A twofer hypothetical about infidelity, pregnancy, and (un)reasonable demands.

As indicated in the thread title, I’m doing two hypotheticals in one post today. The stories are connected only by theme.

Sitch #1 stars Bob and Carol, a married couple in their late thirties. After twenty years of wedded bliss, they hit a rough spot, exemplified but not occasioned by a one-night stand Bob had a year ago. Immediately overcome with guilt, Bob confessed his infidelity almost immediately, and the couple went into counseling. After several months and a ton of hard work, they dealt with the issues that led to the rough patch and decided to stay together. There is, however, one condition. The woman with whom Bob cheated got pregnant, and as is her right decided to have the baby. This distresses both Carol greatly. While she accepts that Bob is obligated to support the child he has sired, she wants him to promise to never actually see his son or the son’s mother again. Bob finds this greatly distressing. His father abandoned him when he was only a toddler, and he’s always felt the lack of a father in his life; he cannot bear the idea of doing the same. But he hates the idea of losing Carol even more.

Sitch #2 stars Teddy and Alice. They’re about the same as as Bob & Carol and been together about as long, but they’re not legally married; they can’t be, in fact, because they live in Tennessee and neither of them has anything bodily organ that could be described as a penis. Teddy identifies as a strict lesbian; Alice is bisexual. After ten years of outraging Fred Phelps, they too hit a rough patch during which Alice had a one-nighter with a man. She got pregnant. After a few months of counseling they decide they want to stay together – only Teddy cannot bear the thought of Alice bearing that child. She’d prefer that Alice abort the fetus, or, at least, give the baby up for adoption once it is born. If the child is in Alice’s life, Teddy says, she will not be.

Is Carol’s demand unreasonable? Is Teddy’s? Why or why not?

IMO neither one is reasonable.

Bob was an idiot to risk having a child he couldn’t care for properly, if he was so worried about abandoning a child, but Carol shouldn’t ask him to ignore the child now that it’s on its way. If she wants to be married to a good man who stands up to his obligations, she ought to encourage him to be involved–she would benefit too. Encouraging someone to abandon his duty is rarely a good idea.

Similar with Teddy. It’s understandable that she wants an abortion, but hey, woman’s choice is about woman’s choice, not SO’s choice. Emotionally blackmailing someone into an abortion is probably a worse idea than encouraging your husband into abandoning his child.

Both scenarios are about adults who are willing to put their own comfort before the needs of helpless children who did not ask to be the products of adultery. Children’s needs come before adults’ wants.
The whole thing makes me think of the Hindi film Main Hoon Na, which yesterday I was just thinking of watching again…

A friend of mine is actually involved in exactly this situation: she found out at 16 that she had a sister some 5 years younger than she was, a product of her dad’s infidelity. Her mother insisted that they have no contact with the girl–my friend doesn’t even know her sister’s name, and the incident is not talked about. I think they would all say that this has worked out, but it seems unhealthy to me.

As far as the faithful partner goes, I think there may be a gap between what one should do and what one can do. If someone just doesn’t have it in them to spend 20 years intimately involved with the product and proof of infidelity–well, it is what it is. If you can’t stand it, you can’t make yourself into a different person. So while I would admire someone who could put aside their own emotions and welcome such a child into the family, I wouldn’t condemn someone who couldn’t.

However, I think that the partner who mothered/fathered the child has a greater responsibility to their child than to their parent. If the child can be placed in an adoptive home, I consider that fulfilling one’s responsibility (obviously, the wishes of the other parent come into play here). I am myself pretty uncomfortable with the concept of abortion, but I do think it’s something a woman has the right to choose.

However, if the child exists and is not adopted by another family, then anyone, man or woman, has an obligation to chose their child over their spouse–and if it costs them their relationship, that’s part of the price of infidelity. They don’t get to blame their spouse for not being able to handle it.

I think both demands are reasonable to make; neither Teddy nor Carol signed up for this, and there’s no reason they should have to essentially become parents (definitely in Teddy’s case, possibly in Carol’s, depending on how much Bob has the baby) because their partners were unfaithful. The constant reminder of their partner’s infidelity could well result in the end of both relationships, and because presumably both Bob and Alice cheated knowing it could end their relationships, they’re really no worse off than when they made the decision to cheat.
Now, Alice and Bob are the ones that have tough choices to make. It’s Alice’s choice whether she wants to keep the baby, accepting that Teddy won’t be there if she does. Likewise, it’s Bob’s choice whether he chooses to be there for his kid or stay with Carol. They’re the ones that have to make the moral decision for the benefit of their child. I see no reason why Teddy or Carol should have an obligation to put a child’s needs first; it’s not their responsibility, and they’ve already been fucked over once.

Personally, I’d probably be gone in either case. Being with someone who not only cheats, but probably cheats by having unprotected sex, exposing me to the risk of STD transmission, obviously has no concern for my welfare whatsoever. Raising their bastard child with them would just be icing on that turd cake.

I know a girl who was told by her boyfriend that if she didn’t abort, he’d leave her. She wanted the child, but wanted a boyfriend more, so did as he said. He ended up leaving her anyway.

In the case of Bob and Carol, the child is innocent of infidelity. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to see the proof of your partner having slept with someone else, but…it’s still a child. It’s 50% your partner. That child does not deserve to be abandoned, regardless of the sins of the father.

In the case of Teddy and Alice, the child hasn’t been born yet so it is somewhat different, though I’m still troubled by it. It depends largely on how badly Alice wants the baby, I think. Asking your pregnant partner who is happy to be pregnant to abort or give the child up is different than asking her to do so when she has mixed feelings herself. But in either case it’s pressuring someone else to make a highly personal, highly life-altering decision for you. In fact, in some ways it’s worse because at least Bob could change his mind and reconnect with his child. Alice will not have that luxury.

So Carol and Teddy are both being unreasonable. I feel for them, for having had their partners cheat and all, but parental obligations trump romantic ones. If they wish to leave, then they should do so without ultimatums or threats. Using emotional blackmail on a new or soon-to-be parent is abhorrent.

Very true. But the partners who can’t take it shouldn’t place that burden on the child; they should just say “Sorry, I can’t do it,” and go. Putting ultimatums on the relationships that that harm the children is the wrong thing to do.

I agree with dangermom. It’s entirely reasonable to leave the cheater if you can’t accept the baby, but not to ask for a baby to be fatherless or aborted/put up for adoption. Frankly, if Bob and Alice do cave to their demands, it’s very likely to sour the relationships anyway giving the whole emotional blackmail issue that eventually they’ll grow to resent, so Teddy and Carol should just make a break of it if they absolutely can’t accept the children.

Both are unreasonable. The parents’ first obligation is to the child. Their partners either need to accept that or leave.

The real problem in both cases is that both respective partners didn’t leave as soon as they discovered the infidelity.

It’s reasonable for Carol to say she can not be involved with Bob if he’s involved with the child. It’s reasonable for Teddy to say she can not be involved with Alice if Alice keeps the child. It’s always reasonable for people to know their own limits and to have things they cannot bear. We don’t have to think those things are agreeable or kind.

Yes, because it’s impossible for a relationship to survive a single instance of infidelity. Such has never happened in the history of man-the-kind, and all reports to the otherwise are as mythical as unicorns.

It’s not reasonable for either of them to request that any parent anywhere abandon his or her own child. It’s not reasonable to even bring it up. Their choice is to leave or not leave, not to request anything of their partners.

Some people win betting long shots at the track. That doesn’t mean it’s a smart idea.

Carol isn’t requesting that Bob abandon his child. Abandonment implies a pre-existing relationship, and as the child does not yet exist it is impossible to have a relationship with it. Carol is requesting that Bob never establish a relationship, which is not quite the same thing.

Yes, but it’s also reasonable that the faithful partners will take a while to reach this conclusion: they won’t just wake up and know what they can tolerate. They will need to think about it, talk it out, reach a conclusion over weeks or months. In those weeks or months of talking it out, at some point their partner will say “What if I didn’t have any contact with the child? What if I aborted/put it up for adoption/stayed out of its life”? And then the faithful partner will have to think about THAT, and share those feelings as they talk that out, and then the other partner will start thinking about whether or not they are willing to do that, in any case . . .

Situations like this are messy and slow. Even if the faithful partner never presents a big, dramatic ultimatum, the process of talking it out could well end with that ultimatum on the table, not as a threat but as a simple realization–“I can do A, I can’t do B.” It’s at that point that I think the partner with the child has to put their kid first. The other partner has no such obligation. It’s not their kid, and if they can’t handle it, they can’t.

I agree. “I can’t do this” when there’s an option other than “this” is an ultimatum.

Follow-up query:

Does anyone’s answer change if either couple already had a child or children?

But the world “ultimatum” implies some big dramatic manipulative scene. People are saying “The faithful partner shouldn’t give an ultimatum, they should just stay or go”, but the only way they could do that is if they totally kept their thought process secret from their partner–if their partner knows their thinking, they’ve made an ultimatum. And it’s not reasonable to expect the faithful partner to figure this out in a vacuum. They are going to need to talk it out–and that will probably be with their partner.

It’s EXACTLY the same thing.

No. Why would it?

Ideally both partners would learn to open their hearts a bit wider. Love means loving someone despite their faults. People are complicated. You won’t find anyone without flaws.

But that’s a tall order.

In Bob and Carol’s case, I think Carol is being unreasonable. You can’t ask someone to give up their own children, nor can you ask them to do something as immoral as emotionally abandoning their children. Carol is going to have to decide for herself what she can handle, but it’s not fair of her to ask this.

Teddy and Alice’s situation is a bit different, because that obligation doesn’t exist quite yet. And it’s no crime not to want to be a parent to a kid that is not your own. I think it is fair for Teddy to ask (especially if adoption is an option) but having an abortion or giving up a kid is a heart wrenching thing and I think Alice has a right to choose whatever she wants.