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

Understanding the Mind of the Unfaithful: Minimizing the Affair

Harboring Hope registration opens monthly. Subscribe to be notified.

Harboring Hope is our online course for betrayed spouses to heal after infidelity. It often sells out within a few short hours. Don't miss it!

Subscribe to Registration Notifications!

To fully comprehend infidelity, we must acknowledge and understand many different influential components, not the least of which is secrecy. Secrecy plays a huge role in the wayward spouse's absence of guilt when violating commitments or morals. "No blood, no foul," right? When people pursue a course of action that benefits them but harms others, they try to minimize the consequences or avoid altogether looking at the harm they've caused. If minimization fails to work, then they will distort the consequences or choose not to believe the evidence. "As long as the harmful results of one's conduct are ignored, minimized, distorted, or disbelieved, there is little reason for self-censure to be activated."1

It's easier to harm others when their potential suffering isn't visible or is out of mind. It takes a strong sense of commitment to stay the course of truly believing you will never get caught. On the other hand, when people have to witness the distress and pain they've caused and are made aware of the high cost of their actions, people will tend to act according to their beliefs and values.

"Integrity is not a conditional word. It doesn't blow in the wind or change with the weather. It is your inner image of yourself, and if you look in there and see a man who won't cheat, then you know he never will. Integrity is not a search for the rewards of integrity. Maybe all you ever get for it is the largest kick in the ass the world can provide. It is not supposed to be a productive asset."

― John D. MacDonald

Living in today's world requires more integrity than ever before. Mechanisms of social censure have vanished overnight. Once upon a time, porn was found at the corner drug store, and the odds of being seen viewing the magazines' offerings came with the risk of exposure. The risk of disappointing and hurting loved ones served as an inhibitor to many who were tempted. In the past, the town gossip served as an inhibitor to moral disengagement. It's not so easy to violate what you profess to believe if you run the risk of becoming fodder for the rumor mill and destroying those you love.

Today, minimizing the severity of almost any type of betrayal is easier than ever. The advent of social media apps and websites promoting discrete affairs all create an illusion that infidelity is just a game. To the person using minimization, the level of upset displayed by their mate can seem way over the top. If it isn't something that seems like a big deal to you because to you it meant nothing, why should it be a big deal to your mate? This sort of thinking shows how minimization strips the unfaithful spouse of empathy and erects concrete barriers to healing. Minimizing the injurious effects of betrayal allows the unfaithful spouse to see the betrayed spouse as the one with the problem.

"Why can't they just get over it and move on?"
"It meant nothing to me, why is it such a big deal to you?"
"I asked you to forgive me, what's your problem?"
"Let's just move on already."

In reality, it's a huge deal when someone is betrayed, but telling yourself that no one will ever know or minimizing the cost of betrayal will allow the suspension of your morals and create a path for you to do things you never dreamed you'd do. Commitments are a big deal, and the impact of infidelity is extreme. As the unfaithful spouse, have the integrity to examine your beliefs about betrayal. If, from your perspective, it doesn't seem like that big of a deal, then you are already distorting the consequences and placing yourself at risk.

Integrity stays true to commitments even when no one is watching. If you believe that statement to be true but you're someone whose actions violate their beliefs, then you need to explore what rationalizations you're using for your behavior. As a man once told Shirley Glass, "On a good day, when things are going well, I'm committed to my wife. On a day when things are just okay, I'm committed to my marriage. And on a day when things aren't so great, I satisfy myself by being committed to my commitments." I hope we'll all remain true to our commitments.

If you are looking for expert guidance, I'd like to encourage you to give our Recovery Library a chance to change both your situation and maybe even your life. In our Expert Q & A, we have thousands of videos in which our team of experts have shared thoughts on specific situations asked by those participating in an online course such as EMS Online or the EMS Weekend retreat. You can view one of Rick's Video Q&A's here:

If you're in crisis and not even sure if your marriage can be saved, I'd highly encourage you to consider the possibility that it's not over yet. There is hope if the right recovery protocol is utilized. Our EMS Online course may be the very pathway you need for personal and marital healing.

Harboring Hope registration opens monthly. Subscribe to be notified.

Harboring Hope is our online course for betrayed spouses to heal after infidelity. It often sells out within a few short hours. Don't miss it!

Subscribe to Registration Notifications!



RL_Media Type: 

Add New Comment:


What to do when this is your spouse?

This describes my spouse to a "T". He minimizes everything that he does and makes me the bad guy for having a problem with it. He's apologized, said he was wrong, said it will never happen again, and moved on, so why can't I? Funny how he's able to move on all by himself with no regard for me. But I guess that's how this mess happened anyway, no regard for me.


In addition to the truths of this article, there is also commitment vs compromise. My spouse's "sorry " comes off as "you should feel lucky I stayed with you".

So True

I completely identify with this article. The biggest obstacle to our ability to move forward has been my husbands minimization of his affair. He keeps downplaying everything that happened between him and his so called "friend". Minimizing behavior definitely makes the betrayer better able to handle their guilt but it is impossible for the person who was betrayed to deal with. I feel like I am on a merry-go-round. I don't feel he gets what he did and how terrible it was because he has it set in his mind that he didn't really think he did anything wrong. I am so frustrated I am close to giving up. He wants it to work and "move on", how can I move on when he can't truly see without justifying his unjustifiable behavior. How can I ever trust him again.


This whole issue really frustrates me, I am the betrayer and I don't actually think I truly know the depth of how bad what I did was. But My desire is to, "own everything I did" and even where others might not be fully accurate I still want to take ownership where I can. The issue is I still struggle with guilt and shame sometimes and talking with certain people it may seem like I am minimizing and I even might be, but if I am approached and told I am minimizing I always go back and let them know that I was and apologize. (I want to know the depth of pain I have caused, I love her and more than anything I want her and I to find healing and wholeness) The problem with all of this is my wife is so hurt and angry that know matter what it seems like, she has consistently said that I minimize what I did. And if I ask how, she gets even angrier. I feel like I'm in my own world doing everything possible to change and she gets angry with almost anything I do. I'm just praying that her heart is softened and in the process I will keep loving her and trying to connect but also own everything! I constantly tell myself, don't get defensive!

it may just be in the words you use

My Wife Likes to use it was a mistake, error, bad decision so these really show me she doesn't understand the depth of the offense even though i have told her that it was worse than the unexpected death of my own mother at 56. Then usually no follow up for restitution. Own it with what it was. I was Wrong, I screwed up, i was destructive etc and what you need to do to make it right. The best way to diffuse is to apologize and do it with frequency and follow up with actions.


He says he didn’t love her! Just a friendship! It lasted 5 years. He allowed her to say she loved him. Called her babe(joke). Called her 4-5 times a day for over an hour each time. We had been married 43 years when he first started affair. Help I don’t know what to do! D day was June 12 right before my brothers funeral.


"...This is the book I never read
These are the words I never said
This is the path I'll never tread
These are the dreams I'll dream instead
This is the joy that's seldom spread
These are the tears...
The tears we shed
This is the fear
This is the dread
These are the contents of my head
And these are the years that we have spent
And this is what they represent
And this is how I feel
Do you know how I feel?
'Cause i don't think you know how I feel
I don't think you know what I feel
I don't think you know what I feel
You don't know what I feel"

What type of affair was it?

Our free Affair Analyzer provides you with insights about your unique situation and gives you a personalized plan of action.
Take the Affair Analyzer

Free Surviving Infidelity Bootcamp

Our experts designed this step-by-step guide to help you survive infidelity. Be intentional with your healing with this free 7-day bootcamp.
I would highly recommend giving this a try.
-D, Texas