I have been devouring books lately. I’m thrilled to have time to read this summer. I just finished Emily Giffin’s Heart of the Matter. It’s about a woman whose 6 year old son’s face and hand are burned in an accident at a sleepover party. She falls in love with her son’s surgeon. The chapters of the book alternate between her perspective and the surgeon’s wife’s perspective. I loved the book. I don’t think many escape life without having cheating play a role, whether it’s something a parent has done, whether we have cheated, or whether we have been cheated on. I won’t give away the story, but it was fascinating to see how each of the characters wrestled with questions of morality, happiness, forgiveness, and what marriage and love mean.
Many times when cheating occurs, you hear those guilty say that “it just happened”, like it was a complete accident. Which reminded me of a part of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage. Gilbert quotes Shirley P. Glass, a psychologist who spent much of her career studying marital infidelity. Glass believes that you can see the makings of the affair “long before the first stolen kiss”, and writes, “most affairs begin when a husband or wife makes a new friend, and an apparently harmless intimacy is born. You don’t sense the danger as it’s happening, because what’s wrong with friendship? Why can’t we have friends of the opposite sex — or of the same sex for that matter — even if we are married?” Glass goes on to say that, “nothing is wrong with a married person launching a friendship outside of matrimony — so long as the “walls and windows” of the relationship remain in the correct places.”
In Glass’ theory, every marriage is composed of walls and windows. The windows are the aspects of your relationship that are open to the world — that is, the necessary gaps through which you interact with family and friends; the walls are the barriers of trust behind which you guard the most intimate secrets of your marriage.
“What often happens, though during so-called harmless friendships is that you begin sharing intimacies with your new friend that belong hidden within your marriage. You reveal secrets about yourself — your deepest yearnings and frustrations — and it feels good to be so exposed. You throw open a window where there really ought to be a solid, weight bearing wall, and soon you find yourself spilling your secret heart with this new person. Not wanting your spouse to feel jealous, you keep the details of your new friendship hidden. In so doing , you have now created a problem: You have just built a wall between you and your spouse where there really ought to be free circulations of air and light. The entire architecture of your matrimonial intimacy has therefore been rearranged Every old wall is now a giant picture window; every old window is now boarded up like a crack house. You have just established the perfect blueprint for infidelity without even noticing.
So by the time your new friend comes into your office one day in tears over some piece of bad news, and you wrap your arms around each other (only meaning to be comforting!), and then you lips brush and you realize in a dizzying rush that you love this person– that you have always loved this person! — it’s too late. Because now the fuse has been lit. And now you really do run the risk of someday (probably very soon) standing amid the wreckage of your life, facing a betrayed and shattered spouse (whom you still care about immensely, by the way), trying to explain through your ragged sobs how you never meant to hurt anybody, and how you never saw it coming.
I think that Glass is dead on, and that more couples need to be proactive and protective of their secrets, and intimacy. It’s so easy for an emotional affair to occur. I also think this applies to our friends. I know so many women who will talk with their girl friends about their husband, delving into really private aspects of their relationship. It’s hard to know where to draw the line, because we want to be supported, and sometimes we want to talk about problems in our relationship. Perhaps, that’s when a therapist is needed — someone you pay to keep your secrets and who is bound by law to keep them. Although, don’t go having an affair with your therapist! That’s a whole other issue!
I think cheating can happen in all sorts of relationships, as well. It’s important to know where to have “windows” and “walls” in our relationships with parents, brothers, sisters, and close friends. It’s amazing how many people will gossip about their close friends to other close friends. When I see this, I run and don’t look back! I know that person is sharing my secrets, hopes and dreams with others, and I don’t have time to invest in phony friendships. It’s so important to have integrity, and to keep the confidences of those most important to you, and to remember where to draw the line in conversation. It’s a slippery slope, and we all really need to think more about where to draw the line to preserve relationships whether we are married, dating, or single so that we don’t allow inappropriate barriers to be crossed and do damage unthinkingly.
– Miss A