By Marjorie Nightingale, JD, LMFT
This blog is the first installment of a four-part series on infidelity - a common problem that brings couples into therapy. The first two parts of the series focus on men. since women also cheat, the last two segments will focus on them. I want to start with why blaming the “side chick” is a bad idea for women.
When a woman suspects her man is possibly cheating on her, she will use various strategies to deal with him. She might try to ask him directly or simply accuse him. Most men will readily deny the accusation and throw it back on the woman by accusing her of being insecure, jealous, or needy. This first action, denial and blame, is intended to deflect attention from his actions. Reversing the accusation will make a woman back down or make her second guess herself entirely.
If a man refuses to admit he is cheating, a woman will become a private detective. She will attempt to access his phone or stalk his social media, trying to catch him in the act. If she can’t find evidence because he has deleted it or if he is good at securing his phone, she may resort to following him, appearing in unannounced places, or sending her friends to spy where she suspects he may meet up with the “side chick.”
If a woman knows who the “side chick” is, she may confront and threaten her to “leave my man alone.” The actions above are all bad strategies to deal with infidelity.
The urban dictionary defines the “side chick” as “a mistress; a woman one dates in addition to one’s girlfriend or one’s wife, usually in secret.” Let us zero in on “in addition to” and “in secret.” These are two WILLFUL actions on the part of the man. He chose to date someone “in addition” to the relationship he is already in and did it “in secret.” Affairs do not “just happen.” Anyone, male or female, who comes to therapy with “It just happened,” as a justification for breaking another person’s trust telegraphs that he or she has a lot of work to do.
I hate the term “side chick” because it describes women as unworthy, less than, and often negatively compares the “woman on the side” to the “woman you marry.” In my opinion, this de-humanizing method of putting women in buckets according to their relative merit - as determined by men is disgusting for all women. Truthfully, many “women you marry” have been “women on the side” in their past lives. Side chicks are women, PERIOD. They may be hurt, or depressed, or have questionable morals, but they are women. They are not throwaway people who are undeserving of compassion or consideration. Going after someone else’s man is not okay. But, blaming the other woman for the choices men make directs anger and frustration at a person who has no obligation to you.
When the hurt woman goes after the other woman, she fails to hold the responsible party accountable. A man should be able to control his own body and emotions. He is not a child. Cheating on one’s partner is the cheater’s fault. Even if the other woman exits the situation, NOTHING has changed for the cheater, except that he will learn to be more deceitful the next time around. He will cheat again.
A man who chooses to cheat on his partner decides to violate his partner’s trust and ignore her feelings. He knows what he is doing. He has agreed that fulfilling his desires is more important than his partner’s potential emotional pain. Even if he thought that he would not get caught, he made a calculated risk and bet on himself. It is selfish. When caught, many men struggle to own how selfish they have been. I have heard every imaginable excuse, from “not knowing that I would wind up in this” to blaming the wife/girlfriend for “not meeting my needs.” However, adult choices have adult consequences. When men struggle to accept that they have behaved in ways that intentionally hurt someone they claim to love, I encourage them to dig deeper. If the relationship was so bad that he needed to be with someone else, why did he lack the integrity to leave first, or at least have the courage to address his relationship problems before he cheated? It becomes very hard to deny he wanted to have both.
Men are surprised to learn how much pain their cheating causes. They rationalize that it is not that serious” or mistakenly believe their partners will get over it if they change their behavior for a few weeks. However, infidelity decimates a person’s trust. Trust built over several years can be destroyed in a short time. It is a big deal. Some women are so hurt and so angry that they are unwilling to try again. There is nothing a therapist can do to change the mind of a woman who gives up. And it is unethical, in my opinion, to try. I will work with someone on the fence, someone unsure, or nine toes out, with one pinky toe, still hanging in there; even a glimmer of hope is something I can work with. But, when a woman decides it is over, the relationship is a wrap. If she chooses to leave a man that has deeply hurt her, she should be able to do that without being guilted into staying in an unhealthy situation. Additionally, the fear of being alone is not a good reason to tolerate, minimize, or excuse a man’s unrelenting selfish behavior.
The good news is infidelity does not have to end the relationship. Relationships can recover, and couples can work through their problems. It takes a lot of work, a long time, and serious commitment from both partners. A few “I’m sorry-s” and some expensive jewelry cannot erase the feeling that one’s world has flipped upside down. It is not an easy or comfortable journey. It is messy, with many peaks and valleys. And it is absolutely true that the relationship may never be the same. It can get worse, or it can get better, but it will never be the same because there is no way to undo infidelity.
Surprisingly, the discovery of an affair can push a couple who wants to be together and address problems swept under the carpet for years, such as difficulties with finances, parenting, or sex. They have nothing to lose, and the fear of hurting each other’s feelings no longer keeps them from speaking their truth. It can be surprisingly liberating and opens the relationship into a space of repair and healing. NONE of this can happen if the focus and the blame are on the other woman. She did not create the problems that led to infidelity. She did not make a man insecure or selfish or push him to avoid facing his relationship problems. There is nothing good or healthy about engaging with a man who was supposedly “taken.” It is wrong. But, the other woman’s issues are separate from the couple’s problems. Women who trade sex for the scraps cheating men offer them with half-assed and empty promises of a fake future may struggle with self-esteem and self-worth. I want to help these women to make better choices and to believe that they can do better. So that the next time someone else’s man slides into her DMs, she blocks him without a second thought. But first, I want to start with him and why he is sliding in her DMs in the first place.
To see installment #2 of this series on infidelity, check out the Podcast, “Why Men Cheat.”
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