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

Why People Cheat: Justifications of the Unfaithful (Part 3)

Why People Cheat: A Three Part Series

Part 1: The Fog of Self Desception
Part 2: Were They Predisposed to Cheat?
Part 3: Justifications of the Unfaithful

Below is a discussion between myself and one of my clients, Amy, explaining her rationale behind her affair:

Amy: When we first met, my affair partner asked if I'd ever considered modeling. I asked him if he was kidding! I'm a married woman and mother of four, so of course I was flattered, but unfortunately the exchange didn't stop there. He showered me with compliments, along with seeking my advice on personal issues. It began a conversation that captured my heart and I found myself having an affair."

Me: Did you feel bad about what you were doing?

Amy: No, but I wondered if I really loved my husband, then how could I feel this way about my affair partner? I never had feelings like that for my husband, which told me that this guy had to be my soul mate. Our marriage hadn't been a happy place for quite some time anyway. How could it be wrong if we cared so much about each other?

Have you heard similar justifications from your spouse, or have you ever tried to justify your own affair(s) with similar rationale?

Alternatively, have you ever tried to justify your own affair(s) with similar rationale?

What makes someone choose to cheat? And what makes someone choose to keep cheating? What are their thought patterns?

It's impossible to explore all the ways people justify their actions, but we'll look at a few below, and you can determine if the way you or your spouse think about your relationship puts you at risk.

Justifications are thought patterns used to push away guilt and allow the wayward spouse to deceive themselves into thinking they have little or no responsibility for their choices. Here are a few common justifications I've heard over the last several decades:

I married the wrong person.

It's amazing how many people discover they married the wrong person once they are having an affair. There is no way long-term relationships can compare with the hot flame of stage-one relationships. Unmet needs and expectations often leave partners feeling they somehow made a mistake. We forget it's about how well we love, not about how our mate makes us feel about ourselves. Unresolved issues are excellent catalysts to justify our choices to cheat or act out.

I found my soul mate.

How can you deny "True Love"? In a culture raised on Disney films, love may seem like the best justification of all. Don't all cravings and desires need to be fulfilled? Far too often, the consequences of infidelity are buried under the fantasy of falling in love, with little or no regard for those who have first rights to us. We fail to see the selfishness of seeking our own happiness at the expense of our mate and forget they've continued to be with us even after the hot flames of romance have settled into glowing embers. When our own marriage hits the skids, we tend to look elsewhere rather than looking in the mirror. Much worse, we easily find a "vanity mirror," like an affair partner, to make us feel great about ourselves, rather than a make-up mirror, like our spouse, who tends to reflect our own personal blemishes.

It's okay, as long as I'm careful not to get caught.

Thinking others won't be hurt as long as you keep it a secret may push away feelings of guilt, but infidelity is never without consequences. The very definition of infidelity is the keeping of secrets while intimacy means "into-me-see." It's a willingness to be fully known and to fully know another. How can that happen as long as you're keeping secrets and in charge of what information your mate knows about you? Whether or not you get caught doesn't change the disconnection that occurs for your mate as you close yourself off to them in order to give yourself to another.

I love my mate, but I'm no longer really in love.

This justification is based on the premise that marriage is about being "in love." Marriage requires couples to develop a vision of love that lasts a lifetime. Marriage isn't based on feelings, but rather on choice and commitment. It's easy to stay with someone if you love the way they make you feel or if you're obsessed with having them. But when life's hard and your mate disappoints, unless you have a deeper understanding of love, it won't be long until the justification of "being in love" will come into play.

God doesn't want me to be miserable.

If you believe (or convince yourself) that marriage is primarily about happiness, then misery becomes a natural justification for infidelity. Marriage isn't about happiness; it's about love and commitment. Certainly, we hope to find happiness through our relationships, but it's not always guaranteed. As Charles Dickens wrote in his novel, Nicholas Nickleby, "In every life, no matter how full or empty one's purse, there is tragedy. It is the one promise life always fulfills. Thus, happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it but to delight in it when it comes and to add to other people's store of it."1 I'm certainly not saying all marriages can or should be saved, but misery should never justify infidelity. Two people can be in the same miserable marriage, but usually only one of them will have an affair. What keeps the other spouse from cheating if cheating is driven by misery? Frequently, it's driven by a thing called commitment. I once heard someone say, "When my marriage is good and I like my wife, my commitment is to my wife. When my marriage is good, but my wife and I aren't getting along, my commitment is to my marriage. And if my marriage is bad, then my commitment is to my commitment."

I never had sex with the other person, so it doesn't count...

At times, extramarital involvement is a matter of fancy moral accounting. Some people justify their infidelity by convincing themselves they never cheated. As long as they don't break their own self-generated rules regarding extramarital involvement, then they avoid feeling that they've done something wrong. While these people are committed to stay in the marriage, they are not committed to not straying. For instance, a man may abstain from intercourse but will participate in oral sex since he's not breaking his "moral code." In his mind, he's not really "having an affair." Or a woman may divulge her inner-most thoughts and feelings to a man at work while giving her spouse cold remarks and the bare minimum on her insights and feelings. If she doesn't register an emotional affair as infidelity, then she frees herself to continue her behavior without remorse, and worse, open the door for it to grow into something physical. While this justification may allow for the unfaithful mate to avoid guilt, it won't protect either mate from the pain of the situation.

It's much easier to justify our failures than to take an honest look at what we've done. Recovery isn't just about stopping harmful behaviors; it's about learning to see it differently. Until I can honestly examine my own behavior and its impact on self and others, I can't begin to move forward. As long as I see my behavior through the distorted lens of my many justifications, I'll continue living in the lie and will remain part of the problem.

Once I honestly accept my choices, I can begin living in the solution. To err is human, but to do it again is foolish. Right thinking goes a long way in avoiding foolishness.

In this journey, healed individuals are vital guides. If we can't juxtapose our thinking against those who have found new life, we'll likely stay trapped in our own self-deception. If you want perspective, be open to talking to someone safe who is willing to walk with you through the process. At Affair Recovery, we provide a way to gain expert insight and perspective through our Online Courses.

If you are the unfaithful spouse, don't make the mistake of thinking you can get yourself out of the mess you've gotten yourself into. It hasn't worked in the past, and it won't work now either. But there is hope and you can heal. Sign up for Hope for Healing and discover a new, life-giving approach to recovery. Click here to learn more: https://www.affairrecovery.com/product/hope-for-healing

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Wow. My husband said most of

Wow. My husband said most of these things to me. If we had read this at the beginning, we might not have suffered as much as we did for the first 6 months. When he finally admitted he was out of control and needed help, he had already shredded the relationship to tatters.
Almost a year since the affair started, and we are just now on the road to recovery.

How do you overcome the guilt and shame?

My situation is rather difficult. My partner is facing an identity/midlife crisis and had an affair, which was the result of unhappiness in marriage and being at a loss of who they wanted to be and what they want in life. It sounds like a cliche but in fact it is really happening and she admits that she has been struggling with 'who am I' for a while since we had our kids a few yrs ago.

The challenge I have is that all these issues are in herself and there is nothing I can do to fix them, she has to face them not me. However, she is not sure if she wants to be married so we separated to give her space to think but we see each other often. I know my partner better than anyone else and I feel that every time she looks at me she see's the bad stuff she has done and will never be able to face up to the shame and guilt so she will eventually walk away. I have tried everything to be a positive mirror, I don't even harp on about the affair b/c I know it won't do me or her any good and it was a symptom rather than the problem itself.

I got the I love you but and now I'm getting the I married the wrong person stuff, though that has never been said. What kills me is that we have young children and walking away effects everyone, not just me but our family, our families, our friends etc.... none of whom know we are even separated!

I can't talk sense to my partner but I am being there to support her as best I can. I know what I want and that is to stay married and build a better, new marriage after all this. I am also ok going separate ways and being the best dad possible for our kids. I've put my hand up, I've learned my lesson that some of the things I was doing made her feel unappreciated and unloved. I've also come to realise that it is not my fault, these issues are not mine to deal with so I'm not taking anything personally any more. I am trying to love enough for the both of us and hope that what ever happens we both come out of this stronger people. Don't get me wrong, these are just words some times and I am still really devastated but I made a conscious choice to love rather than fear being unloved, which took me many months and a lot of pain to reach.

It can take a lifetime to learn how to live

Sounds familiar

NA- I'm right there with you. Similar situation, but wife and I are under same roof, sleeping separately. Wife has said many of the phrases above. It has been about 4 months since d-day. As intelligent as she is she has little self-awareness about what she has done. She is seeing a counselor and is struggling with breaking thing off with AP. Doesn't want the marriage due to my inattention to her needs. I praying God does a miracle here. She needs to turn a corner. Keep at it NA. Fight for this. Do warfare over the affair fog..that the Holy Spirit blows it away!

Sounds familiar

NA- I'm right there with you. Similar situation, but wife and I are under same roof, sleeping separately. Wife has said many of the phrases above. It has been about 4 months since d-day. As intelligent as she is she has little self-awareness about what she has done. She is seeing a counselor and is struggling with breaking thing off with AP. Doesn't want the marriage due to my inattention to her needs. I praying God does a miracle here. She needs to turn a corner. Keep at it NA. Fight for this. Do warfare over the affair fog..that the Holy Spirit blows it away!


My hope is to be in the mature emotional place you are. Thank you for your generosity, I hope your wife will come home to a real man.

You are being used as supply

You are being used as supply until she finds someone who she wants to be with. She is using you. Take this from someone who has been through it. If she is telling you she doesn’t want to be married she is 1 actively search for someone new or B screwing someone already

Spot on article

My husband had not one but two back to back affairs shortly after dealing with his alcoholism - no longer drinking - a year ago. I wont say he's sober because he certainly isnt following any principles of honesty espoused in a 12-step program. I know this adds another layer of complexity to the issues but I truly believe the affairs were a substitution for, and another form of, addiction. That being said he has gone through each of the justifications cited above. I so wish he would read this article, but he wont acknowledge the affairs and subsequent pain. He won't discuss any aspect there of instead laying the discord caused right at my feet. He won't give me closure and certainly no transparency. In fact, he treats me with disrespect and resentment. I have yet to find someone in the blogisphere who is in a similar situation. I so agree that our spouse is not responsible for our happiness but a year of this has me absolutely miserable with my back against the wall wondering why I feel like this when I was not the one who betrayed my spouse or marriage. Is that an additional justification - resentment over some thus far unknown?

Thank you for your articles, discussion, and support.


You forgot the "if God made me then he made me the way I am. So it's not my fault. " and also "You don't understand. I hated you so much. " the self-absorption is incredible. I have been stunned over and over again. We are recovering albeit slowly. He tells his parents we are doing "Great". Add self- delusion to self-absorbed. But heh I've lived with this for 23years what's another 23. The Scarrs will always be there. To pinch and burn and tear at us the betrayed. While all the while good ole Unfaithful is doing great!!!

I can relate to your comment

I can relate to your comment so much. There just seems to be no end to the pain and deception.

Yep, me too.

It is my wife who is caught in an emotional affair. What a rabbit hole of lying and deception it is! I mean ZERO self-wareness for her at 4 months. Seeing a good counselor so thank God!

Holes in the partner

I find this utterly left out the holes poked into the betrayed. "So and so was a better housekeeper"..."did you really just say that about the cat"..."where is your sense of humor" "you are unable to trust " "you are just going to run any way" "you forgot to pick up such and such, is anything I ask important to you?"
I know when stuff is up. I see a lot more holes poked at me.

Holes in the partner

I find this utterly left out the holes poked into the betrayed. "So and so was a better housekeeper"..."did you really just say that about the cat"..."where is your sense of humor" "you are unable to trust " "you are just going to run any way" "you forgot to pick up such and such, is anything I ask important to you?"
I know when stuff is up. I see a lot more holes poked at me.

I had those too

I can relate. I was nit-picked, too. My ex said "you have no hobbies," (I'm a mom) or "you planned our honeymoon" (We had a travel agent). They just have to be unhappy for some reason. Any reason! If they can poke holes in us then they don't have to feel so bad about cheating. Hang in there!

what about addiction

I could not relate to any of these, but my spouse did say that he did it because he was heavy into his alcohol addiction. I find this kind of lame because it happened a few times over the course of three years. In my mind, even if you were drunk when it happened, after the first time, didn't you realize later that it was the worst thing you could have done and never do it again? If it was just alcohol, how did it keep happening? You weren't drunk for three years straight. Or am I missing something about addiction and how it works?

Addiction requires a mindset

Addiction requires a mindset to justify use of alcohol just like the justifications for infidelity. They have an alternative universe. Their perception of the situation and of us is do pervasive it is contagious. It was hard for me to see the holes poked in me at first because I was not able recognize the absurdity. I truly turned myself inside out trying to change his perception of me.

Great article

What a great article! My husband married his affair partner last year in December 2015. Our divorce was final in October 2014. He said she was his dream woman. He still maintains what he did wasn't cheating because "in his heart our marriage was over," I was the one who wanted a divorce and I refused to go to counseling. Why didn't he tell our marriage counselor our marriage was over during the appointments I MADE? After our marriage counselor referred him to another counselor I was told by her he would never get over his anger for me." I was never told why. I tried very hard to reconcile.
I cannot follow this site on Facebook because he considers it "disparaging" of which we cannot be a part of per the divorce agreement.
What do you do about spouses who refuse help and leave for the affair partner with no remorse? Nothing? After two years I still have to bear these justifications that continue to make me think I really was a horrible spouse. I know I wasn't as I have been told by counselors but these jabs are getting old. How long can an unfaithful spouse use these justifications? I suppose the affair partner drives a lot of the hate towards the betrayed spouse so as to maintain something in common.
Anyway, great article!


My husband’s father had an affair that resulted in his parents divorce when he was a teenager. My mom told me when we got engaged that the same thing would happen to us if we got married. I was convinced she was wrong and yet here we are 15 years later 9 months out of discovery of his affair with a coworker. I feel incredibly stupid and deeply regret not listening to her. I unfortunately feel the message here is not to marry someone who’s parents cheated. I know there are exceptions. I don’t want to be in a romantic relationship with a person who has acted out in this way regardless of why they did it. I don’t want a divorce because I don't want to miss out on one moment of my children’s lives due to shared custody. I feel trapped with two impossible choices. I appreciate these videos and articles. I’m in counseling and a weekly support group for betrayed spouses. Thankful for community just no clarity or hope of a future that is desirable whatsoever.

Stuck I feel the exact same

Stuck I feel the exact same way. It is a very sad place.

Reply to laura

I agree with you. My husband's father also had an affair which ended his marriage. Then he married the AP and settled into a second unhappy marriage.



I feel the same way and I saw you said you were attending a weekly group and counselor. How did you find them and can you point me in the right direction? Is the counselor a sexual addiction counselor? Or just marital counselor? I know were are probably states apart but I am in Charlotte, North Carolina and all I could find was a telephone group (Cosa). I even thought about starting my own group because i need the personal connections and support. I am feeling very helpless! Any help would be appreciated! Thank you

Jamie R and Groups

I have thought about starting a support group as well because I know there are others out there like me that would like to share their feelings. However, I live in a small town, and it would have to be very confidential. I fear some backlash from the woman that accused my husband of sexual harassment when she was clearly playing the game. He was fired. Lost his career, and everything was on social media and even the local TV stations. Talk about a nightmare! We're 5 years out, and I still suffer with pain. During the most devastating weeks and months, I would've been eager to have a support group.

I feel the same

I feel the same as you, even two years later. I have told my straying husband multiple times that he has left me with terrible choices: Stay with him knowing that he didn't always value me, or breaking up the family. I opted to keep the family together because I am afraid of the effects of divorce on our middle-school kids. It's not easy, and I constantly have to remind myself that I'm doing this for the kids, not for my own peace of mind. It's not fair, but I just tell myself that it is what it is. Sad, I know. If there's any silver lining, I don't think my husband will ever stray again. He has seen how destructive his choices have been to me and indirectly to our family. I've also told him that if my sixth sense that discovered his affair ever goes off again, I will leave because I can not bear to put myself through this again. This also helps me maintain my resolve. I wish you strength.


Please read the above paragraph God doesn't want me to be miserable. I truly believe that marriage isn't about happiness, it's about love and commitment. We need to make ourselves happy and hopefully our spouse will share in that happiness and even contribute to it. It's taken me 9 d-days in 17 months and it's been 2 years since he tried to begin an affair in front of me to be able to speak these words. As Rick said above "...As long as I see my behavior through the distorted lens of my many justifications, I'll continue living in the problem and remain part of the problem". I think he meant that for the wayward spouse, but it's funny, he put into words how I've been changing myself and I'm the betrayed. You see, I've been making myself unhappy simply by feeling like a victim. I'm not a victim any longer, I'm a survivor, no longer part of the problem. It's working for me, and not only in my marriage. Good luck and stay strong!

Don't lose hope yet

I know that our situations aren't identical, but I had the same feelings when my wife confessed her affair. I felt like I just wouldn't ever be able to get back to the point of loving her the same, even if I wasn't angry, wasn't hurt and even cared about her still. We're only 5 months out, but she's already done so much to show me that she deeply regrets her decision and that she never wants it to happen again. Sometimes I still feel like I don't want to stay, but those times have become less and less. Of course, I don't know if your husband is working even half as hard as my wife is to earn back my trust, loving me well, etc. It's not easy even when they're doing all the right things. I do think that her confessing on her own is a different first step than most people get. When you discover it and it's not confessed, you always wonder if they would have ever told or even ever stopped. When they confess of their own volition, you can feel more comfortable that they regretted what they did, wanted to do the right thing from then on and be honest going forward, even if that meant you might leave. My wife didn't think I would stay, she still wanted to be married to me and told me anyway because she said I deserved to know and make decisions based on the truth.

But I can see how it would be easy to feel the way you're feeling all the time if maximum effort isn't being given on the other side. I would also say that while a parent cheating often may end up in their child cheating on their spouse later in life, it isn't going to always be the case. In our situation, we have 4 children and they are all 8 years and younger. They don't know what happened, and because it looks like we won't divorce they probably will never know. So I think it depends on what happens AFTER the infidelity, and of course whether the kids know about it or not. If the parents stay together and the kids know, even though it's incredibly hurtful it can also lead them to NOT cheat. If they see infidelity as being the thing that almost broke up the family, but mom (or dad) was sorry and repentant, and they were forgiven and a new, strong marriage created after the affair, they can see infidelity as something to avoid and forgiveness and real love the thing to pursue.


My husband said all of these things. At first the thrill was intoxicating to him. He felt that by connecting to a AP from his hometown, he could regenerate his youth and be the popular swinging guy of 40 years ago.

He said he grew weary after a few weeks and broke it off. At the end he had to get a friend to help him end it because the AP was calling 20 times a week. He was willing to sacrifice everything for someone he did not even know.

I say this to anyone out there who thinks having an affair is helpful for your emotional state of being.

Leave, separate, divorce, counseling, conversations : are all better choices.
Betrayers are like small children who run away from home. Once lost in the woods---- they want nothing more than to find the path back home.

The restoration after an affair is an ugly, uncertain, frustrating roller coaster. Why would anyone want to put themselves through that?

It speaks to the mental

It speaks to the mental health of the people involved. Its sad what destruction they can cause trying to get temporary relief.


Amen! I thought we had a great marriage until I found out that my husband had a short term affair with a married woman 20 years younger. He never had any intention of leaving me for her. It was just an escape I guess. Although I have no fond feelings for his AP, she was manipulated by him just as I have been.
She has been so obsessed with him it is almost like the woman in "Fatal Attraction". She is not giving up. (I'm not sure she would really want him if she had him. He comes with a lot of issues! It would serve her right, actually!)

I just feel if you are that unhappy or bored, leave the marriage before you enter in an affair. It is the most destructive, hurtful thing I have ever experienced. We have been in counseling, but I'm not sure I will ever get over this.

It is so hard to live with someone who has betrayed you like this. I'm not sure I will ever trust him again.

My prayers to anyone going through infidelity. It is just so hard.

Reply to perky

I agree that noone can do this for the betrayed. After 22 months I know the affair was not about me. My husband told me that on week 2 or 3.

However, the affair set me on the most painful journey of my life. The trust is gone and I doubt it ever comes back but that is ok. I now see that my husbands upbringing set him up for this as well as other short cuts he has taken in life. His pattern is almost a complete reflection of his father and he now recognizes that.

I focus on my own happiness. If he chooses to join me, good but if he does not, I will be ok. I think we all have to get to that point or else we are forever victims. However, it takes a while to get there. It is not easy. I so appreciate the people on this site who share their pain in such an open way.

The best revenge (if we must) is a happy life.


He still struggles with many
justifications and accepting any kind of real responsibility I have pretty much given up on having a trusting relationship ever. His justifications are along the lines of she just came on to me I did nothing to prevent it I was just there it was my fault because I was there I just want everyone to like me conveniently in every scenario or you never paid attention to me. He is a master at denial and believes I should forgive, forget all the empty stories, the stories others told me, and trust him the untruths, untold, and avoidance are part of the past he said he will never do it again it's time to move on and never speak about it again. He is a busy man with too much on his mind to have to find time to remember things that were mistakes (not choices) he's sorry and loves me and buys me lots of things and the past is over is his mindset. While I am drowning in pain trying to work on our relationship issues alone waiting for the next time. He is the one that suggested counseling thinking it wasn't possible working so much so when I found this group he read a few articles and I have his email address therefore he can show there's nothing to worry about but I can also see the unread or unaddressed as none of the articles have ever been followed up with any kind of response to me. Trying to concentrate on me but at the same time how can I do that if any more 'secrets' happen.

What type of affair was it?

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