Forsaking all others…

In this, the penultimate installation of my ‘Wedding Vows’ series, I explore infidelity.

This is the vow that I see broken most often in my couples counselling, and the result of it is really heartbreaking. We pledge to forsake ALL others. Friends, family… these all move down the priority list to make room for our spouse at the top. This new arrangement often meets with resistance, because not everyone involved in a couple’s lives changes just because they are now married, and obligations, responsibilities or even habits that existed before still do – the change comes from the couple, not necessarily those around them. I have explored the familial applications of this promise in a previous post and so I won’t go into too much detail again – except to state that the promise made to one supersedes the familial tie to the others.

Having mentioned the above, the rest of this post is going to focus on what it means to ‘forsake others’, how to keep that promise and the terrible consequences of breaking it.

Infidelity is one of the leading causes of divorce because it represents a breakdown of trust. Trust, once broken, is very difficult to repair, but it’s not impossible. One of the determinants of whether it can be overcome or not has to do with the motivation behind it – is this a pattern of behaviour for the perp? Or has it resulted because of some deficit within the relationship? In my experience, these are the common causes:

Some people just cheat. Why? They may not respect the covenant of marriage, and what this particular bit of it means. They may not respect their partner, and so feel that they are entitled to seek things elsewhere. There are many different reasons why, but when it’s simply a pattern, and the perp keeps on doing the same thing over and over, asking for forgiveness (or even blame-shifting) and then doing it again, my advice? Accept it, or leave. It’s that simple. Someone who persists in the same behaviours without ever showing real remorse, and without a real attempt at change, is not going to change. For many people, simply seeing the pain their indiscretion caused the person they love most will be the best deterrent toward that type of behaviour in the future. If this isn’t the case with your partner, then don’t be surprised if it keeps on happening. A ‘mistake’ repeated again is not a mistake anymore, it’s a choice.

The other scenario that I see is not/less deliberate, and so the prognosis is generally better – there is something missing within the relationship, a vulnerability that makes one of the parties susceptible to temptation from outside the relationship. Sometimes it’s emotional support or connectedness, sometimes it’s intimacy… Either way, the absence of something, through not being dealt with properly, leaves a gap easily filled by anyone willing to put in the time and effort to fill it – even if the effort is just temporary. This kind of situation can be avoided simply by improving your communication skills; come and see me for help with this. If you are experiencing a drought of any kind with your partner, emotionally, or physically… learn how to communicate with them properly. Your respective needs will be met, your bond will be stronger, you won’t be tempted to seek fulfilment elsewhere, and you’ll both be happier for it.

Finally, there is simply best intentions going too far. All is fine at home, this isn’t a pattern, just something that started out innocent and then ended up being something more, without the intent of ever having been there. In these cases, the perp will most commonly come clean with their spouse, unable to bear that their good intentions (or total lack of any intentions at all) have led to a terrible betrayal of trust, and the heart-rending pain it caused their loved one.

In all of these scenarios, trust being broken seems insurmountable at the time. But the good news is that it can be overcome, with guidance, commitment and, more importantly, honesty. This is no time to spare feelings because things that come out at a later stage shake the core of the relationship again, and then we have to start all over again, again. The sad thing about infidelity is that most of the hard work has to come from the person whose trust was broken – they have to choose to trust again, knowing full well what the choice has, and can cost them again, should it be misplaced, again. They have to choose to take their partners’ word for it, to not check the phone, messages, and pictures.

Trust takes time. Consistency. Love.

And most important, it takes forgiveness.

More on this later.