A friend posed this question on Facebook yesterday:
Do men and women see this differently?
My friend had polled her offline friends about this question and while a male friend had said he felt that betrayal only took place if the physical act of sex was performed, her female friends felt that thoughts of another person, spending time with another woman as if in a “relationship” defined infidelity, as well as any level of deceit connected to friendships or relationships with others.
I found this very interesting and they are beliefs I used to hold too, but I’ve since moved away from as I get more and more into the idea and practice of sovereignty in relationships. Another friend made some points I really enjoyed reading about the connections we make with others while in monogamous relationships. If one loves their partner with whom they’ve chosen “monogamy”, do they eschew potentially beautiful and enriching friendships they feel with others, out of fear that deep emotional connections might be made that are then considered a betrayal of the primary relationship?
These are my thoughts that flowed in response to the original question:
Are you asking which act is the one that constitutes betrayal, which one act takes it over the line? Is it actual penetration? Oral sex? How about just touching genitals or nipples? Through clothes? Kissing with tongues? Kissing, on the lips or on a cheek? Kissing on a cheek but imagining it was more? Hugging? For a certain length of time? Or by how much body-to-body contact there is? Eye gazing? Spending time together? Feeling excited about spending time together? Fantasising about a person who’s not your partner? Thinking about them, often? Having an erotic dream about them? Where is the line? It seems that’s what you were asking.
That line seems in some way to me to be arbitrary. If having intimate thoughts or sharing close friendship with another is as much betrayal as penetration, why should your partner not just have sex with others as soon as they wish they were doing so, if your partnership has those set rules about fidelity? Why stop before the physical act? Is there a difference, if so, what is it?
As to honesty .. at what point should they tell us? Which line? At what line do we choose to be transparent and honest in that same way?
Is the line, the act that crosses that line, even as important as the underlying motivation? Or as important as the “idea” of betrayal? What is betrayal exactly? I once felt ‘betrayed’; by once I mean in the past, as it happened many times over. Now I look at those same actions, if done without the disclosure I expected, as a breakdown of the communication between us, a disconnect already inherent in the relationship, a culture between us where full honesty has been unsafe and so not possible. More about us than about another person. In that sense, the betrayal was already present before another person even entered the scene. I betrayed myself. He betrayed himself.
As Louloria says in a recent blog post:
Most people have seen some relationships fail. Many failures are explicitly – and mistakenly – attributed to a third party. Most people will therefore do everything possible to avoid that particular scenario. But it’s usually not the third party who’s to blame. The breakdown of a relationship happens inside the relationship. But that is less visible. Less ‘blameable’.
In so many conventionally monogamous relationship breakdowns, the “other person” becomes the focus of much of the anger and hurt. As I write this, I can hear people calling in to the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 expressing exactly that feeling towards the “mistress” that they feel “took advantage”, “seduced” their husband, or somehow “ruined their perfectly fine marriage”. This topic seems to be in the air this week!
In my view, so much more can be healed and transformed at the broadest, deepest levels, by going within .. within the individual, within the primary relationship, maybe even within the idea of conventional relationships .. instead of projecting misplaced feelings towards someone who may have highlighted the failings within the primary relationship dynamic. I know that I gained more – more love, more peace, more compassion – from turning inwards than I did for all the months I focused on the supposed flaws of the third parties.
As Emma Thompson was reported to have said of monogamy today, after finally letting go of a grudge towards her husband’s mistress held for at least a decade:
I do sometimes wonder about whether there are alternatives, and about whether our fury and rage and disbelief and horror about infidelity is quite realistic,” she said.
“I, of course, have got the T-shirt, so I understand the feelings very well, but I think as I get older and think about long-term relationships, I do see that they can change.
I far prefer the idea of sovereignty. Of each person within the relationship being true to their own integrity in the moment, to be free to do what feels right to them, with or without checking in with each other first.
Of trusting the universe to bring me the experiences through which I can learn to love unconditionally and to grow from, whether that looks like monogamy, polyamory or some other unlisted uncategorised relating, rather than tying one person to an impossible set of rules (impossible for them to live in full alignment to their own truth and in full alignment to mine at the same time).
And to know that some of those things that feel right to me or to him may not suit the other. And so they will be discussed, and new growth may be possible, new choices discussed, boundaries adjusted in whatever direction feels appropriate, or it may be the end of that particular relationship.
Can we ask our partner to not think of others? To not be attracted? To not share intimate intention with another whether or not they act on that .. really … where’s the line when you’re controlling another human being, their desires, their actions, their inspirations, in order to not feel scared of loss, or to avoid the pain of jealousy or whatever else is evoked by them interacting with others with their heart, or their mind, or their body?
Is betrayal about lying and sneaking around?
After I posted my thoughts, more or less as written here, the Facebook conversation circled around again to betrayal being about lying, deception and sneaking around. But even that, to me, isn’t as clear cut as I once thought.
Let’s look at honesty. Do we want a partner to be completely honest with us in relation to their feelings about others who may threaten our sense of fidelity .. about everything? Must they tell us of every visit, every conversation, every flutter of desire, every heart opening moment with another person? Are we prepared to do the same? Are we even owning those feelings in ourselves or have we denied a part of ourselves as it’s “not allowed”? Do we even want to hear that moment-by-moment flux that happens in our beloved’s emotional ebbs and flows, or to reveal our own?
Even before a single other human being is involved in our honesty and revelations in the name of transparency .. where else is honesty lacking in our everyday interactions? I had always held honesty and integrity as vital values, for myself, and in others, and to be betrayed by affairs many times over was devastating, and confusing.
Although I felt a victim at first, I knew that from a Law of Attraction perspective, a partner exhibiting the kind of dishonesty that upsets most people in terms of “affairs”, must in some way be a reflection of a dishonesty in me, as the “betrayed” partner.
My own journey from this perspective, to look within to find places in me where I lacked integrity or was dishonest was excruciating, but profound and deeply transforming. I wasn’t necessarily dishonest in the same ways, I didn’t tell lies to cover my tracks in terms of who I spent time with or how I felt about them for instance, but I found that I did leave things out. I told white lies, for instance, to excuse when I was running late, or was late paying a bill. And more than that, as I explored this, I found that intimacy in most relationships is slowly drowned by the constant tide of small, daily, deceptions and omissions of truth.
The disappointments in our partner, or their actions, that we don’t express, especially if they usually react defensively, or aggressively, and we can’t hold that sort of emotion comfortably.
The resentments that we silently file away, instead of taking responsibility for ourselves and our feelings, and expressing them or taking action ourselves.
That time our partner did something special for us, but it wasn’t something that we really wanted, but we said “thank you” instead of “I don’t really like that thing you just put all that effort into doing for me”.
The way we feel rejected when we try to hold or kiss them but they get up to go have a cigarette instead or switch the tv on or however they usually “exit”, but we let them go without telling them how we feel. Maybe we even deny it to ourselves, for years, that we feel rejected.
Or the white lies or omissions of truth that we opt for to avoid our partner’s anger, irritation, disappointment or hurt if we were to be completely honest with them.
These and hundreds more small dishonesties in how we really feel, or what we really want in or out of bed, build up in time until we have a relationship where honest communication has either had walls built around it that we don’t know how to penetrate, or we are too scared to face the potential reactions of our partner or even face our own fear of loss of our partner.
Can most people be honest enough with themselves to be completely honest with a partner? Particularly within the conditions and beliefs we hold as a culture around emotionally committed, monogamous, romantic/sexual relationships?
Perhaps, in the discussion of relationships and betrayals, we should start there?
Here is a video [11:58] I watched this week too, where Benjamin Smythe, answers a letter from a viewer asking how she can deal with her continuing sense of betrayal after her husband of many years had an affair:
Let me know your views in the comments below ..
photo credit: Lotus Carroll on Flickr