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

Surviving Infidelity: What Is Narcissism?

As a young man, I had no appreciation for Greek Mythology. That was my loss. As an older man, I’ve come to appreciate the lessons taught by these stories. In particular, the story of Narcissus holds personal intrigue. It became especially significant when I realized it was so important to surviving infidelity. As the story goes, a graceful and pretty nymph named Echo loved Narcissus, in vain. Narcissus' beauty was so unmatched that he felt it was godlike in scope, comparable to the beauty …
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My husband is the one who cheated.  I have been trying to figure out this one for several months!  They way I have put it is 'I am tired of everyone thinking that sun shines out his butt'!  When I am particularly frustrated with him and doing good for everyone but himself or us I call him Mr. Sunshine.  He doesn't seem to understand it though. 

Great article and so true as

Great article and so true as a marriage reflects back the true person, real life situations,  and an affair reflects back fantasy and the thrill of the secrecy which is all an illusion.


This is a wonderful article!  I am six years into recovery from my exhusband's affairs and this article helped me on my continuing journey toward wholeness.  I love the concepts of questioning our love of our image, and taking the risk to do the difficult work of being honest with ourself and the people we love. Thank you so much!

So true.

So true.

nurturing the self

Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.  Romans 8:5-6, The Message



This is most certainly the "demon" my family has been plagued with for some years now. My husband is caught in maintaining an image. My friend says that he has been "drinking the kool-aid"...buying into the false reality that his perceived success is the single most important thing in life. He even thinks it is a "Calling" He has been living in hotel rooms for over one and a half years (his moving out was my insistence) maintaining that we have had a horrible marriage. I know this is not true. I know that his inability to be honest with himself about his shortcomings has been a very fundamental issue and ultimately the cause of great harm to the marriage and the family. Yes, there is a woman working for him that has been that source of adoration. While he says any bad behavior is over, he refuses to let go of her, end her employment. He wants to move home, but I have said no. It is clear that he wants to have his cake and eat it too, which we all know is not how life works. He wants to keep her (a highly regarded employee) as well as have his family in order to maintain the image of "family man". I am asking him to please choose. Thank you so much for these newsletters. I can't tell you how insightful they are. The comments from others only confirms that I am not alone in my pursuit of truth and thus emotional and spiritual health for me and my children....and maybe one day for my husband.

such a good article

I got a lot out of this article, Rick. IMO, never would have thought of my husband as a narcissist in that he's very shy, introverted socially, easy going, and doesn't draw a lot of attention to himself. However, as I reflected on what you wrote, it's not so much what he thinks of himself...it's more about the image that he wants to show the world. He is, by nature, an avoider of conflict. Yet,, when faced with life altering events that have affected his "essence" of who he thinks he is or wants to be, he has withdrawn and buried his pain. In burying the pain, or repeating what you often say...pain that is not recognized and dealt with will be transmitted, he chose years of acting out behaviors that destroyed our vows and marriage commitment. The image he wanted others to see did not match the behaviors that he was practicing. Even with that, he was able to justify his actions with a multitude of excuses that ultimately seemed to clear his conscience and provide permission for his actions. If meeting anonymous women "on line" was not really cheating since they didn't exchange real names, have sexual intercourse etc he was able to maintain the "image" of being a doting, devoted husband. Not getting emotionally involved with random hook ups gave him the assurance that he wasn't really doing anything wrong, as affairs are all about connections and relationships. For him the hook ups were nothing more than a physical "release" of energy that didn't affect his marriage or life, and certainly, what I didn't know, wasn't going to hurt "us" as a couple. He could act out secretly and not find fault in his behaviors as he felt little to no guilt as along as his image was in tact. He was also able to preserve his image of the perfect husband by performing all "family" activities, not acting out after work hours, not spending the night with women, not giving in to certain sexual behaviors, though the opportunity was there, and justifying his reasons based on a sense of entitlement. When a health scare happened, that was even more reason for him to seek physical connections as saw his "masculinity" potentially being tested or challenged by a self-diagnosis that proved to not be the case. None-the-less, his image of a young, virile, successful, desired man whom women found attractive via on-line profiles and text messaging proved exhilarating to his psyche. I agree that we're all narcissistic to the degree that we want what's best for "us" and desire to be looked at and thought of as special, lovable, appreciated. Yet, when the truth came out about my husband and learning that his behaviors had been ongoing for 14 years under the umbrella of the "perfect" husband, I have had my world blown apart. I cannot control the image that he sees of himself, and the wordily view of what attractive and successful are versus personal fulfillment and contentment. Since he is probably the most UNLIKELY person that others would suspect of cheating, it goes to show that our human failings, sinful nature can and does have a powerful hold us our actions. Being married for nearly 35 years, my husband was a man true to his convictions and morals. He wouldn't even cross a street against the light. He never parked outside the lines, always gave to others with his time and energy, attended church and followed his faith, raised our children with love and patience, doted on me with love and attention, and promises of devotion...yet all the while,, for almost half our marriage, he was cheating with a variety of "self-entitled" excuses. I have often been accused of vanity as I like to look my best, keep fit, stay youthful with fun activities and mind-set. Because my husband is a good looking man whom others always thought of as near perfection with his adoring demeanor and for whom our children considered their hero, I'm at a complete and total loss as to how to proceed with the "real" truth versus what I now realize was a "deceived" truth. In all this pain, I continue to plead that my husband act with authenticity, not what he "thinks" he should think, act, or behave. There is so many layers to him, but I believe that he is still running from the dark issues that he's pushed deep inside his heart. Its nearly impossible to simple put one foot in front of the other towards healing when my husband acts the same exact way as he acted since I met him. Yet, he says he's "changed"...he's "different". He wants me to acknowledge his changes and cut him slack for these improvements..and I do see him more engaged with me; more communicative. But, the behaviors he practiced happened for so long and with such a lack of guilt that I can't trust that simply more communication with me equates to a new person. The image he needs from me is the one I had prior to DDs #1. #2, #3...but that image is messed up. I guess after 35 years, I need to reinvent the man that I married based on his sorrow for hurting me and his willingness to change his behaviors. Is that enough? What do I do with all the years of family memories, anniversaries, birth of grandchildren, holidays etc that he was actively cheating and I thought we were living a marriage of integrity and commitment. I am more than willing to accept that my energies towards him physically, as of the last few years, hurt his feelings. But, was his narcissistic ego and desire to be adored by random women that were also cheating on their mates take precedence over our marriage and legacy that we will leave our children and their children? Sadly the answer was yes. With God's help. his decision to leave that "ego" behind and live the life that he "pretended" to lead. He claims he never wanted to leave me, always loved me, desired a happy marriage...but his ego was more important and the momentary "high" that he got from acting out was no different than a drug addict getting their shot of heroin. The feelings were too powerful to let die. How does one truly ever trust again. Only with God..only with God.

such a good article

I want to thank you for all your honesty as to what happened in your marriage it matches my life. I have been married for 34 years and have had 4 D Days now all of them heart breaking to say the least. My reality of my marriage has changed and so has my image of my husband, not sure how to continue on when this tragedy has been sense first month we meet. The lies are what makes it so hard. Again thank you ...

Thank you for your reply. It

Thank you for your reply. It's been 10 months since I posted that comment and I wish I could say our recovery is further along than that time. We have taken forward steps, for sure, but there are issues that crop up that remind me that our journey will be a life long quest. The word narcissist seems to trip my spouse up and he claims he has the opposite issue...low self esteem, thus, he sought to appease those feelings...yet, over the years, he never showed signs of being "less than". He presented a calm, steady demeanor with outward signs of love and affection both given and received. Even in counseling, he is hard pressed to justify the magnitude of his behaviors based on tangible reasons that would make sense. I am far from perfect and made my share of mistakes . Yet, the desire to work on myself and my salvation, gain insight to my actions and seek redemption drove me to seek authenticity in my marriage and in my life. We all fall short. I don't expect my husband to be perfect in his recovery. However, I do expect honesty after complete and total deceit. Anything less than that for me is the end of the road for the relationship. I know that God wants me to shine in His light and not hide from the shadows of pain and lies. Because behaviors both pre DD and post DD outwardly look the same, all I can do is wait for the holy spirit to show me my path...and with that, my peace will come. I do believe that.

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