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

Were They Thinking of Me?

were they thinking of me

The following is a true story and encounter I had with “Carol and Tim.” As you might have guessed, I’ve changed their names to maintain anonymity. I hope sharing both their conversation and their struggle will help provide clarity for you and your own situation, while also keeping in mind every case has a vast array of unique nuances that must be considered.

 

 “What were you thinking? Did you even consider the consequences? I just don’t understand how you could ever do this without thinking at all about me and the kids!”

Carol’s eyes burned into Tim like lasers. Tim, her unfaithful spouse, hung his head, avoiding her gaze.

"I don't know," he stammered.

"Liar!" she screamed.

Unpacking Their Story

Carol and Tim came to see me after his four month affair with a co-worker. Discovery had occurred when the two of them were rearranging their living room furniture. Tim handed his phone to Carol while he moved the couch. That's the moment when Ann's text popped up saying, "Love U. Can you drop by?" Carol stared at the phone in disbelief. Tim saw the look on her face and asked what was wrong. She held the phone up revealing the text. At first, Tim lied saying it was nothing, then he claimed they were just friends, but once she discovered his secret email account, he had no choice but to come clean.

From the beginning, Tim told her it was just a fling and meant nothing, but that only inflamed Carol's anger. Was he willing to put her and the kids at risk and lose his family over something that meant nothing? He had written Ann telling her he loved his wife and that it was over, but that offered little relief to Carol, who was triggered each day he left for work. He had fooled her before; how could she know if he was telling the truth now?

Tim begged her not to leave and swore it was over. He agreed to whatever she wanted if only she'd give him a chance. She wanted answers and she wanted them to get help. That's how they ended up in my office. Carol just couldn't get her mind around it. They had a good marriage and she'd been a great wife; why hadn't that been enough? What was missing? What could lead Tim to risk it all for some fling that allegedly, meant nothing?

No, They Typically Aren’t Thinking About Their Spouse

"Didn't you even think of me?" she asked Tim.

The tension in my office was off the chart. We were approaching a dangerous level of confrontation.

I figured it was time to step in: "Would you like to know some truth behind his actions? " I asked, yet not waiting for her response, I turned my gaze to Tim, "Do you mind if I share with her some observations….and you can correct me if I'm wrong?"

He nodded his head in fear filled consent.

"When he was with his AP he rarely thought of you, but what's probably more painful is the fact that when he was at home he frequently tried to escape life and responsibility by thinking of his AP.”

"Why?" she cried, "Is that true?" she demanded to know, looking at Tim.

"He's right.” Tim sheepishly said.

Healing Requires Raw Courage

Before I go on with this article I'd ask you a similar question, are you up to the challenge of understanding the painful dynamics of infidelity? For most betrayed spouses it's difficult to fully grasp their mate's explanation because of what we call "assumed similarities." We can only judge or understand another's motives by what it would mean if we did the same thing. For instance, if you're not prone to pain avoidance, it might be difficult to understand why some people drink. Part of the danger in writing this newsletter is my use of some broad sweeping stereotypes and generalities. Please remember to take the best and leave the rest. FINALLY, I AM NOT CONDONING OR EXCUSING ANYONE'S INFIDELITY BY THIS EXPLANATION. We cheat because we’re unhealthy. There’s a litany of things we could have done rather than cheat, but we weren’t brave enough to do them. I only hope to help with much needed perspective on what was going on for some people when they were in the middle of their affair(s). Genuinely understanding what was going on in the mind of an unfaithful spouse can help bring clarity, healing, and peace of mind, if used properly.

This is a hard truth to absorb, but my goal today is to help bring much needed clarity to difficult and painful situations. Having said that, I’ve been in this field for over 30 years and have seen over 3,500 couples, and a majority of the unfaithful spouses I work with have reported thinking about their affair partner (AP) when they were with their mate, but rarely thought about their mate when with the AP. One person said there were times she thought of her mate when with her AP, but she only focused on the things she disliked or was angry about, to help push her guilt away.

Affairs Are About Escaping

While this may be disturbing to the betrayed spouse, I believe it helps explain a dynamic frequently present in unfaithful spouses. Affairs, as well as many other acts of infidelity, often serve as an escape. They provide for distraction and fantasy, allowing the unfaithful spouse to escape the pressures and realities of life and inadequacy. Unfortunately, in that moment little or no thought is given to the impact of their actions, they are solely focused on what they stand to gain (escape, approval, affection, etc.). Rarely does anyone consider why they are doing what they're doing or how it will affect everyone in their life. Typically their only thought is, "I'll never get caught." They don't consider what it must inevitably cost their mate, or what they could do to improve their already existing relationship since they are only thinking of themselves. To say infidelity is self-absorbed and selfish is a colossal understatement.

When it comes to relationships, it's impossible to find someone capable of meeting all your needs or someone whose needs you can fully meet. You may love your mate and be content in the relationship, but we are two separate individuals making sacrifices and compromising to live life together. For many it's the fact they've given so much that makes them value their marriage.

If, however, we are under-invested, then we won't value the relationship to the same degree. With a lack of value comes a lack of motivation to protect and work through the difficulties of marriage. Instead of maintaining an attitude of love and caring concern as we vowed to do, we betray ourselves - abandoning love, becoming self-consumed. Whatever captures our attention captures us, and as we focus on our mate's failures we lose sight of how we are failing our mate and family. Misery is increased as we focus on what is lacking rather than the blessings we have. We move into self-deception, extolling our virtues, minimizing our faults and falsely believing we deserve better. We make it our spouse’s fault we’re cheating, as we’re forced to go outside the marriage to get our needs met.

If life is viewed through that kind distorted lens it's tempting to start dreaming of something different as a way of escape. It's interesting how easily we're deceived into thinking our problems will be solved by a change in circumstances.

Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. External fixes rarely work. The only type of baggage that never gets lost in transit is our personal baggage. That baggage never fails to show up at the new address.

It may be hard to fathom, but many unfaithful spouses don't want to leave their marriage, but they do try escaping their reality (at the expense of their mate) through the activities of their secret life. If they are trying to escape reality through the illusions created by their extra-marital activities, we have to realize they do not want to burst their fantasy bubble by thinking about their mate. Thinking of their marriage only destroys the illusion and kills the secondary gain of their fantasy. They are trying to escape what they believe are the pressures of life and marriage and unmet needs, while also trying to silence any and all voices of shame they live with each day. Why stop this fantastical way of life if it  represents the drug they use to escape reality?

Fantasy is the window to our soul. The illusions we create through fantasy and acting out reveal what's broken about us, NOT what's wrong with our mate. Much of recovery is based upon learning to see our own defects rather than those of our mate. It's based on learning to see how our actions impact others rather than focusing on how our mate affects or has affected us. It's learning to own and accept and eventually transform what we have rather than fantasizing about different circumstances to make things better. It's about diffusing the self-absorption and learning how to make life about others, not only ourselves.

Eventually Tim came to see his patterns of self-deception and avoidance. He actually began investing in the relationship rather than leaving that sort of thing to his wife. Carol finally came to understand it wasn't about her. Not that she was perfect, even though they both felt she was pretty dang close.  As she came to understand the ‘why’ behind Tim's actions she began to have hope that things could in fact, change. As she witnessed his efforts to address his personal issues she developed a confidence that things would be different. Tim’s efforts to understand what he'd done to her helped her see that he cared, but was on a journey to finding a new sense of humility and personal transformation. Finally, his commitment to helping her heal revealed he was finally thinking about someone besides himself.

If you're still searching for why maybe this helps give insight. As I said before, the above mentioned explanation in no way excuses betrayal of any kind, however, I do hope it serves as a reminder that great relationships aren't based on right circumstances; rather they are largely dependent on choosing to be the right person and owning our own dysfunction and failure.

If you've betrayed your mate and you are finally ready for your own personal recovery work to take center stage, or you just want to find out why you did what you did, click here to register for Hope for Healing. As you work through the material, you'll learn how to get out of yourself and begin to be a person you can respect. Regardless of what many may say or believe, there is a proven pathway to healing. Don't make emotional decisions; instead get the information needed to find what you're truly looking for.

 

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Comments

Thank you for your help

I have been reading your great insights into the horror of infidelity and I have learned so much. This last piece about understanding the mindset of my husband and his 41/2 years of adultery has been enormously helpful. He kept repeating ad nauseam that he never thought about being discovered and I just couldn't believe that someone as intelligent could fail to see the repercussions and catastrophe that has ensued since D day 7 months ago. I can write this today because the tsunami of horror is quiet today and I am not so tormented. We have been married 46 years and like everyone who has been shocked by their partners failing' I never thought this would happen to us'.
Thank you for your comfort.

Great article!

This is one of the best articles...it opens many truths that happen when infidelity occurs. My tsunami occured 24 years ago. When you think about it is quite obvious that the betraying spouse thinks nothing about their spouse or children. Cheating, lying, infidelity is born out of self absorption/emotional immaturity. The big "I" is always in the middle of SIN. If you are the betrayed know it to be true that it is never your fault. Each individual has a choices to make and we all have to be responsible for those choices.

Victoria;

Victoria;
Bless your heart. 46 years.
I KNOW your devastation, we were 27 years married when I discovered my beloved husbands infidelities. Please know that as each day passes by, the waves start to diminish. I could not grasp that last year when I found out. I truly thought I'd never survive the horror, sadness, disappointment, loss, betrayal....on so many levels. But to live, and learn....that's been my way through. Slowly but surely I started to understand his personal brokenness , deeply wounded as a young boy, wiring changed forever; deep shame, lack of self worth...all tied in to behaviors that he despised but couldn't fight or manage appropriately....Not fully healed, by a long shot, I still hurt daily, but together we forge ahead, with the Lord at our helm.
The torment will subside, and you will emerge as a stronger, wiser and more beloved woman than you ever knew possible. This I know, for sure. Blessings.

Crushed in spirit

I know your story for it is also mine. I have also, with God's help and guidance been able to unravel my husbands story, after years and years of reading, personal counselling etc etc and never understanding why the stuff they suggested didn't have the effects they said it would, and facing increasing damage to our relationship. At last I have some peace that comes from a recognition of what I am actually dealing with. May I ask how you are finding a path through your husbands shame and deep unworthiness. I am healing and no longer stuck but my husband is still firmly stuck, too fearful to face himself and stays lost in his shame. Everly day I face new challenges as his shame finds new exits, new escapes,new way's to avoid reality and facing himself. I am starting to put up strong boundaries against these attacks. Sharing my hurt doesn't help - he is so focused on himself, it matters very little to him. Only strong boundaries with loving consequences can counter his self focus. I look to God for my strength, love and support. AR is a huge Blessing and source of comfort.

Victoria... thank you for

Victoria... thank you for your words and encouragement from your own experience. I was about to respond to the woman married 46 years when I saw your reply. You see, I too, just celebrated our 48th anniversary. It was disclosed just six months ago that he had been active for our first 15 years together, 4 states, 2 children. Clean for over 3 decades, but kept a horrible secret. I was clueless and totally deceived, devastated that my long marriage had been a sham! Seeking help to get to the roots of this horrible betrayal!

Thank you

Thank you for your response and kindness. We have to find a new 'normal'. The status quo has shifted. Slowly slowly I am beginning to understand how this catastrophe happened. To believe there was a reason but no excuse and to somehow surprisingly reconcile myself to the reality of now. I have raged, ranted, cried and been sleepless for 36 hours at a time. One of the best things I did was to write obscene limericks about the OW and shown them to my husband. I did not know how liberating this could be until I read them out loud. Try it! We do the best we can.

Long term affair

This is very helpful. I however find myself saying yes, but. My husband was with one woman for 8 1/2 years. It feels like a double life. What you say reflects what he says. But the length tends to blindside me all the time. And although I grasp my part in it 8 1/2 years even blindsides that. I feel that the marriage was great when he started. By the time it was discovered it was horrible. I feel like we go to that time to try to figure things out and really the hard times was what deteriorated because of the affair. I feel like very few blogs and authors who are talking about recovery address the long term affairs.

Long term affairs

Long terms affairs (11 years) are rarely addressed and a lot of information on short terms affairs or one night stands, are not entirely relevant to a years long situation. Where can solid, comprehensive information on this be found? Can you give direction to that?

The core of his being

37 years unknowingly with a man with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the sum of self-absorbed motivation, and I still have to fight to keep myself free from blame for what he chose. He truly never did see me as anything but a source of supply. I've had to stop seeing him as a wounded child, even though he was, and recognize that he did know what he was doing was both wrong and ungodly, but he had to deflect blame to "preserve" himself in his own eyes. Sadly the woman he's with now knows he was both abusive and adulterous, but I'm guessing she thinks she can change him. no; she's reinforcing his sin and enabling him to dodge real transforming repentance.

Were they thinking about me?

This article provided the insight I've been seeking since I found out about my husband's affair a year ago. I just couldn't understand how my life partner was willing to throw our 23 year marriage away so easily. To add insult to injury he admitted he didn't think about me or our four children but had compartmentalised us away and ignored our existence while he led a double life with his mistress and her children. I only found out about the affair when he took her on a luxury romantic getaway and I saw the hotel details requesting double bed and sea view to celebrate their anniversary. Unlike the husband in the article he has refused to see a counsellor, he texted his mistress to not think about him anymore and took her case full of her belongings back to her leaving birth of them sobbing. He says he still loves me and the affair meant nothing, the evidence is to the contrary particularly family exrcursions and weekends together. I ask him to look at the great articles and want to discuss them but he doesn't want to be reminded of the affair and leaves the room. I have always loved my husband, through all our difficult times but it seems I have to make the effort to save it. The excuse of mid life crisis is getting a bit thin.

What an excellent article! I

What an excellent article! I was an unfaithful spouse 5 years ago, my husband left me 2 weeks ago for his affair partner. I healed from my affair and he stayed stuck. I pray he finds help for his past hurts and unforgiveness. We have made a mess of our 24 year marriage.

This hurts!

Does it really get easier? D day for me was March 30, 2016, and I still feel the pain almost as bad and the day that I found out every single day. I still cry almost daily. I still don't trust my husband at all. I still wonder daily why I'm still with him. Then I remember..I LOVE him. I wish I didn't love him as much as I do. But, I do. I love him so much that it hurts. We don't have any children together. We've been together 7 years, married 6. His affair lasted a little over 4 years. There are certain aspects of the affair that I just can't seem to get past. And, I've become obsessed with his AP. It's all become very unhealthy for me. I feel like it should be getting somewhat easier for me by now, but I just don't feel it. Since you guys have been through it, please help me. Please give me some advice to get me through some of this...some days I feel like I'm barely hanging on. I do suffer from mental illness, and the day after I initially found out about all of this, I attempted suicide. This has really broken me.

He Won't Stop

Been married six years.
My husband hasn't gone a full year without cyber cheating.
He gets himself an online girlfriend. Says "I love you" to her. Shares sexual fantasies with her. Masturbates to her. Receives pictures and sends pictures. Everything that would constitute as cheating minus the physical act of penetration.
He gets caught. Stops for a few months. Starts again.

The longest he ever went without doing this was seven months. If I can even believe that.
Two days ago, I found out he was doing it again.
I don't want to destroy our family.
I don't want to divorce because I don't think I could find another man that doesn't look at porn and/or cyber cheat.
I'm sick of this though.

I think it is just an excuse

I think it is just an excuse to justify immoral and horribly hurtful and inappropriate behavior. If someone is so weak - are they really worth crying over, worth spending your time and money making them realize what is important and has value in life. Not so sure...

I understand

Yes, they are worth it. But I do understand your anger. I'm 3 years into having found out about my husbands affair. I love him. I want to move on.
I'm trying hard to understand how and why he chose her. In my mind she is a a low-life who went after my husband because she too, was lonely in her or marriage. SO WHAT! We all have moments that aren't perfect in marriage. If yours is that bad, then i would make a desperate, significant change. Don't start looking around for someone who is weak as well. My husband had cancer and survived, but not without what I call the "Cancer Hangover". He was messed up psychologically. He is fine physically, but it left him feeling "less than" in certain ways.
We were doing great and very much in the afterglow of his survival. Unbeknownst to me, he was struggling. This "person" came along and teased and flirted with him. Making him feel virile. I too, found out via an email with a picture of her in her bra....whilst on a college visit with her daughter, no less.
My husband denied at first, then admitted, then told her they were threw. Yet, here I am 3 years later....
Still hurting. I understand forgiveness. My problem is that forgetting seems impossible.

I'm on round 2.... cheated on

I'm on round 2.... cheated on with multiple women multiple times 10 years ago. Kids were young, still loved him and stayed. Now all this time has passed and he was right back at it - once in 2013 (that I didn't know about until the more recent stuff was discovered) and then again just last fall. People that cheat don't change. Why should someone be made or trained to be faithful? I don't want another child to monitor. I don't want to check his phone. I don't want to be reassured that he can control himself. It's obvious he has no control. They only find remorse when it adversely affects their little world. And then it's still selfish and only remorse for themselves.

And, there is always a woman

And, there is always a woman out there willing to tell them how absolutely wonderful they are. And as I think most of us here know; men are gullible and foolish.
I agree it's impossible to forget.

2 years and still stuck

D-day was 2 years ago and I still feel as disconnected with my unfaithful wife as the day I brought the affair to light. She talks to me but nothing deep. We have been in counseling constantly, but everything is oriented to her boundaries and why I was so bad that she got caught up in her 2 year emotional affair.

I long for spiritual, emotional and physical closeness, but she never kisses me, holds my hand, cuddles on the couch or gives me a hug. My spirit is crushed and devestated. I wish I didn't love her and we could have a new fresh start to our 23 years of marriage but my dreams for anything better just wither and die on a daily basis.

It has gotten to the point where I find myself thinking of life without her, moving on and finding someone who will love, desire and cherish me. If it wasn't for our 3 children, I probably would have given up a long tme ago, but for some reason I put myself through this daily he'll and just keep praying something will change.

Am I crazy for hoping and dreaming that God will soften her heart and our marriage can rise from the ashes and made into something beautiful? My heart is so broken.

It's been 6 years since my

It's been 6 years since my husband's 2 year physical affair and 8 year cyber "friendship" with his old high school flame was discovered and ended. We have 6 children together and we're married almost 20 years when I came across evidence of his affair in 2011. Even though he has been physically faithful since that day, he has yet to do the work to help me feel safe or us heal from this life implosion. I can say I'm not where I was 6 years ago but I know we are not where we should be. He is still underinvested (as discribed in this article) and I'm getting tired of giving much more than what is being given. I keep reminding myself that sometimes what is best for the family as a whole and what is best for the individual is sometimes opposite directions. I don't know how much more I can or should take.