'Divorce' Explores The Definition Of Cheating & There's No Clear Answer

What is cheating? Though this question has been explored by countless people, there’s no right answer. As Frances and Robert are realizing on Divorce, cheating can be defined in many different ways. The Oct. 23 episode found the divorcing couple in therapy, hashing out the issues of their failing marriage. Frances had a physical affair with another man, but Robert had an emotional affair a decade ago with a college sweetheart. Who is more wrong here? Is anyone?

At first, Robert vehemently denied that he was unfaithful to his wife in the way that she has been unfaithful to him. Frances has had sex with someone else dozens of times, where as Robert had no real physical contact with his friend. But Frances argues that the intimacy of an emotional affair is just as large a betrayal as a physical affair, and the two end, as I assumed they would, in a sort of stalemate. Eventually, Robert admits that he, too, has erred in their relationship, and the two agree to stop therapy (it’s definitely not helping rebuild their relationship like they thought it would) and split, somewhat amicably. Or at least more amicably than what viewers saw in the first few episodes. There was a bit of dark humor in Robert blaming 9/11 (literally) for the end of his relationship, but mostly it was just sad. It really is over for these two, and they both played a role in the end of their marriage.

Based on my personal views of cheating, Frances and Robert are both in the wrong here. Intimacy can be achieved in different ways, whether it’s sex or just telling another person your deepest fears and darkest secrets. Intimacy, ultimately, is about trust and vulnerability, and when you are vulnerable with a person who is not your partner, it can still be a transgression. Of course, this idea of what constitutes cheating is a conversation that should be had with a partner, perhaps before marriage?

There may be no objectively "right" answer to what counts as cheating, but I think it's best for all parties involved if boundaries are made clear early in a relationship. Some couples are non-monogamous and set different guidelines for what is and isn't OK, while others are strictly monogamous and don’t even like their partners to watch pornography. Relationships are based on discussion and collaboration, and Robert and Frances' discord in what constitutes cheating shows just how little communication they were having in their marriage. Their relationship died because they stopped talking to each other (and I mean really talking, because asking your husband to get milk doesn’t count). Though Frances and Robert really loved each other and said as much as they parted ways, their lack of communication was the final nail in the coffin.

Images: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO (2)