chicago Tribune online. Additionally, she is a Huffington Post contributor. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University.

    10 Responses to “Cheating and Divorce: Once A Cheater, Always A Cheater. Maybe…”

    1. T

      I like that you gave it some thought, but I still think even with the rational you used and the situation you presented the cheater is still “slimy”. First, you don’t know if that was the whole story about why the wife was not being intimate with her husband – you heard the male perspective from a male (and the accompanying justification that most men put forth – whatever it might be). Second, I understand people not wanting to be apart from their kids – but how will their kids be effected by them cheating. I thinf for all involved, there would be substantially less tears and more moral character to pass on to the children if men (and women) would stand strong as moral characters and make decisions thinking about someone other than themselves (THE KIDS FOR STARTERS!). If things are working and you know you are going down the path to infidelity, be strong enough and show enough love for yourself and your spouse to walk away first. There is so much more respect and strength in walking away then pursuing other sexual interests or relationships. Just my two cents.

      • CJ

        Couldn’t agree more T… Just for the record, I’m a 34 year old heterosexual male (no kids, never married) who’s been celibate (though not entirely abstinent) since August of 2011… Whether or not that qualifies me as ‘green’ is as of yet to be determined… I myself yearn for the affections of a woman (not a girl) and not just any nor at any cost… Though I agree that no two people are the same and a cheater can reform, personally I think Doug is full if it… There is no justifiable reason for infidelity… Though I, myself, have never outright cheated per se’ the thought to leave (a far less generalized form of infidelity) had crossed my mind in my previous relationships… I suppose I could be considered an adulterer in any sense… Perhaps the author was a bit ‘taken’ with Doug or under the influence of her own desire as opposed to the alcohol? Or perhaps she herself is an unwitting cheater by her own definition… Apparently the author believes that separation means “free to f*ck” contrary to “free to fix” (even though couples counseling might be more advantageous)… Sex, in my opinion, should be an all inclusive intimate and exclusive act, between a husband and wife but Doug has managed to turn it into a pity party for an individual lacking in adult or mature characteristics… Sex used in such a manner won’t resolve a damn thing…

    2. Ellen

      I was the cold wife who never wanted to be with her husband. Like Doug’s friend’s wife.

      I just learned after 25 years of marriage that my mild-mannered husband who was never really interested in sex has been cheating with women he met online for over 10 years. He claims it was because I was so distant.

      I was.

      But here’s the thing. My husband never grew up emotionally. The slightest negative comment (please don’t put your bag there; I think you need new pj’s because those shrunk; no, don’t come in to the bathroom) sent him into a defensive whirlwind. He was never home, acted like an additional child in the house, and could not be relied upon for the slightest emotional connection or support.
      He was clear that he wanted me to touch him more, just small, affectionate touches, but could not grasp that I needed him to treat me as a partner, and not his mother, before I could feel close enough for these little affections.
      He always insisted, I’m just asking for this one simple tiny little thing.
      For me it was a huge thing.

      Sounds cold? Maybe. But I could not trust him emotionally, so spontaneous gestures of love were often just too hard. To give him a hug out of the blue was out of the question. I understand why he cheated, because I understand the way he thinks and justifies in his own mind. But I no longer have to live so desperately; his cheating has given me the courage to leave.

      Doug’s friend’s wife may be a cold-hearted bitch. But she may just be a dispirited, very lonely woman.

    3. carrie

      I am a kind, loving, sweet person, I have always prided myself on those qualities and my friends and family would describe me the same way. But being technical, I did in fact “cheat” on my ex husband while we were still together. I had been trying to get him to work with me on our continuously declining levels of intimacy, passion, and emotional connection… he refused to try counseling and never once picked up any of the books I bought that I thought would help us or give any of the suggestions I had a try… now I’m not saying it was anything way out there, I’m talking books like 5 languages of love, books on reconnecting after you’ve had children and suggestions on how to put intimacy back in our marriage. I always got the reaction that I was the one with the problem and that I needed to change, when I honestly felt lonely and undesired in his presence.

      I am not defending cheating, I did what you might call emotional cheating, I didn’t have a physically sexual relationship with this other person… but the guilt is still there. What I am saying is that people make mistakes… could I go back, would I not start a relationship with this other guy? Yes and no. I would have left my husband before continuing anything but friendship with this other person because I actually really liked him and what happened just happened. It’s not impossible to actually fall in love with someone while you are in a mediocre marriage, abad judgment call does not make a person “bad”… yes there are people out there who are “serial cheaters” but there are also those who aren’t and their stories are just as human as anyone who decides to judge them. I made a bad decision, but it spring boarded me towards the direction in life that I needed to take. No one’s story is the same as anyone else’s and like they say we make mistakes so that we can learn, part of being human.

    4. otherwoman

      I just stumbled across your blog and I really like it.

      I’d like to add that even in the case of the guy you condemn as disgusting, there is lots and lots of grey.

      I am “the other woman,” who no doubt hurt my boyfriend’s now ex-wife by being the catalyst to their divorce.

      But he honestly and truly did not want to hurt her and honestly and truly was trying to figure out the best way to decide what he wanted to do with his life. He bungled it hugely (despite me and others urging him to either just leave, stay and end it with me, or tell her about me so she knew what she was dealing with, he kept the fact that he’d met someone else a secret while they were in couples’ therapy and then finally told her), but he didn’t do it because he’s a disgusting asshole jerk. He did it because he is new to this whole emotional thing, he was afraid of her reaction, and wanted to make the best choice he could with minimal damage. He failed, but that doesn’t make him disgusting. It makes him lame, an idiot in some ways, but not a bad person–quite the opposite. He had self interest in what he did in not being fully honest, of course. But he also didn’t want to hurt her or his kids if he decided to stay. And he didn’t know what he was going to do for over a year. I saw all that agony, as did his therapist. She didn’t see any of it, and that’s where he failed. He wound up hurting her worse than if he’d been able to be honest.

      His wife did think everything was fine, on a certain level. On another level, she was furious all the time and treated him like a child and emotionally abusive. He was fearful of setting her off and so just avoided her, emotionally and otherwise. I don’t really blame her either–they had a bad relationship, and neither of them had the emotional wherewithal to talk about it. They literally never discussed their feelings about their marriage. She just yelled and bullied and he went inside himself and contemplated suicide, and then cheated. With me.

      It was awful, and I deserve some of her ire (though not all of it, which I was getting for awhile) because in theory I could have walked away. But I was coming out of a horrible abusive marriage myself, and my boyfriend was like salve to my soul–I’m not exaggerating. I feel like he saved my sanity. Practically speaking, I couldn’t and didn’t want to walk away, though I offered to many times.

      The point being, good, even well-intentioned people do really bad things that hurt others. His ex wife thinks both of us are bad people, because she’s very black and white in her thinking. She hasn’t looked at what she may have done to contribute to their bad marriage, still. It’s easier for her to think we’re evil. That sucks, but there’s not a lot we can do other than continue to try to make things OK for his children. We’ve been together four years.

      In any case, my purpose is not to trash her–like me, like him, she’s human. There may be cut-and-dried cases of players who lie and connive because they simply want to have sex with lots of women. But I’ll bet more often than not, the ones that look like that have complicated stories, too. That doesn’t make it right, but it does make it human.

    5. sally

      Regarding comments from Other Woman. You only know One side the cheaters side. You both deserve each other. Cheating behind someones back is inexcusable. Does it just make you feel better to believe that n bull

    6. LoriJo

      What a bunch of BS! I agree with previous poster, there is NO EXCUSE to lie and cheat if any of theses people were that miserable, they should just leave! Get out of the relationship, grow up and get some backbone, instead of acting like marriage is but a joke. It’s hard work and sacrifice, what you put in, you get out! My ex malignant narc hole would use every excuse known to man to justify his garbage, from work stress, bill stress, other women look good, smell good, dress hot, to his aging parents and mine were a lot of extra work, to the kids needing this and that, to his buddies act out, to it’s just sex, what’s the big damn deal? Very annoying! Immature and manipulative, he’d have everyone thinking he was some lost soul, everyone was put to get him, the poor woo as me married man BS because let’s face it he wanted sex, sex, sex and attention and admiration constantly that was his vice and addictions! Destructive and toxic is what it is. Sorry if men or women need sex and attention 24×7 stay single.

    7. kesha

      last week my husband has presented me with divorce papers, It was the greatest shock of my life. I almost lost my life to alcohol… I lost my job, I got sick and was admitted into the hospital emergency ward, Two days later when I opened my eyes I saw my mom and my husband beside me holding my hands, I was shocked again and confused to see my husband.

    8. kesha

      I still love my husband so very much. He wants me back, now I do not even know if I want him anymore. He hurt me!!!


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