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marinelife's avatar

Can Someone Explain the Mark Sanford Mindset to Me?

Asked by marinelife (62455points) July 2nd, 2009

The aspect of adultery that is so difficult for me to grasp, as laid out for us in graphic detail (TMI in fact) by the wandering gov, is why cheating spouses think it is OK to cheat.

Doesn’t this require enormous ego, hubris, rationalization?

Not the act, folks, but the idea that you can take whatever pleasure you want with someone else (soul mates, FGS) while lying to your spouse about it, thus denying the spouse the choice of whether she or he wants to stay signed on for this.

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16 Answers

cwilbur's avatar

It requires rationalization, but people are very very good at rationalization, especially after the fact.

Saturated_Brain's avatar

I don’t really think that it’s so much ‘thinking that it’s OK to cheat’ as it’s ‘focusing on the pleasure and happiness that adultery brings’.

Cheating on a partner is a form of escape from the relationship (usually not a very good one to begin with) that these people are in. It’s something that’s new and exciting. Something that brings a new oomph into their lives after a long period of monotonous monogamy. In many ways, these people will probably feel that it’s alright to cheat because they feel so much happier with the new person than with their spouse. Because they feel like it’s a breath of fresh air.

Of course they’ll feel guilt, but they usually, as @cwilbur said, rationalise it all away by focusing more on what they get than what they stand to lose. And if they lie to the spouse, all the better, because the spouse will (supposedly) still care for the same way. “Best of both worlds”.

But as reality would have it, this usually doesn’t work. The guy often gets found out, and the marriage enters the storm. And who knows what’ll happen after that?

This is why I strongly believe that the best way to keep people together is to do things together. Fill both lives with varied activities which will enable bonding. Spend meaningful time with each other. I think that humans tend to get bored of long periods of uniformity, and it’s up to both people in the relationship to really try to keep the relationship strong. These type of things don’t just stagnate if you don’t do anything about it, they deteriorate.

Basically, what I’m saying is that cheating partners are usually the symptom of a troubled relationship. It seem like nothing going’s on on the surface but that’s only because it’s the fact that nothing’s (or not enough) going on that’s the problem.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

I’m not sure, the thought of cheating on my wife is unthinkable. But then, we have a very close relationship, something I’ve noticed plenty of couples lack. I think the option to cheat comes from having the sort of relationship where you cannot discuss ANYTHING with your spouse. Seems too many people get married for the wrong reasons, to the wrong person, too often. If you don’t know your partner as well as you know yourself, then getting married is a BAD idea. Period.

My wife and I have an agreement concerning the opportunity should one of us desire to have a dalliance outside of the relationship, but with very strict rules and complete openness and honesty. None of this sneaking around BS. Not the sort of thing that works for everyone, but we foresaw that something like that might happen and we dealt with it proactively.

Hiding your head in the sand or refusing to discuss things that might happen is not conducive to a healthy relationship.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

I don’t defend adultery in any way but politicians have mid life crises too which is where Sanford seems to be coming from here.

Being a senator, governor, representative, etc., gives a person a lot of opportunities to stray. Not everyone is going to succeed in this. Governor Sanford is not going to have an easy time of this.

His wife kicked him out of the home and the public is crucifying him in the media.

What is also surprising is that he’s trying to get out of a hole but continues to dig himself deeper by saying things like “the devil made him do it” and he’s going to fall in love with his wife again despite having found his “soulmate” in that Argentinian woman.

skfinkel's avatar

Far more devastating I would think is that he claims his mistress is his true soul-mate—not his wife. That marriage has got to be over. And the faster he can get out of the governor’s seat, the better. The man has no awareness—and to compare himself to David from the Bible—I mean, really!!

marinelife's avatar

@skfinkel I agree on all counts! It’s like he has no concept (or no interest in the fact) that he keeps gratuitously twisting the knife in his wife’s wounds over and over. His poor children.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

I think that some people are monogamous and others are not. I don’t even know if there is a why. There could be something genetic about it. I would never consider doing it so it is a mystery to me. I just observe that it is so.

marinelife's avatar

@walterallenhaxton I don’t care whether people are monogamous or not. If, however, they choose not, then they should not bind themselves and an unfortunate partner in a relationship understood to be same.

wundayatta's avatar

First, I want to make clear there’s a difference between justification, and explanation. I think that @Saturated_Brain is very insightful when he says “that cheating partners are usually the symptom of a troubled relationship.” That’s been my experience. Most people I’ve talked to about it feel like they are no longer connecting in any significant emotional way to their spouse. They wonder what happened to the love—to that sense of being soulmates. Maybe they can’t even remember it ever feeling significant and start to believe they are married for convenience. The marriage seems like work, and the relationship turns into a child-raising business.

For ordinary men and women—not in the public eye—they are usually at a loss about what to do. They may not know how to discuss it with their spouses. They fear the anger and mistrust and lack of safety that they think will appear if they do address it. They can’t go to counseling because they believe their spouse would never agree. So things go along, getting more and more tense.

They can’t separate, because of so many reasons: their children, the promises they made; the friends and family they have; the sense of failure; the stigma attached to that failure; not to mention, the economic and circumstantial trauma a separation and divorce will create. So they stay, trapped, in an untenable situation.

They are ripe for betrayal. And here, I believe that it is not just the betrayer’s fault. Both sides of the relationship have equal responsibility for not addressing the problems of the relationship. An affair is just a symptom.

Anyway, they look around—Craigslist is full of people looking for discrete dalliances. They seek sex as a substitute for two lackings in their relationship—sex and closeness. Or they meet in online dating forums or an adult friend finder or on Askville or fluther or any number of other social networking sites. Maybe they meet at work, or at a conference, and they hit it off, and just, without barely thinking about it, try to comfort each other in one night, or maybe several at once, or several spread out over time.

Sex is symbolic of the perfect fix. It promises connection (literally and emotionally); and it simulates emotional connection as well. It is a metaphor, in fact, for love. Of course, everyone denies this. Sex is just sex. Just recreation. We can do it and it won’t mean anything. In doing this, they dig themselves deeper into the hole—separating the relationship between their feelings and their feelings (physical and emotional). It really messes people up, and they don’t even know it. They live in denial. It’s ok to separate sex from emotions. It’s just sex. It doesn’t mean anything.

Sometimes, though, it does come to mean something. Sometimes there are affairs of the heart. The new person is emotionally available where the spouse is not. In any case, it’s all in search of closeness that matters—that which seems to be lacking in their marriage.

If you’re male and rich or powerful, you think you have so much status that you deserve to have all the women who want you. It’s a perk of being an alpha male. You know society doesn’t approve, and the voters might not approve, but in your mind (and this is justification), you think it’s all right for you. You’re different. You’re doing it for all the right reasons. Or at least, acceptable (to you) reasons.

You start to think… maybe you can do it. Maybe there’s a way to get away with it. Maybe you can keep anyone else from finding out, or if they do find out, from telling your spouse. You become open to the possibility. If you never loved your spouse, it’s even easier. Maybe you start looking. All this time, the tension at home is getting worse. It is more and more emotionally painful. At some point, emotion and opportunity collide, and you cheat.

Some people contain their unhappiness, and never cheat, at least, physically. Or even emotionally. They just endure. These people are said to be moral. They are doing what they promised. For better or for worse. Others say that if you are miserable, you should divorce. Divorce first, then find someone else. That’s the honorable thing to do.

The reality for most people, I believe, is that they want to find another ride before they abandon the current one. In any case, they do connect with someone else, and eventually, it becomes too much and they confess, or they are found out. Then, of course, the person who actually cheats is seen as the bad guy, and the other spouse as the morally ascendant person. The disparity here makes it nearly impossible for reconciliation. The cheated up loves the moral power their victim status gives them. The cheater has too much pride to ask for forgiveness.

Unless, they both really do still love each other, and they really still want to be together. They just don’t know how to do it. Then, the affair is a trigger. A sign of the problem that no one can ignore. Either they fix it, or they don’t. In most cases, it’s too hard to rebuild trust, and so the relationship is kaput.

In any case, the disparity in righteousness between the cheater and the cheated is both too much, and a lie. It’s too much to allow for reconciliation. It’s a lie because both parties behaved in a way that lead to the affair, but only one gets blamed for it. Cheaters, I hope and believe, are not cads. They are simply people who are desperate and are separated emotionally from both their spouses and themselves, and in that condition, they can do what was supposed to be unthinkable.

Most people who cheat can’t see much of this. Men tend to have great difficulty in understanding themselves, especially about their emotions and need to be connected to other people. Women, if the cheatee, tend to be righteous about what happened, and don’t see that they had any fault in the matter. Both sides get stubborn and righteous about their own situation, and reconciliation becomes impossible.

Sanford has an additional problem. He’s a politician. He needs votes. He needs character. Everyone will blame him for the problems of the marriage because he’s the one who cheated. He is trying to explain, and also justify his behavior. This does not go over well even if you do it well. If you make a hash of it, well, it’s a train wreck.

The behavior—none of it—can be justified. It can only be explained. Others may not be able to imagine themselves in such a situation, or believe they would make different choices in such a situation, and perhaps they are right. They don’t even try to understand. They just get even more righteous, and the cheater is even wronger, if they can be such a thing. Public relationships really have huge consequences. And all relationships are public to one degree or another. It’s hard to hide your shame completely.

It is, in the end, unexplainable, and unjustifiable, and unforgivable. Yet it seems like you have to take responsibility for what you did—both of you—and find a way to explain, if you are to forgive each other. Justification has to be irrelevant. As long as someone is seeking to keep pride through feeling just, you just can’t forgive. You can’t build trust again. It is, I believe, only if two people both admit they did the unforgivable, and ask for forgiveness, and do not defend what they did, that it might, just possibly, be fixed.

Well, that’s beyond the scope of this question, so I won’t go there. I don’t know if people can understand this. Or really want to understand it. But we who cheat—we’re human, too, and we don’t know what the fuck to do in order to connect to other humans on the deepest level. If we don’t have that with our spouses, then what kind of people are we? We’re already lost, in religious terms. We have already fallen to the devil. If we’re already bad people, it’s not so hard to just act it out and see if you can find any closeness again. You’re already damned.

The devil is a metaphor for the pain and suffering that leads to the act which leads to further pain and suffering. You see no way out. You desperately seek something, and even as you seek something better, you know that even a horrible marriage is better than being all alone. If you’re all alone, you can get depressed, and then you can kill yourself. If you’re lucky, you find someone else to love you before that happens. But you always live with the shame of the failed relationship. And that, I think, is where society plays a role in helping or continuing the hurt.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@Marina Of course not. If that is the way he wanted to live his life he should not have signed a contract stating that he would live it differently. I am totally puzzled by the womans response. She should file for imediate diveorce. Since she has not then she has granted him permission to do it again. I do not know why people talk about the children in cases like this. Who their parents have sex with does not harm them. The sex is not happening where they are. If there is any harm it is to their respect for contracts. The marriage contract is a messy one in the first place. It is not written by the parties involved but by others and is changed by them from time to time.

I would prefer a private contract of marriage. Like I promise to help you raise the kids we will have together until they are out on their own and then we will decide what to do next.
I think that there is something flawed about a contract that does not have a defined way of being completed.

marinelife's avatar

@daloon Thank you for the lengthy and thoughtful answer. I do not agree with you on a few points though.

I agree about the why in the sense of people in a marriage start drifting and become just parents or just roommates. Where we diverge, however, is what happens at that point.

Turning outward from a relationship is never the way to work on it or repair it.

Also, having invested the time, commitment and effort into a courtship and marriage, I think both parties owe it to themselves and each other to work through their issues by talking openly, by seeking pastoral or marriage counseling (whatever is right for them).

There are lots of steps and options laid out all over the Web, on TV, in books, etc. that offer possibilities for finding each other again and working on one’s marriage short of an adulterous relationship. Instituting date nights, doing exercises on things you once loved about each other or why you got married.

Finally, if after exhausting those options, the marriage is irreparable, then it is understandable that the parties would divorce.

So I don’t excuse cheating. I think it is taking the easy way out. I think it is trying to have it all with no regard to equal rights for one’s partner. I find it utterly inexcusable if children are involved.

The other place we diverge is saying that the two parties are equally to blame for what happened. Wrong. That is like saying a victim of domestic abuse is just as much to blame as the abuser.

The two parties do both have roles in the marriage getting in trouble in the first place. But the partner who cheats chose to break their vows. That escalated the problems exponentially.

I also disagree that it is impossible to fix. I think people go on and stay married after an infidelity often. I also think their marriage may end up being stronger from surviving such a crisis.

What I abhor is how the disposable nature of our society and the shorter attention span has eroded people’s willingness to work on relationships. Cheating is easier than working on your problems. That does not make it right.

I do not think someone cheating makes them a second-class person. It makes them a person who made several mistakes. What is causing outrage about Mark Sanford is that:

1. He has not accepted responsibility for his actions. (The devil made him do it.)

2. He has flaunted and flogged his illicit relationship(s) in great detail and at great length in the public eye for no justifiable reason, re-wounding his family every time.

3. He has not said one word about his spouse’s pain, the pain he caused her by cheating or the pain he continues to cause by his public meltdown(s).

4. He is actually venerating his cheating by calling it a “love story,” as if that made it OK.

galileogirl's avatar

The cheating is explained by the fact that most people do not hold themselves to the same standard the hold others to.

The public display we are seeing is because, like many priviledged people there is a real disconnect with reality. The man had a plan for his life and now the whole thing has come crashing down. He is going to lose his job and power and rich wife. He is going to continue to be a late night talk show joke. There is nobody who can tell him to just shut up and probably most of the people around him are looking for the exit. I fear for his mental health.

wundayatta's avatar

@Marina Turning outward from a relationship is never the way to work on it or repair it.

Totally agree. Well, maybe not quite totally. You can turn outward and then that becomes a catalyst for working on the relationship. However, it is not the preferred method for working on a relationship, to make an understatement.

There are lots of steps and options laid out all over the Web, on TV, in books, etc. that offer possibilities for finding each other again and working on one’s marriage short of an adulterous relationship.

Again, I agree. Do you have an explanation for why people don’t or can’t or won’t use those techniques? I offered one. I can think of others. Do I wish I had used one of those techniques? Don’t think I didn’t try. However, wherever I turned, I felt like I was hitting a brick wall. It isn’t enough to know tools are available. It isn’t enough to pick up a hammer and take a whack at something. You have to go to school to learn how to use the hammer, and when it comes to relationships, there is a lot stopping people from going to school. For one thing, there is shame in doing that. It says you have marital problems and you can’t take care of them yourselves. It is not generally acceptable in the U.S. to need or accept help. I know so many people who know they are in trouble, and they refuse to get counseling. Over and over. It’s not that easy.

So I don’t excuse cheating. I think it is taking the easy way out. I think it is trying to have it all with no regard to equal rights for one’s partner. I find it utterly inexcusable if children are involved.

I hope you noticed that I said I was not trying to justify (excuse) cheating. Merely to explain it. It’s not excusable. It cause incredible pain for the person who is cheated on. There is also pain and guilt for the person who did the cheating. I don’t think it is the easy way out. It may look that way from the outside, but that was certainly not my experience, and, while many people may think it is easier, I think they are fooling themselves.

I also think you may underestimate how long these things can take to happen. In my case, there were about eight years of a slowly deteriorating relationship. It’s kind of like the frog story. You know? When the frog jumps in boiling hot water, it will jump right out. But if you heat the water slowly, the frog will stay there happily until it is cooked.

You don’t really notice these slow, incremental spirals downward. One day, though, the pain is too much. You might be at your wits end, and that is when you start to make mistakes.

The other place we diverge is saying that the two parties are equally to blame for what happened. Wrong. That is like saying a victim of domestic abuse is just as much to blame as the abuser.

We do disagree here. I think that’s a denial, and a similar refusal of responsibility as to the one who cheats. All I know is that if you don’t both take responsibility it is extremely difficult to fix the marriage. That’s why they almost always end in divorce. Usually it’s the woman who won’t accept any responsibility for the marriage going south, because she was cheated on. Well, I think she must have noticed things deteriorating, and she, too, didn’t try hard enough to get things fixed. She may have suggested counseling, and been refused, and this is a difficult situation. I know a few women in this situation now. I urge them to try, over and over, but they have given up. They are considering affairs, and have engaged in internet dalliances.

I don’t know why their husbands refuse to go. After all, they have to be very unhappy, too. Men are notorious for being unwilling to discuss feelings. Personally, I think this is not because we are unfeeling, but because it hurts so much and in ways we have no idea how to cope with. It just makes more sense to wall off the emotions than to try to deal with it and endure what seems like endless pain. Maybe we’re wimps. I don’t know. But I don’t believe that male unwillingness to “share” feelings is because we don’t have them.

In my case, I know exactly what my wife is feeling. I can probably express it better than she can. Men are not emotionally illiterate. We can read things perfectly well. What is difficult, though, and I don’t think men are alone in this, is to be brave enough to wade through the alligator swamp in order to find happiness. It requires facing some serious stuff, like selfishness, and saying no, and guilt, and more, I’m sure. Both genders feel a lot of the same things. Women, for whatever reason, can talk about it more, on average. However, while I can’t speak for men, for a long time I thought that talking was worthless. We didn’t need to say anything. We both had to know what was going on. I tried to talk, and she didn’t respond. I shut myself away. I tried again. No helpful response. I shut myself away again.

Maybe women can’t hear when men talk. Maybe we speak a different language. Maybe it’s all observation and subtle twitching of the shoulders with us.

Anyway, I hate to say this. But victims do play a role in continuing to be victims. Or even putting out signals that they are willing to be victims. The abused don’t deserve the same blame as the abusers, but that is a totally different situation. With relationships going bad, much of the time, both parties play a fairly equal role. Certainly there are times when one is more to blame, and in cases like that, you can pretty much forget any true reconciliation.

However, I am not saying cheating breaks up all relationships. All I know is that our therapist said that it is rare that couples can regain enough trust to have a fulfilling relationship again. He says it is possible when both parties accept a share of the blame. Also, when both admit to everything that happened.

It is so easy for people not to accept responsibility. It is easy to try to justify your behavior, or try to get it excused. In a society where we are used to courts determining who wins and who loses, you can not afford to admit any guilt. Governor Sanford is playing along with that script. He is sort of admitting guilt, but not accepting any responsibility. He is not showing he has learned anything, or even knows where he made a mistake. He should be a smart guy, but perhaps he isn’t.

I also know that I was deluding myself in so many ways when I was cheating. I, too, thought it was love. I was so unhappy that I was willing to turn away from everything that was important to me. Then I felt so guilty about that, that I didn’t deserve to live.

Sanford is still in that place where he thinks his fantasies about his girlfriend are real. I don’t know if he will ever get beyond that. They are soulmates, you know. People say that, I think, to show how strong the emotions are, but I don’t believe in soulmates. I just believe in working damn hard to make a relationship work. Sometimes, I give up. That’s when I start to do stupid, destructive things. I was so afraid she’d leave me (before I cheated) that it was easier to try to make it happen slowly, than to risk trying to fix it, fail, and make it happen quickly. For me, it came because I didn’t believe I deserved the love I wanted. I didn’t trust that, if I asked her for something, she would want to give it to me. I thought she was selfish in the way that people seem, when you feel like you need them more than they need you.

Every story is different. My explanations come from my experience. I think forgiveness is extremely important. I think that things don’t get bad without all parties making mistakes. I could be wrong about all of this. It could be a mistake to generalize from my experience, but the truth is, I don’t know what else to do. The only head I can get in is my own. The rest is all guesswork and a weird kind of faith that I am not all that different from everyone else.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

someone take that keyboard away from daloon. ;-)

wundayatta's avatar

Hah! You didn’t hear from me for three days, didja!

I’m sorry that I write so much that people don’t read it, but I do appreciate the opportunity to explore what I’m thinking.

marinelife's avatar

@daloon I read every word, but was not at a time in which I could devote proper thought to a response.

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