Infidelity and the Morality of Children

I have no memory of how this woman’s blog got into my list of RSS feeds, but it is certainly an interesting read on one view of infidelity. I haven’t had the time to read through all that many of her posts or comments, but I’ve got my own opinions as it is.

A dear friend of mine had the misfortune to have been a newly wed who had to suffer through the trauma of learning that her husband cheated on her. The details are irrelevant (to this piece at least). I am more interested in discussing the role of “the other woman”. The question I’m contemplating is whether or not the mate poacher is the enemy.

For the sake of discussion, let us say that a woman (the “other woman”) named Sophie seduces a married man named Kevin. Kevin is married to Lisa, and they have two young children, Monica and Nick.

Is Sophie the enemy? In some ways, yes, she is. If Sophie is aware of the Kevin’s marriage, then she must enter into (or continue) the relationship with the Kevin knowing full well that her actions could result in the breaking down of Kevin’s family. To come to any different conclusion would be simply an exercise in mincing words and twisting logic in order to mitigate the consequences of such a relationship. Anyone who doesn’t consider the risk of a family breaking up over infidelity is being unrealistic.So if Sophie is awful for getting involved with a married man, what about Kevin? Kevin is to be held accountable just as well. In fact, he is at greater fault. For a relationship to exist, both parties involved must give their consent. It’s not like Kevin is going to forget that he has a wife and child at home. His consent to the relationship is a decision that he must be accountable for. The fact is that Kevin is the one who holds the responsibility to remain loyal. He cannot claim to be a victim. His infidelity is one which he must take an active roleOne could argue that Kevin’s wife Lisa could be cold and withholding, that she is a neglectful partner, hence driving Kevin to engage in extramarital activities. Perhaps she is herself having an affair. I don’t consider this a valid excuse for infidelity (there are no valid ones in my book). For one, fidelity should be considered more than just a promise to another person. It should be considered a moral value. When one takes on the vows of marriage, they should consider it a promise to the institution of marriage as well. If you are religious, it becomes a promise to God as well. And if one has children, the promise of fidelity is a promise to the children as well, the promise to provide a stable and loving home life. Besides, as the adage goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Three months ago, I was having dinner with my friend Luanne and her friends. In conversation, I accidentally and tangentially brought up the topic of marital infidelity. Needless to say, I opened a big can of worms. I was actually quite shocked at the opinions that were offered around the table. I of course, keeping in line with my observer status, kept my mouth shut as I knew that I would not rest should I engage in such a discussion. Besides, in all honesty most people have very poor debating skills and a ‘debate’ would only serve to exasperate me when people flounder with flimsy premises and poorly constructed arguments.

More importantly, I observed adults often find the need toplayaround with the circumstances surrounding morality when facing moral dilemmas. When someone offers an opposing view, a person often offers a different set of circumstances that would seemingly make their own moral stance valid.

I say that adults often do this because it is something that children do not. Viewing things through a child’s eyes can be rather insightful. Adults often lose their clarity of vision, the truth obscured in layers of winding self-soothing logic and justification. Why is it that children of divorce wish that their parents would get back together, even twenty years later when they are full grown adults? Why is it that children often have problems accepting and integrating a step-parent into their lives? Why is it that children feel bad when mommy and daddy are fighting, or when someone puts the moves on their parents?

The answer is simple. Children, at their age, have yet to be tainted by the complexities of adult life. They have yet to engage in self-deception and justification as ways to deal with cognitive dissonance. Although children can at times be reductionistic, they are undoubtedly more likely to see the truth of matters. Their observations at times exceed an adult’s vision obfuscated by ego defense mechanism. Children are the ones who make obtuse observations.

In Spielberg’s Hook, there is a scene where Captain Hook’s trying to seduce and win the loyalty of Peter Banning’s children, Jack and Maggie. Maggie is a little girl, no more than six years old. Hook antagonizes the parents by explaining to the children that their parents tell them stories in order to shut them up so that they can have time for themselves. He says that before the children were born, the parents were happier and freer. Young little Maggie knows that this isn’t true. She looks at him with a fearful disbelief and says, “You’re a bad man.” Jack, perhaps ten years of age, is not as disbelieving. Captain Hook’s words have a clear effect on Jack. Why? Because Jack is more grown up. His mind, being more mature than Maggie’s, can be engaged and therefore tricked by various forms of logic and debate. But Maggie knows only to believe what’s in her heart, and in her heart is the truth: that her parents love her.

Infidelity is wrong. A child’s sense of right and wrong is a simple measure. If you asked a five year old girl if it would be okay with her that Daddy hug and kiss a woman other than Mommy, I feel comfortable saying that she is more than likely to be a little uneasy with that idea. It’s why when little Jane catches Mommy kissing the postman, she feels something is wrong with that picture. When Daddy takes an hour to go get some milk and eggs, Jane knows something isn’t right about that. Perhaps she feels uneasy or a little upset, and she probably doesn’t know why. This is cognitive dissonance, evidenced even in children as young as five years old. And it’s a simple measure of morality.

People can dress up infidelity all they want. Adults are more than capable of silencing the internal voices that cry out when they do something wrong or witness a wrong being committed. Children, though, are far more truthful. Perhaps that is the ugliness of adulthood…deception, a loss of innocence and truth, and the disappearance of a simple and pure love.

Thanks to Katie Tegtmeyer for the photo.