His Cheatin’ Heart

Men who aren’t chaste before marriage won’t necessarily improve after the wedding.

I love Dr. Phil.

Well, okay, I don’t love everything about Dr. Phil. His morality differs somewhat from mine, and I don’t think he’d be my first choice as a spiritual director. But it terms of examining human behavior and dishing out plain ole Texas common sense, he’s the best.

Today’s episode was particularly interesting. The topic was “why husbands cheat.” Like most talk shows, the format was to interview men who have cheated and the wives who have suffered as a result. The men, of course, all seemed very contrite. (Of course they did. What else is a guy going to say on national television? “Yeah, that’s my wife crying over there. And I don’t care, because I’m getting mine.”) 

Now, before you all start screaming “But women cheat, too,” let me reassure you that Dr. Phil and I both know that. But this show was about men for one particular reason – because men and women tend to cheat for different reasons. This show was about men’s reasons, and that was the part I found so fascinating.

Apparently, men cheat for one reason – sex. This, I suppose, would seem obvious, since that’s what cheating is. But he quoted a statistic that really struck me. Apparently, men who cheat are, overwhelmingly, men who feel “entitled” to take advantage of every sexual opportunity presented to them.

This made me think.

I’ve always been a firm believer that the best way to prevent infidelity is to avoid marrying someone who would be likely to cheat. Again, this seems obvious. (Or, as Dr. Phil would say, “That sounds like the cover story for Duh magazine.”) But nobody says “Well, if things get bad, I’m gonna climb into another woman’s bed.” Most men – and women – enter marriage fully intending to be faithful. But apparently a significant percentage wind up cheating. Why?

Think about it. Cheaters are men who feel entitled to take advantage of every sexual opportunity. What do we expect of unmarried men? What do single guys on television shows (both scripted and “reality”) do? They take advantage of every sexual opportunity. They call it “getting lucky.” They look forward to it. They seek it out. I read recently that “men are embarrassingly easy to seduce.” We, as a society, don’t expect men to refuse sex.

Until they get married.

How much sense does this make? From what I understand, it’s more difficult for men to resist certain sexual “opportunities” than it is for women. (Why, oh why, did God find it necessary to wire us so differently?) And yet, we expect men to indulge those opportunities throughout their bachelorhood, and then suddenly “turn it off” and embrace monogamy once they’re married. It probably seems easy enough during the honeymoon phase, when everything about marriage seems rosy and wonderful. But when boredom sets in, when babies come and leave sagging breasts and bellies in their wake, when sleepless nights and runny noses replace candlelight and romance, other “sexual opportunities” can start to look pretty good. And a guy who hasn’t already learned to resist them, probably won’t start resisting now.

How can a woman prevent infidelity? Marry a man likely to be faithful. They won’t advertise their likeliness to cheat, so it’s important to look for the signs. 

Infidelity is about immaturity, low self-esteem and lack of self-control. A man whose interest revolves around getting his needs and desires met, instead of meeting the needs and desires of his partner, is a bad bet. So is a man who seems to crave the constant attention and affirmation of women. Men who refuse to take responsibility for their own actions should also be avoided.

And, if a woman wants a man who will be faithful to her after marriage, she should look for one who has been faithful to her before marriage – one who understands the importance of chastity, and has developed the mature self-control necessary to live it.

I think it’s also important to look at a man’s emotional make-up. Men who struggle with intimacy – those who are afraid of it as well as those who just don’t “get it” -- are also a poor risk. It’s intimacy, and the total self-gift inherent in that intimacy, that differentiates marital lovemaking from mere “having sex.” A man who is incapable of abandoning himself in that way is less likely to find marital sexual union fulfilling, and less likely to see the difference between sex with his wife and sex with a stranger or a mistress. 

All married women, on some level, fear the aging process because they know there will be younger, more attractive women available to their visually oriented male husbands. But the best, most centered men don’t remain faithful because their wives remain the most objectively, physically beautiful women on the planet. They do so because what they share with their wives -- the emotional intimacy, the caring, the support, the history – shine through in their lovemaking. And that makes the thought of any other encounter – no matter how beautiful the woman – seem shallow, cheap and ugly by comparison.

That’s the kind of guy – and the kind of marriage -- I’m holding out for. I suggest the rest of you single women do the same.