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

Understanding the Mind of the Unfaithful: Minimizing the Affair

To fully comprehend infidelity, one must understand a huge component to the empowerment of the affair: secrecy. Secrecy plays a huge factor in the 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 avoid looking at the harm they’ve caused or they minimize the consequences. 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” (Bandua 1999)

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 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 the internet, Facebook, websites promoting discrete affairs and texting all create an illusion that it’s all just a game. 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? To the person using minimization the level of upset displayed by their mate can seem way over the top. 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 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. 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.

Commitments are a big deal and the impact of infidelity is extreme. Integrity stays true to commitments even when no one is watching. If you believe that statement to be true but you’re someone who violates their beliefs, then you need to explore what rationalizations you’re using to violate your beliefs. 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 insight into your particular situation, 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 over 80 Q&A videos where I share thoughts on your specific situation and what may be the right next step for you. You can view one of the 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 maybe it’s not over yet. Perhaps there is hope if the right recovery protocol is utilized? Our EMS Weekend may be the very pathway you need for personal and marital healing. 

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Comments

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.

Constructive or Destructive?

While I truly do appreciate a large majority of the content on this site, I am concerned that there is some sliding toward an unhelpful level of condemnation and a painting of all betraying spouses with the same brush as is shown in this and other articles. Each situation is different and some of the language and assumptions that may very well be applicable to the author here are not applicable to all betraying spouses.

It seems like there is a certain level of rhetoric or condemnation that may not serve the purpose of allowing both parties to do what needs to be done to attempt to move through these difficult situations. While no one can or should deny the reality and pain caused by betrayal and infidelity, an extreme level of condemnation and shaming which can often be seen may very well have the opposite effect to that desired and may simply make the betraying spouse more hardened - despite their wish to be otherwise! It is natural to defend yourself if you are under an extreme or unnecessary level of attack. Does the ability to manage that level of stress and reaction due to what you have done help with any hope for reconciliation? Yes, of course. It can be very hard and internally destructive to the betraying (and betrayed) spouse though.

If the "ideal" betraying spouse is one who is humble, open, accepting their responibility and the pain they have caused, a high level of damning rhetoric here may very well make that more difficult due to the level of condemnation and presumed inability to see what they have done and "make up" for it. This is one reason why marriage therapy often does not "work" if the the focus is solely on the ills and deeds of the past rather than dealing with the immediate, current effect. If you live in the past, you stay in the past. This is not to say "just get over it", but there is a need to live in the present not in the terrible past. Shaming and negative thinking will most often bring more of the same right back to the person providing it - Betrayed spouse to betraying spouse OR betraying spouse to betrayed spouse.

constructive or destructive comment...

betraying spouse, i'm taken back by the comment that this site would be 'sliding toward an unhelpful level of condemnation.' to me, i see none of that on the site. ok, maybe the occasional betrayed spouse will get livid and make some pretty direct comments, but i too am an unfaithful and as far as rick's articles, i've never felt condemned or shamed. that doesn't work anyway so why would Rick or any of his stuff, most of all whom I know have been through infidelity themselves, ever resort to shaming? i'm also even more taken back that you, a 'betraying spouse' as your title would try and tell Rick how to deal with a betrayed spouse? are you a trained counselor? are you an expert?
i'll stick to listening to Rick whose an expert and from what I know has been through it before and continues to help save my marriage, one step at a time.
you make the comment "a high level of damning rhetoric here may very well make that more difficult due to the level of condemnation and presumed inability to see what they have done and "make up" for it." but for those innocent bystanders on the site who are fragile, i find no such evidence on the site at all. shaming is not asking an unfaithful spouse to take responsibility, be open, be humble and own what they've done. i just want to say I find your comments unnecessary and a bit audacious, considering you too are an unfaithful spouse, like me, who probably needs to listen more than advise, NO?

constructive or destructive comment

Ame, Jason! Amen!

Constructive or Deconstructive

As the betrayed spouse, I can tell you firsthand that unless, and until you face all the realities of what you have done, healing will be a fantasy unfulfilled. I am one of those who needs to know everything in order to process the reality and my husband, the betrayer, refuses to provide the information I seek and need. He claims he does not remember. I say hogwash to that. He just does not want to really look into that mirror and see himself for who he is and what he's done. He acknowledges only that for which I have proof. Anything else is enveloped by a huge cloud of denial. It would appear you are a kindred spirit of his. Trust me when I tell you that as long as you continue to believe that the past is past and if you live there you stay there, you will be there again. You must face the past with all its recriminations, emotions, and pain in order to get over it.

Minimizing

Minimizing is a form of manipulation which is one of the many ways cheaters control the spouses choices. They also want to control the consequences they are immature and they also blame the betrayed . My husband said recently every time he lied to me he felt he got away with lying and cheating. I know his desire to hide how many hohos how many years how many stds I got from his hohos his lies about us our marriage me my life who I am he trashed behind my back until one of his hobos (haha my phone did that) told me he was a sorry ass cheating lying backstabbing conman. Yes he spent 3.4 years playing down everything . This year he has finally given up lying to me . He has stopped down playing his story matches up now. At 57 he is growing up .

Minimizing

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.

Compromise

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.

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