Recently one of my facebook friends posted some pretty harsh stuff about people who cheat. He later acknowledged that he wasn’t just posting about cheating, but was venting. I imagine he had been cheated on, probably recently, and was in a lot of pain, and it got me thinking.
Cheating, as I think about it is the violation of the rules of a relationship, breaking a commitment and an agreement to someone you care about. It isn’t necessarily about having sex outside a relationship, because for some people that is not a violation of their agreement.
Spiritually, cheating is morally wrong because it is the violation of a relationship. By my theology, (with a nod to Carter Heyward, one of my mentors) one way understand “God” is as the force of the love in a relationship. God is the healthy, holy way we connect to other people, family, friends, lovers, etc. so anything that hurts or breaks that relationship is “sin.” So if two people have negotiated the rules of their relationship in good faith, the act of cheating means someone has violated that trust. While I believe couples always have talk about the rules and boundaries of their relationship, we all know that relationships are constantly being renegotiated and evolving, so “rules” sometimes change.
I am not sure whether it is because of having been a therapist or simply being middle aged and having a bit more life experience, but I have come to know that cheating is a bit more complex than right or wrong, sin or evil. While the act of cheating is morally reprehensible, like many things in life, it is a bad thing that good people sometimes do to one another.
About ten years ago man I was seeing cheated on me. He confessed to it immediately, took responsibility, but that didn’t make it easier. Up to that point in my life, it was the worse thing that ever had happened to me. I was devastated. The relationship lasted a little longer after that, but it was clearly the beginning of the end.
I have met all kinds of people who have “cheated” on partners in my life. Some of them very close to my heart. I don’t believe that cheating is ever right, but have come to understand that this particular wrong happens for a lot of reasons. While I absolutely think that cheaters must own up and take responsibility for their actions, I don’t think every relationship that experiences infidelity must automatically end. I also don’t think that cheating always points to a deep character flaw or an evil nature in the cheater.
I think of cheating as akin to the Christian idea of sin and/or the psychological concept of destructive behavior. Sure there are sociopathic people without consciences that are constantly destructive to those around them. While a "cheater" may be a sociopath, the fact that someone cheats doesn’t mean he or she is a sociopath.
Think of it like killing someone. Killing someone is wrong, ending a life that isn't your own is wrong, but it isn’t simple. Some people kill to defend themselves, others to defend someone else, others out of spite or jealous, and others for the perverse joy of killing. Are all of these people the same?
Cheating is an act that hurts multiple people, but there are many things we do in life that are destructive to others. A large part of life is learning to understand and deal with the hurts we experience from others in our lives. To quote the New Zealand prayer book “In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.”
From psychology we know that people in relationship with one another always disappoint one another at some point. Parents always make errors with children, partners let each down at some point in the relationship, people are not always as good friends to each other as they should be. The key in relationships is to have a strong enough, honest enough, relationship most of the time to absorb and deal the pain that is part of the nature of human relationships.
From a spiritual perspective, sins can be forgiven if someone asks and takes responsibility for their sins. Psychologically, cheating is a behavior that doesn’t mean anything in and of itself; but has individual meaning that depends on the person and the situation.
I guess like many things in life, the more you look at a thing, the nuances it has….
Speaking of the New Zealand prayer book, that prayer, a version of what is commonly called “the Lord’s Prayer” is one of the most beautiful one I have ever read and it is very much a part of my spiritual life, here is it.
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and for ever. Amen.