Soft-pedaling the way we describe affairs happens all the time. Many would say, so what? We just want to avoid using harsh words. But I contend that pulling punches in this way leads to a creeping acceptance of affairs, and all the negative effects they bring.
Almost every woman in a marriage or relationship has had the thought–What if my husband is having an affair? Or what if he says he wants a divorce? To the woman being cheated on it doesn’t matter whether the word used to describe the situation is ‘affair’, which gives off the air of adventure and hot sex and no damage done, or ‘divorce’, which has the air of abandonment, failure and doom, the woman’s feelings are still hurt, anger, fear and embarrassment.
But for society in general it does matter. Because the ‘easy does it’ words are leading to a creeping acceptance of affairs, and all the negative effects they bring.
We can say infidelity, affair, another relationship, someone else, soulmates, growing, transitioning, marriage gone stale, moving on.
Or we can say cheating, adultery, divorce, abandonment, or broken.
What are we talking about here? Dictionary-wise we’re talking about a married man or woman having sex with someone other than their spouse.
We have a lot of words to choose from. Does it matter which ones we choose? Yes, it does.
Because in choosing words we associate with positive actions like growing, moving on, soulmate, transitioning (as in “I’m transitioning to a new stage of my life. We all have to grow. I found my soulmate. I’m moving on. I’m not one to dwell on the past.”) or infidelity (such a fancy, upperclass word) we cover over all the hurt, damage, anger, fear, guilt, stress and insecurity that come along with a married man or woman sleeping with someone who is not their spouse.
If we say cheating, divorce, adultery, breaking, abandonment, or illicit–Pow! That makes us squirm. It makes us uncomfortable. We feel threatened. Could this happen to me? I don’t want to deal with it. What is the world coming to? Please don’t use these words.
So should we avoid these words if they make us feel bad?
No, because putting a pretty face on something that has permanent personal and societal negative effects deceives us and encourages more.
No More Euphemisms
OK, ‘negative’ is a judgment. I’m making it. I’m saying that cheating has negative effects on individuals, families and society.
If you disagree, let me know.
No more euphemisms! Itself a fancy word for cover-ups, high class lying, shading, and double talk.
There is no such thing as moving on. No one involved will ever be completely rid of the hurt, angry, guilty, sad, fearful and insecure feelings.
The ‘good divorce’ is total nonsense. Yes, divorce might be the best solution out of a group where all the choices have serious negative consequences, but it’s never ‘good’.
This is true for all three parties in an affair–the cheating man (yes, women cheat too but I am focusing on the situation where it’s the husband who’s cheating), the wife and the other woman.
I am looking at what’s going on in the minds of all three, what each is saying and what it really means. And how understanding the feelings, and internal and external deceptions that each goes through helps all the parties.
It’s possible that affairs and divorce generate such serious negative feelings only because our present societal, religious and cultural morality say ‘no’. If our religious, societal and cultural standards change to say that sleeping with someone not your spouse is just a natural, human biological fact and divorce is just a perfectly good solution to the human fact of sexual attraction to a partner waning with time with that person, then the taboo and negative fall-out may disappear.
An example of this over the last two generations is the attitude towards an unmarried woman having a baby or a single man becoming a father. Look at the scandal at the time of Ingrid Bergman and the acceptance now of single celebrities or public figures becoming parents–Angelina Jolie, Calista Flockheart, January Jones.
We don’t say ‘out of wedlock’ or ‘illegitimate child’ or anymore, words that transmit tremendous negative attitudes. We say ‘Diane had a baby. She’s a single parent’. No one is saying we should go back to the old days of shaming a child born out of wedlock, but let’s look at the implications with cheating.
If our societal standards changed then if a married man slept with another woman we wouldn’t say ‘affair’ which carries a disapproving attitude. We would say ‘another relationship’.
If the father moved out of the house he lived in with his wife and children, we wouldn’t say he ‘abandoned’ his family because abandoned is a highly negative word. We would say ‘Tom is now living on Spring Street’.
Tom wouldn’t have to say anything bad about his wife to justify moving to live with another woman because there would be nothing unacceptable about the whole thing. There would be no hard feelings. Everyone would mingle freely and Tom would probably still sleep with his first wife too because there is a natural desire to maintain that connection. This is rarely spoken about today. But it is way more common than people think.
No more euphemisms! No more Mr. Nice Word. If we stop the cover-up of the true effects of cheating, we will stop the creeping acceptance of affairs with all the negative effects they bring.