Last week, inspired by the Demi Moore/Ashton Kutcher debacle, I philosophized about the women who blame themselves for their cheating partner's infidelity. This week, the debate continues with a new question: Should Demi leave Ashton? And more importantly, should you leave your spouse after they've cheated on you?
As much as I wish the answer was a simple "yes" or "no," it's unfair to say that all cheaters are created equal. While it's certain that cheating is NOT the right response to marital troubles, some cheaters are worse than others.
To help make reading a cheating scenario easier, and to determine whether or not Demi should divorce Ashton, check out the questions below.
Was the cheating premeditated?
In a murder trial, premeditation can be the difference between life in prison and a 25-year sentence. Attorneys fight to prove, or disprove, the following claim: The suspect planned, in advance, to commit a crime. In other words, it was not a spur-of-the-moment, spontaneous act.
The same goes for infidelity. A spontaneous lack of judgment on the part of your spouse is easier to forgive (for some, at least) than a planned effort to cheat on you. If your spouse was actively seeking out women, searching for opportunities to cheat, making cheating profiles on illicit websites, etc., then you can assume that the problem runs deep. Your spouse clearly doesn't respect you, doesn't want to communicate with you, and actively chooses to dishonor the vows of your marriage, to say the very least.
A heat-of-the-moment lapse in judgment is perhaps easier to work through, if you want to work through it, because it lacks the cold, calculating manner of premeditation. In this situation, it's easier to believe that a perpetrator feels genuine guilt and remorse, and that they care to work through the difficulties for the sake of the marriage.
In the case of Ashton vs. Demi: The cheating was very likely premeditated. Reports from the evening in question claim that Ashton sought out the most attractive women in the night club to invite to a "hot tub party."
How many times did it happen?
Again, a one-time indiscretion is not the same as a year-long affair. The more times you cheat, the less believable it becomes for you to claim that you "didn't know what you were doing," or that it was a huge mistake. Each time you cheat, you choose to cheat. If you're actively choosing to cheat multiple times, you're actively choosing to disregard your marriage the same number of times. One mistake can perhaps be forgiven. But five? Or fifty? Clearly, at that point, you're premeditating.
In the case of Ashton vs. Demi: The cheating has allegedly occurred more than once. A year before the current allegations, reports surfaced that Ashton had cheated on Demi in their home, on their couch, with a young twenty-something.
Was it emotional, or physical?
The reason a year-long affair is worse than a one-time case of cheating has everything to do with the emotional infidelity involved. What goes on physically in a one-time flub and a lengthy affair is very similar. What goes on emotionally, however, is very different.
In a year-long affair, your spouse has developed a complete romantic relationship with another person. They actively pour themselves into this person, becoming emotionally intimate with them in a way that is supposed to be confined to a marriage. What they're supposed to be giving to you - dedication, time, energy, passion, even love - they're channeling to someone else. This, more often than the physical act of cheating, is what hurts the victim.
In a one-time flub, there's no opportunity to exchange this level of emotion. The incident in question truly remains physical, which is why it's so much easier for some spouses to forgive.
In the case of Ashton vs. Demi: The case remains unclear. We can't be certain if Ashton's alleged indiscretions were purely physical, or if they were injected with emotional betrayal as well.
How do they behave after the fact?
After the cheating is said and done, and the problems out in the open, how does the cheating partner behave? Are they dedicated to working on the marriage? Are they open to marital counseling? Are they willing to work on their ability to communicate with you? Do they appear truly regretful and remorseful? Do they take steps to regain your trust?
The answers to these questions are critical. In a criminal case, the behavior of the suspect after the crime has passed is very telling. If your spouse is not actively working extremely hard to regain your trust, to improve your marriage, to work on the problems that perhaps sparked the infidelity, then you may need to question whether or not they have mentally checked out of the marriage.
Oftentimes, cheating is a cowardly means to end: A spouse wants to end a marriage, but doesn't want to undertake the overwhelming difficulties of communicating that fact. They don't want to be forced to work through it, because they've decided they want it to end. So, they cheat so that you will end it for them. It's a low, base act, but it happens. If you're trying to work through your spouse's infidelity, but they aren't, this may very well be the reason.
How do YOU feel after the fact?
At the end of it all, relationships are built on trust. When a spouse cheats, they betray your trust. For a marriage to last through infidelity, trust has to be re-built. It's possible, but not everyone is capable of it.
Can you stand to not know where they are sometimes? Is it OK if they don't check in with you round the clock? Will they be able to communicate with the opposite sex without extreme suspicion and jealousy from you?
The fact is - You can't become their mother, or their warden. For the relationship to be healthy, you can't be constantly distrustful. If you can't regain trust, then you need to move on. Constantly living with the fear that someone will betray you is no way to live your life. Move on, and find someone who won't cheat on you.
In the case of Ashton vs. Demi: It's clear that Demi tried, after the first alleged indiscretion, to rebuild her trust. But after this second series of events, it seems likely that her trust has been marred too deeply to save this marriage.
Ultimately, the question for Demi (and others!) becomes: Should I forgive a second time? Forgiveness may be divine, but continuing to forgive a serial cheater is more foolish than heavenly. Every time past the first incident that you forgive your cheating spouse, you're sending a message: "It's OK to cheat on me, because I'll never actually leave you." Gather your self-respect and leave if the cheating becomes a pattern.
Final Ruling: Yes, Demi should leave Ashton. He shows all the signs of having premeditated his indiscretions, of having cheated more than once, and of having a less-than-committed spirit to change his cheating ways.
What do you think, TMR readers? Have I left out any signs that you should leave a cheating spouse? Do you disagree with any of the signs I've mentioned? And should Demi leave Ashton?
Each week in "Relationships by Rachel," TMR columnist Rachel East tackles relationships in all their blissful, heartbreaking and mind-boggling glory.