“I’d like to get your take on marriage and infidelity. I’m in a committed relationship right now. Which is great, I might add. My husband and I have a wonderful dynamic. Of course we have some challenges but who doesn’t, right? But I find myself attracted to someone and always imagine what it would be like to have a romantic connection with this person. I feel guilty about this a lot. One part of me is telling me that marriage is an artificial institution. Love is unconditional. So, there is no reason to feel guilty. The other part is afraid of causing hurt or losing what we have. Since, you are a married guy, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on this? I feel like I need to hear a sensible opinion that isn’t judgmental but also not all “free love” anything goes kinda thinking.”
I believe the question you are getting at in a roundabout way is: “is it okay for me to cheat on my spouse?”
Each person will answer that differently. For me, in my own life, it is not.
But this is not a very complicated issue for me. I don’t ruminate over philosophical arguments in my mind about whether humans are meant to be monogamous, or whether marriage was invented as a means to control people’s thoughts or whether unconditional love is what humans should aspire to or any of that stuff.
I did once, of course. In fact, I was dead set against getting married. I told my wife that when we first began dating and was relieved to hear that she was cool with it. But then quite randomly while sitting at a bar with her one night, a couple of years into our relationship, I was joking around like, ”you know, it be funny if we totally just got married.”
And we did. It’s been eight years now.
See, marriage isn’t a tangible thing. It is a shared vision between two people. And that vision is based upon a mutual understanding you have arrived at together. It’s like a mini constitution. And that constitution is based upon certain agreed upon tenets: what do we value, what do we believe (or disbelieve), what do we want, what are some of the terms and conditions upon which this vision of ours can be brought to fruition.
The moment two people have that they are “married” as far as I’m concerned whether they have obtained a legal document stipulating as much or not. Because to “marry” essentially means to “bring together”. Two individual lives on very individual trajectories have been brought together so as to create a joint trajectory on which both have decided to embark.
This is not all that easy to do. It’s like bringing two rivers that flow apart into each other by some feat of engineering. And because there is this architecting aspect to it, there are certain design and aesthetic rules that cannot be violated without affecting the integrity of the structure itself.
Love is a vital aspect to it because without it a marriage becomes more like an industrial warehouse. For it to be something like an artistic or architectural marvel, passion is essential but so is restraint. Inspiration alone is insufficient. Like any form of art, mastery only results from practice, repetition, discipline and dedication.. Intimacy is what breeds both passion and expertise. And that intimacy can only flourish if there are clear and mutually agreed upon guidelines within which both parties feel safe to bare themselves and be completely vulnerable.
Fortunately, gone are the days in which those guidelines were handed down to us wholesale by social or religious institutions. Now, unless you live in a religiously conservative part of the world, most societies have a fairly fluid view of what a marriage could look like. Who your partner is, which gender they belong to, what race, what social stratum and so on are more or less moot points for most progressive societies.
Further, what the rules of engagement are, are also fluid. What constitutes “fidelity” in one marriage may be very different than what it is in another. Some marriages are monogamous, some are polyamorous. Some actively include a third member into their daily fabric. Fidelity isn’t some absolute stance on right and wrong.
But once that framework and that mutual understanding of the terms and conditions are established, that forms the blueprint upon which the relationship then progresses. Nothing is ever cast in stone, of course. Like a constitution or an architectural design, amendments and modifications to the structure are always possible. Yet, these amendments are mutually agreed upon.
I’ve known marriages that went from being monogamous to polyamorous over time, because the parties involved decided that it was in their mutual interest to do so. I’ve seen the reverse as well, open-relationships that gradually became monogamous and exclusive over time as the priorities of the people involved gradually shifted. And then there are the marriages that dissolved as the two parties realized that the aesthetic directions each was heading in were no longer compatible.
None of this is infidelity. This is simply how most relationships organically evolve. Dissolution of a marriage is not synonymous with “failure” as many in society think of it. It’s simply the end of its lifecycle. Some lifecycles are short, some are long, some morph into different forms over time. A marriage can take on pretty much any form, no matter how far-fetched, and still retain its integrity.
Yet, the one thing that compromises that integrity is dishonesty.
The choice to be dishonest has absolutely nothing to do with whether humans are meant to be monogamous, or whether love is unconditional or whether marriage is a state-enforced institution designed to control your spiritual expression. No, these are some of the ways we rationalize our own dishonest behavior by introducing philosophical arguments in order to create moral ambiguity.
Intimacy is purely dependent on trust. And trust relates to truth. When you trust someone, you are working under the active assumption that the reality they are projecting to you is the reality they are living in. And you in turn feel safe to project a reality to them that is very much an accurate representation of the one you live in.
When the reality someone else is living in changes, coping with that change may be challenging for you, but at least the trust is maintained. Truth has just taken on a different form and the decision lies with you whether you want to adapt with it or move in another direction.
Understand that this is one hell of a rare phenomenon.
But when two people pull it off, it is tremendously rewarding. Mind you when I talk about intimacy I’m not just talking about that transcendent experience of two people losing their sense of self in one heated moment of passion and mutual admiration – that honeymoon phase of each romance in which love overshadows and tints every mundane experience.
I’m talking about the ordinary, day to day, bearing and baring of each other’s shitty, messed up, damaged and dysfunctional personalities.
What most people fail to understand is that the only thing “unconditional” about life is TRUTH. It’s the only thing ever present and staring you in the face all the time. And so truth, not love, is the foundation upon which a marriage is based. When truth is fundamental, then love can flourish. And if truth is unshakeable, then that love can evolve into something truly unconditional in a way that doesn’t require dishonesty and subterfuge.
This doesn’t pertain to only marriage, mind you. This applies to every facet of your life and experience. Without honesty, intimacy is impossible. Intimacy with ourselves, with nature, with community, with society, with our children. There must be a willingness to face the truth no matter what form it takes and no matter how inconvenient it is and to act in a manner that doesn’t seek to manipulate or subvert it.
But I’ll tell you what this willingness to face the truth also does. It breeds courage.
Because after a while of doing it, you begin to see how the various fear-based scenarios that your mind creates, of what would happen if you were to tell the truth, rarely ever pan out. And even if they do, they are almost never the unscalable obstacles we imagined them to be. When one is consciously aligned with the truth, one finds all the resources both outer and inner that one needs in order to deal with the circumstances that arise as a result of that alignment.
There is so much infidelity in the world: in spirituality, in government, in society, in business, in marriage, in education, in our social relationships and interactions. And really this blog’s focus is just about that. Your question about marriage is not exclusive to marriage alone. The same pattern plays out in all aspects of our lives.
We have been conditioned to believe that the truth is “dangerous” and “chaotic”. That in order to maintain some semblance of security and order we must be moderately dishonest. And so our lives become a process of manipulation whereby, from sun up to sun down, we are actively involved in distorting to the truth we perceive, both to ourselves and to others.
This blog is about orienting our perspectives to be able to see the truth, which is always evident. And then to maintain that perspective by aligning ourselves with it. It’s easier to look at something consistently if you are facing it rather than having to crane your neck awkwardly backwards while facing away.
Honesty, is how we manifest that alignment.
I make an active choice every day to say what is on my mind. Sometimes its profound, sometimes it’s hilarious, sometimes it’s obnoxious, sometimes it’s just plain dumb. It doesn’t make it easy for my loved ones to deal with me. Its taken great patience and openness on my wife’s part, I’m sure. Yet, she rests well at night knowing that she has my heart, the whole of it. She knows its light and its darkness. None of it has been concealed.
And she does the same for me. And so there is a degree of trust there that I have rarely encountered. And through that trust, we have achieved an intimacy that goes beyond just spiritual. It brings all the mess of our complex humanness into it. And that mess is not just our own. It is familial and ancestral as well. In our relationship, nothing is disowned. The darkness is not dispelled in favor of light and love. In fact, darkness, fear, hurt, trauma, anger and hatred are regularly invited and confronted on a near daily basis, both within ourselves and with each other.
This kind of intimacy is both a ballet and a battle. It is fierce and forgiving. Filled with conflict and camaraderie. And at the end of it, I know that no matter what – “this woman will have my back”. And she knows the same is true of me without a smidgen of a doubt.
Then any changes or amendments that need to be made are an ongoing process of communication and re-negotiation always. But the foundation of trust remains intact.
Infidelity has nothing to do with love. It has to do with trust. And by making it about love, your mind is drawing you into a false parallel and creating a false dilemma. This isn’t a choice between unconditional love and conditional love. This is a choice between truth and untruth.
Cheating isn’t about what we do. It’s about how we go about doing it.