Image from hereEvery building has clear instructions for evacuation in case of fire. Every airplane flight begins with a demonstration of how to respond in case of emergency. Every country has a protocol for responding to natural disasters.
So why not have a game plan for when/ if you or your partner effs up on the vow of monogamy?
It's not a very pleasant thought, especially for those of us who are engaged and all bright-eyed and hopeful. BUT. If there's one thing I've learned about monogamy (from personal experience and the experience of...oh, human beings in general), it's that monogamy is hard as hell to pull off. More importantly, anyone is susceptible to slipping up because no person in the world has lived without ever having made a mistake. No, not even your wonderful fiance. And not even you. While it may be true that neither you or your partner have cheated in the past, it would be naive to be 100% certain that it won't happen in the future. Sorry.
So my fiance, Brian, and I have designed a protocol for handling marital infidelity. When we say our vows in 5 weeks, we intend for our union to be a permanent one, which means that there are no deal-breakers (unless abuse of spouse or children are involved). So...we've designed a "break in case of emergency" glass box; a game plan for when disaster strikes. We've also discussed the "preventative medicine" we must take in order to heighten our chances of success.
Image from hereWhat does this involve? Well, mostly heart-wrenching honesty. Brian and I talked about what forms of "harmless flirtation" piss us off, and what kinds of situations are just too risky ("Want to go grab a drink after work, just the two of us?" asks cute new secretary.) We agreed that if we ever had a major crush on someone we see regularly, that we would share this with one another so that secret crushes don't snowball and turn into secret affairs. We discussed whether or not a one-time drunken kiss is a form of cheating that's worth confessing...how a small mistake like that could lead to long-lasting psychological scarring for the victimized partner...and how such a humongous consequence does not match the relatively small crime. And finally, we discussed how we would respond if an affair had taken place. Our general plan* in case of infidelity:
- Immediate divorce: No
- Temporary separation: Possibly but not necessarily (many factors to consider here)
- Counseling/ Therapy (individual and/or marital): Hell yeah.
I am the keeper of many married couples' secrets. On more than one occasion a person very near and dear to my heart has shared that their partner has cheated, that they themselves have had an affair, or that they had been "the other woman". Please note: these people are very close to me and I love them. They are not a bunch of low-life cheaters on the prowl, succumbing to every vice under the sun. On the contrary, I tend to roll with folks who are like me -- educated, hard-working professionals who are very close with their circle of family and friends, and are generally traditional in their values yet open-minded. They are real people with big hearts who have effed up (or been effed over) at some point in their lives.
So all of this to say that having a protocol for handling disaster is not only for walking screw-ups with a history of cheating. And a protocol for handling marital infidelity is not a permission slip to make out with that cute co-worker during happy hour just because you and your partner have a back-up plan. A protocol is simply a smart thing to have...and, I will argue, a loving thing to have. Why? Because if you truly want to protect your relationship, you'll do anything to prepare for the realities of married life. You'll muster all of your courage to have those uncomfortable yet necessary conversations. You'll be brave enough to acknowledge marriage as it is, and not just hope for how you think it should be.
So go home, talk to your partner, and design a protocol of your own. Be brave in the name of love.
*OUR plan is not YOUR plan. This works for us based on our values and attitudes toward marriage.