In many cases, wayward spouses who are fence sitting, have complex reasons behind WHY they cannot choose between their spouse and the affair partner. 

fence sitting

By Sarah P.

The short answer is, there are some people who just want to have their cake and eat it too. These “cake eaters” are generally serial adulterers who have a history of infidelity.

But, in many cases, wayward spouses who are stuck on the fence, have more complex reasons behind WHY they cannot choose between their spouse and the affair partner. 

These spouses are not merely “cake eaters” and they generally do not have a history of being unfaithful.  Sometimes these wayward spouses are the most shocked at their own behavior because they believed they were incapable of having an affair.

This blog post is about the wayward spouses who are not serial adulterers, but who are having a difficult time making a final decision on who to choose: the spouse or the other person.  

This post is about the group of wayward spouses, who find themselves stuck on the metaphorical fence, even though their intention was never to have an affair, let alone be stuck between two choices.

Should You Stay Or Should You Go? Know the 9 Common Traits of A Serial Cheater So You Can Decide

Why Do Some Wayward Spouses Fence Sit?

Stephen J. Betchen, D.S.W, noted ,“Affairs are often forged with the same magnetic power that a marriage is, often rendering the affair as hard to break as a marriage. Thus, ending an affair, especially if it is long-term, may resemble a divorce.” (1)

While this is an explanation, it is NOT by any means an excuse. This article is about explaining thought processes, rather than giving a wayward spouse an excuse for his or her behavior.

One of the things that surprised me is how many wayward spouses struggle with suicidal thoughts because they see no way out.

Here is an excellent account by a wayward spouse from the Affair Recovery website, which was founded by Rick Reynolds. Here is what this individual had to say about their experience with their affair.

“Suicide seemed the only alternative for ending my affair. Not wanting to cause any further pain eliminated honesty as an alternative. Mostly, I didn’t want to be seen as “the cheater.” Snared by conflicting feelings, I wouldn’t decide. Despair hung over me like dark storm clouds. I could see no way out. Failed attempts at ending the affair ignited feelings of hopelessness and left me feeling absolutely out of control.

Crazy as it sounds, death seemed the best alternative. I know right from wrong. My head knew I needed to end it but my heart cried no. I felt responsible for my AP and wanted to protect her. My deception had no end. Here are just some of the mental traps I fell into:

  • It felt I couldn’t live without her and I feared the outcome of a separation.
  • I had never experienced such extreme and desperate feelings.
  • I was sure this was my one chance for happiness.
  • I believed she was my soulmate.
  • I even worried that letting go would result in someone else getting to experience the life I’d given up. If I stayed married would I remain forever miserable?
  • Would it be the right decision or would I forever regret this decision?

I began to catch glimpses of destruction in my future. More misery than I ever imagined flooded my life. If the affair was so great why was I so desperate? I finally understood I had no choice. I couldn’t break free even if I wanted. My own efforts were not going to be enough.

That reality guided me to the truth: I was ensnared in a fantasy of my own making.” (2)

At the root of fence sitting behaviors, there seems to exist the idea and the feeling that being with the affair partner will provide a wayward spouse with the perfect life.

Quite often, a wayward spouse will project ideals onto the affair partner that likely DO NOT exist.

How to End an Affair – The Right Way

After all, affairs happen in a vacuum and affairs also exist in a fantasy world built by both affair partners. Typically during infidelity, affair partners get to know very little about each other.

  • Affair partners don’t have to sit down and pay bills with their affair partner.
  • They do not have to come home to a messy house with their affair partner.
  • They may not get a chance to see how their affair partner behaves under tremendous stress.
  • They can more likely to overlook red flags  – in their affair partner – in order to keep this fantasy world going.

But, one of the largest influencers of fence-sitting behavior is also caused by changes in the neurochemistry of the brain. It IS possible for affair partners to become addicted to one another, due to the powerful release of neurochemicals that affairs provide.

If someone is generally a high-sensation seeker, the neuro-chemicals released by the brain during an affair can affect them in more potent ways. The song by Chicago, “A Hard Habit to Break” alludes to the idea that people can become addicted to each other, even though this song is NOT about infidelity. Popular culture often packages this addiction to a person as true love.

By the way, I love the band “Chicago.” I am an absolute sucker for their music to this day. A “Chicago” concert was the first live concert I ever attended and I was 12-years-old. My best friend had a father who was a famous radio DJ and he was able to get us tickets very close to the stage. My friend and I screamed at Peter Cetera so hard during the entire concert that we lost our voices. Hey, music can be addictive too!

When Someone Marries the Affair Partner 

Stephen J. Betchen, D.S.W, concluded, “Most therapists know full well that an affair is a fantasy operating in an artificial situation. Leave your spouse for a lover and transition the affair into reality, and the reality will most likely be a harsh one. Researchers have found that the divorce rate after marrying one’s lover is approximately 85-90%.” (1)

These are actually terrible statistics. But, even if they do not leave for the affair partner, an affair that is out in the open and that is NOT nipped in the bud, can have deadly consequences.

Everyone knows about the school shootings in Columbine, Colorado. But, there is a lesser known account in Washington State. There is a very small town in Eastern Washington called Moses Lake. In this town, everyone knows everyone else and many families settled there generations ago.

In towns such as this, family secrets are not kept: when 13-year-old Barry Dale Loukaitis found out that his father was having an affair with another woman, the Loukaitis family become the subject of gossip. Barry Dale Loukaitis’s father did not break it off with the other woman and Barry’s mother filed for divorce.

Barry started to be bullied by other children at school. A year later, 14-year-old Barry Dale Loukaitis entered his middle school and shot and killed two students as well as a teacher.

Even though this article is on Wikipedia, earlier in the week, I had the opportunity to interview an eye-witness to this event, who was not part of the Loukaitis family, and who did NOT testify in court. This person presented their observations of what happened during that time period.

Their opinion was that the catalyst to Barry Dale Loukaitis becoming a school shooter was his father’s affair and his father’s refusal to break it off with his affair partner. This person also noted that the Wikipedia article about this episode was very biased and misleading.

Still, this person was simply giving me their opinion on this situation since they were very close to the situation. We will never know if Barry Dale Loukaitis would have become a school shooter if his parents had a healthy marriage and if he had not been the target of bullying by other students.

When the Other Woman Becomes the Wife

In Summary

Wayward spouses who fence sit, often do so because they have built an elaborate fantasy world in their minds. Other fence sitters become addicted to the intoxicating neurochemicals that are released during a new and exciting relationship.

Still others are driven to fence sit because they see no reasonable way to get out of the situation. Some fence sitters struggle with suicidal ideations because they feel like whatever decision they make, everyone still gets hurt by their affair.

If you are involved in a relationship with a fence sitter, you might have to take the lead and have an attorney file a formal separation agreement. When fence sitters experience concrete consequences due to their behavior, life becomes very real.

You should not have to tolerate a wayward spouse who sits on the fence. You are worthy of love and you deserve someone who loves you passionately in return. But, life is not cut and dry, especially in these economic times when life in general is very uncertain.

If you would like to talk to your spouse about fence sitting, let them know that we are in times where couples that stick together will weather the storm. I encourage you to show your wayward spouse the very grim statistics that indicate marrying their affair partner will, almost always, end in yet another divorce.

The grass is not greener on the other side of the fence; the grass is greener where you choose to water it.




    2 replies to "Why Do Some Wayward Spouses Sit on the Fence?"

    • Exercisegrace

      Good article as always! My described so much of what you discussed above. He talked about driving home from the first time they had sex, and having to pull over because he was crying and shaking so hard. He said he was certain that his marriage was now over because I would find out and divorce him. So instead of ending it, he felt he had to make it work because he didn’t want to be alone when I left.
      He also described contemplating suicide on multiple occasions , even going so far as to make a plan. He felt trapped. Eventually he ended the affair without getting caught, continued to work with her, and after a year of trying to re-engage him in the affair, she outed it.

      Like most cheaters, he had to work through a great deal of selfishness in counseling. I have come to see this is a big part of his personality, and it’s what allowed him to make the choices he made. He put himself first. His wants, his needs were always first. That was his lens, whereas mine has always our family and what’s best for them. During almost two years of counseling, he threatened suicide nearly every time we argued. I finally said to him one day that I would no longer tolerate that. He should take it up with his therapist, go on medication or check himself into hospital. But he was to never, EVER threaten it again. I told him if his goal was to make me feel guilty? I would not. Not even for a second. The police would be called and he would be committed. Eight years later, he still sometimes bemoans the fact that he will always be “that guy”, “a cheater”. He feels our kids (older two now adults) don’t have much respect for him. He did permanent damage to those relationships, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

    • Jenny

      My husband’s affair started in May. I found out almost two months ago on his birthday. He said he felt unhappy with me for a long time – though can’t give me a timeline and definitely was happy with me as of the beginning of this year. He was firmly going to be with her in the beginning of October and then spent the last six weeks unsure of what he wanted. But he’s a runner and has moved out (without warning me) and claims he could end it with her whenever – he just doesn’t want to. He doesn’t think we could ever fix the problems. Now he’s ignoring my messages even though he swears he can’t imagine life without me. I am moving to my new place next week. I feel like leaving the closing up of this place to him. Why should I do anything more when he’s fine treating me like this?

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