You Need Help: Why Am I So Tempted to Cheat?

Q:

I’m a pansexual woman in a het-monogamous marriage to a cis man for more than a decade. He knew my sexual and romantic attractions at the outset of our relationship and was (still is) accepting, and I was sure that I would always be able to be monogamous. That said, my attractions to women and trans men have kept gnawing at me and I have asked my partner for an open relationship in any form (d.a.d.t. or open/poly), but he refuses. A few years ago, I cheated with a woman – I couldn’t help myself – I didn’t want to end the relationship, but I was going crazy. My husband found out, initially was furious but then seemed to understand what I was going through. While the debacle initially opened up conversation, it’s now back to total silence about this. My husband refuses to acknowledge my attractions and the frustration of constantly denying them and I am at a loss of what to do.

I am tempted to cheat but be more discreet this time, as a way to release the pressure valve, so to speak. I know that sounds awful, but I feel like maybe it’s less awful than blowing up my marriage, home – our kids’ lives.

I don’t know what to do. But I know that this is unsustainable and I will end up cheating again, not because I don’t love my husband and not because I’m not attracted to him, but because this straight relationship is just not enough for me. Help!

A:

Your letter reminded me of a interview of Myrna Kurland, who was not straight and married to a man in the 1940s, from the book Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars, and Theology Before Stonewall by Marie Cartier.

“I would get up at one or two a.m. and I would call every gay bar I had the number to from the 1940s. I wouldn’t say anything. I would just stay on the phone and listen to the sounds in the background. I would stay on until they hung up, and then I would call another one of my numbers, until I had called all the numbers I had … That phone. Those numbers. That was my lifeline … It meant there was a place somewhere — even if I couldn’t go there — that place was out there. I could hear it. Freedom.”

Myrna called the bars two to three times a week like this, for fourteen years.

You are this woman. Your affairs – the ones in the past and the ones in the future – are your phone calls. You will cheat on your husband again. And probably more than once.

It is not hard to cheat. Cheating is easy. Cheating is also really sexy, something about the taboo and the secrecy, it can feel really hot. Hell, even getting caught cheating can feel good. Cheating can feel good because it scratches whatever itches you might have. You can replay a night over and over, drinking up the memory of the affair until there’s not a drip left and then you can go out and get another cup. It sets our imagination on fire. Cheating is a form of escape from our current situation, it allows us to momentarily be with someone else, maybe even be someone else, for a night. Honesty has consequences. Cheating, if we don’t get caught, does not.

Cheating has nothing to do with being bisexual or pansexual in and of itself; but it is what we do when we feel like we’re out of choices. It’s an action for when we feel stuck. We are helpless in our situation – my husband will be devastated, my children will be hurt, my livelihood will fall apart, my family will be destroyed. Why ruin good things, why hurt others needlessly?

I do not believe in demonizing people who cheat. Maybe this is because I’ve been there, on both sides, more than once. Maybe because I believe people are good, even when their actions hurt. Or maybe I just know how complex and nuanced a life can be and how sometimes our actions–even bad actions or painful actions–seem to make sense at the time.

You are not a bad person for cheating on your husband. You are not a bad person for contemplating doing it again. What you are is unsatisfied. What you are is unfulfilled. This is of no fault of your husband, or of your family, or of you. It doesn’t matter why you’re unsatisfied and unfulfilled, but it is important to recognize it. You say yourself in your letter it’s “just not enough”.

You have a choice, though; we always have a choice. You can do several things. You can choose to let things stay the way they are, you hooking up in secret until you get caught again and it’s painful and disastrous for your family; hooking up in secret until you catch feelings with a person and it’s painful and disastrous to you. Or you can confront your very valid needs and discuss them openly, letting your husband know this isn’t just a desire but a need you have. And go from there. And don’t let the conversation fizzle out until you both reach a solution – and that solution might be that the two of you separate. Your husband is a capable adult; trust he will recover. Your children are resilient; show them what it’s like to not settle, show them what it’s like to embrace who you’ve grown into. When they are your age and unhappy in a situation, wouldn’t you want them to be brave enough to change it? What is the point of compromising ourselves for others when in reality everyone involved – you, your family – will be hurt. What are you saving by self-sacrificing your desires?

You are not a bad person for cheating but you are also not a brave person. You don’t have to rock the boat, you don’t have to confront these feelings or share them with your partner honestly. You don’t have to make a plan, move in with a friend or a parent for awhile, you don’t have to acknowledge the impact it will have on your husband, you don’t have to deal with the headache of paperwork or splitting finances, you don’t have to fuck anything up — because that’s what brave people do. Brave people fuck things up and we are all better for it in the long run.

You might think you and your family has a comfortable life, but it’s not comfortable. You’re buzzing with the things you’re denying yourself. Not just physical intimacy, but perhaps more. Think about what’s on the horizon — let your imagination lead your way forward. Going on dates, being in public with a person you’re crushing on, physical intimacy over a longer period of time than an affair would allow, being out in the queer community, holding hands while walking down the street.

Wouldn’t you rather hang up the phone and join the party?

I'm a cartoonist living in Minneapolis. Co-Author and artist of A Quick And Easy Guide To They/Them Pronouns. Author of Grease Bats, coming out Fall 2019 with Boom! Studios! If I'm not working I'm socializing. If I'm not out with friends I'm drawing. If I'm not doing any of those things I'm probably depressed. Support me using Patreon.

Archie has written 97 articles for us.

16 Comments

  1. Holy wow, is this letter from me?! I am currently wondering how to ask my wife, who I love dearly and can’t imagine my life without her, to open our marriage up. I’ve tried and done everything to work on our sex life but she just doesn’t budge and I’m feeling like I’m out of options. You’ve really put all my feelings into words and I feel like this is definitely a talk we need to have.

    But then I get to wondering, how do I find someone to hook up with?! I haven’t been single for almost 15 years! It is overwhelming to think of finding someone. It’s almost like it’s easier to just be frustrated in my relationship, but that’s not fair to either of us.

  2. :chef’s kiss: THIS IS SO GOOD, ARCHIE. I can’t get over how good the writing is, how direct and helpful the advice is, how sweet and nonjudgemental you are while also laying out some hard truths. THIS IS MASTERFUL.

  3. Great advice! I’m a bisexual woman married to a man and we have a poly relationship, in large part because I missed being with women. And it’s been really good for us! Which is not to say that it wasn’t hard; it was really, really hard at the beginning. But often the best things in life require work and building deep, honest relationships is definitely one of those things.

    I really encourage you to broach the conversation with your husband again, and reassure him that you still love and are attracted to him. There are so many cultural messages conflating sexual monogamy with love/trust/commitment/etc. that it’s natural to be threatened. I recommend the book “Opening Up” for couples considering non-monogamy–it provides some examples of conversations, stumbling blocks, and different relationship styles. After talking more, he may still not want a non-monogamous relationship, which is his right, but you both deserve to be true to yourselves and honest with the people you love. Good luck! Be brave!

  4. I recommend Clementine Morrigan’s writing on polyamory over any of the mainstream books because Clementine’s work talks about trauma and attachment and other issues that are KEY to understanding why people freak out when doing polyamory. Good luck, letter writer <3

  5. This response so very beautiful and feels incredibly accurate and true. Thank you so much for this! My partner and I had a similar conversation this past weekend and reading this validated so much. Just wow!

  6. This is great advice.

    Some of us are not monogamous. I went through my entire twenties and hurt a lot of people before I figured it out. My life was much better after I admitted it to myself and started dealing with it.

    You may feel guilt about leaving a relationship that offers you a lot, but it’s better than feeling guilt every single time you cheat – or feel like cheating – and in the long run, it’s obviously better for your partner as well.

    I think one aspect people struggle with are the preconceptions that us non-mono kind are fickle, disloyal sex fiends with no boundaries.

    If any of that is lingering in your mind, please believe and live as if you are fully capable – you almost certainly are! – of having a good co-parenting relationship with your current partner after you separate and that you can both bring up your kids in a good, stable environment, even if you’re not all under the same roof.

    You’ll be blowing up your kids’ lives a lot more if another cheating episode is revealed in bad circumstances. Especially if – you don’t state how old they are – they’re adolescents or teens. If they’re not adolescents/teens now, what about in 5 years, 10 years? Can you sneak around for that long with no consequences to you or your partner? I doubt it. Also, I don’t know what laws are like where you are, but if your partner finds out about another cheating episode and breaks up with you, it’s not going to do any favours for joint custody arrangements.

    Be honest with yourself and give yourself the opportunity to make a life that’s not full of deceit, uncertainty, frustration and anxiety.

    (PS: while you’re being honest with yourself, think about whether you need high drama in your life. Some people do, or get accustomed to it, so the cheating, shame etc fulfils something they crave. I’m not saying non-mono people are into drama by default – I’m highly allergic to it myself. But if it might be an aspect of your personality, it might be good to get some counselling if you possibly can. In fact, I recommend it anyway, particularly to get some tools on how to separate from your partner and ensure your kids continue to feel secure throughout the (temporary!) upheaval.)

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