Rick Reynolds, LCSW

Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Were They Thinking of Me?

 “What were you thinking? Did you even consider the consequences? I just don’t understand how you do this without thinking at all of 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. 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 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?

"Didn't you even think of me?" she asked Tim. The tension in my office was uncomfortable to say the least. "Do you really want know the truth?" I asked. I turned my gaze to Tim, "Do you mind if I tell her, and you can correct me if I'm wrong?" He nodded his head in 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 escaped by thinking of his AP.” "Why?" she cried, "Is that true?" she demanded, looking at Tim. "He's right."

Before I go on with this article I'd ask you the same question, do you really want to understand the dynamics of infidelity? For most betrayed spouses it's difficult to accept 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 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. I only hope to help with perspective on what was going on for some people. 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.

I have been in this field a long time and have seen over 3,000 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 thinking 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 to help push her guilt away.

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 a distraction, allowing the unfaithful spouse to escape the realities of life. 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; 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.

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 and become 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.

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, why would they want to burst the fantasy bubble by thinking about their mate? Thinking of their marriage only destroys the illusion and kills the secondary gain of their fantasy. Why not think of your affair partner when at home if it represents the drug you 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 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 us. It's learning to make the best with what we have rather than fantasizing about different circumstances to make things better. It's about learning how to give rather than take.

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 above average. As she came to understand the ‘why’ behind Tim's actions she began to have hope that things could 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. Finally, his commitment to help 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, 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.

If you've betrayed your mate 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. If you've been betrayed and it just doesn't make sense, register for Harboring Hope. It will give you a path 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

Still Hurting

My now ex-spouse never admitted he was wrong. I will never forget the moment he told me what he had done and the next sentence being that it was because I was fat. There are no excuses and it was just rubbing salt in the wound. I am happier now. Happier than I have been in a very long time.

GREAT ARTICLE

Rick,

Great article. I know the "why" question is the most asked. It's hard to explain why you hurt the person you love the most. This article nailed it!

Wonderful article !

What an encouraging article !

The Why Answer

Thank you for this solid article. It helped add to my understanding of why I was betrayed. I have started losing who I am in trying to be the perfect person for my husband with changing my appearance, trying to change my personality to be like the women he sought in his affairs, lusts, etc. Change sometimes needs to happen and is considerate of the other person, but I have come to an unhealthy point of it. All of this has led to a more insecure me. This article has helped me see in a greater way that it was not about me. Thanks so much.

Did you think about me?

This is what I struggle with the most and this article helped me to understand that my husband is no different than all the other unfaithful spouses. DD started 1 1/2 years ago with FULL disclosure ( I think, I mean I hope!) about a year ago. He was not forthcoming at all really, the further I dug, the more I found. I'm sure that the circumstances for most couples are different. It might be a one night stand, a week, a month or an even longer affair, but in my case it was a period of two years, with not just one woman but three women and that is making this all even harder to get over. I do however understand that he didn't think of me or even consider what he was doing to me, all the pain month after month that I went through.

We had such a great life, a life that was enviable by most and I think that played into his decisions to cheat with so many women, almost a sense do entitlement. He worked hard and he also "played" hard without a thought of me and our kids. I have triggers daily and this is never far from my thoughts, I'm just hoping that with time I can move past this and have a happy life with my husband again. Have I forgiven him, yes, but sometimes that is just not enough. I have to see remorse and the intent from him to make this better. To this day I still wonder if I really know everything - but then again, maybe I don't want to really know everything.

If it was so easy to do this not once, not twice but three times all at the same time, how easy would it be for him to do it again???

I want to trust again!!

This article was very informative, and while reading it I did feel better..but then reality hit in again...Why did he do it?? How could he do it? I had the best of marriage, we have the best of children..our marriage my friends were jealous of...I always knew my husband was a flirt from the day I met him..yet I was his choice, the chosen one..over the 27 years of marriage I would get phone calls asking if I knew who my husband was with..when I confronted him he assured me I was the only one, that he loved me. I believed him!! Last summer I went away with two of my children on vacation, after arriving home things were different. My husband was cold and distant. Told me he was tired..I grew very suspicious and checked phone records. Needless to say there were numbers, I asked, he lied..so I called. Then he said it was once, it meant nothing...well the "nothing" lasted over 9 months, with not one but two girls...yes girls both in their 20's...30 plus years difference. I was horrified!! I am 11 years younger than my husband, 5' 5"...125 lbs...the girls were both 50 plus pounds overweight and smoked..he hates smoking. So why?? Never has he said sorry, never has he gave a straight answer....I want to trust him, to love him, but am I just being a fool?

My ex never showed remorse or regret and now we are married

My now ex-wife definitely became "detached" from our marriage including our children. She became like someone who had developed a drug addiction. She refused counseling, placed all the blame on me (which was really stretching the truth as even by her own admission I had been a fantastic husband and a wonderful father), never once said she wanted to save our marriage. She simply "wasn't HAAAAPPPY!!!" all of a sudden - which dated back to when the affair began.

We are divorced now. She remains angry, bitter, lashes out at me and is even abusive to the children, but not enough to bring to court - no "marks" are ever left on them. I marvel at how her "escape" became like an addiction - to a full change in personality, and now I am hated and treated like a horrible person. How did I go from "Dream Husband and Father of the Decade" to the worst? It's beyond my ability to comprehend. The affair blew up in her face and she's now on boyfriend # ??? I don't know anymore, but nothing is working out and she is a terrible excuse for a mother.

I have a question: How often do you see the wife committing adultery, only to turn around and show true remorse and want to reconcile? It seems to be extremely rare from my limited point of view. I would love to see some insight on that question. Thanks for all you do!

Escape..... Is such a lame excuse

Escape to fantasy... Isn't that just an immature excuse that someone isn't mature enough to handle the pressures of a marriage? My hubby had a 11 yr affair. And a couple emotional affairs in that period as well . Caught numerous times in the 11 years. He had the nerve to tell me if I ever cheated on him he would divorce me Bc he would feel disrespected. And yea his affair is his " stress reliefer" he admits. I see it as those who have affairs need to grow up. You wanted the marriage and kids. So when things get stressed. Grow up be an adult and stay faithful. If you can't then get the divorce let your partner be happy. Divorce is 99% easier to adjust to and recover from then an unfaithful spouse who has affairs . And I can speak from experience! Divorced after 15 years of marriage .... Remarried to unfaithful spouse of 11 years where no trust in a marriage: waiting out the years till I die. Or he gets courage to divorce me because 2 can play at his game.

Guilt thinking during affair

I agree with what you say here about what the betrayer was thinking. I do however recall a second part to the thought process and although my last affair was over 11 years ago, I recall thinking of my spouse with constant guilt. "I shouldn't be doing this," "I can't believe I am doing this." Would constantly be going through my mind. It was rarely enough to stop the behavior, because of the needed escape. I would only turn to thinking of my spouse negatively to help justify my actions and get past the guilt. In my case I did think of my spouse, but my resentment overcame my guilt. I felt justified but horrible about myself and at the end of it all, the internal negativity ruined the escape. None of it had anything to do with my spouse. It was all in my own mind. Thank you for helping me see this through your program and great articles like this one.

It's hard

I feel like Angela in that I am always trying to compete with my husband's AP. She had a personality close to his and liked video games, chats, sending dirty jokes back and forth, etc. I do not, but find myself trying to do things like that for him. But I realize, I will never be her…and I don't want to be. Even though he says he realizes she was a fantasy and really not even a nice person, I still wonder how often he thinks about her.
I know he loves me and he is truly remorseful, so I need to let these invasive thoughts die. Thanks for this, and all the other, articles. They help, even though they hurt.

my worry also, Diane0403

Why did he do it? Because he could. It was easy for my cheating spouse to have an EA twice with the same woman at work, even it the affairs were years apart. The therapist for AR says it is because he formed an attachment the first time and never closed the door on it, so it was easy to come back to her a second time. The attachment may be stuffed down , but it never goes away, sort of like your feelings for your first love,( if I understood the therapist correctly). In order to live with my spouse, I was told I have to open my heart and understand that he can choose to do this to me again and again, but that I have to choose to love and not throw it back in his face ever again. His job is to choose to be the right person.

I didn't have confirmation of the first affair until this most recent one in which he admitted the first one. Now I am having to deal with both affairs at once. I have yet to see that "right person". He can't understand why he and the AP can't still be friends! After all, she is the only one he can talk to at work who understands his love of farming and livestock and the country life. She is his only friend there! There is no one else to talk to!

I still don't have a timeline of both affairs, what truly happened and when it happened, or any of the details I have asked for. He refuses to talk specifics, just gives me vague answers. All the while, around therapists and other people, he acts like he is trying so hard. He just wants to "move forward" and "share goals" and "have the same vision for our future", etc. But let's don't discuss the past or any of what I need to know to be able to move past it all. We need to just focus on the future and bury his infidelities. Let's just move on past this and have our lives. We need to share the same vision for our future and come to a compromise about out goals. And I just need to get over it. I guess that attitude works great for him. I guess he thinks he is being 'the right person". For me, I trigger daily, but really can't cry any more. I'm all cried out. I just feel empty and lifeless inside, no hope for the future because if I stay, it will be with the certainty that all this will happen again. There is still that attachment. And I have no control nor ability to know what goes on at work.

Don't know how much longer I am going to wait for him to be the "right person". If he doesn't get it after 17 months, EMSW, and 4 separate therapists, then he will never get it. Who in her right mind would want to put herself through all this pain and abuse a third time?

A pivotal piece

There is a lot of good information on this website, but this is the single most helpful piece I've read. This helped to dissipate my anger and make sense of my husband's confusion, and it gave me hope that just MAYBE there is room to understand what happened and possibly reconcile. I do not know if my marriage is salvageable at this point, or if I can ever move past his behavior, but reading this piece was pivotal for me. Thank you for writing it.

Still hurting

To think that he was thinking about the other person while he was home...it's like I'm still wondering if he's still thinking about them...yes them!
It's been a year now since I found out that my husband had 5 different women while we were together. I found proof of 2 and he later admitted to the other 3 only after I bluffed and said I had proof. To this day I think that there were more. With him it was the online chats and emails and the exchange of sexy pics. Here I was offering him sex and he used to refuse so I thought it was cause of the baby weight I had gained and didn't loose that used to turn him off I did everything I thought was right...wearing sexy lingerie, planning alone time, but still he was either tired or had a headache
Things are different now...he's more open with me and he says that he's glad that I found out cause he doesn't have to hide anything from me...I have access to all his emails but that doesn't mean that I trust him 100% I will never trust him fully again. I always have my antennas up...I know that he can create new emails and have accounts but for now he has done a lot to show that he is sorry and doesn't want to loose his family...
he's given me access to his emails
he doesn't go out with the guys anymore
he doesn't drink
we started having more date nites
We go out more as a family
he doesn't avoid answering my questions
I know that he can do it again...but I see thay he's trying so I try my best to meet him half way...it's been a tough road...really tough

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