Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Why Did My Spouse Cheat?

Our current "How Could You?" series has stirred up a lot of questions for many of you. The biggest question I hear from the betrayed spouse is still, "Why?" I've also gotten several questions like:

  • Why did she do it and how could she do that and still want to be with me and love me?
  • I just want to understand why it happened? What does the other person have that I don't?
  • Why would they risk a life of calm and serenity for excitement with someone who is so messed up and trashy?
  • Why do men or women cheat and have no conscience about it?
  • Did he ever really love me?
  • How does a betrayer think? (i.e. WHAT were you THINKING??!!!!)

Therefore, I’ll take a shot at trying to answer some of the questions.


Why did she do it and how could she do that and still want to be with me and love me?


Behavior doesn’t equal motive. How often have you done something you didn’t want to do? Happens all the time. And while infidelity is horrible, it is certainly something that people can get into and then discover it’s not what they really wanted.

All too frequently we can follow emotions, falsely believing we want something, only to discover once we have it, that it’s not what we want at all. In the moment of truth, when the mistake is discovered, it’s too late. Loyalty bonds have been broken, hearts crushed, vows shattered.

For the betrayed spouse, the question remains, “How could you, if you really cared?” The fact is, the caring has little or nothing to do with what they’ve done. What they did happened in spite of the caring. A tragic aspect of these situations is how they actually reveal to the unfaithful mate what they really wanted all along.

The larger issue is usually for the betrayed spouse. It may be painful to believe their mate really does care about them because then they might be compelled to consider re-entering the relationship. Time is the only commodity which can reveal the truth. If you’re what they really want, then they’ll go the distance and give you the necessary space to heal.


I just want to understand why it happened. What does the other person have that I don't?


There’s no way to determine the why this year. A lifetime can be spent searching for the why. There are as many reasons why as there are stars in the sky. The complexity lies in the multitude of factors driving that choice.

For some, the infidelity is caused by baggage brought into the marriage. At times it’s a maladaptive response to problems in the marriage. Rather than addressing issues head on, someone may use some form of infidelity as the solution to their dilemma.

At times, it’s about an addiction and at times it can even be situational where someone does something careless in the moment and then feels trapped and unable to disentangle themselves. I’m certainly not minimizing harmful and hurtful behaviors, but it is possible to end up where you don’t want to be.

The other person has many things that you don’t, just as you have many things they don’t possess. Hypothetically speaking, I believe that humans have 20 possible characteristics, but every individual has only 10 of those 20 characteristics and whichever 10 you chose in another, also brings a unique set of negatives. You’re not all that, but neither is the person with whom they had the affair. All that changes is how we view the other person.

Typically, people enjoy how the affair partner makes them feel. Affair partners tend to serve as a vanity mirror and the mate as a makeup mirror. Which is why the affair partner seems to be the preferred commodity, but in the long run it’s just an illusion.


Why would they risk a life of calm and serenity for excitement with someone who is so messed up and trashy?


In all honesty, there is a good chance the person who’s acting out isn’t even thinking about risking a life of calm and serenity for the excitement of being with someone else. The compartmentalization that most addicts utilize separates the two realities in their mind. The risk is part of what brings the excitement, but the reality of losing everything they hold dear doesn’t really hold any weight in the moment. At one level they may be aware that they could lose everything, but the reality of that possibility doesn’t really register in their mind.

It’s a difficult concept to explain to someone who’s not an addict. It’s a bit like trying to describe light or color to a blind person. You can tell them what it’s like, but unless you experience it, then it’s hard to believe someone could actually think this way. However, please don’t hear me saying this is an excuse for this type of behavior. The person who lives like this still does know what they’re doing is wrong and there are ways to deal with their reality, but they have to make that choice.


Why do men or women cheat and have no conscience about it?


I think the author of this question may be asking why do people cheat and have no guilt regarding their actions. Only a very small percentage of the population experience no guilt when acting out. The vast majority feel the prick of conscience, but they use defense mechanisms to push that guilt away.

They can use defense mechanisms such as blaming, victim thinking, minimization, rationalization, or denial as a way to justify their actions and push the guilt away. If they have resentments toward their mate they may justify their actions by feeling their mate deserves it. If they’ve been doing the behavior for a longer period of time, their heart may have become hardened to the behavior and it no longer seems that bad.

A lack of remorse doesn’t mean they have no conscience. It can be an indication that somehow in their mind they have come up with a way to justify what they’ve done in order to avoid taking responsibility for their failure.


Did he ever really love me?


This one is hard to answer. It all depends on how you define love. One thing for certain, if someone betrays their mate, I know what they’ve done is not loving. However, I believe every human being is capable of loving someone and at the same time, in a moment of selfishness, act in ways that are contrary to love. Loving your mate in no way precludes you from being angry with them and saying something hurtful. I understand that saying something hurtful certainly isn’t in the same league as a betrayal, but if your love for your mate isn’t sufficient to keep you from acting in a way that’s unloving towards them, then their love for you may not be sufficient to keep them from doing something hurtful to you.

On the other hand, I believe many people have a very shallow understanding of love. They get married thinking they love their mate, but in reality they love how their mate makes them feel about themselves. If that’s the case, they will continue in the relationship as long as the marriage continues to make them happy. But if, for whatever reason, the marriage ceases to make them happy, or if they find someone or something that makes them feel even better, then it won’t be long until the allure of doing something else begins to draw them elsewhere. If that occurs, does it mean they never loved you? Again, it’s hard to know another’s heart, but it is possible that their journey into the forbidden may have also opened their eyes and helped them realize that you’re what they really cherish. At the very least, if they are choosing to work on the relationship, I believe their betrayal and your response may be the very thing that begins to teach them the true meaning of love.


How does a betrayer think? (i.e. WHAT were you THINKING??!!!!)


Sad to say, if they had really been thinking and considering the impact of their actions, there is a good chance they never would have done this. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard both men and women state if they had known the consequences of their actions before they had acted, then they would have never done it. I think very few people rightly consider all the costs when they act out. For your sake and theirs, I wish they had been thinking. I’d have less business, but the world would be a safer place.

I hope this more general overview was helpful. I know working through the specifics of how a person cheats in our current series has been difficult for some. If you are searching for more understanding of how you got here and where to go next, consider attending an EMS Weekend. Email us at support@hope-now.com for more information.



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same question

Rick, should I forgive two affairs? I had to catch him at both. He's remorseful but can he change?



It's been six months

Since D-Day for us. I'm just holding my breath I guess for it to happen again. I don't know if I will really ever get over all of this.

And the new, firmer

And the new, firmer boundaries therewith.


In the weeks following D-day I soon realized that much of what my husband was saying was illogical, in fact, it was nonsense! His attitude was obnoxious (unlike the person I married). Originally I thought it was me going mad. I made myself aware of defense mechanisms and could easily see them when he resorted to them. I think I've seen most of them. We use defense mechanisms to protect our self-image and to reduce anxiety, shame and fear of humiliation. The purpose of them is to protect the ego and provide a refuge for events that our psyche is unable to deal with. I don't know if any one was worse than others but I found grandiosity hard to stomach and soon learned to spot projections. The idealization of his affair partner rankled and when he regressed to adolescence, and, sometimes, childhood it was pathetic. I know a lot of defense mechanisms are unconscious but if you are the betrayed partner, make yourself aware of them.

He needs help. If it is

He needs help. If it is addition that he is suffering from then the justification of not hurting you and others around him will not change him. There is something broken inside him and maybe inside you too. We are human and so many of us are broken it takes a lot to face the reality of that but take the appropriate steps it will change the rest of your life for the better.


Hi Rick,

I would like some help on how to break free from addiction, as that seems to be my problem.






Good question

Good question!!! Is it a lack of maturity? Should we reconcile knowing they have not grown in some areas?

I have the same question as

I have the same question as the comment from dana0213 as well as many more. Unfortunately, I can't afford to pay for one of your recovery programs or weekends. I would like to hear your response about breaking free of the stronghold of sexual addiction. Thank you

why does he go back to the same distructive behavior

My husband did the same thing.  Over and over again.  It was the rush of the affair that he needed. Once the rush would ware off he would break it off with her.  Just to go back a few months later for his fix.  It was not until he hit rock bottom and was in the ER did he finally get the help he needed and began to rely on God did it finally stop.  I had to look at it from the perspective of a drug addict it didn't matter who he was hurting or how destroyed his life was all he cared about was the rush.  Its been two years of healing for me.  I have my good days and then I have my bad days where all I want is answers and reasons. 

In the beginning I wanted all the answers even though they might. Hurt more than not knowing.  Eventually my how could you and why did you were replace by how do I and why should I fix my broken marriage.  My thoughts and prayers go out to you.  I hope that he is able to see his affairs as an addiction and get help.

Thanks for asking this

Thanks for asking this question Dana. This is exactly what I was going to ask.


Reading as a "betrayed spouse", that was a helpful article. "Why" is the question that I keep asking in my mind and, on the rare occasions I still ask my ex wife (we are still together), she can't answer in any meaningful way.

How do you handle when the

How do you handle when the affair resulted in a child????

Thank You

I appreciate your articles.


I don't know how to put my own peices back together, let alone our peices. I don't know how to help him, when I don't know how to help my own devastation, and I don't know how or if us can be repaired.


The glimpses into some of what he may be facing are helpful. Logically it is far easier to understand that the one who has betrayed may be hurting as well, yet emotionally that understanding seems oceans away.


Thank you again.

My ex husband still has an on

My ex husband still has an on again off again relationship with the woman he cheated with. He still claims to love me and wants a relationship with me. I think he is a very sick individual but I am unable to make a clean break so I must be sick too.

The information that you

The information that you share is very informative,eye opening and revealing. I appreciate that you cut to the chase. I'd like to read your thoughts on how the betrayed persons anger, resentment and payback attitudes can affect the healing of a marriage. I think you concentrate a lot on the betrayer, but it would also be useful to find out methods that can help when the betrayed is so hurt. Obviously be patient, listening, trying to be loving and supportive are good but I'd like to learn more about the reactions of the spouse now and how that can also create issues when working on reconciliation.

Wanted the affair.

can someone help me find an article about a husband that wanted an affair. Everything I read says" it just happened or a friendship that grew". My husbandWANTED an affair and called an old Aquaintance who he knew would sleep with him! What type of person goes looking for an affair and now says he loves me and wants to make it work after a 4 year affair! Help me to understand this!

The affirmation you provide

The affirmation you provide for the hurting is amazing! Your diligence in shining a light on this dark painful desperate area is so much appreciated. Your writings have given me comfort from the isolation and hopelessness my husbands porn addiction has pushed me into. While I know there is no quick fix or any guaranties, this site has provided times of respite care, allowing me moments to catch my breath from Betrayals'' brutal carnage. Just want to say thank you for the sensitive, yet truthful, information and encouragement. Theresa

Why Did My Spouse Cheat?

Your comments giving insight were right on.  I was the cheating spouse.  I loved my husband of 20+ years. He was my best friend.  We had built a wonderful life together.  Then, life hit a rough patch. Things were not going well in my life, and I began to believe the lies of the Enemy, that things would be more exciting "out there".  Understand, it was MY CHOICE-I truly didn't consider that I would be jeopardizing my marriage, my friends, my wonderful life-you're right, if you thought about it, what would be at stake, you wouldn't do it.  I followed my emotions and jeopardized everything in my life, thinking what was out there was something I wanted.  Too late, I realized it was not.  I wanted my life back. Seeing the hurt, betrayal, and anger in my husband's eyes is something I cannot get out of my mind-it's the last thing I see each night as I go to sleep.  When people have raised the question in these columns "How do I know my spouse will never cheat again?", I can only speak for myself, but the look on my husband's face which has haunted me for 5 years, and rightly so-my selfish act pierced his heart so much.  I never want to do that to someone I love again. I look back at the rationalizations I used, the pricks of conscience I ignored, the selfishness I allowed, and how much it hurt my mate.  The months following the reveal were awful. Nothing I said was right, we had the wrong counselor, he was too angry-not ready to process it.  It has been almost 5 years. I thought we found wise counsel. We received differing opinions, and I followed some bad advice. We are now divorced. I still pray for the opportunity to truly talk with him, have him hear my heart, and come to one of your weekends. I know God is in the business of miracles-I would love for our sons to see the power of repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. 

Thank you for publishing such powerful information.  Those of us who did the wounding need help, too-the guilt can be crippling, especially when the marriage has died.  My hope is in Christ.

I, too am the cheating wife

I relate to everything you said. I knew what I was doing was wrong, even from the first texting that started it all. But I kept ignoring my conscience and God's voice in my head. I didn't want to think about the consequences of my actions and so continued in my euphoric state for two months. My life had also hit a difficult time with the adoption of a challenging child and having to take care of an elderly parent. My husbands job required a lot of giving of his time and energy and I wasn't communicating my needs to him. Before I knew it I was on an emotional roller coaster. My affair partner and I tried to end it several times because we both knew it was wrong, but we never could. We'd go for a couple of weeks at a time with no contact but invariably we kept returning to the relationship. We were finally caught and then our own hell started. My husband was in utter shock and disbelief,and i was missing and wanting my affair partner back. After four months my husband caught me trying to contact him again and then it all exploded but much worse this time. I feared losing everything but it was only by the grace of God that we managed to hang onto our marriage by a thread. We have worked very hard and have had countless hours of conversations, recriminations, confessions, anger outbursts and a whole gamut of escalating emotions. Now after two years we are starting to feel something normal in our marriage. We are still far from healed and the triggers are still ongoing but we are open to each other's need to talk or vent. We know that God's hand is over us and that he wants our marriage to be better than it was. We know it will come but it may be years from now. I live with the fact that I broke my vows, and that I crippled my husband. Thats is something I don't know if I will ever be able to forget.

Huh!!! Why me?!!!

My husband cheated on me 2 yrs ago and I found out by mistake.  I saw he was having a hard time covering the bills and he just found out his mother was dying from cancer.  He started travelling back and forth to check on his mother almost every wknd and I thought that was commendable.  I was also suffering with my own health issues but that was his mother so I understood him needing to be there.  Never in a thousand years would I have thought that he was travelling every wknd to NYC to meet up with his ex girlfriend too.  But he was and I was oblivious to all of it.  Even during the weekdays he was texting and calling her in my presence and I had no clue.  It finally came to a head when I found a cell phone bill to the same number over and over again even at 2am in the morning and pic videos.  I called him out, at first he was denying the whole incident and told me I was checking up on him but I wasn't.  We share a family plan and I was trying to cut down on our bills that the financial stress would not over power him.  After awhile he finally admitted it and that was the biggest blow to my heart.  After 16 years of being together with 3 sons I would of never believed it if someone had told me.  But it did happen and all the evidence was there.  The thing which made it harder was back in 2003 he was messing with her to and I forgave him and believed it would never happen again but it did.  I called the woman and ask her how could she do this and she stated that she doesnt keep a leash on her man and that this has been going on for over the 13 yrs we've been married.  Needless to say we are trying to get back what we had but I now question what was it we really had if he could cheat on me without a second thought to what effect it would have on our family.  I just keep believing God will reveal to me in time what he deems the outcome to be for our marriage.  My trust is broken and I'm not sure it will ever truly return, but only God has the answers and in time all will be revealed.

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