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.

See also  There Is Nothing Worse for a Betrayed Spouse Than a Fence-Sitter

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.

See also  When You Decide to Stay: Dealing with triggers and the issue of trust while rebuilding your marriage.

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.

See also  13 Downloads for Affair Recovery

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.




    5 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?

    • seekinghonesty

      This is my partner. He won’t admit to being engaged in an emotional affair, but I can see him sitting on the fence – in his actions, in his facial expressions, in his eyes. I’ve been reading articles and comments for months, educating myself and normalizing my thoughts and feelings to get my feet back onto solid ground, and he lines up perfectly with the CS stories everyone has shared. He checks all the boxes. I want to believe that he’s fence-sitting for the right reasons, and not just a cake-eater, but I truly don’t know how to tell since everything I thought I knew has been turned upside down.

      We’ve been together for 14 years, and when I called about counseling the man asked why we have never gotten attached in any legal way – great question, friend, I wonder that myself because I’ve been waiting at least the last five for a proposal. Of course, I won’t be able to figure that out in MC because after the first 6 sessions – where we only focused on MY problems – he doesn’t want to go back because “it’s not very helpful, we only talk about your issues” and “we fixed this ourselves last time, and we can do that again.” He suggested counseling for better communication in the first place, after a conversation in which I challenged him about the AP and their CLEARLY inappropriate friendship. He shifted the convo to MY issues (he believes I’m a hoarder – which is not correct – and has had problems with my weight and finding me unattractive) and then suggested MC because he was feeling guilty about his own actions. I took him up on it due to further behavior with the AP and allowed it to be all about me. When I so much as vaguely alluded to the EA in session he flipped his shit when we got home.

      He won’t admit to anything. “We’re just friends.” He’s gaslighted me, manipulated me, and deceived me, and it’s all still going on despite me calling him out on his behavior multiple times. Three years ago I caught him in an EA with a coworker when all the classic CS behaviors were there and my gut told me something was wrong – I tried to talk to him about it and was told all the same things. He lied and pushed me until I snooped and found proof he had gone out with her and lied to me about it – I was such a trusting, naive fool that the first time they went out, I told him that was great and to have a good time! My snooping uncovered a whole host of other issues – far more porn use than I ever could have imagined, use of apps like Tinder, Kik, Plenty of Fish, Ashley Madison, BDSM/Fetish meet, 3somer, and even personal ads on Craigslist and emails to people looking to find a threesome – all going back years. I was stunned. But with the proof he owned up to all of it, and was open and honest in his discussions about seeking validation elsewhere, possibly being addicted to porn and masturbation at the expense of our sex life, and knowing all of it was a serious problem. He chose to distance himself from that coworker after acknowledging that it was emotionally inappropriate and hurting our relationship, and focused on working on us. He gave me full and open access to everything, showing me his phone every night for a few weeks until I felt it was okay to just check weekly for a month or so, and then monthly for a few months. I truly believed it was corrected and we were moving forward. He started a new job and when a woman aggressively approached him there saying she didn’t care that he was in a relationship, he handled it beautifully and told me about it. I thought things were okay, except for my issues that he was unhappy with that I was working on and trying to correct.

      Mid-2019 he started a new job and started some of the classic CS behaviors again around October. I challenged him on this new coworker bringing him small gifts, making comments to him like they’re the same person, and him displaying the CS behaviors which I even outlined for him. At that point I truly believed that they were just friends and was worried about what I saw as a lack of strong boundaries. But he’s always been a good, highly moral person with a strong sense of right and wrong and has more honor and integrity than most people I’ve ever met. He prides himself on that. But after she didn’t show up to their work Christmas party and I met all his other new friends, the red flags were raised so high I couldn’t ignore them. Again I tried to talk with him, and he lied – I could see it in his face and feel it in my gut – so again I checked his computer. He had given me access, right? Lo and behold, flirty Facebook messages alluding to how they had admitted their attraction to one another but it could never be, and all the messages before a certain date had been totally erased. I met him for lunch and asked him again, truly expressing how worried I was, and he downplayed and denied it – then deleted all their messages the moment he got back in his car.

      I gave him another opportunity to be honest and then pulled out the information, and he was livid I had snooped and turned it all around on me – but it was worth it, because he acknowledged that it was inappropriate and that he would make changes and step back. And I thought that he had, despite everything, partially because he continued to be angry with me for violating his privacy and accusing me of wanting “gotcha moments,” and repeatedly stated that he was unwilling to “lose another friend” because of me. I truly believed he had stepped back and was focused on us. In December 2019 he had laid down the ultimatum that I had one more chance to fix my weight and clutter that had bothered him for years, and that if I didn’t have it corrected by the end of the year he loved me, but couldn’t let me hurt him anymore and he would leave. I would never intentionally hurt him but he took my inability to stick with the changes I attempted as proof that I didn’t love him enough to change. So 2020 – that year of pandemic anxiety and social unrest – was my year for hard work and misery and changes in myself. I was finally diagnosed with ADHD and worked to put all the help I needed into place. I lost 47 pounds, and worked to declutter and organize every room of our house.

      Through it all, he was unhappy – which I understood – and it wasn’t enough for him, which I tried understand. He had been asking me to work on this for 8 years and now that I was finally sticking to changes, he was more distant and unhappy than ever. It was a rough year for him – his grandfather died, his parents moved from the family home to a totally different region and sold his dream of moving home, Covid meant his stress relief of hours daily at the gym was gone, and his new job as a manager was stressful beyond belief. I was so worried for us, and for him – I saw him isolating himself as several people he looked up to turned out to be less than admirable, and as summer started he had a falling out with his best friend (also female, never had a single problem with her as we’re very close!) rather than acknowledging his stress around work, the move, and the death the night prior. His mental health seemed to be declining, and he blamed it all on me and how I wasn’t doing enough to fix my problems. And as it declined, his bad CS behaviors increased.

      It was clear to me he had broken off with his best friend and replaced her with this coworker. I had told him I didn’t want to snoop anymore, because what I had seen had broken my own heart. And so I stuck tightly to that… but the behaviors kept getting worse and I could see over his shoulder from time to time that she was sending inappropriate messages, heart emojis with her good morning, and the like. I told him I was uncomfortable with it and gave solid examples, as well as examples of normal friendship and WHY this was inappropriate, but he assured me time and again that they were just friends, that he ignored any inappropriate messages, and that he knew his boundaries and I needed to trust that. In August he told me one more clear lie about not texting her – for no reason, since I am okay with him having female friends if that’s all they are – and I called him out. I was upset and angry that he lied yet again and I asked him, “If I asked you to see your phone right now would I be upset by what I found?” And when he said no, I didn’t believe him – but I let it go. Later that night he chose to show me his phone – but he had deleted their Instagram conversation which I had seen with my own eyes three hours before, and he tried to play it off like “gee I don’t know what happened.”

      That’s when I knew. He was keeping it secret, lying to me, and I was a third party looking in – it was clearly an EA. I worked hard to communicate and try to do things the right way, but his behavior continued to escalate and he was yelling at me (mind you, in August so halfway through the house and 30+ pounds down) that he couldn’t take it anymore and he needed a break. Again we had an argument where I pointed out what “normal” friendship was and how this was inappropriate and he agreed, and how his secretiveness around the AP was creating problems in our relationship. He had moved from Facebook, to Instagram, to Snapchat where the messages disappear, and I knew it. He railed on me about how he can’t live with me being suspicious and I don’t respect his privacy, but showed me FB and Insta – and when she snapped him in the middle of what had turned into a decent conversation, I asked to see it. HE LOST HIS FLIPPING MIND. He refused repeatedly, threw the phone down, and yelled “This is the fucking hill I will die on!”

      All, of course, the behaviors of an innocent man. I knew. I sobbed. He comforted me with no apology. He said he would fix it. We went to MC and he swore he wanted to be happier, wanted to make it work. I wanted to have integrity and do the right thing, and so it went on like this until the end of November before I stooped to checking. He showed me a snapchat from someone else, and I noticed that he and the AP had a snap streak – meaning daily photos or videos from each person – for well over a month. I knew he’d lie to me again when I asked about it, and I had to know. And there it was, a message he wrote that she had saved: “You’re my best friend. You’re beautiful, smart, and funny. You are sexy, your work ethic, you make me happy. You make me smile, you make me laugh. You don’t always let my bullshit slide. You are so fucking caring.”

      Funny how we remember these things, right? So that’s when my descent into BS madness really started to consume me. I became obsessed, checking everything, reading what bullshit sweet messages I could (“You’re everything I want”… gag) and trying to figure out what the hell was happening in my own relationship. I finally sought all the support I needed from friends and my counselor, I read everything I could and have used this site multiple times daily trying to make sense of things, I continued to try to address it with him. He has continued to deny and justify and keep going on with her. I saw our two-week holiday trip to visit his family as an opportunity to make real change and he agreed to focus on us… and then continued to message her emotional, romantic, and comforting things every time I was able to look, even after I told him he was being emotionally distant. He stepped up his game with me, but didn’t stop with her. So here we are, with him sitting on this fence.

      Once we got home this month I found my confidence. Everything you all have posted here has inspired me and helped guide me. I gave him one more shot at being open and honest, and we had a good conversation about working on us and I was sure to define in no uncertain terms what transparency would look like. While he wasn’t open and continued to deny, I told him I thought he was in denial for himself and was in too deep and didn’t know how to get out. I could see him sitting on that fence and feeling pain and not knowing what to do. I told him I would help him with anything and love him no matter what. He started to show me some things – vetted to make sure they were appropriate for my eyes, of course – but after a day and a half went back to showing and discussing nothing. I actually caught him chatting several times and rather than acknowledge it he tried to distract me with sex. By the end of last week he tried that “fake transparency” again when he was caught and I was over it. Why bother? I calmly let him have it, and let him know that I deserve better than to be lied to, deceived, and manipulated. That I’ve made it clear I want marriage and kids and I won’t be saying that anymore, and clear about what transparency means and now it’s clear he KNOWS he is intentionally hurting me, and it’s clear he’s got some choices to make and I will be fine no matter what. He said he was upset with me because I had hurt him for so long and now I’m upset with him, but I think it’s because I finally stood up for myself and told him I wouldn’t allow gaslighting or bad behavior anymore.

      He was pretty cold and the next morning I called him out on that – then checked his phone to see that he had messaged her that there would be a conversation, not about working it out but about me leaving. THAT’S IT. The one thing he repeated that I still believed was that he didn’t talk to her about me or us, because he’s always been so private even with his best friends. I had nothing to lose, and I let it fly. I was calm but said every single thing I needed to say, including that he’s avoiding his own mental health issues, that he’s addicted, that she’s not special and it could be ANY thot willing to flatter him and boost his ego and provide a fantasy, that I knew if he caught me snooping he’d use it as an excuse to leave and blame me as the bad guy, that I deserve better than to be in a relationship with someone who’s in another relationship, and that he needed to work his shit out because I can take blame for my part in our relationship problems but NONE of his bad behavior is on me and it’s not an excuse to get his emotional needs met elsewhere. He denied any EA and was cold and composed, and I called him out on that refusing to accept it until he finally exploded and said he was angry because every single thing I said was true and he knew it.

      I was proud of myself for maintaining my composure. He agreed he needs to work on himself and figure it out, but I haven’t seen any changes so far – just more fence-sitting. He says he loves me but won’t be honest about her. I haven’t been able to see any messages and I don’t know what’s going on right now, but I do know I won’t be accepting any more mistreatment. I love him and if it’s about his mental health I’ll help him work on that forever. He can get back to being the man I know. But if he chooses to stay on the fence, to not be honest and open and willing to do the work, I’m not sure how long I’ll last.

      If you made it this far, thanks for letting me vent. Since he’s not willing to talk about it, it’s nice to have the outlet. I appreciate all you guys have written, and how much you’ve helped me grow. You’ve helped me see I’ll be okay no matter what.

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