I listen to Ben Shapiro every weekday. I don’t agree with everything he says and does, but I agree with what he stands for and deeply admire what he does. But he made a comment during his July 21 podcast that needs to be addressed.
He was discussing Jay Z and Beyoncé’s extramarital shenanigans because Monica Lewinsky wrote about them in Vanity Fair. Ben took this as an opportunity to give some very bad advice for men on how to deal with infidelity in marriage. Here’s what he said:
“Actually one of the one of the weirder aspects of human nature is you’ll see a husband who cheats on his wife and then he feels the necessity to tell her. There is nothing more selfish than doing that, okay. It’s super selfish to commit infidelity in the first place, and then to tell your spouse about it is even more selfish because that’s about you alleviating your guilt, not about you making your spouse’s life better in any way. It’s about you now creating a choice for your spouse that is your spouse never would have had to make except for you being an idiot and feeling the need to dump off your own guilt on your spouse. So when they say that honesty is the best policy in these sorts of things, no. Being good is the best policy, and then if you do something guilty live with your guilt, don’t dump it off onto other people.”
Now of course Ben is right to criticize this power couple’s infidelity. Infidelity is wrong for many reasons, and if Jay Z and Beyoncé are using their marital struggles as expressed on their “Lemonade” and “4:44” albums to increase their public persona, that’s disgusting. Sadly, that’s often what power couples do: Use each other to increase their power.
But if Jay Z came to his wife after infidelity and expressed that he loves her and wants to improve their marriage for both their sakes, then confessing infidelity is part of that. Especially serial infidelity and especially if large amounts of money were involved. If that’s what happened between the pair, it was a good thing.
Infidelity Always Affects Your Spouse
Ben is right that 100 percent honesty in marriage is not the golden rule. Faithfulness and other-centered love is the golden rule of marriage. Your spouse should not have access to every single part of your heart and soul. The only person who can appropriately deal with that is God. Contrary to popular belief, it’s good to maintain healthy emotional boundaries in marriage. Every awful thought you have doesn’t need expression. But, to quote one of my favorite films, 90 percent honesty is probably a good standard for any real relationship.
I’m not saying this for idealistic reasons. I’m saying this because your spouse has a right to know if he or she is in danger. Infidelity can bring real danger into a marriage.
“Fatal Attraction” is a ridiculous example of this. But infidelity can bring violence into a marriage, in a variety of ways. Infidelity brings in sexually transmitted diseases, jealous spouses, angry significant others, and potentially other children. And if you really want to love your spouse, you won’t bring these things in. But what are you supposed to do when you make these mistakes and the person you have dedicated yourself to is suddenly at risk?
Ben’s advice could be applied to a few rare, very specific cases, such as a completely disconnected one-night stand in another country ten years ago. Maybe you don’t need to express that to your spouse today. That could be simple guilt alleviation or you could be trying to hurt your spouse.
Someone Else Needs to Know, For Sure
But even in a “harmless” case (although I do not believe infidelity is ever harmless) you should still tell somebody—a priest, therapist, or friend. That’s because even a one-night stand has some sort of unhealthy motivation behind it, and one break in the wall can lead to others. Bearing your guilt and shame by yourself is a very unhealthy thing, especially when sex is involved. Shame connected to sex is remarkably powerful. It led King David to murder and abuse of power.
Just because you shouldn’t bear things alone doesn’t mean your spouse is always the right person to help you deal with emotional problems. If serial infidelity is the issue rather than a one-time thing, your spouse won’t be able to help you very much anyway. Something is deeply wrong and people in that situation probably need professional help and support.
In those cases it’s especially important that one’s spouse know—not the gory details, but the fact that you have been regularly unfaithful, because violated spouses have the right to protect themselves from the consequences of an unfaithful spouse’s bad choices as much as they are able, especially if their livelihood depends on the unfaithful partner and if children are involved. If truly addictive sexual behavior is at play, the whole family is involved, whether you’re comfortable admitting that or not.
Patrick Carnes writes in “Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction,” “Suicide, schizophrenia, alcoholism, runaways—all are part of the family epic. For example, in alcoholism, treatment of the spouse alone has been shown to promote recovery in the alcoholic. Now, throughout the ranks of specialists in addiction, treating the entire family is regarded as critical. It is recognized that the more that family members are involved, the higher the recovery rate. Moreover, spouses, parents, and children, by virtue of their participation in the family insanity, have a right to recovery for themselves.”
You Are Not a White Knight and You Can’t Go It Alone
What Ben is advocating for here is not sacrificial love but rather attempting to control your spouse’s happiness, which is a form of codependency. Everyone brings ugly things to marriage, and if you try to shield your spouse from your true self, you don’t respect him or her as an adult. It is infantilizing and disrespectful.
Remember, I’m not saying these things out of romantic ideals. I’m speaking of basic ethical psychological realities. This is the fundamental struggle that we see played out in superhero stories all the time: I have to protect the ones I love, so I wear a mask. Secret identities protect people from hard truths, and in those stories the heroes often find that their secrets have horrible consequences.
This is an attempt at white knighting within marriage. And it’s especially damaging to men because we are predisposed to that sort of thing. We are raised to aim at success, after all. Brene Brown’s follow-up to her viral TED talk on vulnerability makes the deeply unfortunate and sadly true point that male failure truly does threaten women.
But applauding male authenticity as feminism, like Lewinsky did in Vanity Fair, is completely wrong-headed, especially because this sort of cheerleading is usually based in deconstructing maleness as entirely a social construct. But Ben’s advice to buck up and just get over your affair in secret actually plays into these concerns, making claims about toxic masculinity seem more rational than they are.
One hundred percent honesty is not the formula for a happy marriage, but neither is the secretive John Wayne approach. Your spouse deserves to be loved and cherished. Of course he or she doesn’t deserve infidelity. But spouses also deserve to be respected and treated like adults. Cultivating a fantasy marriage isn’t loving to either partner. It hurts everyone involved.