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Relationship Deal Breaker: Infidelity

  • by Danielle Montalto-Bly

For better or for worse; richer or poorer; in sickness and in health. These are common vows exchanged when a couple walks down the aisle. But, what are the true parameters of a marriage? And Is it the individuals or society who determines the obligations between spouses? Over history, infidelity was not necessarily a reason to divorce, while these days it’s exactly where we draw the line. 

At first glance, it may seem related to women becoming more financially independent and the laws evolving to protect the less-monied spouse. However, that would be looking at the issue in a bubble, as both men and women are capable of infidelity and not all cheating is abusive, repetitive or even a true threat to the intimacy and strength of a marriage. Rather, it seems that society places shame on “cheating” that has shaped where we now draw the line by categorizing it as the ultimate deal breaker.

But, what makes cheating much different than other transgressions? It seems that a couple who stays together through issues of gambling, addiction, financial troubles or emotional milestones are considered stronger for it, but the same cannot be said about one who stays around after there is “cheating.”  We don’t generally expect people to be 100% perfect elsewhere in life, but when it comes to extra-marital affairs, we essentially negate years of an otherwise successful relationship in the name of this mistake. 

In fact, society not only shames the cheater, but we categorize those who have been cheated on and are willing to stay as weak or foolish. Sure, it’s easy to reason that cheating cuts exactly at the purpose of a marriage, whereas the other issues aren’t as personal, but that’s not exactly true. I would argue that compromising the family’s financial circumstance is a much greater violation to the vows that spouses take and can cause a household much more long term damage . Does this societal pressure deter otherwise good couples from trying to overcome these issues? It would seem to me, the answer is yes. 

Under New York law, marriage is considered an economic partnership. An extra-marital affair is not going to effect the outcome of the divorce, unless substantial marital funds went toward that relationship (once again the focus would be on the money). Court’s can punish spouses for wasting marital assets, but have no real right to punish someone for having an affair. This is just one example of how the law in New York holds a family’s financials as most sacred, above all else. Yet, in the court of morality, infidelity deserves the highest form of punishment. 

As a married woman myself, I can vouch for the fact that marriage is a lot of work and that all couples will most certainly go through periods of highs and lows. While I’m confident that my husband and I are committed to acting as partners and family, it does not mean we will like each other or even want to be together at all times over the course of a (hopefully) very long lifetime. We have simply obligated ourselves to continuously meet back in the middle. Whether the relationship could survive infidelity is something I hope to never find out. But, it would be a shame if the work and successes we did accomplish over many years were completely erased simply because someone strayed. 

Bottom line, don’t let others tell you where to draw the line in your relationship. People are entitled to make mistakes. These mistakes should be viewed in complete context and not simply in black and white. While it’s never okay to endure repetitive, abusive, manipulative behavior from someone you consider your partner, it is okay to choose to work through certain indiscretions and come out stronger on the other end. The choice is yours alone.