Decide What Is Right for You and Your Relationship
There is a fairly large distinction between fathering a child with another woman while married and flirting with a coworker in texts. There is a fairly large distinction between hiring prostitutes and typing out sexual fantasies to an anonymous internet chat room There may even be a distinction between porn addiction (while in a relationship) and sexting (while in a relationship) and some might say they’re all the same. Some believe that all of the above is cheating and all of the above is, therefore, wrong.
When I see clients who have had a breakup, I often see them rushing to get out there sooner than they’re ready to. In Getting Past Your Breakup, I caution people to take it slowly and heal from your breakup before even thinking about dating again. Unless you want to get into another failed relationship just like the one you just got out of, wait and do the work prescribed by Getting Past Your Breakup before Getting Back Out There!
When they ARE ready, I counsel people not to put anything on the internet you would not want your grandmother to see, but they do it all the time anyway. It can be destructive to your relationship, your job and your reputation.
Unless you want the whole world seeing what you’re up to, don’t put anything in text and don’t snap photos of your private parts. If you say it forget it, if you write it, regret it. If you live by that rule, chances are you are not going to have lots of explaining to do to anyone at any time.
People still continue to behave in ways that leave a fairly distinct trail. Every day people are caught sexting or engaging in other behavior their partner objects to. Every day hearts are broken when illicit behavior comes to light. Every day people become confused over their own behavior or their partners.
People wrestle with how they got caught up in something that is so damaging. Their partners wrestle with whether or not to forgive these transgressions. So how do you unpack what has happened either as the person who has been doing it or the partner? Where does one (as a partner) draw the line when it comes to looking at porn or texting an attractive co-worker or sexting with random people? At one instance? Some instances? A lot of instances? How many is “a lot?”
Does it matter WHAT someone is looking at or does it just matter that someone is looking at something? Some people have no issues with what they consider “normal” photos such as a tasteful nude photo but draw the line at fetish or degrading photos. Others look the other way so long as their partner isn’t asking them to engage in anything they think is too weird or wild. Some people think that some pornography is normal and others consider it completely out of bounds. Who gets to decide what is “normal”?
In Getting Back Out There, I explore these issues as there is no one right answer for everyone. I urge people to write their “Standards and Compatibility List.” With your list you decide what you must have in a partner and what is or is not acceptable or negotiable. The book also contains the Couple’s List of Compatibility to help you explore your areas of difficulty and how to work through them together.
When you are in a committed relationship it can be a challenge to suddenly decide what is okay and not okay, but people deal with new things all the time. Each person must decide for themselves what they want from a relationship and a partner. Each person has the right to draw boundaries around what they don’t want. When a couple has been together a while, it can be a startling revelation to suddenly find out that your partner has a yearning for anonymous phone sex with someone from an internet list.
When I counsel couples, I always make it clear that each person is responsible for their own behavior. If you are surfing the web for the anonymous participant in your wild sexual fantasies, you can’t blame it on your partner’s unwillingness to fulfill your needs. You don’t have the right to subject your partner to things he or she objects to and you don’t have the right to search elsewhere to have your needs fulfilled. Everyone has to give up something for the warmth and care of a committed and loving partner. If you have to give up some wild fantasy of yours, so be it. If you don’t want to, you had the option of not entering into this relationship with this person long before now.
I’ve counseled couples where one partner wants to do things that the other refuses to do. As explained in GBOT, you have 3 choices: accept it, change it or leave. If you have tried to talk your partner into it and the partner still says no, you can accept it or leave. If you decide to accept it, it means you accept it. It doesn’t mean you get to cheat on them in real life or in virtual life. Cheating is not on the hit parade of choices. Blaming your partner when you get caught cheating is not on the list either.
If you’re the partner who catches your mate cheating, don’t let them blame their bad behavior on you. Everyone is responsible for their own behavior and you have the right to decline sex play that makes you uncomfortable. Don’t let someone convince you otherwise.
Your standards and boundaries are what is important. It doesn’t matter if you best thing believes that all husbands should be entitled to porn. It doesn’t matter if your mother says that the best thing a woman can do is look the other way. It doesn’t matter if your work buddies call you a prude. Remember the GBOT adage: DON’T PUT YOUR STANDARDS TO A VOTE.
When you are deciding what is right for YOU, be sure you are acting from a place of personal dignity and standards and boundaries and not codependency or fear of being alone or “going along to get along.” It’s never too late to figure out your standards. Don’t allow yourself to be talked out of them. Your “good and reasonable” doesn’t need to match anyone else’s “good and reasonable.” If you and your partner are that far apart in standards, you may be in an unworkable relationship. If you’re not that far apart perhaps compromise is possible. If not, you have to figure out what you want and why. If keeping your partner requires dismissing your standards, you may need to rethink your partner, not your standards.
In Getting Past Your Breakup and Getting Back Out There, it is important to go through your Relationship Inventory, your Life Inventory and maybe your Mother and Father Inventories if you’ve uncovered childhood dysfunction, trauma or abuse.
Getting Back Out There relies heavily on the Standards and Compatibility Inventory and the Couples Inventory. These inventories are designed to get you thinking about what person is your “3 a.m. person” (this concept is explained in GBOT and on the MLT podcast). When a candidate to be the 3 a.m. person comes along, you want to be thinking of the Couples Inventory. But before you get there, you want to have done the Sexual Inventory in GBOT. If you have issues due to a childhood molestation, a sexual assault in previous times or being asked to do things you didn’t want to do, or just being unsure about your sexual wants and needs, you must do the Sexual Inventory before you EVER EVEN THINK ABOUT the Standards and Compatibility Inventory.
If you have broken up a relationship due to these issues, you need to make sure you know what you stand for, otherwise – as Eleanor Roosevelt said – you’ll fall for anything.
So, is flirtatious texting cheating or not? Is sexting cheating or not? Is pornography okay or not? Does it depend on what it is or does that matter? Do you want a partner who is okay with your wants and needs, no matter how far out there it may seem or do you need a partner who understands you might need to look elsewhere to fulfill some of your needs?
If you think that anything short of flesh to flesh sex is not cheating, that can be construed as a reasonable conclusion. If you think that even a small amount of flirtation through text is cheating, that is also a reasonable conclusion. Some readers may ask how both can be reasonable conclusions. The answer is that it’s what you can live with. Whatever your position, you don’t have to rationalize it or justify it and no one has the right to tell you that you’re being silly or uptight. What is important is that you have reasoned out your conclusion and it makes sense to you for all the right reasons.
We are all responsible for our own behavior as well as what we decide to put up with from someone else. If your standard of decency indicates that you behave a certain way and you find yourself straying from that code of conduct, you have a responsibility to get yourself back in line. If your behavior has become a habit, it’s time to break it before it’s too late or get help if it already has.
If you discover your partner is engaging in behavior that isn’t in keeping what you want from someone, you should not accept it without knowing the reasons why. You may decide to forgive a one time transgression, but if you forgive over and over again, you may be more desperate than in love. Someone who knows the line is drawn in the sand will continue to act out. If you accept “I’ll change” or “it will never happen again” and you’ve heard that all before, you’re setting yourself up for never-ending heartache in a dysfunctional relationship.
When your partner is acting out, whether it’s a real affair or an on-line persona, you must make a decision as to how to deal with that. The decision should be well-reasoned and not come from a desperate stance, a victim stance or a codependent stance. Don’t fool yourself that you love this person enough to forgive when the truth is that you don’t love yourself enough to draw a boundary, set your standards and leave.
Everyone should know what is and is not okay with their partner. The most successful couples have a simple rule: if you wouldn’t do it in front of me, don’t do it. That leaves no room for grey areas or arguments. It’s a simple and time-tested rule that works.
The partner who explores sexual fantasies with people outside the relationship should understand the behavior. Countless studies have shown that not only is porn and sexual acting out something that can become habitual, but it can become addictive in that you search for more and more for a fix or a high or whatever stimulation it provides. After a while the same images leave you numb and you go searching for something more. The same thing with sexting. You can start off with one or two innocent interactions and then what you originally found titillating, isn’t. Like any addiction, it becomes a compulsion that leads you further and further afield from where you started. Sometimes people get so wrapped up in it that they start to get less careful and are eventually found out in ways that leave them feeling humiliated and sometimes fired from a job they love (like certain politicians). Sexual addiction is very real and there is help for it if it has taken control of your life and has had a detrimental effect.
Your relationship should be a place where you find comfort and peace. Everyone has the right to go to sleep at night, and not worry that their partner is in the next room playing virtual footsie with some internet hottie or texting random photos of their genitals. We all deserve to be treated with respect and care.
If you’re the partner engaging in behavior you wouldn’t engage in if your partner was right there in the room, ask yourself what you’re doing and why. Be honest about it and make sure it hasn’t become an out-of-control addiction and if it has, get some help before going forward.
If you’re broken up, no matter what side you’re on, it’s time to work on your Standards and Compatibility List before getting into another relationship. It’s time to figure out how you feel about these things, what you’re prepared to discuss with a future partner and what you’re willing to do if you find that your partner is engaging in things you don’t consider healthy. The smart phone hi-jinks that make headlines are a relatively new phenomenon but cheating or flirting when in a committed relationship is not. Make sure you are right with your opinions on the subject before you get into another relationship.
It’s also important to know that if you get into a new relationship and your partner wants you to try new things, you are ready with an answer. In Getting Back Out There, I relay the story of a woman whose ex plastered her naked photos all over the internet and even sent them to her parents. She was not only horrified, but she had never been comfortable with the sexting to begin with. She went along because she didn’t want to argue in a new relationship. She had never thought about it before he broached the subject and he told her it was nothing and everyone was doing it. She hadn’t figured out how she really felt or how to respond. She paid dearly for her lack of decisiveness and boundaries.
Know what you think, know what you feel and then act (or don’t act) on what you think and feel. Know what makes you comfortable or uncomfortable and figure out where you stand on these important issues before it becomes a huge deal in ways you might not be able to imagine now. The most important thing is not how you feel about pornography, sexting or internet fantasizing, but being okay with you. That is and always will be the most important consideration.
Copyright © Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
All Rights Reserved No Duplication is Allowed Without Explicit Permission of the Author
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