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

Psychological Abuse Within Infidelity

This week's video is addressed to wayward men, but the abuse associated with infidelity isn't gender or role specific. Infidelity can elicit both physical abuse and emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is when one person tries to make another person responsible for their emotional regulation or well-being in a manner that is detrimental to the other. Or when a person treats or exposes another person to behaviors that may result in psychological trauma. The attachment rupture created by betrayal destroys any sense of psychological safety. Whether you are the wayward spouse or the betrayed spouse, the tendency is to move into self-protect mode rather than relational mode. As mentioned in the video, abusive behaviors can be intentional or unintentional, but the damage done is the same regardless of intent. My goal in this article is to briefly discuss abusive behavior in hopes of helping you identify harmful behaviors and move toward treating others with dignity and respect.

In the video, I discuss several types of damaging behaviors utilized by men to guard their secret life such as:

  • Gaslighting: Causing your mate to question their competence and even their basic perceptual experiences by telling them they're seeing things. (By the way, a difference in opinions isn't gaslighting.)
  • Shifting the focus from your bad choices by making your mate's response the problem.
  • Pushing away feelings of guilt and shame by demeaning, shaming, or humiliating their mate.
  • Denial. Pure, outright, untruthful denial.

These behaviors are normally present prior to discovery.

The discovery of a betrayal, however, makes nonviolent behavior challenging for all parties and if, in response, we become emotionally abusive or are emotionally abused, then all parties are damaged. We humiliate ourselves and others. Our basic desire for love and respect is eroded by this damaging behavior.

It's understandable why violence seems to be the natural response to betrayal. As James Gilligan, former director of mental health for the Massachusetts prison system and author of Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic, observes, "I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed and humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed, and that did not represent the attempt to prevent or undo this 'loss of face.' . . . The purpose of violence is to diminish the intensity of shame and replace it as far as possible with its opposite, pride, thus preventing the individual from being overwhelmed by the feeling of shame."

Physical violence and physical abuse are potentially criminal. Society has created laws making that behavior unacceptable. I believe we are keenly aware that physical violence is unacceptable. Yet when we are being self-protective or reacting out of pain, we can make emotional violence acceptable, acting without regard to how we're impacting another human being. The end result is we slowly destroy our personal dignity and erode the foundation of our relationship. This is especially true if, while growing up, authority figures modeled that behavior or treated us without regard to how they were making us feel.

Here are behaviors associated with emotional abuse:

  • Controlling through finances.
  • Dictating who they can and cannot see.
  • Using anger to intimidate.
  • Threatening a person's safety.
  • Humiliating, shaming, or demeaning a person.
  • Threating to destroy the relationship with children or family as a way to manipulate or control.
  • Extreme jealousy, accusations, and paranoia.
  • Ridicule.
  • Manipulating by making the relationship contingent on them accepting your conditions.
  • Refusing to allow a person to spend time alone.
  • Telling someone what they are feeling or thinking.
  • Instilling self-doubt and worthlessness.
  • Gaslighting making a person question their reality or competence.
  • Constant criticism.

More beguiling signs of abuse are:

  • Blame rather than working on self-improvement.
  • Regarding the other person as inferior.
  • Judging a person's perspective without trying to understand it.,
  • Frequent sarcasm.
  • Telling the other person how to feel in an attempt to be "helpful."

This list is in no way exhaustive, I've barely begun to cover the issue of emotional abuse. However, I hope it can serve as a starting point for this discussion. Our goal at Affair Recovery is to help couples and individuals impacted by infidelity to find extraordinary lives of meaning and purpose. This doesn't happen when emotional abuse is present.

If this is an issue you struggle with, whether it's being emotionally violent or your mate exhibiting these behaviors, you must begin by deciding it's unacceptable. Accepting there's a problem is the first step. Take advantage of the AR courses such as EMS Weekend, Harboring Hope, or Hope for Healing. Community can be an amazing support in changing behavior, but it's important to join the right community. You need support from people who know what you are going through. Don't hesitate to get professional help. Make it your goal to live a nonviolent life toward others and yourself.



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If you really care, why do it?

Simply saying the emotional abuse isn’t gender specific then continuing to make it all about men as the bad guys doesn’t make it all ok. As a betrayed man who was gaslighted and manipulated for 13 years, this lesson sucks. Plain and simple. As a betrayed male, I already feel underrepresented in so many of the lessons. It’s actually kind of infuriating.

You may be a minority

I believe you truly are in the minority. I would suggest trying a Harboring Hope group with all betrayed men. There is a soothing comeradery in knowing you are not alone. I found that for myself in HH. I then joined another group on a different site where there was 56 of us and was overwhelmed and disgusted that there were so many cheating husbands/porn addicts



I'm also a betrayed husband and I agree we are underrepresented in most infidelity messaging and curriculum. I also can tell you based on anecdotal evidence there is a tendency for betrayed husbands who, in the throws of trauma response after discovery (and often our wayward wives emotional abuse) are themselves accused of being abusive. It's a double standard to be sure. Many of us have suggested that recovery and especially reconciling a marriage after adultery could benefit to be tailored based on the sex of the betrayed spouse. I promise you are not alone in your feelings in this area.

Despite this I liked this video for a couple reasons, first Rick used qualifying remarks, he said a few times "If this is you" or "If you are guilty of doing this" or similar. So I don't believe he intended to address all men, only men that could identify with his examples.

Second I generally support materials that attempt to bring conviction to the wayward spouse. So although I can see the argument that making a video directed at men can suggest this is a men's only issue (it obviously is not), I do get satisfaction in thinking this video causes someone to confront their behavior and beliefs, make a commitment to change, and make amends.

Rob Bocko

I think you make a fair comment, backed by research. Yes, betrayed husbands are under-represented. Any research I have read says that married men are at least twice as likely to cheat on their spouses than married women are. So by the very nature of infidelity, betrayed men are the minority. I think the suggestion of finding a gender specific or “betrayed husband specific” support is an excellent one. I know it is more difficult for a betrayed man, to find such a group. Even for me, as a betrayed wife, finding the right group that was supportive of my choice to stay with my marriage, was not easy.
One thing I do wonder, though is the attitude you encounter from friends/family/society for staying with your marriage, rather than divorcing. I told very few people about my husband’s affair, but of those I told, about half could not remain my friends because they told me outright that the affair must have been my fault, and if not, that I was stupid to stay and try to heal the rupture with my husband. As a betrayed husband, have you also encountered this?

Still getting blamed

Hi! My wayward spouse and I are trying to work on things but today we were discussing finances. We're 2 months from Dday and he's not living in our home anymore. Today he was exasperated with our discussion on divying up the bills. On Christmas his car was totalled while it was parked in front of his affair partner's house. I was late on paying the insurance so there was no coverage. He is now stuck with the totalled car's loan and his new car loan. While I accept that I should've told him about the insurance, he wouldn't have had the accident if he was not there to begin with. Anyway he's blaming me for that and I'm angry about it. How can I address this with him? Or is this just abuse that I should walk away from?

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