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

Are They Lying About "Why?"

Stephanie cheated on me, or so I thought, during our second year of marriage. Three days a week, after coming home from work, she would leave to go run with her manager, Dave. I just knew she was cheating on me. By the way, did I mention he was over thirty years older than Stephanie, overweight, newly divorced and that his kids were older than she was?

Stephanie and I were living in a high-density area of Denver, CO while I attended graduate school. No way was it safe for a woman to run after dark in that neighborhood. She asked me to run with her, but with temperatures dropping into the single digits I refused. When Dave, who lived in our same apartment complex, heard her say she was running in the evening after work he offered to go with her.

In retrospect, Dave was being protective of my wife and didn’t want her running alone after dark, but 35 years ago my jealousy flared. Thankfully a good friend sat me down and said, "Rick, Stephanie is not having an affair with Dave."  "Then why am I feeling so jealous?" I asked. "Because if you were doing the same thing Stephanie is doing, your motivation would be to have an affair."

His statement hit me square in the chest. He was right. My jealousy flared because I was assuming Stephanie’s motivations would be the same as my own. I was telling her what her motives were. I was telling her how she felt about things. I was even letting her know her own intentions, but none of my interpretations or accusations had any resemblance to Stephanie’s reality. What I was trying to do was force my puzzle pieces into Stephanie’s puzzle.

I use this analogy as an example to show how far off base I was even when nothing was going on. Can you imagine the difficulty of trying to understand when something has gone terribly wrong?

A crucial component to recovering from infidelity is developing a common history and a common understanding as to why it happened. Without some understanding as to “why?” it's difficult to determine the probability of whether this could ever happen again. Without a willingness to understand “why?” it’s also difficult to find empathy or compassion for the one who wounded us, and without empathy or compassion it’s difficult to forgive.

Two factors make it difficult to understand why someone was unfaithful. First, the betrayed spouse wants an answer that makes it easier to forgive, and second, it’s hard to accept an answer that doesn’t make sense. (This article is specifically for couples where both parties are involved in the recovery process)

Many times I’ve seen the betrayed spouse outright reject whatever insights the unfaithful spouse discovers in recovery and/or counseling as to why they did it.  It makes no difference how many or how good their answers are, it’s never enough. The “why?” question is complex. It can be examined from multiple perspectives: social learning, moral justifications, cultural norms, psychodynamics, spirituality, mental illness, object relations, etc. and the list goes on. Each of these are a part of the puzzle, but for some betrayed spouses no answer is satisfactory unless it provides a logical explanation for what happened, and there is never a good enough excuse to explain betrayal away. It would be far easier to forgive if there were a good reason (such as they had a stroke and it was the result of brain damage), but that’s just not the case. You don’t have to hold someone accountable for what they’ve done if there’s a good enough excuse, but there’s never a justifiable reason for doing that to someone. The answer to “why?” can highlight changes that need to be made to prevent this from ever happening again, but I’m not sure you can find a good enough why to make it easier to forgive what they have done.

The second barrier to understanding “why?” comes from not considering anything other than our own subjective reality. We continually try to force our puzzle pieces into our mate’s puzzle because their puzzle doesn’t make sense to us. Both parties in recovery need to try and understand their mate’s reality and search for the points where they agree rather than getting stuck on the areas where they differ. Just because your mate doesn’t see things from your perspective doesn’t mean they’re lying. Try to be open to seeing it how they see it, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. When you do that, it makes the other person far more open to listening to your perspective and finding parts of your perspective that make sense to them. Focusing on what does make sense allows opportunity to build a common understanding of “why?” Telling the other person why they did it and what they are feeling will show them your puzzle, but will have nothing to do with their puzzle.

It takes time to develop a common understanding as to why. A major mistake made by most couples, is believing things should be happening quicker than they are. It takes time for wounds to heal and perceptions to change. I believe the most expedient path to understanding “why?” beyond your own perspective is participating in a support group with other couples. You might not be able to believe it when your mate shares their perspective, but witnessing similar dynamics in other couples can help you see that there may be truth in what they’re saying. Working together with others provides an opportunity for you and your mate to develop a deeper understanding as to “why?”

If you are not aware of other couples in your area to share in your journey, I hope you’ll join the AR community. The EMS Weekend and the EMS Online course both provide a group of other couples in a structured format to help with healing and to help you discover answers.




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Won't try to figure out why?

What suggestions do you have when your mate won't try to figure out "why"? I am the betrayed spouse and these are the answers I have gotten to the why question: because there was a sexual attraction (for affairs 1 and 2) for affair number 3 I just get I don't know. So I have asked what justifications did you use to allow yourself to continue the affairs? Answer I don't know. Next question I have asked did you feel guilty? Yes so what did you tell yourself to justify continuing the behavior if you felt guilty? Answer I don't know.
And so here we sit a year and half after the last d-day stuck.
Any suggestions? I will take suggestions from anyone.

I hear "I don't know" ask the

I hear "I don't know" ask the time here. I can't offer any advice myself but just wanted you to know that you're not alone.


I'm in the same spot. 42 years of marriage and I find he's been cheating with prostitutes along with several affairs in between. When I ask why he says "I don't know why", just sex. He finally confessed he's also had an affair with a woman I considered a friend for the last 4 years. He tells me it was just sex. REALLY! It's been 4 months and I'm still numb, angry, and hurt. I'm not sure I can get over this betrayal.
Any suggestions?


The online program here is great. Also if this has been an on going problem and he is a sex addict find professional help!! Call affair recovery.

Possible reasons for I don't know responses

Being that I was the cheater in my relationship, perhaps I am sort of qualified (not the same gender as your husband) to answer? I know I said I don't know and there are three things to consider on why a response like that is given:
1. Truly doesn't know and is not a person to self-reflect.
2. Has self reflected; does know but is self correcting now. Wants to leave the past in the past because it cannot be changed; only the present and the future are changeable.
3. Does know but is scared that your knowing all the ugliness will cause end of relationship; having one more so-so day with you is so much better than getting kicked out and having no day whatsoever with you.

According to some of the websites I read the last two indicate that trust is a problem in the relationship. Of course, the betrayeds know this first hand as we cheaters have lied to you. But it is revealing that we unfaithfuls also don't trust you, the betrayed, either. We may think that you are not strong enough to handle the truth of our true nature. We unfaithful want some element of control and still have a chance at a relationship. So the I dunno becomes a coward's way of controlling the amount of pain that might happen. We think if we know our why's and are self-correcting, there is no need for you to ever know just how messed up inside we are. After all, who in their right mind, would hang around someone who is so effed-up? First, we will try to prove that we can re-train ourselves and then some day, when we think we have proved ourselves to be totally different than the ones who lived a lie(s) for some time, we will trust you enough to tell you just why we did what we did, how we did it, and when it started going wrong. But from our actions you'll know that we don't want to do it again and haven't ever repeated those mistakes.

Perhaps the easiest analogy is that we know we did wrong on many levels, probably more than you know or will ever know about, but on the same token, we, like puppy dogs, don't want to get beaten on the nose with a newspaper to correct us after we peed on the floor with the brand new white carpeting. We want to punish ourselves and correct ourselves because we don't want to have a fear of newspaper, we just want to re-train ourselves to doing that which is expected of us.


As a betrayed, you hit the nail on the head with the trust issue. Not only did I lack trust in my husband, he had lost trust in me. This not only let to the affair, but exacerbated it. When the reveals happened last year, we figured that party out quickly - my husband opened up about everything: the ugly, the crushing, the unbelievable. The lack of trust in the relationship was the true problem, and we have been rebuilding it over the past year.

Thank you for this

Thank you for this explanation Katherine! I keep getting the "I don't know why" response and I feel this really explains a lot.

Thank you, I suspected these

Thank you, I suspected these reasons on an intuitive level... I can tell he never anticipated how traumatized I would be. When it shows he looks like the whipped puppy so I make sure I have more good days than bad days. Truth about ourselves is always wincing matter unfaithful or betrayed. Constantly wailing and bemoaning our hurts does not create a safe space for unfaithful to bear their souls. We are so busy seeking to be understood we forget to understand.

Thanks for your input, Katherine

Your comments were helpful to me. Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you for your answer. I think it is a combination of the 3 things. However, it makes me feel as though my recovery is being controlled. I realize trust is a two way street, so is safety. I am working to be "safer" by being more approachable, calmer during conversations, and not attacking. But I am truly afraid until the questions are answered to at least a certain degree and the self reflexion is done healing will never be complete.

I don't know why

I understand your points, especially #1 and #2, but it is no help to recovery. Why someone would put everything they have worked for and have "loved" on the line for no other reason than "because it was there and it was just physical" gives nothing to the betrayed spouse but mistrust. It sounds like nothing but a cop-out. As an unfaithful spouse, if you truly want to rebuild what you have destroyed, take responsibility, accountability and honesty for your actions. Help to heal the pain you have caused by proving your trustworthiness and thoughtfulness, by proving your willingness to look at yourself and by examining the reasons "why". You may think you are being harassed but, from the other side, you are giving your spouse something to rationalize and to helpfully work with. If you want repair, then help to figure out what needs to be fixed.

"My jealousy flared because I

"My jealousy flared because I was assuming Stephanie’s motivations would be the same as my own. I was telling her what her motives were. I was telling her how she felt about things. I was even letting her know her own intentions, but none of my interpretations or accusations had any resemblance to Stephanie’s reality."

I am so guilty of this. The problem is I can't trust that my husband is being honest about his motivation or intentions behind his why. I think he's even lying to himself. He admits what he did was wrong and a betrayal but his intention behind his actions makes no sense at all. When you make a decision to keep a woman a secret from your wife, meet her in middle of the night for drinks and gambling, list her under a different contact name and text her right under my nose 100 + times a day, delete parts of messages, share secrets with her...it's pretty clear what his intentions were. His explanation is he just wanted someone to play blackjack with. And he says that with a serious face. It's been 2 years and he still sticks to that story. Part of me thinks he really has convinced himself that that is all it was. I will never accept that answer though. It's insulting on so many levels.


My husband was having a affair for 2 years.I found out after 3 months and he said it was finished.1 year later i found out he contacted her.I kicked him out.11 weeks later he came back in that time away he would text me how sorry he was and text and ring the children to say the same.Said he has nothing to do with her since he left.Then I found numerous things of evidence denied all of it and lied continuously.Next time I saw his phone on charge and thought I would look at,it was another phone just for her looks exactly like his other the phone.I read everything.Kicked him out again.This time for 3 months.He said it was finished with her as he has had a wake up call.I have since had him back because of his wake up call.Unfortunately I am not fine through this now as I have a lot of trouble trusting him.What he did before was so clever in the way he acted towards me and treated me that I find very hard if his still seeing her.


Thanks for this article. I am extremely guilty of comparing my puzzle to hers. As our therapist says, I'm very black and white looking for a simple, clear cut answer for her actions. I am slowly coming around to understanding the many layers of why/how it happened. (It's been a little over a year and countless couples therapy sessions) This article and the great analogies used, helped reaffirm what our therapist is always saying about just because I can point out how I see/do things in my "box" isn't the same as how she see's or does things in her "box" because we are 2 different people with very different backgrounds and childhoods. Thanks again


Dave I love reading the studies, the insight, and the revelations about human interactions that you provide. However why would Stephanie put herself at risk for completing your puzzle? Even if a person's agenda is pure the path to resistance creeps up without the person realizing the reality of the situation. What is the mechanism that allows us not to be concerned. I'm very confused on how to interpret this message.
My spouse also took up running with a person of the opposite sex and the emotional infidelity is rampant, however it is my fault that I am not trusting enough. And it my fault that my spouse needs to choose between having "just a friend" and a committed marriage.

It is very sad to see a spouse have a reason to be so vibrant each day that they get to spend with their friend and me well I'm like the trash. It's always around and routinely needs to be taken to the curb or dumpster.

What type of affair was it?

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