Part 5: Affair Fog Theory: Morphing
One of the questions that hits the faithful spouse early on in the post-affair discovery process is, “Why?” Why did the person we married, whom we trusted and committed our whole lives to – why did they have an affair?
The need to know why and the need to understand how someone we trusted so completely could betray us so easily can lead us on a merry search down many dead-ends as we seek to understand why all of this happened.
It can distract us from focussing on ourselves and our own well-being. Instead we look for answers in all kinds of places and many of us take on a diagnostic role with our spouses, because somehow it is easier to think that they had an affair for reasons that were outside of their control:
- they have a sex addiction and couldn’t help themselves;
- they’re an alcoholic and they were drunk at the time;
- they were in the affair “fog” and didn’t know what they were doing;
- they have a mental health disorder that affected their decision making ability
- they were so influenced by the affair partner that they “morphed” into someone capable of having an affair, and even capable of behaving abusively afterwards.
“Morphing Into a Cheater”
“Morphing” is one of the terms that is bandied around on some infidelity sites and it is one that warrants further discussion, particularly in the context of the character change that is espoused in affair fog theory.
It is also worth discussing it to highlight the risks of grabbing on to psychological theories without fully understanding them and hanging on to them for dear life as you try to navigate the rough waters that the discovery of the affair has thrown you into.
It’s concerning how members of some infidelity support sites are trying to use “morphing” to explain cheaters’ behaviour, as illustrated below:
- Faithful Spouse:
- Describes change she perceives in her spouse, discusses how she no longer recognises the man who is now behaving so abominably towards her, and who has left her for the other woman.
- Community Response:
- Advises her that this behaviour from her spouse is only caused “by the wayward spouse in him” and how he is “morphing” into a cheater and would likely “morph” back again. There is an inference that such “backwards morphing” is linked to the return of the “former wayward spouse” to the marriage.
The implication that the cheater has somehow morphed into someone else – a completely different person to the spouse who was faithful - and that they will somehow magically morph back, is not just concerning but it is a reckless use of a psychological theory that was not designed to be applied in his way.
Salber’s Theory of Psychological Morphing
The term “morphing” has many uses both in language development research and biological research. There is also a morphological psychological theory that has been mainly used to support the development of qualitative research in psychology.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s, and ‘80s the traditional model of psychological research was quantitative and laboratory based. Morphological psychology wanted to look at the person as a whole during the research process and this methodology has been used primarily in marketing research.
It is not a therapeutic tool - it’s surprising to see it being applied in the context of infidelity as it is an inappropriate application of the theory.
Applying a psychological concept that is primarily a research method to the experience of infidelity is unhelpful, as it distances and dilutes the responsibility of the cheater for their decision to cheat.
To use psychological morphing in this context is to imply that the cheater has an identity that is so malleable that they are incapable of maintaining a consistent identity. It implies that the cheater somehow “morphs” into someone else during the affair, largely as the result of the negative influences of the affair partner.
The primary concern about this desire to believe that the cheater has “morphed” from a good and faithful spouse into an unfaithful cheater, is that this belief will only serve to keep the betrayed spouse in a state of denial about the reason for the affair. Buying into “cheater morphing theory” - however incorrectly - keeps the faithful spouse hoping for the cheater to “morph” back to their “right-minded” pre-affair spouse.
Even for those without training and qualifications in psychology it’s obvious that it is unlikely that any affair partner has the power over the cheater to cause them to change personality overnight. To the contrary, I have found that the affair partner merely becomes a vessel for allowing the cheater to behave as the self-entitled person that they have always been, and that may just have been better hidden pre-affair.
It is unhelpful to look outside the personality of the cheater for the cause of an affair and doing so raises questions about consistency of personality and identity.
Personality is very simply defined as a system of parts (or traits) that is organized, develops, and that is expressed in a person’s actions.
Identity can be seen as many things and there are plenty of theories about what identity is. If we look at it simply as a form of narrative - as the stories that we tell about ourselves - it illustrates how our identity and how we identify ourselves changes over time.
- Who are we when we do something that society and our conscience tells us is wrong?
- Who are we when we continue with behaviour that we know to be morally/ethically wrong?
- Are we only recognisable to our spouses when we behave in ways that they approve of?
- When we start to behave differently to what our spouses expect and are used to, who do we become?
- Is the “cheater part” of our spouses the “bad” voice in their heads telling them to cheat and then to call you names or blame you for their cheating?
- Is this “cheater part” an autonomous entity that can be cut out of your spouse, magically returning him/her to the spouse that you recognise?
The person that you see post-affair discovery is the person that your spouse has always been – they are just showing you another side of their personality that may not have been so clearly apparent before you knew about the affair. “Morphing” isn’t a factor.
I conducted a narrative research study investigating self-perception and transformation in those who had committed serious crimes. In order to survive prison, inmates knowingly adopted a different identity by suppressing or obscuring parts of themselves and/or emphasising others - they did not unconsciously “morph” into an entirely different person to do so.
Similarly our spouses do not morph into a different person in order to become a cheater - what we see is a conscious and deliberate exaggeration towards us of our spouse’s unfamiliar traits and the suppression of more familiar ones.
People can and do change based on life experiences and a desire to change. Changes in our identity - how we see ourselves - are influenced by:
- our motivation to improve ourselves
- our experiences
- reflecting on our thinking and responses in light of new information/contributing factors
- how we see ourselves viewed by or reflected in others
These influences in our lives affect how we see ourselves, and they can foster positive growth, change, and personal improvement.
Negative “Morphing” Only?
With an affair the change we see in our spouses after affair discovery isn’t positive. We see a lot of negative change in our spouse - nastiness, selfishness, lack of care for anything but themselves, their capacity to lie and cheat. It is these negative changes that the faithful spouse struggles to accept and this highlights another problem with the “cheater morphing” theory.
If the cheater improved as a person after affair discovery - and was also fully remorseful and understood the damage they had caused, was actively engaged in helping us heal, making amends and being motivated to save the marriage - would we consider this as “morphing” in the same way?
Would we be so ready to dismiss positive change as “morphing” - characterising it as “this isn’t who they truly are” - in the same way we do when they mistreat us? Would we be so willing to claim this “new” and improved personality as nothing more than a transient blip, scornfully dismissing it as a temporary deviation from their true personality? Would we be so inclined to lament the loss of the old, less positive version of themselves and to wish for its re-emergence?
Identity: Spouse Versus Cheater
Sometimes we don’t recognise ourselves in our actions, but that tends to be only in our worst actions. None of us wants to be defined by the worst thing that we’ve done and no one wants to define the person they love in those terms either.
In infidelity we don’t recognise our spouses in their affair behaviour because it is not something that we are connected to. It is not a side of them that we want to see or accept, so it is easier to latch on to the concept of them “morphing” into someone else - someone who is capable of doing these things. We want to believe that this is a temporary change - an aberration - and that they can “morph” back somehow.
However, a cheater has not suddenly been overcome by some alien part of themselves that has taken control, made them cheat, and made them treat you badly when they didn’t before, all while being a really great spouse despite it all.
This is what is implied when “morphing” is being applied to a cheater, and this is disempowering for the faithful spouse.
Using “morphing” in this context fails to recognise the motivation behind the actions – as people we tend to do the things that we want to do.
Conclusion: “Morphing” in Affair Fog Theory
To look for an external theoretical framework upon which to hang your spouse’s infidelity and abusive behaviour is perfectly natural in the circumstances. We all want to know why our world has been so easily shattered by someone whom we trusted completely.
We can look everywhere for answers, when really they are staring us in the face all along: They cheat because they want to, they feel entitled to do so, and they choose to do it every single time they interact with the affair partner.
Yes, we are all open to being influenced by others and people do change, but what you see in infidelity is the cheater giving themselves permission to treat you in whatever way they see fit.
This may be a person that you do not like or recognise, but the reality is that he/she has always been there – this is who they are and who they choose to be, no fog or morphing required!
Previous articles in our affair fog series: