The Blame Game
Over the years we’ve talked to a lot of faithful partners after they have discovered their cheater’s affair. Most people who visit us are trying to understand why their partner has cheated and how this happened within their relationship. At this very painful point in their lives, people understandably want to seek advice, support, and counsel from sites like this.
Our collective experience when talking to the faithful partners, however, has highlighted a saddening and common theme in so many of our visitors to our Chat Room. Many faithful partners who visit us seem to be seeking confirmation of their own immediate ideas about the cause of their spouse’s infidelity, and the general nature of affairs and cheaters. That, in and of itself, isn’t surprising - people generally like others to validate their thinking and confirm that what they’re feeling is normal. What has been surprising to us (and upsetting, quite honestly) is the nature of what many faithful partners are seeking to confirm: That they are at fault for their cheater’s affair.
What might be more surprising is that when people are reassured that their partner’s affair was not their fault, they react with anger and vehemently reject any logic or critical thinking that might support that fault starts and ends with the cheater.
Let’s Play the Yes Game
The reaction we see is unfortunately common and, in the face of this (often) quite extreme anger and attachment to their self-blame, we have been prompted to question what the reaction would be if we DID agree with these views.
Using real examples of statements made in our Chat Room, let’s play the, ‘Yes, Their Affair Was Your Fault‘ game to see what that agreement might look like.
He looks at you like you’re someone he’s never met before, much less someone he once loved with high passion. The irony is, you can hardly blame him. I mean, check yourself out. You’re a pathetic mess, unrecognizable even to your own eyes.
~ Elizabeth Gilbert
1. They cheated because I didn’t love them properly.
Yes, that is exactly why they cheated on you - you failed in how you love them. When you aren’t even capable of loving them correctly why would they possibly want to be in an exclusive relationship with you? They need to supplement their love life from elsewhere to satisfy their needs.
If you had loved them properly of course, they wouldn’t have had to go looking for love elsewhere. They would have been faithful and content but you failed them, because the only significant and valid influence in their life was you and your imperfect love of them. Their unhappiness is understandable.
Since you don’t love them the way they deserve, can’t you at least show them love by supporting them as they find others ways to supplement love for themselves? Isn’t it a proper love to want them to experience those wonderful feelings of being loved with abandon at some point in their life, even if it’s not with you?
You brought this upset upon yourself by your own failings and flaws that you did nothing to correct. What right do you have to now complain about it? It’s pain of your own making.
2. I love them unconditionally.
Yes, and it is that unconditional love that will bring them home to you.
Loving someone without condition is a what real love should be. Some might call it codependent, but ignore those naysayers because they have never truly loved someone unconditionally as you do - they simply do not understand.
It is concerning though, that you seem to be placing a condition of fidelity on your cheater. How is it unconditional love to insist that they are faithful to you? Loving them through their affair, regardless of any attendant abuses, will rekindle what you once had. Their affair changes nothing because love can conquer mountains and that power will return your cheater to you.
3. Love means putting their happiness before yours.
Yes, and putting your cheater first in this way, despite their affair, is commendable.
It must be difficult though to realize that their affair means that they aren’t putting your happiness before theirs. You are being incredibly brave in the face of this evidence that they don’t love you at all.
Your upset is selfish - try putting it in perspective. Instead of being upset about your cheater’s affair, why not look at how happy it must be making them? In fact, instead of hating or disparaging the other woman/man, why not try to learn from them? They clearly know how to make your cheater happier than you do - perhaps you can model yourself on them, since your cheater’s happiness is the only thing that matters?
4. This person isn’t the person I married.
Yes, and something terrible must have happened to your real spouse to cause this total transformation of character. Your real spouse wouldn’t have ever lied, been selfish, been mean, or shown poor impulse control etc.
Were you too busy and self-involved to see that something awful happened to them? Were you so busy with your own life, or your kids, that you didn’t get your cheater help? It’s important that you recognize your own part in their affair - had you paid more attention, they might not have turned into a cheater.
Maybe the cause of your spouse’s sudden and complete personality change was something like a TBI, or Alzheimer’s, massive dopamine spikes, alien abduction, or drugs etc? Such a complete and overnight transformation of their personality will also be affecting every aspect of their life, of course. They will be similarly abusive to their boss too (heck, they’ll probably be fired soon if they haven’t been already), their own family, their best friends, and random strangers. It’s only a matter of time before they’re arrested for fraud or assault.
However, if these awful new behaviors are only being directed towards you (and the people who support you against your cheater and their affair) it has to be a mental health disorder. It could of course be sudden-onset narcissistic personality disorder, or sudden-onset bipolar disorder or multiple personality disorder, or even sudden-onset self-esteem issues. However, you should also evaluate if your cheater is crazy - if you think that your spouse’s affair is caused by insanity or by some other disorder, you’re probably right. If you love the real them, as you say you do, you will do everything it takes to get them professional help. The insane rarely recognize their insanity and so most will fight the idea of seeing a mental health professional, or volunteering for a psychiatric evaluation. Perhaps it’s necessary to get them committed so that they can be properly cared for, before they detonate any more of their life? If you love them, this is the least you can do, even if they hate you for it. After all, when they are treated and return to being the person you knew, the hate will go away too.
What if they don’t get better? What if they stay in this altered state, never returning to being the real person whom you married? What if their new personality turns out to be more compatible with the other woman/man? Isn’t it kinder and more loving to let them go, wish them love, happiness, and health with the other person, and move on amicably? You might even consider double dating later, just to show that there’s no hard feelings, because they couldn’t help whatever change they underwent.
5. Bad relationships cause affairs.
Yes, and therefore the relationship that your cheater was in with you was undeniably bad, as evidenced by them having an affair. This affair must have been the sole blot on your own experience of your relationship with them - up to this point there couldn’t have been a single problem or dissatisfaction on your side at all. Otherwise, a bad relationship would have caused you to also have an affair.
Since the bad relationship was only bad on the cheater’s side, you clearly caused it. Your cheater must have created a perfect relationship for you, so you should own that you were the only one at fault here. You caused the bad relationship for them, ergo, their affair is your fault.
6. People make mistakes.
Yes, and an affair is just one of those mistakes. Since we ALL make mistakes and get things wrong, isn’t it rather unfair and two-faced of you to have a problem with this mistake specifically? After all, didn’t you once forget to buy bread at the supermarket? And didn’t you once forget to mail your third cousin’s (twice removed) birthday card so that it got there a few days late? You might also have accidentally spilled some red wine on that beige carpet at your friend’s house … or maybe miscalculated a tip and left 15% instead of 20%? Nobody is perfect.
Mistakes happen and we shouldn’t be beaten up for them, or judged harshly and maligned for them. Sometimes good people just make bad mistakes and everyone deserves a second (or third, or fourth) chance. If you were a good person, you would forgive and forget, and just accept that you’ve made mistakes too.
7. The other woman is brainwashing him.
Yes, and your frigid, sexless behavior opened the door for her to do that. Men have sexual needs and desires and when you neglected to keep him happy sexually, this witch took advantage of that. Factor in that men are notoriously weak-willed and can be lured into an affair because they are easily flattered by female attention, especially when it promises sexual release.
However, she’s also a manipulative, lying harpy who has managed to sink her claws into your husband, stealing him away with some sob story that made him feel sorry for her. He only went to her because he felt rejected by you, and he didn’t mean for it to go this far and become an affair. But she wants your life and a husband, and is prepared to snare yours in a web of lies and sex to get it, and your neglect of your cheater laid the groundwork for her. She probably spends a lot of time poisoning him against you, telling him what a controlling, ungrateful moose you are, and how he is just a paycheck to you.
When a cheater is really a just a good guy, trapped by some conniving bitch, he doesn’t want to hurt her by ending it. Real men find it incredibly difficult to hurt a woman … and that’s why it’s been impossible for him to end it with her. What does it say about you if you blame him for acting honorably towards her?
I HOPE NOT! … yet it seems that so many would prefer to hear this version of events rather than hold their cheater directly accountable.
Affairs are NOT the fault of the faithful partner, and they are not caused by imperfect relationships or alien abductions. Affairs are the result of a cheater’s view of the world, how they perceive they fit into that world, and what they believe they are entitled to from life.
We understand that there might be places where the views and opinions about affairs echo or encourage some (or all) of our dramatized ‘Yes Game’ responses in this post. I will stress that the responses above are mock agreements that are in complete opposition to the actual information and views that you will encounter at this site.
(NB: Whilst all the ‘Yes Game’ mock responses were heinous, I specifically apologize if anyone was offended by the deliberate use of sexist nonsense illustrating point 7. That mock response was (sadly) derived from actual examples of wives using sexist thinking like, ‘boys will be boys’ to mitigate/excuse their husband’s affairs.)
The Attraction of Self-Blame
So why do people seem so intent on blaming themselves for their spouse’s affair? Why do they so readily seek and accept such uninformed and damaging culpability for the actions of someone whom they do not control?
Affairs are not exempt from the complex power dynamic and shifting control issues within a relationship. An affair can result in the faithful partner feeling powerless and as if they have no control over their own lives, while the cheater might be reveling in (and exploiting) the power imbalance. When they learn of their spouse’s affair, most faithful spouses react with a knee-jerk desire to fix the problems that caused the infidelity.
So why turn the blame inwards?
- When your cheater is telling you why their affair is your fault, it’s easy to believe them. Having our failings thrown at us can drown out our positive self-view.
- When an affair doesn’t make any sense, many turn to what they know and can understand - their own flaws.
- Maladaptive responses like self-blame when you are not at fault are often learned growing up and can easily resurface in adulthood in the face of significant emotional upset.
- Depression, when coupled with self-blame, can lead to broad (and inaccurate) generalizations about personal failings (I am not loved by this one person, therefore I am awful and completely unlovable).
- Being honest about your cheater’s character (and any unwillingness to change) can force you to consider unpleasant and difficult scenarios for your future with (or without) them.
- When you feel powerless in a situation, even blaming yourself can give you a sense of control. Accepting blame and then choosing whether you wish to change the ‘faults’ that led to the affair are at least your own choices.
If you take responsibility and blame yourself, you have the power to change things. But if you put responsibility on someone else, then you are giving them the power to decide your fate.
~ Deja King
Common Responses to an Affair
We observe that many faithful partners appear to be the fixers in their relationships, and are frequently the decision maker and/or the dominant personality in the couple. They might describe themselves as controlling, or a neat freak, or as a detail-oriented personality type. They might even say that they have a higher moral code than most, or perhaps find themselves complaining that they have the burden of being the responsible adult in the relationship.
The faithful partner wants their cheater to behave in certain ways after the affair, and this often includes:
- Reassurance that they are loved, special, and nurtured.
- Re-commitment to them and proof that they are loved (often in the form of a grand gesture).
- Assurance of a stable, loving, and secure home for the family.
- Seeing the cheater lead the active repair of the damage they caused.
- Demonstrations of remorse.
- Visible and genuine self-reproach.
- Actions to help wipe away the hurt and abuses that an affair inflicted.
- Visible anguish, pain and regret for their choices.
- Immediate and sustained evidence of the cheater’s empathy, healing and change.
When the cheater doesn’t do these things of their own accord, the faithful spouse is again left feeling powerless to fix the relationship, because the necessary changes aren’t happening. It’s not uncommon for them to feel therefore that they are not worthy of these efforts being made for them. When they are themselves unable to repair what is broken, rather than fail it can send them into a frenzy of ‘fixing it’ … even if fixing it requires self-blaming first.
An affair in your relationship can jettison your self-worth. You can easily fall into the trap of needing your relationship to survive so badly that you are willing to excuse and justify your spouse’s behavior. Rational and reasonable challenges to that view can result in you feeling defensive and angry.
It can be tempting to believe that if your cheater’s affair was caused by your faults, then you would have the ability to end it and/or prevent another one. All you have to do is become a better spouse, more like the partner whom your cheater claims you must be if you are to meet their needs and keep them faithful.
You did not cause, and are not to blame for, your spouse’s affair. They did not cheat because of your faults or failings (though of course that does not mean that you do not have any faults or failings). Yes, you contributed to the tone of your relationship, and you are responsible for your part in any dysfunction or difficulties; it is reasonable to own your own share of any problems in your relationship, but the point at which your cheater chose to go outside that relationship is where your responsibility ends. That is on them and only them.
His lying is not contingent on who you are or what you do. His lying is not your fault. Lying is his choice and his problem, and if he makes that choice with you, he will make it with any other woman he’s with. That doesn’t mean you’re an angel and he’s the devil. It does mean that if he doesn’t like certain things about you, he has many ways to address them besides lying. If there are sexual problems between you, there are many resources available to help you. Nothing can change until you hold him responsible and accountable for lying and stop blaming yourself.
The lies we tell ourselves to keep from seeing the truth about our lovers don’t feel like lies. They feel comfortable, familiar, and true. We repeat them like a mantra and cling to them like security blankets, hoping to calm ourselves and regain our sense that the world works the way we believe it ought to.
Self-lies are false friends we look to for comfort and protection—and for a short time they may make us feel better. But we can only keep the truth at bay for so long. Our self-lies can’t erase his lies, and as we’ll see, the longer we try to pretend they can, the more we deepen the hurt.”
~ Susan Forward
Blaming yourself spares you from an eyes wide open view of your spouse that could find them lacking. Blaming yourself allows you to hide behind your unilateral growth and repair, and avoid what might be otherwise revealed about the nature and future of your relationship.
I can’t repeat this enough: Your partner’s affair was not your fault, your choice, or your doing. We talk with many cheaters here and discussions reveal that many of them claim that their spouse was their perfect partner, and yet they still cheated. You cannot fix what led them to their affair and you cannot prevent them from making the same choices in the future by changing yourself. If the cheating is going to change it’s the cheater who has to make the change themselves.
Fear of losing a relationship can be a powerful, blinkering force. I’d ask you to consider if your dreams for yourself include a relationship where the faults, flaws and misdeeds of another are your burden to bear, firmly and forever. Would hearing affirmation about how this was your fault really make you feel better about your spouse’s affair?