Dear Neil: I’ve been married for 19 years and have three children. My husband has been unfaithful for most of our married life. I was going to divorce him four years ago, but he came chasing after me when he realized it wasn’t going to work with his flame. I took him back and stopped the divorce. Now I have found that he has cheated on me again. I feel like my marriage has been a big lie. I’m tired of rescuing him and putting my needs aside. I’m thinking of filing for divorce again. What should I do?
Doormat in Connecticut
Dear Doormat: It sounds as if your husband is a philanderer. Philanderers are those people who require a steady change of sexual partners. They don’t believe in monogamy and marital fidelity.
Male philanderers fear women. Women, through their sexuality, have the power to define the sexuality of men. Philanderers handle that fear by believing that women are less important than men, and should exist primarily to serve men. They depersonalize women by treating women as if they were replaceable and exchangeable.
These men may have some awareness of the female person, but they are primarily aware of the female’s gender. They like women the way a fox likes a chicken: they like the form even if they don’t notice the person inside.
Philanderers can be charming and friendly with their affairees, but it’s nothing very personal. He believes that a man has no other way to prove that he’s a man except by sleeping with lots of women.
Philanderers don’t usually give up other women. Some give it up for a time when their marriage is threatened, or when they have fallen in love temporarily with a new affairee. Changing marriages doesn’t seem to help for very long, either. These men must not be controlled by women, whoever the woman.
To change philandering requires more than just stopping extramarital sex. It means living by a different level of honesty, equality, heart and connection.
There is a small but growing number of female philanderers as well, who go through a series of hostile seductions, using sex to exercise power over men.
If a woman is determined to live with a male philanderer, she must be careful to keep her distance. She must realize that his behavior has nothing to do with her; he just believes his life is dependant upon escaping her control. There is no way in which she can please him sufficiently, or impress him enough so he won’t want to stray.
Leaving may be the best hope of bringing about change, but that’s a long shot. Philandering is addictive behavior, and like all addictive behaviors, it’s difficult to change without great honesty, self-examination and the willingness to put yourself under someone else’s influence.
At the very least, insist on the two of you going to marriage therapy as a condition for your marriage staying together.
Source: Private Lies by Frank Pittman (W.W. Norton)