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Despite the fact that there hasn’t been any big infidelity news of late (but … give it time!), HuffPost’s divorce section has been having a bit of a run on stories on affairs, one of which was written by Tracy Schorn, who suggested in Seven Ways to Leave a Cheater that people who plan to leave a cheater may want to seek the services of a domestic abuse hotline. That gave me pause.

Certainly not every cheater is abusive, although a recent study clearly finds a link between accusations of sexual infidelity and violent abuse. It’s obvious those relationships were abusive, period; cheating was the least of their problems and there wasn’t even any cheating involved, just the mere suggestion of an affair was enough to send someone over the edge. But it did make me wonder — is infidelity in and of itself abuse?   

Most emphatically yes, Schorn says.

I don’t feel that way although, yes — when people finally find out about their partner’s affair, they’re typically devastated and the emotions that one goes through can indeed be similar to emotional abuse. But, while the affair is going on and the spouse is oblivious to it? Not really. True, I think many feel something’s wrong on some level — I know I did; I just couldn’t put my finger on it. And after I confronted him — with facts, emails, receipts, etc. — the denials and finger-pointing felt like crazy-making. Then slowly the truth came out.

Still, abuse?

Infidelity may be a lot of crappy things, but I just don’t consider it abuse.

Others agree with Schorn.

Infidelity “in all cases” is emotional abuse, says rabbi Sean Gorman of Congregation Pride of Israel in Toronto, especially flagrant adultery — in which the cheater makes “no effort to hide the indiscretion.” Again, that’s an abusive person, period; he or she is probably abusive about a lot of other things, too, not just the affair.

Over at Divorce Women Online, Cathy Meyer writes:

In many instances, betrayal through infidelity can be very close to what we term domestic violence. Unfaithful husbands, especially if your husband has passive aggressive tendencies, are often insensitive to the pain they inflict, just as are perpetrators of physical and psychological violence.

(Hmm, wouldn’t it be the same if we were talking about unfaithful wives? Let’s not just pick on the men!) I don’t think adulterers — men or women — are really thinking about the pain they may be inflicting, mostly because they’re fooling around on the sly (how can someone be hurt if he/she doesn’t know about it?) and they are rationalizing and justifying having the affair while often still in love their partner. Plus, many spouses do other manipulative behaviors — withholding sex, for instance, or giving the silent treatment — that they know are causing the other person pain; is that abuse, too?

An article in Australia’s The Age details how infidelity and abuse are one and the same:

Why is infidelity abusive? Why is it sometimes a form of psychological and emotional violence? Because infidelity can be as devastating as a violent attack. It results in humiliation, hurt and loss for the injured partner. The betrayal is usually perceived as a direct attack on the faithful partner’s worth as a person and as a partner.

Again, that’s if the betrayed finds out; not all do.

Still, if all infidelity is abuse, than what are we to make of those who stay married to a reformed philanderer, and who find the affair(s) transformational in re-creating their marriage?

Tammy Nelson’s new book, The New Monogamy, addresses how couples can regain trust, romance, and intimacy after infidelity by redefining the monogamy contract. So, is she encouraging couples to stay in an abusive relationship?

Psychologist and author Esther Perel has an interesting three-part series, An Affair to Remember: What Happens After Someone Cheats?, on the Museum of Sex’s blog, in which she concludes:

People stray for many reasons — tainted love, revenge, unfulfilled longings, and plain old lust. At times, an affair is a quest for intensity, a rebellion against the confines of matrimony. An illicit liaison can be catastrophic, but it can also be liberating, a source of strength, a healing. And frequently it’s all these things at once.

I may not know too much about abusive relationships but I have the feeling you just won’t find that kind of language if we’re talking about marriages in which there’s physical and/or emotional abuse. I just can’t imagine anyone calling a physical or emotional abusive marriage “liberating.” Truly abusive marriages clearly aren’t healthy and won’t ever be healthy unless the abuser and abused get some serious therapy and break the cycle. Not all couples dealing with infidelity can: Perel talks about couples who stay in a marriage after an affair but who define their life by it in an unhealthy cycle of grief, guilt, blame and insecurity:

The affair has become the narrative of their union. The marriage may technically survive, but their couplehood is dying on the vine. When infidelity becomes the hallmark of a couple’s life, something has been broken that can’t be made whole again. The relationship is permanently crippled.

Again, that appears to be an abusive relationship, period (and most likely was before the affair in some way).

So, if we agree that staying in an abusive relationship will never be considered “transformational,” but some believe that staying in a marriage in which there has been infidelity can be transformational for the couple, I again question the idea that infidelity is a form of abuse.

I don’t think infidelity is abuse. What do you think?

 

24 Responses to “Is infidelity abuse?”

  1. Erika Daniels
    Twitter: ontherocksbook
    says:

    Love this article! Not sure where I stand with the idea of infidelity being abuse, but potentially a form of emotional abuse when it occurs over time and repeatedly. It creates an unextremely unhealthy cycle of jealousy and insecurity.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      Thanks for responding, Erika. If affairs happen repeatedly, I think the partner needs to answer to why is he/she staying!

  2. Iam Aman says:

    “I wish I had never married you!”
    “You aren’t as good as my friend’s spouse at xxxxx!!!”
    “If you don’t stop xxxxx I’m leaving!!”
    “If you don’t xxxxx, then I’m not going to yyyyy!!!”

    Are these abuse? These statements can be as devastating as a violent attack. They result in humiliation, hurt and loss for the injured partner. The statement is usually perceived as a direct attack on the partner’s worth as a person and as a partner.

    Honestly, society is at the point where *any* non-positive interaction will be interpreted as “abuse” by someone.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      If those kinds of comments were said repeatedly, without a doubt that would be emotional abuse. But, said when one is angry is unfortunate and hurtful, but not abusive. Yes, it does seem as if any negative interaction gets the “abuse” label. Of course, now we’ve seen the downside of constantly praising in an effort to build a kid’s self-esteem. Perhaps we should all just shut up! ;-)

  3. diane smart
    Twitter: diane3345
    says:

    Is infidelity abuse? Absolutely! If for no other reason, the financial one. My ex
    spent money on a stripper in the tens of thousands. It had always been a fight to get money from him just to put food on the table. The fact that our three children were hungry did not matter. It was not until my wonderful mother-in-law passed, that my sisters-in-law told me the truth. When my father-in-law passed, my ex found out some very unpleasant things about his dad. The children and I also got to pay for his dad’s problems. My ex begged for a 2nd chance. Sadly, he was not really sorry for what had happened. We had to file for bankruptcy. With this came emotional, spiritual, verbal, and sometimes physical abuse. I will apologize to my kids for the
    rest of my life, for not seeing things as they really were. As for infidelity
    being abuse, you had better believe the children know what is going on.
    This to me, makes infidelity some of the worst abuse there is.

  4. Psyh101 says:

    The act of infidelity itself is not emotional abuse – it’s the behavior that comes with an affair to keep from being found, out or taking responsibility for ones actions. The abusive tactics known as Blameshifting and gaslighting are definitely part of abuse patterns in all types of abuse. Therapist suggest that marriages can become better when these patterns are recognized and corrected. Just because we can correct a behavior, does not make the fact that it happened less abusive. A healthy intimate relationship is one where both partners are open, truthful, vulnerable, empathetic, have an equal balance of power, and are able to talk problems out and come to a compromise. A partner in an affair is displaying behaviors that are the complete opposite of what constitutes a healthy relationship. To preserve their sense of being a good person, they justify their abusive behaviors by shifting the responsibility for their decisions onto their partner and claim the betrayed is to blame. If a betrayed spouse were this powerful (to have any control over pushing a cheater into an affair) it would also be true that they had the power to stop it. We all know that only we control our actions, no one else has the power to make us do anything. Yes, our actions affect other people, but it is the selfish, egocentric cheater that only sees how his/her spouses behavior effects him/her, and not how their behavior affects their spouse. A mark of true maturity in a relationship is to see how our actions may affect others, take their view into consideration and give them the option of taking part in any decision that may affect the outcome of their lives.
    For example: If one were in a business relationship where money was on the line, one party would never just assume they had the right to decide for the other business what direction they will take the other business owner. Why? Because it is understood that there is a certain amount of respect, not to mention legal consequences, damage to that businesses reputation, and an understood agreement that the relationship is mutually beneficial. We have all of these understood rules for platonic relationships, yet in the most important relationships in our lives (the intimate ones), we assume that we can operate at a standard below that of platonic relationships. The grass you water grows, that’s why people in an affair think the grass is greener on the other side. Because they are watering the affair grass, while a drought destroys the grass in the primary relationship.
    We can all make excuses for our behavior, attributing it to something someone else did to us, but the bottom line is it all comes down to choosing to dull our own pain over that of causing someone else pain. Affairs do not make problems go away, they make problems bigger and hurt other people in the process. Affairs are abusive and inflict a betrayal wound, often resulting in PTSD for a betrayed spouse – the results of which they will carry for the rest of their lives, having the domino effect onto the lives of their children, passing down the seeds of mistrust and betrayal. Someone who can read all of the facts about betrayal, all the pain it causes and still justify their actions needs to take a serious look at the dysfunction in themselves. Those who are willing to commit such acts knowing the consequences often have an axis II personality disorder.
    It sounds a though the writer of this article has been a cheater, is thinking of cheating and/or believes cheating is not wrong. The need to justify and discount the finding of others work on this topic, is driven by justification. I highly recommend you seek counceling. Please, if you’re married, in a relationship, or in the future will be, let your significant other know that you see nothing wrong with hurting another person for your own gain, so they can make a decision for their own lives, and weather they’d like to take that gamble. Integrity can not be faked or forced, it’s a voice within that we choose to listen to or not.

    • Jane says:

      The abuser / philanderer often gives tremendously thoughtful gifts to their spouse to “make up” for the pain they cause – it eases their conscience. The same cycles abuse that take place with physical abusers take place with most philanderers.
      – Remorse with gifts of flowers, trips, jewelry, dinners (whatever would be perceived as important to the spouse or girlfriend)
      – Negotiating or promising not to do it again
      – Anger that the spouse is still sorry and hasn’t truly forgiven them or anger about their own inabilty to stop
      – Anxiety about whatever trigger that caused the infidellity
      – Infidelity
      Go back to the top of the list again

      No matter how you cut it this is an abusive cycle and it continues as long as the abused spouse puts up with it. The longer the abused accepts the behaviour the more damaging to their psyche. They usually come from a background where clear boundaries didn’t exist or were never clearly expressed.

      • OMGchronicles
        Twitter: OMGchronicles
        says:

        You’re assuming the person is a serial philander, not a one-time slip-up. Not all cheaters are the same, and some do change their ways.

        • anudi says:

          One who is capable of crossing boundaries once…is capable of doing it many times. It is risk to continue…to live under such a threat all the time, is undergoing emotional abuse and physical too if sex doesn’t give pure and flowing feeling like earlier. Why the hell can it not be an emotional abuse? In your case, you admit that you don’t know much about domestic abuse. Maybe, you need to clear your fundamentals and define what abuse means to you. Then we can decide why you don’t consider cheating as an abuse.

          • OMGchronicles
            Twitter: OMGchronicles
            says:

            Ever one of us is capable of doing bad things over and over again, and every one of us is also capable of changing, too; it’s case-by-case thing, right?

            True, I do not know about domestic abuse, but I sure know about cheating. I felt deceived, violated, threatened, angry, fearful and shocked when I discovered the years-long affair, but I did not feel abused. I understand what emotional abuse feel like, having grown up with it. Being cheated on did not feel the same.

            I am not telling people how they should feel; we’re all entitled to our own opinion about such a personal matter. But I do wonder, then, why so many people advocate for working through infidelity to “save” a marriage when I can’t think of anyone in his or her right mind who would say the same about physical abuse.

          • anudi says:

            Continued from my last post – And as far as definition of abuse goes: “Abuse is the improper usage or treatment for a bad purpose, often to unfairly or improperly gain benefit” (Courtesy: Wikipedia). Now, if you were in a monogamous marriage (atleast that’s the values you went in the marriage with), it is improper usage and it is bad purpose (intended or not intended to hurt doesn’t actually matter). And in most cases of cheating and associated pathological psychology/ behaviour there are elements of unfair/ improper benefit gained often clubbed under entitlement etc. So, cheating is an abuse as per the standard definition of “abuse” :)

  5. anudi says:

    The marriage advocates and their purposes can be many (even sinister). In some cultures, breaking marriage is just not acceptable under most circumstances. Women beating is the order of the day and nobody says that you break the marriage (eg. Indian Subcontinent). But, infidelity is one reason (almost all religions and society condemn it and allow marriages to cease to exist if the betrayed party does not wish to continue). Maybe, you need to get the facts right. Physical wounds get well but emotional ones don’t. I don’t know, why you “feel” that cheating is not an emotional abuse and what you consider as an “emotional abuse” (something you “feel” again). Now you asked for opinions. Nobody can give you that on your “feel” argument. Maybe you’d explain what you “feel”

  6. CG says:

    Continued adultery after discovery is a form of abuse. My husband continued the affair for a year after I had discovered it. I would consider him as two people living in one body. He would tell me how entitled to this affair he was. How I didn’t appreciate him enough, and all of the things that I did wrong to cause this. Then he would change his tune and tell me how much he loved me and wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. His actions would not reflect those words. He would leave the house at random times without telling me he was going, where he was going, or if he was ever coming back. On our anniversary weekend, he left the house at 8am, tole me he was just going for a short ride and would call me when he was on his way back. I didn’t get that call and I didn’t see him until 7pm that night. He had taken her and her children to a local water park. The same park that he told a few weeks earlier that he didn’t want to take me to when I asked. When I told him I was unhappy with the situation, he would threaten me with divorce. I should have just left, but narcissists tend to be able to convince you that this is normal and what you deserve. Like I was the bad person for not supported his decision to hurt me. Continuous infidelity has left me a broken woman full of hate, depression, worthlessness, and hopelessness. That isn’t abuse?

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      Hi CG,
      Thanks for writing. I’m sorry you had to endure this. I tend to think of what Ann Landers said: Nobody can take advantage of you without your permission.
      I know that narcissists can convince their loved ones that their bad behavior is normal, and that they can turn their wrong-doings into a “justified” reaction to all that their loved ones are allegedly doing wrong. That said, if we continue to allow someone to hurt us when something doesn’t feel right we need to own that. We’re co-dependent and enabling the bad behavior. No one should have to put up with someone leaving “the house at random times without telling me he was going, where he was going, or if he was ever coming back.” Having healthy boundaries and recognizing our needs is essential.
      I hope you can get past the past and become healthier, without feeling like the victim. I hope you have a good support group or a professional to help you do that. Don’t let him hurt you anymore!

      • anonymous says:

        Well, I think you need to learn about personality disorders. No one can take advantage of you unless you let them, yes, but narcissists take even strong, intelligent, loving women (or men) down with years of lies and underhanded manipulations and isolation. When you find out the truth, you might not be able to immediately walk away without losing everything financially (continued financial abuse during divorce) and, most importantly, you could lose your children to the narcissist and his/her perverted, borderline affair partner, exposing your young children to things that make even the most worldly adults vomit when it’s exposed online. So, it’s a nice platitude for you to spew at someone who has been betrayed that we “allow” someone to treat us this way, but often it takes years to pick yourself up and put yourself back together enough to support yourself again after narcissistic abuse.

        • OMGchronicles
          Twitter: OMGchronicles
          says:

          Thanks for writing, anonymous. Are you saying everyone who cheats is a narcissist? And every narcissist is also a cheater? Trying to understand.

  7. Jo says:

    Yes cheating infidelity is abuse. It also shows what kind of person their character is. Excuses aside, to cheat you must deceive your family, be a liar, steal money from the family/spouse, creep about lying by ommission, gaslighting. You also show poor descision making. Non empathy. No responsibility for your actions. Emotional immaturity and self delusion telling yourself your a decent person whilst cheating. Inability to handle relationships well, by not seeking assistance and education to improve what’s wrong in your marriage or at least respectfully end it before starting a new relationship. Ahh the list is quite long. In any and all cases you are not worthy of marriage..period! You are acting in a disrespectful, deceitful, immature, selfish and delusionally manner. It is dispicable and destructive behaviour and underlies a bad character of a person. People who do this are not capable of a great marriage and need to check themselves for their lack of integrity and morality. I’ve seen so many people utterly devestated by this behaviour and betrayal. They carry the emotional wounds for a life time long after the cheater has gone.

    I think once a person recognises and learns what they are, and chooses to change that based upon their new found reality, then they would make a decent spouse. But if they are under the delusion that cheating is anything other than poor relationships skills, poor character and ABUSE, i would advise to not even date them.

    Infidelity is an insidious form of abuse. It is frightening that our society is so abhorrently ignorant that it widely accepts it as anything less.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      Thanks for writing Jo. So are you saying all lying is abuse? All poor decision-making is abuse? All displays of poor character is abuse?

  8. Sarah says:

    Unless the couple has an open, honest agreement, it’s abuse. One party lies, usurps all the resources to pleasure himself and strangers at the expense of his spouse and children, tries to convince the wife she’s crazy. Makes hurtful requests (says he’s leaving right before vacation, leaves the bedroom, may demand demeaning sexual acts). He decides he’s a victim and starts demeaning and insulting his wife. Picking fights. When she finds out, he twists her arm in any way he can to gain control of the house or car or children, he continues to blame her, she’s remains the villain in his discourse. If there are apologies some of the time, I’ve never heard one. I’ve lived through all this many times over. You can see it coming through coldness, arguments, a pattern of blame and dismissal begins. Then I find out he’s cheating again. Trust, just him being out by himself, is NOT possible. The nerves alone can be excrutiating, day after day, night after night, year after year. An assumption of innocence is lost and can NEVER be reclaimed. And there is more. What about exposing this wife to sexually transmitted diseases?
    I’m just now about to financially separate. My children aren’t babies. I can date myself. But the separation is hard to do for many reasons, and I feel I was abused for a dozen years, maybe more. I agree with Ms. Shorn. There’s some craziness in society that forgives this behavior and moreover, attempts to blame the faithful party. The faithful party’s negative or something. She isn’t affectionate.
    How can she be? Why is she supposed to be loving or even respectful when he is not? Why is this man completely absolved while she’s blamed for whatever she needs to get by and to express her anger? If he’s done nothing else, he’s dismissed her as a spouse and as a person deserving respect, consideration and honesty.
    I know infidelity is common. But it’s never okay to treat a spouse as irrelevant or an annoyance.
    In my case, I was and remain the party supporting him. And that’s what he does over and over and over. I’m supposed to be a saint. And he can do whatever he likes. He’s just a philanderer. Isn’t that cute and funny? Isn’t he a charmer? Just getting his rocks off at his family’s expense.
    His friends even help him. They don’t like me. I’m a big party pooper. Big bore. I was never his type. I didn’t do enough drugs and drink that much. I didn’t let him be himself. So he has a right to treat me this way. I’m just the lady paying for his house, food, caring for his kids.
    People with more resources or common sense or respect for themselves are wise to leave as soon as they can.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      Thanks for sharing, Sarah. I agree that it’s never OK “to treat a spouse as irrelevant or an annoyance.” That said, you stayed with him despite his cheating and I think it would be helpful to ask yourself why you stayed. No one is forgiving adulterers, but each of us has to be accountable for our own actions.

  9. Paula says:

    Yes it is…Being a survivor of domestic violence . U go through the same feelings. Most men who have affairs are physically . And emotional abusive. How does it not go hand in hand. Why women stay. Same excuses. As domestic violence survivors give. The kids. Money. Or religion. I know when I was with my ex married lover. I told his wife and sent her a letter. She sound so passive. But he. Turned hatred on me like wow.. I see him differently look how I am being treated. He claim he’s committed to his marriage found out ut have been 5 other women. During me. He dumoed me for someone new I got even . Spent 1000.00 off his credit card. But it did cross my mind. Is this man emotional abusive to his wife. Once you listen to your gut. Its usally right. Abusive meb are charmers. Soiciopathic . Niw that our child is due in march. I saw the real basterd come out. Now I feel he might harm me and the child. Because I set him up. As he wants to believe. Go figure. I put everyone on alert. I don’t trust hin.

  10. tempest says:

    The only people who don’t think infidelity is abuse are the ones who have never been cheated on. Trust me–Schorn is correct. Infidelity involves deception, emotional abuse (the betrayer typically “gaslights” the betrayed to make the betrayed spouse question their own perceptions), it involves a MASSIVE drop in self-esteem (“am I deficient-is that why he/she cheated on me), followed up with lack of real remorse.

    Sorry–Schorn is right and anyone who thinks otherwise is either a cheater or uninformed.

  11. Elle says:

    I think those who believe it’s unequivocally abuse misunderstand what affairs are really about. There are absolutely situations in which it is abusive, especially as Rabbi Gormon points out, it’s flagrant. But in many situations, the cheater is usually an affair to essentially self-medicate — the deal with emotions they are ill-equipped to handle: fear of failure, disappointment, grief, the list goes on. An affair becomes a distraction, a way to re-invent themselves. The wife, assuming she finds out, is sort of collateral damage. Many men are genuinely baffled by how much pain their infidelity caused (as are many women who never dreamed it could hurt so badly).
    The problem with always/never thinking is it’s loaded with judgement, which leaves little room for each of us to define our own experience.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      The problem with always/never thinking is it’s loaded with judgment, which leaves little room for each of us to define our own experience.
      Yes! Thank you, thank you and thank you.

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