“I don’t have much hope for the institution of marriage,” Rick* tells me. “Look how many guys were on Ashley Madison.”
Rick came to see me some time back because his marriage was in grave danger following his wife’s discovery of his frequent hookups with women he met on out-of-town business trips. In therapy, he has worked hard to figure out how he wants to behave as a husband, and his marriage has improved. But recent revelations are rattling him.
“What does their behavior have to do with your behavior?” I ask him.
“Well, I think it shows you that guys just can’t resist temptation. Maybe it’s inevitable that men cheat.”
“So because a bunch of other guys decide to fool around, you have to do the same thing?”
“Maybe it’s not a choice,” Rick replies. “If they can’t help themselves, maybe none of us can. Maybe that’s just the way men are.”
Rick and I take some time to review what he’s been doing to get his marriage in shape. He has put forth considerable, ongoing effort.
“The bottom line is that I keep asking myself: What kind of husband do I want to be? Every time I’m tempted, I ask myself that question. Every time I’m bored, I ask myself that question. And then I get a grip on myself, and do what I think is right.”
“Why would you stop asking yourself that question?” I wonder.
“Because it’s a lot of work,” Rick answers.
“And you think marriage should be easy?” I ask.
“If I love my wife, I think it should be easy to stay faithful to my marriage. I shouldn’t have to keep trying so hard.”
Over the time that we’ve been working together, Rick has taken himself off autopilot. He has made the decision to live thoughtfully and with awareness, always considering how he wants to behave and what the consequences of his behaviors will be. Doing so takes great effort. Now, weary of being off autopilot, Rick is wondering if he wants to continue to work so hard, simply to be married.
But life doesn’t give any of us an easier way.
Loving someone doesn’t mean that you’ll never be tempted to make a move that could jeopardize your relationship. Maintaining a relationship is hard work no matter how much you love your partner.
Bottom line: If you want to live in a way that you respect, in relationships and out of them, you have to put forth consistent effort to behave as the person you want to be. You have to stay off autopilot.
Figuring out the best way to handle yourself in complex situations can be confusing and difficult. And behaving in a manner that lives up to your aspirations isn’t easy, especially at stressful moments (when you would most benefit from doing so!).
If you are having trouble getting off autopilot, staying off autopilot, or charting your own course, feel free to contact me. I’ll be glad to help you find your way.
*All names and identifying details changed.