Beliefnet

Dear Thomas,
My first husband left me for another woman after 3 years of marriage. I was devastated, but eventually found love again and remarried a year and a half ago. But now, I have good reason to suspect that my husband is cheating on me. I am planning to confront him with the information I have, and I am even hopeful that our marriage can somehow survive this – but I can’t help but feel like there must be something wrong with me that this has happened twice. How can I fight those thoughts?
--Married to Cheats

Dear Married to Cheats,
It doesn't help to fight your thoughts. They come from somewhere and are meaningful. Do you think they might be connected to jealousy? You don't mention this explicitly, but if you're really asking, "why do my men love other women more than me?" then you have to deal with your jealous emotions. You have to learn to love without excessive possessiveness.

From what you say, it doesn't sound as though you have the desire to see other people yourself, but are heartbroken by your partners' repeated indiscretions. I've seen many couples that divide into one party who wants monogamy and the other who wants more freedom. You wonder what's wrong with you to have been with two men who cheat. So I conclude that you identify with the monogamous one but somehow find partners who are drawn to other side of the equation, the cheating side.

Given this dynamic, my suggestion, which may seem odd, is to get in touch with any feelings you have for freedom: not necessarily freedom to be with other men, but freedom to have some life experience that is not associated with your husband. You can live a monogamous lifestyle within your marriage, but practice freedom in another area of your life. Ask your husband to do the same – to imagine an area of his life outside of the marriage where he wants to feel a sense of dedication and "monogamy."

From this exercise, you will probably discover that the desire to be monogamous and the desire for freedom from too tight a coupling can exist in each member of a relationship. It can even be an aspect of the relationship itself. Then these two polar emotions influence each other, keeping the relationship from being too cramping and at the same time allowing livable limits. If you are moralistic about monogamy, feeling righteous in your purity and judgmental about your partner, then you risk sending him off into the extremes of "freedom," which to him means cheating.

I don't mean to suggest in any way that you are at fault for his behavior; he has violated your trust and the commitment he made to you when you got married. For that he needs to repent and earn your forgiveness. But since you said in your letter that you want to work through the issue and save your marriage, I think it's also important for you to listen to your thoughts and honestly ask yourself if there is anything you are doing to contribute to a stifling or jealousy-based feeling the relationship.

The desire to have one faithful lover and the longing to experiment and explore are two natural emotions that any good person might feel. You don't have to push either to extremes. You can tweak each one, allowing a little room in the definition of commitment and allowing some limits on the need to explore. Keep each feeling subtle, interesting, flexible, complex, and forgiving.

--Thomas

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