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

Why People Cheat - Part III - Justifications of the Unfaithful

 

justifications of unfaithful

Why People Cheat - A 3 Part Series:

  1. Why Do People Cheat?
  2. Were They Predisposed to Cheat?
  3. Why People Cheat: Justifications of the Unfaithful

 

Today I’d like to follow up last week’s article “How Could You? Part IV - Doublespeak and Distorted Comparisons” with one of our past pieces from our Recovery Library Vault entitled “The Many 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. 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 ever heard your spouse justify their infidelity? Alternatively, have you ever tried to justify your own affair(s) with similar rationale?

Just what does make a spouse choose to cheat? What are their thought patterns?  It’s impossible to explore all the ways people justify their actions, but we’ll explore a few here below, and you can determine if the way you or your spouse think about your relationship puts you at risk.

Justifications: 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 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 which 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’ 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 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.”1I’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.

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 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 problem and 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, 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 with licensed and trained therapists who have experienced and survived infidelity personally.

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. It’s time for a new approach to your recovery.

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

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!

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.

Justifications

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!

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!

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