(IFS) Hugo Schwyzer–The Wages of Infidelity

I grew up in the 1970s, the “Me Decade” where, as David Frum so elegantly illustrated, the pursuit of personal fulfillment stood at the top of the pyramid of virtues. Divorce was hard on children, surely, but worth it because it gave adults the freedom to start over as often as it was necessary until they got it right. This was not something I grew up questioning, as to do so would have been to doubt the parents I adored. My father had found great happiness with his second wife, the woman for whom he left my mother. Even my mom, who remained friends with both my dad and my stepmother, praised the divorce as “freeing everyone up to be a little happier.”

For a host of reasons, I was confident (or at least hopeful) I could do what my own father had not, which was to stay enduringly faithful to one woman. I entered relationship after relationship, sure that I wouldn’t cheat. But sooner or later—usually sooner—I proved unfaithful. Every time I cheated for the first time, I would weep in shame and disappointment with myself. As the old detective’s adage goes, the second murder is a thousand times easier; with repetition, I numbed myself to what I saw as my own built-in, immutable failing.

From the breakup of my first marriage to the collapse of my fourth, I received two kinds of false (or at least unhelpful) advice from therapists, friends, and family members. The first set of misguided reassurance suggested that I was unfaithful because I had (once again) selected the wrong woman to marry. She was too demanding, or too withholding, or too undersexed, or perhaps she and I didn’t have the right chemistry. Once you find the “right woman,” these friends suggested, the urge to stray will vanish and an enduring contentment with monogamy will arrive. I never found that argument persuasive for long, but many people do—as if enduring fidelity becomes near-effortless once you’re matched with your soulmate.

The second type of bad advice suggested that I wasn’t cut out for monogamy in the first place…

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Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Theology