One City

One City

What would Sid do? I cheated on my spouse…

posted by Lodro Rinzler


Before Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment at age 35 he was a
confused twenty and thirty-something looking to learn how to live a
spiritual life. He had an overbearing dad, expectations for what he was
supposed to do
with his life, drinks were flowing, lutes were playing, and the
ladiezzz were all about him. Some called him L.L. Cool S. I imagine
close friends just referred to him as Sid.

Many people look to Siddhartha as an example of someone who attained nirvana, a buddha. But here we look at a younger Sid
as a confused guy struggling with his daily life. What would he do as a
young person trying to find love, cheap drinks, and fun in a city like
New York? We all make mistakes on our spiritual journey; here is where
they’re discussed.

Each week I’ll take on a new question and
give some advice based on what I think Sid, a confused guy working on
his spiritual life in a world of major distraction, would do. Because
let’s face it, you and I are Sid.

Have a question for this weekly column? E-mail it here and I’ll probably get to it!

DISCLAIMER #1: I do not claim to be in touch with the Buddha. In fact, I don’t think I even know anyone named Sid.
DISCLAIMER #2: While healthy debate about how to handle these situations is welcome in the comments section I would like to kindly ask that individuals refrain from posting negative remarks about the person asking the question itself. These are real people working to bring spirituality to real scenarios. Let’s please respect them.


Q: I cheated on my husband. It was a one-time thing, a mistake,
not any kind of relationship…. I’m willing to chalk it up to, ok, I
slipped/made a mistake, and I tell myself I shouldn’t beat myself up. Nobody is
perfect. But then I wonder If I’m copping out in terms of Right Speech etc. and
that I should tell him. Help. – S.P.

I always thought it was interesting that when Sid became a buddha he didn’t lay out a set dogmatic thing that everyone and their mom should do to be good boys and girls. He approached his former colleagues/first students and said, “Come and see for yourself. I’ve got this jam I’ve worked out and you should riff on it too to see if it works for you.” The history books usually only record half of that statement.

My point is that all relationships are different and what might work for some may not work for you. For example, based on your conundrum I might project that you and your hubby aren’t swingers. There’s something unique about two individuals that are super open about where they are as a couple and what their needs are sexually. An event like sleeping with someone else is not only not taboo but a welcome topic of discussion in that case. Nice work if you can get it (the communication part that is, I won’t weigh in on the multiple partners thing here). Sid, for example, grew up in a time when it was socially acceptable for him to have his wife as well as a harem to “entertain” him.

Based on the way you’re feeling I would guess you have a more conventional relationship than that. Let’s consider your relationship as a tree. Because I’m writing from Vermont this week and there’s lots of those. Like a tree your relationship started off quite young and simple but overtime grew and matured and is actually now something worthy of awe. The vows you took in marriage to love and respect one another are like the branches of flowers on the tree, making the tree all that more beautiful.

Now one of those branches of flowers may have been that you will no longer have sex with other people. So at this point that branch has been damaged. Infected in fact. There’s a sickness in the tree. What do you do? How to save the tree?*

Three initial options that come to mind:

1) Cut the branch, pretending like it was never there. Ask yourself if you think that this really was a one-time thing and, if so, do you think the memory will fade entirely over time? In your heart do you think keeping this act to yourself will leave the rest of the relationship undamaged?

2) There’s a chance the infection has already seeped into the very roots of the tree, i.e. the foundation of
the marriage. You can ask yourself, “Is this something that I think about on a regular basis?” If so another question might be, “Is it
effecting our daily life together?” Sometimes cheating is the first
death knell of a relationship so it’s good to figure out how you feel about it yourself.

3) My last question is do you want to talk to your spouse, allowing the infection to seep in further in the hopes that the tree will be strong enough to handle it? I can’t guarantee that your husband, your relationship, or you are strong enough to handle cheating. I can guarantee that open communication about how you feel about your relationship overall is essential in this case.

Cheating on a partner can stem from a lack of communication or not feeling like your needs are met in the relationship. So in this case one route is to view your indiscretion as a learning experience; you can address with your husband whatever led you to cheat if not the act itself.

To address the aspect of your question about Right Speech It’s worth noting that there are many ways to interpret this teaching. Right Speech includes not engaging deceitful speech but it also includes not engaging in divisive speech. From my perspective there are times when not saying something to someone you cherish can be as compassionate as saying something. Ultimately you have to go with your gut on this one on what Right Speech means to you.

In conclusion, no matter what you do, don’t beat yourself up. Taking an aggressive stance against yourself is contradictory to what the Buddha taught. We all mess up sometimes. The only universal advice I imagine Sid would offer in this case would be “Be kind and be honest with yourself. The rest will follow.”

* Lodro does not nor is likely ever to know much about flora. He just thinks trees are pretty. And that relationships are hard.

Comments read comments(9)
post a comment
Julia May

posted May 29, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Good advice, Lodro.

report abuse

The Meaning Of Life

posted May 29, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Nice piece of reading

report abuse


posted May 29, 2009 at 2:41 pm

This is why I love Buddhism. It is never a punishment or a judgement, only a continuous learning experience.

report abuse


posted May 30, 2009 at 2:40 am

In this situation, the one who has cheated feels guilty. It is tempting to want to “confess” to the partner…but that generally only spreads the misery to the partner and damages the relationship further while giving scant comfort to the cheater.
If it is really a one-time thing, I suggest living with it and resolve not to do anything in future that will cause this kind of guilt. If you really can’t let it go and feel compelled to “share” then be prepared for long-term damage to the relationship far beyond what is already done.
It’s all about taking responsibility both for your own choices and for not harming your partner simply to make you feel better.

report abuse


posted May 30, 2009 at 11:14 am

I think of the story of the kimsuka tree in the Salayatanasamyutta.

report abuse


posted June 1, 2009 at 10:11 am

@ David
I can’t stand it when people I’m close to hide things from me in order to not hurt me. If you want to grow close, understand the nature of love, you have to work through deepest your suffering, which means telling each other what’s up. If “what’s up” is hurtful, so be it, there’s a teaching there.

report abuse


posted June 1, 2009 at 12:01 pm

The analogy of the tree and the advice on different approaches of handling the infection are very helpful.
As a spiritual warrior you have to look beyond the act of cheating and examine your needs and motivations.

report abuse


posted June 1, 2009 at 12:32 pm

I think you have to come clean. It is amazing how much something like this will seep into everything even if you try to hide it.

report abuse

Lodro Rinzler

posted June 1, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Dear friends,
I have been away from this blog for a little while and just wanted to thank you all for this most excellent dialogue. I am beginning to consider next week’s topic so if you have anything please send it to

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting One City. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Most Recent Buddhist Story By Beliefnet Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!

posted 2:29:05pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Mixing technology and practice
There were many more good sessions at the Wisdom 2.0 conference this weekend. The intention of the organizers is to post videos. I'll let you know when. Here are some of my notes from a second panel. How do we use modern, social media technologies — such as this blog — to both further o

posted 3:54:40pm May. 02, 2010 | read full post »

Wisdom 2.0
If a zen master were sitting next to the chief technical officer of Twitter, what would they talk about? That sounds like a hypothetical overheared at a bar in San Francisco. But this weekend I saw the very thing at Soren Gordhamer's Wisdom 2.0 conference — named after his book of the same nam

posted 1:43:19pm May. 01, 2010 | read full post »

The Buddha at Work - "All we are is dust in the wind, dude."
"The only true wisdom consists of knowing that you know nothing." - Alex Winter, as Bill S. Preston, Esq. in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure"That's us, dude!" - Keanu Reeves, as Ted "Theodore" LoganWhoa! Excellent! I've had impermanence on my mind recently. I've talked about it her

posted 2:20:00pm Jan. 28, 2010 | read full post »

Sometimes You Find Enlightenment by Punching People in the Face
This week I'm curating a guest post from Jonathan Mead, a friend who inspires by living life on his own terms and sharing what he can with others.  To quote from Jonathan's own site, Illuminated Mind: "The reason for everything: To create a revolution based on authentic action. A social movemen

posted 12:32:23pm Jan. 27, 2010 | read full post »

Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.