Resentment and Comparison
A common excuse given by someone who has committed adultery is, “I don’t know how it happened. It just did.” While I might accept that it could be true sometimes, I don’t think it usually is for most cases.
I know this because I’ve been in situations of my own making where something bad could happen and really wanted to believe that how I got there was a total surprise. I’m not talking about adultery in this example, just the general idea that you can find yourself in all sorts of hazardous situations and want desperately to make people believe you didn’t know how you got that far. I’ve wanted myself to believe it too.In fact I can tell myself a really good lie and really believe it. I’m most gullible when it’s me that’s doing the convincing. For me, the biggest problem is food. I need desperately to lose weight, yet at the end of the day, when I’ve had way more to eat than I should and plenty of things I should have completely avoided, I want to believe that I didn’t know how I pulled into my favorite donut shop.
Incredible as it seems, I can actually erase the entire memory of the step-by-step decisions I made that took me from heading to pick up a client to downing a raspberry fritter and two chocolate-covered, bavarian creams. “Woah! That was unexpected! Really?”
I think it is the same thing with infidelity. There is a series of steps that lead to it and factors that come into play. As I wrote in Tunnels:
…you would probably find that most adultery begins with resentment and comparison. “She accepts me. She appreciates me. She wants me.” “He accepts me. He appreciates me. He wants me.” “My husband/wife doesn’t.”
I think that these two, resentment and comparison, are the two major set-ups for adultery. I think there is a certain reality about marriage that the Mormon culture tends to ignore. That reality is that two people from different environments are trying to come together to become united in their love and commitment, and that this process involves a lot of tension and conflict.
I don’t mean “conflict” in a negative connotation. I think in terms of the natural differences of opinions, attitudes, and styles that bump against each other as relationships form. It’s like the over-under controversy of toilet paper installation. My wife hangs it underhandedly. I hang it overhandedly.
These things we don’t often fight about, and when we do, it’s more for entertainment than out of resentment. My wife is an entertaining arguer. In fact, I think it is our sense of humor about our differences that is the best deterrent to the buildup of resentment.
Though I don’t think adultery results from arguments about how toilet paper should be installed, I do believe that some relationships are so laden with resentment that even the smallest things become the steps that lead to it. Peanut butter today, terminology tomorrow, and soon the spouse can’t do anything right.
That leads to how the other person of interest “accepts me for who I am.” I would bet that most people who commit adultery didn’t check which way the toilet paper hangs in the bathroom first. Yet, I claim that many of the other things that seem to be the more serious causes of resentment in a marriage are truly no more important than the kind of peanut butter they like.
I am not saying that some marriages don’t have some serious issues to work out. They surely do. Some need some professional help and they should get it. Yet, how much could be worked out with a little bit of letting go of some of the differences in the way each other operates? How much good can come of having a sense of humor about your spouse’s quirks? And definitely, have a think skin when it comes to talking about differences.
Resentment leads to comparison. I think one of the biggest myths is the greener grass myth. We know that courting people hide most of their quirks. They are on their best behavior while looking for a mate. They are also really good at ignoring faults. These same things apply when looking for a paramour.
Leave one relationship for another and you’ll find that there’s no such thing as a perfect marriage. Anyone can find fault in anyone else, because we all have faults. If you’re the kind of person who resents every little thing about your spouse, you’ll be that same person once the euphoria of the mating rituals end with the other woman/man.
As bad as making little comparisons can be, remember that big comparisons are the death of a marriage, especially when pornography is part of the equation. No woman can really compete with the image of a perfect and fully-revealed body that has a perpetually inviting look on her face.
To have a happy life, be philosophical about the differences between you and your spouse. Have a sense of humor about them, and know when to shut up about them.
Don’t compare your spouse to others. There is no such thing as a fair comparison between someone you’ve been with for many, many years and someone who has designs on you. That other person hasn’t had to put up with you all these years.
Above all, don’t find yourself destroying your family by not paying attention to the steps you are taking that will surely lead you there.