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

Why Did My Spouse Cheat? A Crucial Question In Healing After An Affair

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How often have you done something you didn't want to do? Behavior doesn't always equal motive, and the motives behind cheating are vast and complicated. However, I would like to offer insight into the most common questions after the affair. If you're still left wondering, "Why?" take our free Affair Analyzer online for a personalized plan of action for surviving infidelity and healing after an affair.

Why did this happen?

There's no way to determine one Why; a lifetime can be spent searching for the Why. The complexity lies in the multitude of factors driving that choice. For some, the infidelity is caused by baggage brought into the marriage, or it's a bad response to existing marriage problems. Rather than addressing issues head on, someone may use some form of infidelity as the solution to their dilemma. At times, it's about an addiction and, at times, it can even be situational, where someone does something careless in the moment and then feels trapped and unable to disentangle themselves. The "why" is a central question when it comes to healing after an affair.

What does the other person have that I don't?

The other person has many things that you don't, just as you have many things they don't. You're not all that, but neither is the person with whom they had the affair. What changes is how we view the other person. Typically, people enjoy how the affair partner makes them feel. Affair partners tend to serve as a vanity mirror and the mate as a makeup or magnifying mirror. This is why the affair partner seems to be the preferred commodity, even though, in the long run, it's just an illusion. The fact is: you possess 80% of the characteristics your mate wants while the affair partner only has 20% of what they want. Leaving the 80 for the 20 isn't very smart.

Why would they risk our happy life?

In all honesty, there is a good chance the person who's acting out isn't even thinking about risking a life of calm and serenity for the excitement of being with someone else. The compartmentalization that most addicts utilize separates the two realities in their mind. The risk is part of what brings the excitement, but the reality of losing everything they hold dear doesn't really hold any weight in the moment. At one level, they may be aware that they could lose everything, but the reality of that possibility doesn't really register in their mind.

It's a difficult concept to explain to someone who's not an addict. It's like trying to describe light or color to a blind person. You can tell them what it's like, but unless you experience it, then it's hard to believe someone could actually think this way. The person who lives like this still knows that what they're doing is wrong, but they have to make the choice to own up to it. What happens after the affair is an afterthought.

Why don't they feel any guilt?

Only a very small percentage of the population experiences no guilt when acting out. The vast majority does feel the prick of conscience, but they use defense mechanisms to push that guilt away. Blaming, victim thinking, minimization, rationalization, and denial are techniques used as a way to justify their actions. If they have resentment toward their mate, they may justify their actions by feeling their mate deserves it. If they've been doing the behavior for a longer period of time, their heart may have become hardened to the behavior, and it no longer seems that bad.

A lack of remorse doesn't mean they have no conscience. It can be an indication that somehow, in their mind, they have come up with a way to justify what they've done in order to avoid taking responsibility for their failure.

Did they ever really love me?

This one is hard to answer. It all depends on how you define love. One thing is for certain, if someone betrays their mate, I know that what they've done is not loving. However, I believe every human being is capable of loving someone while at the same time acting in ways that are selfish and contrary to love.

On the other hand, I believe many people have a very shallow understanding of love. They get married thinking they love their mate, but in reality, they love how their mate makes them feel about themselves. If that's the case, they will continue in the relationship as long as the marriage continues to make them happy. But if, for whatever reason, the marriage ceases to make them happy, or if they find someone or something that makes them feel even better, then it won't be long until the allure of something new draws them elsewhere.

If that occurs, does it mean they never loved you? Again, it's hard to know another's heart, but it is possible that their journey into the forbidden may have also opened their eyes after the affair and helped them realize that you're what they really cherish. At the very least, if they are choosing to work on the relationship, I believe their betrayal and your response may be the very thing that begins to teach them the true meaning of love. Many times, healing after an affair involves discovering what real love is.

What were they thinking?

Sad to say, if they had really been thinking and considering the impact of their actions, there is a good chance they never would have done this. I can't tell you how many times I've heard both men and women state that if they had known the consequences of their actions before they had acted, then they would have never done it. I think very few people rightly consider all the costs when they act out. For your sake and theirs, I wish they had been thinking. I'd have less people to help, but the world would be a happier place.

These questions and others are very common in the early stages of recovery. I think we want to be very careful about the information we want to know, or what we think we want to know, because we can end up piling on all the feelings of victimization and powerlessness. Sometimes, these questions can feed our obsession for more and more details that really may not be helpful.

I do believe that you need to be able to put your arms around what happened how long an affair went on, and the specific details of the affair, but I want to encourage you to avoid questions that lead to comparison and obsession. There's no doubt in my mind that you need to ask questions about emotional, physical, financial, and psychological safety. However, I think questions that help you both discover the meanings and the motives behind the affair are more helpful to you, your spouse, and your relationship. Questions like, "What did the affair mean to you?" "Why do you think it happened when it did? "Were you looking for it?" "Do you feel guilty?" "What have you learned about yourself?" "What have you learned about yourself in relationship since the affair?" "Did you ever worry that the affair would destroy us?" Questions like this can be really helpful.

If you're a wayward spouse and having trouble answering questions like these and navigating the turbulent process of recovery, I'd like to ask you to consider enrolling in Affair Recovery's Hope for Healing online course. The last thing you need is a program or curriculum which doesn't address deception, transparency, empathy, or the pain you are both feeling. This course will not only support you in your recovery but will provide specific insight into what the future can look like for you.

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This isn't another light-and-fluffy program that only scratches the surface of your pain. The EMS Weekend Experience is a safe space for you and your partner to start putting the pieces of your life back together, transform your trauma and begin healing from infidelity. Skeptical about the effectiveness of this experience? Don't be! Backed by a slew of previous participant testimonials, EMS Weekend delivers results month after month for countless couples.

During EMS Weekend, we won't shame the unfaithful spouse nor blame the betrayed spouse. What we will do is pair you with a small community of other couples and an expert therapist - all of whom have experienced infidelity firsthand - as well as provide comprehensive resources to help you kick-start your healing journey.

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Why did I cheat?

I have asked myself that a thousand times and sad to say I do not know why. I have loved my husband for 32 years and I maintain that I never stopped loving him throughout my affair. He keeps saying that if I did love him then I would not have done what I did. That is true. My actions revealed that I did not love him, but my heart never stopped loving him. He is the most tender, considerate, godly man that I know, helped me raise four children and has always adored me. So why did I do what I did? I don't know. What I am afraid is admitting to myself that I was shallow, weak and selfish, and I really can not blame him for anything that he did or "was" to cause me to get entrapped in an affair. I certainly mishandled whatever my frustrations were in the marriage, and now a year out from discovery we are still in a hell. I have caused my husband to feel worthless, nothing, ugly, and I am still trying to help him stand up from the blow that I hit him with. I wonder if I will ever find out why I did it, and I may never discover the reason. I do know that I have to lay my life down for my husband and rebuild that trust which I totally destroyed. It is a long and painful journey for which I have wished was over, but know it may never be

What was I thinking?

I can relate to this comment. I always loved my husband. I could never really understand why I was so unhappy in my marriage. I regret everything I have done to hurt my husband. I was unhappy before my affair, the affair didn’t make me happy, and now after disclosure I am in complete and total hell. I don’t know I will ever find happiness especiallly since I am reminded everyday how much I was lived and how terrible of a person I am.

Why did my spouse cheat?

i found out 3/12 years ago that my wife had been having numerous affairs and "flings" over a 12 year period. i am a minister. i say that to only let others know that this can happen to anyone. the WHY is the thing that has caused me the most anguish. thanks for this article it shed's some light.

Destroyed and it can't be put back together

I almost think I could have forgiven the infidelity. What I couldn't forgive was the complete destruction of my faith in his ability to tell me the truth. I discovered the affairs (mainly hookers, massage therapists(!), and one short-lived "fling") - accidentally. It has been 15 months and while I tried very hard to get past his infidelities - I couldn't get past how he looked me right in the eye and lied to me - over and over. The marriage is over because I am trying to hold on to whatever shred of dignity I have left. My husband is much younger - he will just pick up and move on (despite his protests of that not happening). How do I say good-bye to someone who I thought was my best friend, the person that I was going to see the world with, the person whose face was going to be the last thing I saw on this earth? I don't know. All I know is, I am crushed beyond hope of repair. I would have taken a bullet for this man - I believed in his integrity so completely. Now - I don't know what I will ever believe in again. Worse, I don't know *how* I can ever believe in anything again. I don't mean this as some dramatic statement. I quite literally don't know "how" to do that. This is what infidelity does. It destroys a soul that loved.

I see it has been 6 years

I see it has been 6 years since you posted this and Im doubtful I will get a response but if you do see this I would love to know where you are now. This is exactly how I feel at this point in time even the fact that my husband is younger is identical. I really cant imagine how Im supposed to live again yet alone love. I am absolutely crushed and barely functioning. I have lost hope. My own thoughts amd feelings sometimes frighten me and other times I feel too dead inside to care about anything. I hope you have found the healing you so deserve

Why is definitely the hardest part

4 years ago I learned of my wife's unfaithfulness. She insisted that she loved me all along. It took quite a long time but I did eventually reach the point where I could separate what she thought of me, how she felt about me, etc. from her decisions that seem to indicate the opposite.

Her why ultimately mapped back to her self-steem. She met this man who saw that she was at a point in her life when she was struggling with how she felt about herself and he took full advantage of that situation to get what he wanted. Her choices and decisions were her's to own, and it took some time to do that. Three things help me get over the why hurdle.

1. We both came to appreciate that I could never compete with him, regardless of who he was. When they got together, that were on a date. Always perfectly groomed, always 100% focused on how they were making each other feel, etc. They were running a household together, taking care of sicj children together, etc. A spouse can't complete with that. Ultimately my wife came to the point where she could objectively understand that. And when she articulated that to me, it really helped.

2. She ultimately came to appreciate that I was definitely the better person. Her affair partner had such little respect for himself that he was willing to share his lover. I was not willing to do that. Once my wife had enough distance to understand and appreciate that, it helped us to further move past the why.

3. I know some parts of this process are very personalized. I needed my wife to apologize for the physical danger that she put me in. As she allowed the affiar partner to build feelings for her, she had no idea what he might be ultmately willing to do to keep her in his life. It was a risk that was introduced into my life regarding which I had no voice. Her specific apology around this in conjunction with the two points above really helped us move forward.


no excuse

wow, in the past 2 months I have been asking God this very same question, and I believe HE answered it right here for me. I probably won't know the reason why- HE wants us to focus on restoration. My husband's affair was revealed almost 2 years ago. We separated, did therapy, lived through some hard times, sold our home, moved, but now...are rebuilding. We are just now, really becoming friends again. It takes time. I thank you for this resource.

no risk, no reward

I have found that my desperate attempts to understand why my husband cheated have only yielded frustration (he does not know, or is not willing to explore, the reasons an affair became possible) and disappointment. After a year of soul searching and reading LOTS of books, I have to admit that at some point you have to LET GO of what you cannot control (your spouse or the AP) and start again to build the relationship you desire. Go for what you want - if your spouse can't get with the program, no big deal - find the happiness within.

Can't live with it.

In August of 2011 I found out my wife had several affairs and had gotten pregnant and had an abortion. She was also diagnosed with bi-polar disorder (I'm skeptical about that). I blew my top, ended up in a mental health hospital for a week against my will. I never had any intention of hurting myself or anyone else. My entire world was shattered. I moved out for almost 5 months. I decided to give her another chance because I love her and for the sake of my children. But here I am now because I don't feel the love from her. There is no passion. She never touches me. She shows no desire for me. There is no intimacy. I've tried on many occasions to talk with her about these feelings and voice my concerns. But nothing seems to change. I think about the past and it only compounds my fears and frustrations. I'm not happy and I'm certain she isn't either. I want out. But when I imagine the look on my 6 year old sons face when it's time for me to go, it kills me. I feel I should have never come back to her. I don't know what to do. I love that women with all that I am. I would die for her. But I can't live in a marriage like this.

Did they really love me?

That is a question that I am now facing. Is the love for the other person the true love that they believes it is? Does God allow for these things to further his glory? These are questions asked over and over again. When a spouse professes that the love is from God, how do you discuss that?

In Sept of 2011 I discovered

In Sept of 2011 I discovered my wife was speaking to another man she had met on Facebook. The person was an old boyfriend from high school, who has a lengthy prison record and a history of manipulation and control issues. She moved out at the end of Sept and in with him. We spoke and had contact with each other until Nov when all contact ceased. My wife will not speak to me and has little contact with our children or friends. She left our church and our hometown and recently was fired from her job of 19 years. She had me served with divorce papers 2 day befor christmas adding lots of holiday cheer. I still love my wife and do not want a divorce but she refuses any chance at contact with me. Our children are angry with her and refuse to have any contact with the other person. She attended two personal counsiling sessions and never returned. She wants to know how she became the bad person in all of this. I fear for the relationship between my wife and children, they have made it known to me that she is free to visit them only if she is alone. They have stated they will never visit her or attend any family function as long as she is with him. We have been together for almost 30 years marriage and dating and I can't believe it is coming to an end. Her relationship with the other may be becoming abusive although she denies this, but myself and my oldest son and her family have witnessed his verbal abuse towards her over the phone. There have also been numerous accidents resulting injuries over the last 4 months. Finacially I can not afford sessions but have used lots of free resources to try and cope with this situation. Believe me this is just the tip of the iceberg and I hope and pry that all is not lost.


I don't know if anyone will

I don't know if anyone will read this but hopefully I receive something from it or it helps someone else. I cheated on my gf, mother of my child, over the last 14 years. I really can't give a reason for it except that it was for a selfish pleasure. In doing this, I have destroyed a family, moved out of the home I lived in with my family, and have exposed myself to way too much alcohol. I thought if I did this it would all be good, well its not. I cant tell you the pain your ex is feeling,  but I myself am devestated. I am finally starting to forgive myself, and only through Gods grace. I still breakdown and run in a bathroom to cry, but I know the healing has began. I don't know what the future has in store, but keep your head up. Let yourself forgive, you dont have to forget, if you cheated forgive yourself. I dont know if anyone else is going through this torment, but it is  aliving hell. I wish everyone the best.


I just found out my husband has been cheating on me with his ex-wife. She came to me because she said she felt guilty, she confessed to me and her boyfriend. My husband denies everything, but i was able to see the video of him driving into her complex and visiting her while i was at school. she knew things only someone of an intimate nature would know. I know he did it and although she has admitted they never actually had intercourse it did take place several times at her place and at ours. We have seven beautiful children, I am a full time student, work as a paralegal from home, I cook, clean, handle all the bills, take care of the children and we had a great sex life well at least i thought it was, whenever and whatever he wanted he got. I am really having a hard time understanding why. After reading what you said I can see how that may never be answered. but how am i suppose to move forward and try to save my marriage when he will not even admit what he has done. He has become so much more of a help since this came to light. He never had to do anything but go to work come home and relax in his garage, i handled it all, he has been offering to help clean up, and put groceries away. He has told me he doesn't want a divorce and he will do whatever it takes to keep me here. yet he will not admit it. what should I do, I am not sure I can get past this without discussing it with him and him confessing it. I need to be able to move past this.

I'm a little surprised to see

I'm a little surprised to see a betrayed spouse reading "you're not all that."

I am confused as to how that messaging is supposed to be helpful to a person struggling with a sense of rejection and not being good enough.

Also surprised by wording!

I couldn't agree more with Glen W! The wording, "you're not all that" is both unacceptable and triggering to a betrayed spouse suffering the devastating consequences and trauma of their spouses affair. While the article covered some of the significant questions a spouse has in the wake of an affair, and the answers provided were insightful, the wording referenced had no place. Maybe you could edit?

I completely agree…..

I completely agree…..

little surprised to see

I too was set back from the comment that the victim "is not all that". After all the unfaithful has no clear or fair perception of reality much less seeing their spouse for who they really. Remember at one time they did with a sound mind,and in most cases were building a bond and and making a moral decision to be faithful and committed till death do you part, years before getting married. and the affair partner, their not even 20% of who you are, people that will cheat with a married person is below ground zero. It takes a sick and unstable mind to cheat. My unfaithful husband is divorcing me because of his shame, guilt and pride. He wasn't man enough to tell me to my face he wanted a divorce because he cheated,(of course he denied he was cheating for some time only till after i confirmed it did he admit to it) he did it by phone, its coming up on 3 years this
May since he blindsided me, and he still physically can not look me in the face,I'm a reminder of, mirror of what he did. He's crawled under some rock down in NM,(I'm in the northern states). i spent these last years trying to learn something about an unfaithful mind, affair recovery has been a helpful tool, My husband is infidelity 101 , from the delusional excuses he has told me why he all of the sudden was unhappy and needed to cheat. we did have a good marriage and great life prior to his infidelity, he was a faithful and committed man. Mid life crisis is mans analogy, but it is just sin. The best thing i did was get a closer relationship with our Lord, nothing in this wicked world is better then the peace we have with Jesus, i encourage all victims to be born again in Christ, you will never regret it here or in the after life, and yes there is an after life and its up to us to seek it. There is absolutely no excuse for cheating, and its not about me or our marriage why he was not able to control himself. Its all about selfishness and blaming others for their poor choices. I pray each night for all the victims in this world, mostly i pray they find Gods peace. It was 1000 days ago this past Saturday i was blindsided, i was completely devastated and everyday i still live with the pain. but believe me when i tell you, they are trying their hardest to convince the world they've never been happier, its all part of deceptive world that they live in, believe it, it is true. i can see it thro his credit card statements. For all who are new in this and even us veterans find some comfort in that. You cant live in darkness, sin, and be right with the Lord. Sin catches up to you. There is no satisfaction or future where he is going. I still want my marriage, 1st because of my commitment to God, 2nd my commitment to myself, but the man i married doesnt exist anymore, that to is in Gods hands. No bitterness, no anger, no revenge , besides i dont need to be, because he( my still husband) has been taking care of all that, on some level i have
a lot of sympathy for him knowing what he lives with that inside of him each day. it took me well over 2 years to to get where i am at, and i still have horrible melt downs, so my prayer to all is find Gods peace , no one on this earth will ever love you as deep as our Heavenly Father does, and he promises he will always be faithful, and he does not lie. God's peace to all the victims and may a strong christian come into the lives of the unfaithful and the Holy Spirit dwell within them.

I agree

That is not very helpful for the betrayed spouse! That just makes it worse in my eyes.


As a betrayed spouse(I no longer consider our vows valid), I find these answers involving percentages hurtful. You tell us on so many videos, not to compare ourselves to the affair partners or porn, yet you give I’d percentages of how “good enough” we were/are?
How does that NOT trigger the betrayed into the,” I’m not good enough..” spitral?
I say this because as I was searching in this shrines night for validation and guidance, I found this. When I read it, I was instantly triggered…. And by the comment I read, so were they…..

I’m so confused and even more in turmoil…. I’m missing 20%…… and I’ll never be enough then……
Death would be better.

Hey Kelly - if you feel you

Hey Kelly - if you feel you are a threat to yourself, please reach out to the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255, please take care. To healing, The Hope-Now Team

You are so right!

I agree with every word you said. Too much blaming in the guise of ‘not blaming’.

You are so right!

I agree with every word you said. Too much blaming in the guise of ‘not blaming’.

Also surprised

While the article was insightful, I agree with Glen W that the comment, "you're not all that" was not only hurtful, but very unhelpful, and triggering especially for the betrayed spouse suffering from the trauma of their spouses infidelity and unwanted sexual behaviors. More care and sensitivity needs to be applied in all aspects in the handling of the trauma the betrayed spouse is suffering. This is significant for the healing process to occur. Please be aware of this in all messaging and future articles/publications as you move forward in your work here to support the betrayed spouse in their recovery. Thank you.

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