The question of whether Ben Affleck did or did not cheat with the nanny on his soon-to-be ex-wife Jennifer Garner has gotten me wondering how many times Jen must've taken him back over the years and meditating on why women, more often than men, take cheaters back.
(Jen's getting out, but Tori Spelling? And pretty much 75 percent of the Real Housewives?)
Based on my life coaching work with female clients who struggle with philandering asshats, I determined the weaknesses most commonly found in women are an overabundance of empathy and misplaced responsibility.
I'll set the stage.
You just caught your man cheating and are devastated. You suspected something might be going on, but now you have proof!
You discovered another woman's lacy g-string in his mouth when you kissed him goodnight, which you tried to overlook, until his hiding mistress had to climb out from under your bed because she has an issue with claustrophobia and was having a panic attack.
After you get her a glass of water, a Xanax and send her on her way you have to figure out whether or not you're going to take your man back. Because he's already pleading for your forgiveness and swearing you'll never find another woman's underwear in his mouth again.
Your empathy and sense of responsibility kicks in and immediately you begin to find justifications for his hurtful behavior and reasons to take him back:
Reason 1. He had a terrible childhood.
His ex-con mom left the family when he was little for a drug runner named Raoul and they were last seen in a mini-mall in Arcadia with their new kids. (Or some similar sob story). Of course your man has issues with attachment.
Denial: If you can just love him for who he is and show him you'll never leave him, like his mother did, you can heal his psychic wounds and the cheating will stop.
Reality: There is no denying much of who we are stems from our childhood. But as adults we have a responsibility to keep what we like and leave the rest.
So, yes, often there's a very good explanation for why a man cheats, but there's no excuse.
Reason 2. He loves you, but needs you to be sexier.
Denial: That's it! You're the problem! You aren't thin enough, fat enough, your boobs are too small, too big, your fanny too round, too flat, you have no waist, you're long-waisted. You're too Asian, too black, too white, too Martian. (Cuz girl, you be trippin'.)
Reality: Was Halle Berry not sexy enough? Jennifer Aniston? Reese Witherspoon? I think you get my point.
Reason 3. You're too clingy.
Denial: Now we're on to something! If you could just be less neurotic and clingy, then he wouldn't have to cheat.
He convinces you that your neurotic clinginess didn't come about because he cheated, but that he cheated because of your neurotic clinginess!
Reality: In my experience with philanderers, I was indeed needy and clingy. But once I recovered from my outsized empathy and sense of responsibility, walked away and found a non-cheating, consistent, loving man, my clingy neediness literally vanished.
Reason 4. You put too much pressure on him.
Denial: You should never have told him that you want a real commitment. That you want marriage and kids and the white picket fence. That must be what drove him into the arms of another woman, even though he's told you he wants those things too, just not right now.
So maybe if you just stop pressuring him, eventually you'll be around so long that he'll just get used to you, and not want to lose you, so finally he'll marry you and make all of your dreams come true.
Reality: Stop and ask yourself this question. Do you really want to marry someone who had to be leveraged, hornswoggled, finagled and duped into doing it? If so, it's time to start building your self-esteem.
Reason 5. It will be bad for the kids if you leave the cheater.
This is the only reason for taking a cheater back that isn't a bad one, however ...
Kids are miniature, living, breathing, walking, talking lie detectors. They know instantly when something fishy is going on. They haven't been taught yet, to mistrust their unerring instincts the way we adults have.
And while it's best not to give children the blow-by-blows of your adult relationship (because we want them to be children, not tiny adults who think they have to take care of their parents) it's important that they understand they should always be treated with dignity and respect.
And the best way to teach them that is to set an example for them by setting healthy boundaries with the cheater.
Maybe that means maintaining a cohabiting relationship as parents, but not as lovers. That is, not until he has earned back your trust by consistent, faithful behavior over time. Or any other arrangement that won't further destroy your self-esteem.
If you aren't married and do not have children with the cheater my suggestion? Get the professional and/or spiritual help you need to recover and, as soon as possible, walk away.
There are plenty of loving, wonderful men out there who want a monogamous, committed relationship.
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