How Straying Partners Tend To Justify Infidelity Internally
Recently I was asked “what goes through the mind of a straying spouse during an affair?” This is a tricky question as most people would agree that when they got engaged and planned their wedding, the last thing on their mind was preparing to cheat on their new spouse. However, there are many people that once married choose to plague or destroy their marriage by cheating on their spouse. I select the word “choose” carefully as I understand some people say “it just happened.” While that may be possible, it is my belief that infidelity is most often, if not always a planned occurrence. Here are 2 ways that we justify internally or talk ourselves into reasoning with the idea of infidelity prior to actually cheating.
The first and most common way that patients report talking to themselves prior to cheating on their spouse is through denial. Denial is when we insist to ourselves or others that something is untrue. For this column we are going to focus on our self-talk. Prior to an affair, a person may deny the implications or consequences of their proposed future actions. This may sound like “we’ll get through it,” “she’ll never divorce me,” or “it’s not really that bad when you think about it.” These statements are statements that I’ve heard from patients recalling self-talk from prior to the start of an affair.
Now in counseling due to the repercussions of an affair, the patients are often able to see these thoughts as red flags, but prior did not recognize them as troubling. Now statements like “I’ll only do it once” seem ridiculous and obviously not true but hopeful. Another common theme includes denying that what you are doing, maybe having an emotional affair, is not wrong because it’s not a physical affair, or justifying kissing because it is not sex.
Many times the person engaging in an affair is exerting unfair control in the marriage. Inappropriate use of power and control in marriage is synonymous with abuse, however infidelity is rarely thought of as abusive by the infidel. I challenge you to think this way by recognizing how the physical and emotional safety of your spouse is being violated.
The second way that many people justify infidelity internally is by accepting that they need more from the marriage. This looks less like denial and sometimes more like anger. “I had been trying to tell him for years!” or “She always took me for granted” people will say justifying an affair after the fact. In reality, these thoughts were there prior to the affair also, but most likely not shared in a healthy way with the spouse.
Women often feel lonely and want to have someone make them feel “special,” important, and listened to. Men often want attention, creativity, and to feel handsome or sexy to someone. Men may want to add on perks to their marriage whereas women tend to look for a replacement of an emotional gap. Whether your male or female doesn’t matter when you think about a healthy marriage as an entire pie, and then an unhealthy marriage with one of the above things, a piece of pie, missing.
Couples that recognize a lack of healthy communication or thoughts like these should seek professional help soon. Professional counseling services can help you organize and share your frustrated thoughts so that they are heard to your satisfaction. Cheating on your spouse is not a way to transition out of marriage.
Our current society is also unhelpful with porn and movie themes, and gender stereotypes relating to infidelity. Remember that infidelity is generally a planned experience meaning that there is plenty of time in between a spouse’s first thought of straying and the act to consult with each other or a professional. Once a person has cheated they often come to the realization that they “let it happen.”
Hindsight is 20/20 at that time and the red flags in the marriage like lack of healthy communication become much more obvious. Those that have initiated seduction prior to the affair often share intense remorse as they see that during that time their energy used in seducing someone could have been used towards fixing their broken marriage.
Infidelity is a very complex issue. Despite categorizing the majority of what I’ve seen into two categories, there are truly many reasons that people are unfaithful and many reasons including boredom, drugs, revenge, etc… that lead to these two categories.