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: coming soon!

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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 to yourself?"

I remember, as the tears ran down her face, and he hung his head in shame. I asked 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 lifestyle, 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 the question of how does someone commit a betrayal of infidelity on their mate, but also 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, and allow 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 others they deemed as 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, and each time the student failed, the voltage of the shock would increase. While the subject couldn't see the student, they could hear a recording of what they assumed was the student in the next room, screaming and begging them to stop.

To begin, the subjects being tested were given a 45-volt shock as an example of what the first shock would feel like to 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 flipped the switch as the voltage continued to climb. (Remember, the student was not actually being shocked; the subject was led to believe the student was being shocked.) Many of the subjects paused at 135 volts and questioned the purpose of the experiment. If the voltage level exceeded 315 volts, the subject would hear nothing but silence, and he or she would still be expected to flip the switch when a wrong answer was 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 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 with an evil-enough profile to carry out such (seeming) torture. As it turned out, 65 percent of the subjects inflicted the maximum level of shock! Milgram had not found a few sociopaths who would give their souls to a totalitarian and brutal cause as expected; rather, he found a potential monster in the majority of those tested!

Why would "normal" American citizens act in the same way as Nazi guards who actively 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 of epic proportions?

Over the next several 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, or to regain that moral compass and trust yourself again.

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 look into: Harboring Hope and Hope Rising for betrayed 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.

Harboring Hope registration opens monthly. Subscribe to be notified.

Harboring Hope is our online course for betrayed spouses to heal after infidelity. It often sells out within a few short hours. Don't miss it!

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Nit the right argument

This experiment was done to judge what people do under someone they deem as authoritative over them. It was their choice to have an affair. No one made them. This is just excuses….

sometimes there is no core

sometimes there is no core moral value that would prohibit any acts that are counter to the vows spoken during the wedding ceremony. However if the other spouse does have these moral values, the betrayal is that much more devastating.

What type of affair was it?

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