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

Why People Cheat - Part III - Justifications of the Unfaithful

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

“When we first met, my affair partner asked if I’d ever considered modeling.Are you kidding? I asked him. I’m a married woman and mother of four, so of course I was flattered, but unfortunately the exchange didn’t stop there. Compliments, along with seeking my advice on personal issues, began a conversation that captured my heart and I found myself having an affair.”

“Did you feel bad about what you were doing?” I asked her.

“No, I just kept telling myself if I really loved my husband, how could I feel this way about my affair partner? I never had feelings like that for my husband, which meant this guy had to be my soul mate. How could it be wrong if we cared so much?”

What are the ways of thinking that help contribute to infidelity? It’s impossible to explore all the ways people justify their actions, but we’ll explore a few and you can determine if the way you think about your relationship puts you at risk.

Justifications: These thought patterns push away guilt and allow the wayward spouse to deceive themselves into thinking they have little or no responsibility for their choices.

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 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.

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.

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’ a willingness to be fully known and to fully know another. How can that happen as long as you’re keeping secrets? 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 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. As mentioned before, 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 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 once wrote, “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 doesn’t justify infidelity. Two people can be in the same miserable marriage, but normally only one of them will have an affair. What keeps the other spouse from cheating if cheating is driven by misery? Frequently it’s 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 like they’ve done anything wrong. While these people are committed to stay, they are not committed not to stray. For instance a man may abstain from intercourse, but feel free to 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 leaving her spouse only cold remarks and shallow insights. If she doesn’t register an emotional affair as “counting” as infidelity, she frees herself to continue her behavior without remorse. While this justification may allow for the unfaithful mate to avoid guilt, it won’t protect their mate from feelings of betrayal.

Monogamy just isn’t natural.

Once you’ve strayed why choose to stay? If you don’t believe monogamy is natural, why get married in the first place? Most people don’t get married intending to stray, but once they’ve been unfaithful it becomes all too easy to adopt this new belief to push away responsibility. When people justify betrayal, they avoid taking personal responsibility for their choices and continue living in the illusions of their own self-deception. On the other hand, when someone makes excuses such as “I was drunk” or “I was just flirting” at least they don’t deny having done something wrong.

It’s much easier to justify our failures than to honestly 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 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 justifications, I’ll continue living in 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, at least be open to talking to someone safe and someone who is willing to walk with you though the process. At Affair Recovery, we provide a way to gain expert insight and perspective through our online courses and our in-person, EMS Weekend Intensives.

Just get help somewhere. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can get yourself out of the mess you got yourself into. It hasn’t worked in the past, and it won’t work now. There is hope and you can heal, just don’t do it alone.

1. Dickens, Charles. Nicholas Nickleby. London: Cassell, 1890. Print.




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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

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!!!

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