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

How Could You? Part I: Why We Commit Betrayal With Infidelity

How Could You? A Six Part Series on Why We Commit Betrayal with Infidelity

Part 1: Why We Commit Betrayal With Infidelity
Part 2: The Thought Processes That Lead to Betrayal
Part 3: Moral Justifications
Part 4: Doublespeak and Distorted Comparisons
Parts 5 and 6 coming in the following weeks!

The easiest–and cheapest–way to start on this journey is to take our free First Steps Bootcamp. It's an online guide with 100+ pages of content and a full-length video of a mentor couple who was in as big of a mess as it can get.

You'll take a big sigh of relief when you have a clear plan and learn that you're neither crazy nor alone in this journey, whichever side of the infidelity you find yourself on.

Two weeks ago, a woman screamed at her mate, "How could you?" She went on to scream more of the same questions we're probably all pretty familiar with by now: "How could you do this to our family?" "How could you jeopardize all that we've built together and worked for?" "How could you put the family at risk?" "How could you do this to not only me, but yourself?"

I remember, as the tears ran down her face and he hung his head in shame, asking myself "Why would you?" From all reports, he was a decent guy and she was a good woman. They seemed to have it all: beautiful children, a comfortable life style and yet, he had done something neither of them ever imagined would happen. Why?

Did he lack character? Was there something amiss in his moral development? Perhaps there was some sort of deep childhood wound at the core of his betrayal? Even so, I'm sure countless others have suffered similar wounds and they have not betrayed their mates with infidelity.

Betraying Their Own Morality

There is a looming question that I'd like to begin to unpack and address over the next few weeks.

It's not just how does someone commit a betrayal of infidelity on their mate, but how do they betray their own sense of morals and values? How do they suspend what was once a core value held dear to them, allowing themselves to have an affair or engage in behavior that once would have repulsed them?

In 1961, psychologist Stanley Milgram1 sought to discover the personality profile of those individuals in Nazi Germany who had marched millions of Jews, Poles, and misfits of their society into the gas chambers. Social psychologists estimated that only 1.2 percent of the population would fit that profile. To identify these individuals, an obedience experiment was conducted. Subjects were told they were part of an experiment determining the effectiveness of negative reinforcement in learning. Their role was to administer an electrical shock to a student in the adjacent room each time the student failed to supply the correct answer to a problem. Each time the student failed, the voltage of the shock was increased. While the subject couldn't see the student, they could hear a recording of what they thought was the student in the next room, screaming and begging them to stop.

To begin, the subjects were given a 45-volt shock as an example of what the first shock felt like, the same one that they would give the student upon missing the problem. They were also told the student had a heart problem, but the electrical shock would pose no danger to the student. With each missed problem, the subject would raise the voltage and flip the switch. (Remember, the student was not actually being shocked.) Many of the subjects paused at 135 volts and questioned the purpose of the experiment. Eventually, if the voltage levels exceeded 315 volts, the subject would hear nothing as he or she continued to raise the voltage, cruelly flipping the switch when they heard no answer to the problem given.

If at any time the subject tried to stop the experiment, a scientist in a lab jacket would inform him the experiment required him to continue. This was done up to four times. If the subject requested to stop the experiment a fifth time, the scientist would finally stop the experiment. Otherwise, the experiment stopped only after subject had given the maximum voltage of 450 volts.

Justifying Evil as Normal

Milgram believed that he would have to go through several hundred subjects to find those few individuals who would administer the maximum voltage. As it turned out, 65% of the subjects would inflict the maximum level of shock and pain! Milgram had not found a few sociopaths who would give their souls to a totalitarian and brutal cause; rather, he found a potential monster in all of us.

Why would "normal" American citizens act in the same way as Nazi guards who participated in putting millions to death? Why do we place such a premium on the approval of others even when they are strangers?

Some of you may be asking what this has to do with infidelity, but if a majority of "normal" people in Milgram's experiment were able to suspend their own sense of humanity to the point where they believed they may have killed someone, is it too far-fetched to see how individuals might also commit a betrayal they never thought possible?

Edmund Burke's adage, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing," needs a companion phrase: "The triumph of evil requires a lot of good people, doing a bit of [evil], in a morally disengaged way, with indifference to the human suffering they... cause."2

Over the next few weeks, we'll explore the process of moral disengagement and how individuals abandon what they believe, betray their loved ones, and allow themselves to act in ways they never thought imaginable. We'll also look at ways to stay true to what you believe.

If you find yourself in a situation where the unimaginable has occurred, there is hope for recovery and for understanding. Take advantage of our Affair Recovery resources that will accompany you on this journey. It doesn't have to be something you go through alone. We have multiple online resources for you to check out: Recovery Library Memberships, Harboring Hope and Hope Rising for betrayed spouses, Hope for Healing for unfaithful spouses, our free First Steps Bootcamp for individuals and couples, and our EMS Online course for couples.

If you're in crisis and want to accelerate your healing, join us at our EMS Weekend. You'll experience three full days that address your struggles with experts who have been through infidelity before personally, will absolutely bring restoration to you, and possibly to your marriage. There is no weekend like ours in the country, I can assure you of that. We are currently sold out through February, but our March weekend still has a few spots left! Learn more here: https://www.affairrecovery.com/product/ems-weekend

EMS Online registration opens next week on January 8th at 12:00 PM Central Time USA. Subscribe to be notified.
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  1. Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4), 371-378. doi:https://doi.org/10.1037/h0040525
  2. Selective Moral Disengagement in the Exercise of Moral Agency: Albert Bandura 2002



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Unfaithful is not sorry

I see your offers of healing programs not only for we, the betrayed but, for the unfaithful as well. As I go through this storm, my problem is understanding why my unfaithful spouse professes his love for his affair partner to me and his continued lying after 2 years? He is not sorry nor does he believe he needs counseling? So, how do I get him to even consider the unfaithful healing program if he feels he's without an issue?
Thank you

No way

This sounds like you are just making excuses for the unfaithful. Poor unfaithful he made a mistake and electrocuted me without one once of guilt. Now he is sorry after I'm dead

While I can absorb the innate

While I can absorb the innate tendency to set aside humanity of unseen, unknown strangers, I have real difficulty with this experiment as a metaphor for betraying the person you swore to love and vowed to protect, let alone the safety and security of one's flesh and blood, underaged, innocent and vulnerable children who depend upon you for their lives and emotional security.

Yes, you expect the

Yes, you expect the unfathomable from an enemy or the selfishness of a complete stranger but not someone who is suppose to protect you from the enemy. Who has invested years into a relationship and their children only to destroy it all for words and sex if another who is just that, an object to use. Guess, it boils down to the deception of the unfaithful. Hiding, lying and deceiving themselves and especially the betrayed with who they really are/were. Meaning if I had know all the things about my spouse that he hid from me for our entire relationship then him having an affair would be no surprise cause it would be consistent with who he is/was. It’s devastating to learn that many years were lost to a fake person.

Let's not overcomplicate something so simple

I think we overcomplicate this. . . we all have choices to make every day. Betrayal always starts with a choice.

Not Overcomplicate!

I totally agree with your statement. I also believe that every action or word spoken begins with our individual choice.

I agree with SadChristine. I

I agree with SadChristine. I have racked my brain over and over trying to think of why he did it and how he could have. How he could just blow off his family. I was eager to read the article and was disappointed. Evil? Yes. Being heartless and thoughtless for one's own thrill and pleasure is evil, that's a given. Over the years of our marriage I have had opportunity and temptation but I could not take that pleasure because I knew how much pain it could cause him and if he is in pain I am as well. Since Sept on Dday I sometimes feel like I must have married a man with split or multiple personality disorder. How could he. That question is tormenting.


Every person who betrays another, had to first betray themselves and their own beliefs & values. Thank you for beginning a conversation that will help many people begin to unpack just what went wrong inside & where they left themselves unguarded to allow self-betrayal and eventually betrayal of their mate. Understanding this is crucial to any formerly unfaithful individual who wants to make sure they never EVER repeat the past and hurt their mate again. Looking forward to the rest of the articles in the series.

The Betrayer

I have a huge sense of guilt and this article makes so much since. For me, as the woman in the relationship, I kept coming back to what is wrong with me, why would I do this? I still honestly don’t have an answer and it sucks. I hate it for everyone who has had to deal with someone being unfaithful. I just feel the lowest of the low like I don’t deserve to be here. I try to be happy for my kids but feel guilty for that. It’s all so frustrating and difficult to unpack and I believe that men are far less forgiving than women. It’s been almost 3 years since I came clean with everything and he still doesn’t trust me. It’s been 8 years since any betrayal. I honestly don’t see how we will get through.

What type of affair was it?

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