infidelity in  marriageby Sarah P.

One can come up with hundreds of excuses for infidelity in marriage, but the person having an affair always has the choice to do or not to do.

When you find out that your spouse has had an affair, your whole world literally implodes. You begin to question yourself, you begin to question everything about the relationship, and you wonder where to go from there.

After all, you find out that the person you have shared a life with for many years is not someone you knew at all. The gifts of trust and security are torn away and you wonder who this stranger is who shares your bed.

So who is to blame when infidelity in marriage occurs?

Is it the unfaithful partner, the victim, or the other person? Is it all three people or no one at all? Each time, I have the same view—the blame for an affair falls squarely on the shoulders of the unfaithful partner.

While circumstances, which number in the thousands, provide a relationship climate where infidelity is possible, we must not overlook the fact that there is always a choice within each circumstance. Whatever the name of the circumstance, whether it is mid-life crisis, allegedly frigid partner, addiction, physically ill partner, or any other number of items, the person having an affair has the choice to do or not to do.

One can come up with hundreds of excuses in an attempt to obscure, but it all comes down to the same thing. The unfaithful partner chose a certain road and gleefully followed it to its end.

In the past ten years, there has been more of a specific push to remove blame from men when it comes to infidelity. All of us have heard the tired argument that men are genetically programmed to “mate” with as many women as possible – as if having a him spread his seed is a man’s birthright and expanding his gene pool is his manifest destiny.

However, there is also a trend that is more disturbing. In the recent years, I have noticed a trend among the therapy community where some therapists look for ways to assign blame for an affair to each spouse.  In fact, many therapists have become quick to point the finger at the victim first and proclaim, “What role did you have in this? What did you do to make him/her do it?”

Such proclamations of blame can be heard coming from therapists who otherwise seemed as if they were full of integrity. However, I do not believe that one can be full of integrity and still ask the victim of the affair to shoulder blame.

The other day, I witnessed another example of this type of thinking when I viewed a brief video seminar on infidelity. The therapist’s stated that men cheat when women “let themselves go”. Thus, this particular female therapist freely advised women to “stop eating so much” and to use any means possible to keep the same appearance that they had when they first met their husbands.

As for men, this therapist advised them not to feel guilty since she asserted that they are genetically wired to be visual. She reassured men that they are not shallow for wanting their wives to maintain a slim, beautiful, and youthful appearance. (One caveat, this therapist did not list her credentials, so I have doubt that she would have learned this viewpoint from an APA approved university).

You can’t blame the victim

Aside from the obvious fallacies in this belief system, I believe this is another attempt to blame the victim when infidelity occurs. Furthermore, such ideas are neither realistic nor do they foster the forging of deeper bonds between a two people. Any relationship worth having and worth keeping does not have a foundation that is built solely upon physical beauty.

There must be something more if a relationship is to grow and flourish. In addition to that, if a woman finds herself married to a man who believes that his wife must maintain a perfect appearance in exchange for his fidelity, it is likely that such a man will not be capable of having a mature relationship.

Frankly, I find it outrageous when a victim is blamed for an affair. This argument contains the same kind of quasi-logic as saying that a criminal is not accountable for robbing a bank because the bank had money in it. This type of argument would never hold up in a court of law.

I believe that no matter what the circumstance, the unfaithful partner always has a choice in his or her actions. The unfaithful partner knew what he or she was doing and went ahead with the affair. This is the bottom line.

But more disturbing, this phenomenon of blaming the victim is really very harmful. When an affair occurs, the innocent party needs validation and reassurance that he or she did nothing wrong. The innocent party deserves support, needs someone to trust, and a guiding hand to help recover from this profoundly traumatic event.

When an innocent person’s world is turned upside down, it is terrible to say he or she was the cause of it. What’s worse is when therapists see no issue in asking for an hourly fee for delivering such destructive news. When therapists work with clients from this premise, it is a zero-sum game for everyone involved. Worse yet, it can effectively destroy any shred of the victim’s remaining self-esteem.

Fortunately, there are many people in the therapeutic community who strongly believe that the blame for infidelity falls squarely on the shoulders of the unfaithful partner. While we can discuss circumstances that made a partner prone to being unfaithful, these circumstances do not excuse the affair. 

On the other hand, as couples go through therapy, it is usually helpful to discuss the circumstances, events, addictions, false beliefs, unhealthy attitudes learned in the family of origin, and/or narcissistic thinking that served as a prelude to the affair.

Even if you believe none of these circumstances are present, there is always something that triggered the other person, even if it is as simple as the other person just wanting to have an affair. The sole act of thoughtlessly following an urge is still something that warrants much exploration.

introspectionSometimes if circumstances and the belief systems of the offending partner are examined at a deeper level, the couple can gain a greater understanding of the mechanisms that are operating just beneath the surface.

Doing such an examination is not the panacea to end all affairs, but it can be very helpful and can sometimes prevent a recurrence of an affair. But, such prevention can only be predicated by the capacity of the unfaithful partner to participate honestly in self-reflection while at the same time staying accountable. Holding the unfaithful partner accountable for his or her choices is the bottom line and the only way to kick-start the healing process.

Still, the bottom line remains. Infidelity occurs because the unfaithful partner has made a choice. Even on your most difficult days, never allow doubt to enter your mind and never allow someone to place the blame of you. After all, we neither cause nor control the behavior of another person.

If you are still not convinced, think of it this way. When someone commits a crime, shifting blame does not hold up in court. Just as laws are written to hold people accountable, therapists should also hold unfaithful partners accountable when they have committed a crime against the sanctity of marriage.

Before concluding this article, I would like to make a brief statement about the role of the mistress. Even when I was in my thirties, I believed that the blame for infidelity could be split 50/50 between the unfaithful husband and his mistress.

However, sometime during my Master’s training in clinical psychology, I quickly realized that if one person did not make up this equation, the affair would not be possible. In these cases, it is up to the would-be unfaithful husband to say “no”, even if a woman allegedly throws herself at the husband’s feet. I will likely explore this dynamic in a later post.

If you are a victim of infidelity, please remember that it is NOT about you. The unfaithful partner made a choice because there is something inherently lacking in him or her. In addition to that, your partner’s infidelity does not determine your worth or your lovability. Regardless of whether your partner stays in the marriage, you remain inherently worthy and inherently lovable.  


Sarah recently finished her Master’s work in clinical psychology and is currently working on her PsyD (Doctor of Psychology ) degree. Thanks Sarah!

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    21 replies to "Infidelity in Marriage: It’s Always a Choice"

    • Tryinghard

      I have been fortunate to have marriage counselor and therapists that never put blame for my husbands affair on me. I would even encourage them to identify my shortcomings in the marriage and personally to try and figure out my role in his betrayal and have come up with some attitudes that I held about roles and relationships that made it easier for him to do what he did. They did not however put any of the blame on me. I call bulls…t on the magic bullet being weight loss as a cure. For every overweight person whose spouse has not committed adultery you could find ten fit spouse who have had infidelity affect their marriages. Just as there are quacks in other professions there are many in the counseling field. It is the consumers responsibility to figure this out.

      I agree the blame falls 100% on the unfaithful spouse. They are the gate keepers of themselves but I don’t think counselors really put enough blame or responsibility on the other person. There’s plenty of advice out there saying they don’t matter, don’t contact them, you can’t hurt them like you were hurt, etc but I try to put myself in that persons shoes. I would be mortified if a wife called me. I would be hiding in shame. I would know my role and feel horribly guilty. She knows she offered herself up on a platter. She knows she was used and she used and abused the circumstances. She knew he was married and went for it anyway, wife and family be damned. People need to be held accountable. She is not an innocent victim. I’m looking forward to reading more from you about your research regarding affair partners. Good article. Thank you.

      • exercisegrace

        TH, ugh. yes, I can remember many of my earlier counseling sessions sobbing in the therapist’s office begging them to tell me….. WHAT DID I DO???? I had this almost delusional idea that if I could identify what “I” had done to cause it, “I” could FIX it. Thank you Jesus they were quick to tell me it was NOT AT ALL my fault. You can be the worst spouse in the world, and STILL not be at fault for your spouse’s cheating. If there are problems in the marriage, there are a multitude of ways to deal with that without introducing some parasite into the equation!

        For the record, I am fit. His affair partner outweighed me by (no Joke!) close to a hundred pounds. Affairs are NOT about sex, not about physical attraction. While that can and does at times come into play it’s not what is at the core. As we know, it is how that person makes the cheating spouse FEEL. Ego-jacking is the name of the game. Physical appearance, “letting yourself go”, are all bull-pucky excuses used by quacks who have not the slightest clue where the REAL issues lie.

    • gizfield

      Re OM/Ow, in my book , there is a world of difference between “blame” and “accountability” , Blame means you CAUSED something. Accountability means you PARTICIPATED in it. Do I blame my husband’s gf he contacted her? No. But I bet there was something in their past interactions that let him know she was “receptive” to advances from marriaged men. As an example, if Doug thought Tanya’s husband was at the end of the affair rainbow to beat his ass he either would not have cheated, or found someone else. My philosophy is the same as the police. If you are in the car during the commission of a felony, you are all equally accountable. Doesn’t matter who thought of it. just who acted on it.

    • gizfield

      Also, if you think the OP is just a benign little person listening to your spouse bitch about you, you are probably wrong, imo. In most cases, they are vile individuals who are actively trashing you out on a continuous basis, either to get closer to your H/w or even worse just to give their own self a pathetic little ego boost. Although I wonder, if we are so fat, disgusting, pathetic, etc. how does that provide an ego boost for them? Can you say Low Self Esteem?

      • exercisegrace

        Giz, I absolutely agree. My husband’s affair partner was a very willing participant. She is the one who changed the boundaries of their friendship and work relationship. She knew me as well, and tried to cause discontent on both sides of the equation. She was almost pathological in this effort. However, for the most part she was also very careful in how she worded the criticism of ME. It was carefully hidden in what she told my husband he DESERVED, what SHE could give him.

    • tweet

      Sarah – thank you for this article. Like Tryinghard, none of my three therapists (individual, marriage, and EMDR) have ever believed that I was to blame for my husband’s affair. In fact, they have all tried to move me away this. All of them know that the blame clearly rests squarely on my husband, and our marriage therapist and his individual therapist have been absolutely clear about this with him. But, it is so difficult to believe, as a betrayed spouse, that all of this pain could have been avoided if I had just done something differently, that I somehow should have known that he was lying to me day after day. And since I didn’t – the answer must be that I am stupid – not something that I want to be. And of course, I’m still living with this guy who says that he was completely at fault, yet his actions don’t support that.
      My husband has said that his affair wasn’t about me, and you make mention of that in your last paragraph, “If you are a victim of infidelity, please remember that it is NOT about you.” But admitting that it wasn’t about me is a double edged sword. How could my husband, after 30 years of marriage, have picked up the phone hundreds of times to call or text her, and he never thought about me? How could he have been writing her love letters on his computer when I was in the next room washing the dinner dishes, and he never thought about me? I have kept a log of my thoughts over the past 2.5 years, and here is an entry from over year ago, which borrows from a post that I saw on survivinginfedelity.com.
      “The affair “wasn’t about me.” He didn’t set out to hurt me “intentionally”. It’s a question of power and presence. If it was about me, as bad as that could be, at least I was a consideration – there is some power in that. “It had nothing to do with you” isn’t exactly a compliment. It erases me. To accept that the affair was not about me at all, I have to accept that I not only lacked power, but I lacked all presence. In his mind, I didn’t exist.”

      This is the fallout that comes from affairs…

      • exercisegrace

        Tweet, those last sentences broke my heart. My husband also told me the affair was not about me, and I have had many emotions roll around in head regarding that statement. In the end, we have to just embrace that what they had with the AP was not real. If it was, they would be with that person. Just because a willing slut comes along and chases a married man, it does not erase the marital relationship that was built on REAL love and commitment over the years. The affair is just a symptom of something broken inside our spouses. Like having a physical disease that needs treatment, they have something psychologically go haywire that needs treating. They just choose the wrong way to treat it.

    • EyesOpened

      Tweet

      Not sure if you value a CSs response – but here’s my thought on your post.

      Your relationship and where you are with your h is about you and him. You can affect your relationship. His relationship with her is about him and her (not you ). THATS how his affair is not about you .

      If you reach a good place in your relationship again (which I somehow know you can:are) the threat will no longer exist. Nothing to do with her.

      • Cozy

        I appreciate a CS trying to shed some light on the subject, EyesOpened.

        Can you shed some light on how I feel about when I was talked about, my marriage was discussed and these two ppl conspired to keep their relationship hidden from me … so, it’s difficult for me and other BS to have these things done to us and said about us, but then be told nothing was about us. It feels like it was done to us, if nothing else, the secrecy and lies were certainly aimed at us. My husband felt he hadn’t deliberately done anything to me … really, cause during his EA he completely ignored me and was argumentative when he did communicate, all of the sudden nothing I did was right, but he sure expected supper when he wandered in the door late, claiming to be working late, he almost flushed a 30 yr marriage and almost wrecked our family. All for some gutter-slut (sry bout the name calling, I’m not in a real generous place with her yet) who after leaving her husband, she still professes to love deeply, within 2 months was sleeping with a man she met in a bar (who she lovingly refers to as “dumbass”) and was asking a married man over to her house.

    • exercisegrace

      I really enjoyed this post Sarah, and you make many excellent points. Thank you for validating betrayed spouses. There isn’t as much of that as one would think!

      In my eyes, the spouse does make the choice to cheat, but it is not as simple as making
      “A Choice”. It really occurs because the spouse makes a thousand small choices, that taken individually seem harmless at the time. Until suddenly the sum total becomes an affair. My husband was able to convince himself that he wasn’t cheating until it became physical. His affair partner was a co-worker and friend for several years before their affair started. She admitted that her feelings changed, and she pursued him aggressively for a long time. She manipulated conversations, played on his depression and other things going on in our life. She also knew ME, and tried to pit us against each other. She ACTIVELY tried to cause disharmony at BOTH ENDS. Having said that, I will also say that my husband is one hundred percent at fault for breaking our marriage vows. I would also contend that SHE is one hundred percent at fault for being deceptive, changing the rules of their friendship, and violating human decency by choosing to pursue a married man.

      We have been fortunate to have therapists that place the blame on him and not on me. I am thankful that my husband has been very willing to explore why he made all those little choices that culminated in disaster for us. Very few people get up one day and make “a choice” to cheat. A co-worker makes a flattering comment, a flirtatious text gets sent, etc. In my husband’s case, he initially felt uncomfortable and chose to ignore it. But she escalated it. So what is behind the choices they make on their march to infidelity? Why do we betrayed spouses decline the opportunity to cheat when our spouses chose differently? Our therapists have helped us see the vulnerabilities that piled up in his life and colored his decision making. And no, NONE of those excuse his cheating. He could have taken a different path. Sought help for the abuse of his childhood, talked to a friend about the boundaries he was letting her cross, figured out why he had let his career define him more than his role of husband and father, etc. The list could go on.

      I am extremely thankful we never ran into one of the “blame the spouse” schools of therapy!!

    • tryinghard

      Giz
      This is brilliant. I so struggle with that “she was to blame” idea. It’s like she held a gun to his head and I know he made a conscious, willing choice. I get the idea of being accountable. That’s really it. Thanks for giving me a light bulb moment for something I’ve been struggling with for a long time. This may all seem like splitting hairs and maybe it is but it’s answers, albeit small answers, that help put the enigma together for us.

      EG
      I’ve asked my husband many times if she talked bad about me and his answer was always no. You’ve cleared up for me that I was asking the wrong question. It wasn’t that she was dumb enough to say something bad about me, she was smart enough to give herself glowing appraisals. Every chance she got she would build herself up to him. He did tell me that she bragged about how good she was in bed and that if he ever tried it she would “rock his world” (yep her words) with her sexual prowess (not her words, my words so as not to assault the dear readers with her actual low-class verbiage). Thanks EG for that light bulb moment as well.

      Eyes
      Good to see you back. Sounds like you’re doing better. You always give such great advice from the CS point of view.

      Bex
      Listen to Eyes Opened 🙂

      Doug
      You are so diplomatic. Ah the voice of reason. You and my H may be twins 🙂

      • Doug

        Thanks, I think. You must have one hell of a good looking husband! 😉

      • exercisegrace

        TH, you are most welcome. You and the others here have given me many lightbulb moments during my journey and I am forever grateful.

        I am beginning to think it is fairly common for the AP to not mention the betrayed spouse very much. ESPECIALLY if this was not their first rodeo!! I attribute that to knowing the CS is not going to leave the marriage. The AP sees the guilt and turmoil in the cheating spouse. I know that’s true in our case, as she asked him numerous times…..”you still love her, don’t you?” He always told her he he did, and that he had no intention of leaving me. I believe him. If you really think about it as an affair partner, they are at a disadvantage. They are competing with a real relationship. Their best bet is to create a fantasy world where the CS is admired and adored. No pressures, no demands, no expectations. Let them do their own comparisons to the marital relationship and its inherent pressures of mortgages, bills, kids, in-laws, chores, errands, and so on. It’s like with your siblings. YOU can bash them, but let someone else start and you’re going to defend them! I think these AP’s know where there is guilt, there will be some amount of obligation to not hear the OW bash the wife.

        Just a thought!

    • EyesOpened

      Ha ha – lol to Doug!

      TH – I have been catching up in your fantastic posts – just it been in a place to join in more recently. You are an inspiration !

      EG – You are a very grounded and wise BS as is TH – I just know that if the boot were on the other foot I would not have reacted in the admirable way you guys have. To come through such trauma and see so clearly is frankly beyond belief. Thanks for being there for us lost souls to help us back on The right track! EVERYONES comments are so insightful and helpful for me to heal my marriage . We are well on the way to success now.

      • Doug

        EO, I appreciate your contributions. It’s always good to have CS share their experiences and view points.

      • exercisegrace

        EO, thanks. It means a lot. Your point of view is appreciated and valued. It’s been a long hard struggle for all of us and anything we can do to point each other in the right direction is a blessing. I hope our words also bless others that find themselves in this situation, whatever side of the equation they are on.

      • Strengthrequired

        Eo, so happy for you and your h, so glad to hear things are getting better and better for the both of you. Success, such a wonderful word.

    • EyesOpened

      SR, EG and Doug – It’s comforting to be somewhere that I know I can’t bu–s@/t (I know Gizfield will call me on it :-). Thanks for always being open minded! Apologies for my grammatical errors earlier – meant to say I have ‘not been in a place where I’ve felt I can join in ‘…

    • Healingperson

      Great insights here!

      For the first time in many attempts to understand his reasons to cheat, I had a breakthrough. I believe that personality comparability in a relationship is very important. My H and I have never liked “drama”. As a matter of fact that was always a topic that he and I would quickly dismiss whenever any kind of drama arose from family or friends. So, when he suddenly was filled with drama through some significant life events, I did what I usually did, dismissed it! I was unable to empathize. When he tried talking to me, I would say things like “look at the bright side”, or “it could be worse”. What he needed was for me to listen and validate him. Suddenly, we were not compatible. Our relationship began suffering.

      So, when I asked him again recently the big “why” he opened the door to/for her in our lives, he said without even thinking–“She liked drama and fed on it, and he had a lot to share”. He was pretty embarrassed to actually admit it.

      I totally agree with excercisegrace that it is not one big choice of “I am going to cheat”. It is a lot of little choices that got out of control. Without realizing it he was hooked. He is 100% to blame for marriage infidelity, but she is 100% to blame for using the “playbook” and manipulating him to her advantage!

    • Cozy

      I place the blame on my husband for his EA and every single one of the thousands of bad decisions he made to get there. I do though blame the ow for asking my husband to her appt to workout, she’s never met me and in my book, you don’t ask married men to your house unless you know their wives! I blame her for crying about her pitiful life to my husband, for comparing herself to my husband’s (deceased) mother (gemme a break). I blame her for insisting my husband look at her car in the work parking lot because it was making a noise (she sees her bf or X daily) and trust me, my husband is NO mechanic, he once fixed a $2 thing on our truck and burnt out $1500 of electrics in it. lol

      There’s no lack of a place to put blame in an affair… it takes 2! HE is the one responsible and committed to me though. She is lucky, she get’s a lesson from me… and it’s entitled, How to keep your husband of 30 years. I won’t lie, I have contemplated revenge (evil smile) it’s one of the few things that gives me a chuckle now a days. lol… However, I believe Karma will do the work for me,,, she’ll continue in her pitiful life .. or if my husband did actually do anything to her car… trust me, that one’ll bite her in the hiney. lol

    • Strengthrequired

      Last year I was contacted by an old male friend, it was a surprise, and yes somehow awkward. If he called I told my h, but at times I just could not bring myself to answer his calls, as when we were younger he did have feelings for me, and during one if our conversations he had told me that he loved me, of course I didn’t respond to his words just said good bye. At times he would call on different numbers so I answered him again, so he had again after talking said he loved me. Now I mentioned this to my h last year, and I told him how uncomfortable it made me, and of course I had hoped that because I hadn’t called him at all, that maybe he had forgotten about me. Until I received a call the other day from him. Thankfully I didn’t answer his call, so now I know another number to not answer. Of course I told my h again, that he had called again.
      Now this guy is not my type, we had never been out as a couple, and I wasn’t interested in it either. My h today recalls how this guy was not very accepting of him and I when he met him for the first time, and is also finding it very funny how after many years of not seeing him, he had started calling me.
      Sounds a it like dejavu, doesn’t it.
      My h asked me, if he had called me during our troubled times, would I have gone to him.
      My response was, “no, but if I was desperate for some other person to love me, for me to feel love from someone, then during our troubled times, there was a different man that was interested in meeting up with me, I probably would have met up with him, but I was not desperate, and I had no intention of being with another man, I couldn’t even imagine myself with om. So the thought of that just was not something I was interested in, even during our troubled times. It was the furtherest thing from my mind”
      He asked I told him.
      Now as for this man that calls me every so often, i think even if nothing had happened with my h and an ea, him saying I love you would have creeped me out even then.
      So now I wonder is my h starting to see the damage another person can cause to your marriage, especially when inappropriate words are being said.
      I think maybe with him questioning me about this om, that now he really does.

      Yet coming back to what this blog is saying, infidelity in marriage is always a choice, well it is true. You can either choose to be honourable and respectful of your marriage, or you can choose to cheat and lie and be disrespectful.
      For me my family, my marriage is everything.

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