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

Why Did My Spouse Cheat?

Maybe it’s because we’re at the first week of the new “911 Marriage” session, but this question keeps coming up. Also, questions like:

  • Why did she do it and how could she do that and still want to be with me and love me?
  • I just want to understand why it happened? What does the other person have that I don't?
  • Why would they risk a life of calm and serenity for excitement with someone who is so messed up and trashy?
  • Why do men or women cheat and have no conscience about it?
  • Did he ever really love me?
  • How does a betrayer think? (i.e. WHAT were you THINKING??!!!!)

Therefore, I’ll take a shot at trying to answer some of the questions.

 

Why did she do it and how could she do that and still want to be with me and love me?

 

Behavior doesn’t equal motive. How often have you done something you didn’t want to do? Happens all the time. And while infidelity is horrible, it is certainly something that people can get into and then discover it’s not what they really wanted.

All too frequently we can follow emotions, falsely believing we want something, only to discover once we have it, that it’s not what we want at all. In the moment of truth, when the mistake is discovered, it’s too late. Loyalty bonds have been broken, hearts crushed, vows shattered.

For the hurt spouse, the question remains, “How could you, if you really cared?” The fact is, the caring has little or nothing to do with what they’ve done. What they did happened in spite of the caring. A tragic aspect of these situations is how they actually reveal to the unfaithful mate what they really wanted all along.

The larger issue is usually for the hurt spouse. It may be painful to believe their mate really does care about them because then they might be compelled to consider re-entering the relationship. Time is the only commodity which can reveal the truth. If you’re what they really want, then they’ll go the distance and give you the necessary space to heal.

 

I just want to understand why it happened. What does the other person have that I don't?

 

There’s no way to determine the why this year. A lifetime can be spent searching for the why. There are as many reasons why as there are stars in the sky. The complexity lies in the multitude of factors driving that choice.

For some, the infidelity is caused by baggage brought into the marriage. At times it’s a maladaptive response to problems in the marriage. 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. I’m certainly not minimizing harmful and hurtful behaviors, but it is possible to end up where you don’t want to be.

The other person has many things that you don’t, just as you have many things they don’t possess. Hypothetically speaking, I believe that humans have 20 possible characteristics, but every individual has only 10 of those 20 characteristics and whichever 10 you chose in another, also brings a unique set of negatives. You’re not all that, but neither is the person with whom they had the affair. All that 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 mirror. Which is why the affair partner seems to be the preferred commodity, but in the long run it’s just an illusion.

 

Why would they risk a life of calm and serenity for excitement with someone who is so messed up and trashy?

 

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 a bit 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. However, please don’t hear me saying this is an excuse for this type of behavior. The person who lives like this still does know what they’re doing is wrong and there are ways to deal with their reality, but they have to make that choice.

 

Why do men or women cheat and have no conscience about it?

 

I think the author of this question may be asking why do people cheat and have no guilt regarding their actions. Only a very small percentage of the population experience no guilt when acting out. The vast majority feel the prick of conscience, but they use defense mechanisms to push that guilt away.

They can use defense mechanisms such as blaming, victim thinking, minimization, rationalization, or denial as a way to justify their actions and push the guilt away. If they have resentments 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 he ever really love me?

 

This one is hard to answer. It all depends on how you define love. One thing for certain, if someone betrays their mate, I know what they’ve done is not loving. However, I believe every human being is capable of loving someone and at the same time, in a moment of selfishness, act in ways that are contrary to love. Loving your mate in no way precludes you from being angry with them and saying something hurtful. I understand that saying something hurtful certainly isn’t in the same league as a betrayal, but if your love for your mate isn’t sufficient to keep you from acting in a way that’s unloving towards them, then their love for you may not be sufficient to keep them from doing something hurtful to you.

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 doing something else begins to draw 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 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.

 

How does a betrayer think? (i.e. WHAT were you 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 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 business, but the world would be a safer place.

What do you think?
Please let me know if you find this format helpful. I’ve never tried answering questions in the newsletter, but if it’s something you think is worthwhile, then please take a moment and leave me a comment below. If you don’t like this format I’d appreciate your feedback about what would work best for you.

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Comments

comment on question format

I like this question/answer format.  It gets right to the burning questions that tend to consume those of us who have been betrayed.  I do not always like some of Rick's answers, nevertheless, it remains helpful.  I often feel that Rick is slightly soft on the betrayer and pushes the faithful partner to buck up, look harder to change and not grieve as much as we need.  I am working like a dog to mend my marriage, but I will NEVER get over the betrayal, as it is now the legacy of my 39 year marriage. Also, I know with 100% certainty, I do not have to take even 1% of the blame for my spouse's betrayal. 

Yvonne

answering questions

I think it's a good try - but each situation is unique so trying to answer these questions in a global way is more salt in the wound of all those possibilities that keep bouncing around in my head of all the unknowns over years.  I think that what needs to be addressed is genuine communication techniques.  I don't really know - who really wants to talk about this- I have reached my fatigue level after 10 months the avoidance has worn me down.  I won't ever really know anything clearly or trust again - at least that's how it feels to me.  I'm fifty years old and I have put in 30 years for what?  I'm not sure, I'm just trying to salvage what self respect there might be hiding in me.

Thank you for the Q&A. I

Thank you for the Q&A. I struggle so much with this question. Daily, I ask myself: How could he do this if he really  loved me? I can't fathom hurting someone I love in this way. Your answers help me find compassion because there are days I really want to write him off as an evil person. It hurts so much. I read this Q&A and began to see him as a flawed individual. Your answers help me to feel there is nothing wrong with me. I struggle with feeling inadequate, some how less than the other women. I can read this and know I am not over reacting and other people feel the same things I feel. You are helping me heal...Thank you.

JLC Brentwood, TN

Thank you

Hi Rick, thank you for answering some of the most "burning" questions...the ones that take over our minds, those of us who have been betrayed. I feel many of your answers "explain" quite a bit, and probably very accurately, even with the many variables that cause a person to betray their spouses.  I think your answers help me a lot on an "informational" or "clinical" level... what is so difficult for many of us (betrayed spouses) to understand is the mind of someone who has addictions, or egos, or low self esteem, or a lapse in good judgement, etc...  Sometimes, I can step back and identify what happened rather objectively (many of your answers in this newsletter match my experience).  Even with my Christian perspective, I can chalk it up to our sinful human nature... and momentarily it takes the pain away... But only temporarily.   It's such a struggle to know how to move on, and to find the endurance to move on...  My husband's refusal to address his addictions (sex, porn, and credit) and his lies and his lack of communication with me...the effects of his verbal abuse and accusing me of all the things he struggled with... the many years in counseling sessions and his sheer avoidance of addressing anything despite the opportunities to..., justifying his own way of escaping...it astounds me and boggles my mind to the point of temporary insanity at times.

I would like to see my husband come to answer these questions himself - to himself, and to me... the hurt continues to compound because he is so slow to seek out these answers (my counselor says, it's because it is too painful for him, - he deals with the guilt everyday)...It's frustrating because he seems to set his boundaries to just where he wants them, but without regard for what I need....  And in the meantime, I'm emotionally exhausted trying to slay these dragons/questions daily....  I realize there is no good reason or explanation... but, really Rick, my most burning question is "What do I do to get over this?"  How long does it take for my emotions to heal?  I'm doing everything I can, but it is not working?  I feel like "Humpty Dumpty" who cannot be put back together.  I'm frankly tired of people talking about the victim mentality in a hurt spouse but when someone stabs your heart it hurts and you bleed!  Why does his brokeness seem to hurt me more than him?  How can I get that to stop?  How do I heal?

 

Questions & Answers

This was very helpful to me where I am in my healing journey.  However, had I read this same article even 6 months ago it might have made me angry.  I think it is important to realize where you are in your journey.  The initial anger and pain is so unexpected and mind blowing.  It is hard to even function.  Everything seems like an excuse for the unfaithful partner.  But I have noticed that as I begin the process of real healing, after the extreme pain and anger begin to subside, these questions and answers help with the healing process.  You need to be at a stage where you are ready to hear them.  I have found that when I allow myself to ride through the pain and I ask for God to hold me and get me through it then the pain lessens each time.  Hang in there, feel the feelings, ask God for his comfort and it will get better-maybe not today-but it will get better.

The Letter

My husband told me that he wrote his lover a letter telling her that he wanted to make his marriage work.  He also told her that he wanted no more communication with her.  After he told me this last October, I asked him if he would write me a letter telling me why he wanted to stay in our marriage.  He refused.  And one year later still will not do what I asked.  Last week she texted him.  He told me about it, so I asked him to text her back and tell her that he loved me and not to contact him again.  I watched him do this.  In your opinion, why would he not write me that letter, even after a year.   And do you think that he actually wrote her a letter or is lying to keep his "best friend"?

 

 

D day was April 09, the

D day was April 09, the affair began in Aug 07.  We've been maried 18 years with two pre-teens children.  Life was stressful, we ran a business together and never could get it off the ground, we struggled financially (and still do-even worse now) and I was never in the mood for sex and showed him very little affection, and I realize now, very little respect.  I am blessed he stuck around so long. 

As his affair was kickign off, I started losing weight, stopped medication that I had no idea caused such a lack of sex drive, and started to feel much better about myself.  And I started to initiate sex and affection.  So for a year of the affiar, I was 'changing' into a better person - ironically without knowing what was going on. 

He is not sure he wants to try to work it out. 

How can he be so unwilling at an attempt for peace in his life? 

How could you still.........

I can take at least some comfort in thinking they wouldn't have done it if they'd been thinking, he did tell me if he'd known then what he now knows and things he's found out, it'd never happened! So I live the rest of my life kicking myself for not letting him know how much I really loved him instead of kicking him out, which is when this happened!

Addiction

My husband, the betrayer, has always been very comfortable talking about sex, appears to have a large sexual appetite, express thoughts such as " no two people can be involved and not have sex", and he always told me if I ever denied him sex he could get it elsewhere. Now that he has betrayed me, our marriage and our family do his comments and his betrayal indicate a "sex addiction" ?

Very useful. The Q&A format is helpful.

This was useful as I'm trying to process and survive a betrayal. Thanks Rick.

Multiple affairs

This letter was very helpful, thanks Rick. Not sure if you can answer this in a future article, but what about people that have multiple affairs, even years apart? My wife had two affairs before we met, which I knew of one. But then had another one in our marriage, 6-7 years after her first two. Obviously she didn't learn squat from the first "mistake" as she called them. When does it become an addiction?? She said that she enjoyed it like a game. She lived a total double life. I'd like to hear your thoughts on the multiple affair issue. Thanks for all you do.

Still wondering

So it's been 6 months since disclosure and my wife -- while still with me physically, wearing her wedding ring and going to counseling -- still lacks the remorse that I feel she should have. She rarely says she is sorry, unless the subject is brought up (which makes her angry or uncomfortable and she justifies her actions by saying we had marital problems) and she always says she is "trying" to love me again.

I am thankful she is "trying" but it is frustrating that the pain I feel over her emotional affair has not led to her being more pro-active in "trying" to reconnect. I know that I am not a fun guy to be around right now (and the last few years have been very tough on me after losing a couple of jobs and being unemployed for long bouts -- which have been HUGE self-esteem blows and made me angry at God which spilled over into my marriage and family) so I can only see why she wouldn't want to even "try" to fall back in love with me. What do I have to offer? Obviously not the excitement of the infidelity that the other man offered.

So I am trying myself to change my attitude and move forward from the past, but I still wonder. I wonder when she will just give up and quit trying. When she will realize that her marriage of 21-plus years is over and done and it's time to completely check out once and for all. I know I need to concentrate on my health and my relationship with Jesus and just let God work on my wife's heart, but it is very discouraging not seeing much -- if any -- progress being made.

Even though it was a texting emotional affair, my wife checked out and gave up and made the choice to no longer honor our marital vows during times of trial in our marriage. It has led to a lot of sacrifice for our family as we have sold our home of nearly 11 years, given away all of our pets so we can be able to move at a moment's notice, and now we are trying to move out of state to get away since we have also lost our church of 9 years, many friends (since the affair happened with the since-fired youth pastor who still attends the church with his family) and I am looking for a new job across the country so we can accommodate my wife's "fresh start". It is hard, to say the least. Very, very hard.