Does the relationship between infidelity and addiction make any sense?

the relationship between infidelity and addiction

By  Doug

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a conversation with someone about their struggles with their partner’s affair and the addictive nature of infidelity is brought up in some way.  Many of the unfaithful people I talk to also mention their “addiction” to the affair partner quite a bit.

The behaviors of an addict are almost the same no matter what the addiction. That’s why it’s easy for many people to spot an addict, or at least notice that something is wrong. Signs of addiction are right there in front of us, but we often judge too quickly and incorrectly.

So, I thought I’d put together a piece on the relationship between infidelity and addiction. 

Defining Addiction – The Four C’s


A powerful desire to use or participate in your addiction. Craving can manifest itself physically through a feeling of restlessness, lake of sleep and lack of appetite.

At times cravings are triggered by situations associated with past acting out behavior, but they can also be triggered by the time of day, opportunity, smells, mood, lack of sleep, state of mind and countless other things.

Cravings are something we think about all the time and can’t get off our mind. They are created by dopamine in the pleasure-reward center of our brain and cannot be quieted until we satisfy that urge. Maybe you’ve experienced a craving for chocolate after a spicy meal when nothing else will quite satisfy.


If the behavior is being driven by the pleasure-reward center and has been programmed into our very survival, it is no longer healthy. Whether its sugar, gambling, drugs, sex, food, pornography, alcohol, affair partners, or prostitution, compulsion drives us to do or consume more than we intended.

The urge is irresistible, and you do it despite not wanting to. There is less joy in the substance or activity. You now engage in this behavior simply because you must.

In Alcoholics Anonymous it’s said that one drink is too many and 500 is not enough.  We tell ourselves we will use moderation as an excuse to partake in the behavior and then indulge ourselves. One potato chip becomes the whole bag and one last text becomes another 1500 to the affair partner.  

Dopamine’s relentless demand for pleasure tempts us to compromise our morals and values to satisfy that compulsion. One indicator of a serious problem is when people begin to compromise their own integrity for the substance, person, or behavior.


The third C is really about a loss of control. The more the addict indulges the more unmanageable their life becomes. If you want to quit but can’t, you have lost control.

You can no longer maintain your cravings and your use increases drastically. You can no longer control your action and you begin to use dishonesty to mask the truth of your actions.

Once that compulsive activity begins, the addict goes far beyond what was intended. The longer they remain in the cycle, the more uncontrollable their lives (as well as the lives of their loved ones) become. Craving and compulsion become their source of life and all else falls away.


Even though you know this substance or activity harmful, you continue to use or engage. Consequences range from mild to severe. Most mild consequences will build over time and become severe consequences.

The emotional signs of addiction manifest here too. Even though you know how this substance or activity will make you feel, you continue to participate.

The consequences are what indicate you have a problem. For example: you have a craving and your goal is to only have one drink, to just text your AP one time, or to just look at porn for five minutes.

Compulsion makes moderation an impossibility and as a result control is lost. One drink winds up being 20, one text leads to spending the night with your AP, five minutes of looking at porn winds up being five hours.

All of these behaviors create serious consequences such as being arrested or even harming someone for driving drunk, destroying any chance of a future with your mate, or undoing months of hard work rebuilding trust.

Don’t Put Up With the Affair Addiction Anymore

Are They an Addict?

Rick Reynolds, LCSW says that “The addictive process isn’t physical dependence; it’s not about abusing something or even daily use. It’s about meeting the criteria of the four C’s. If it meets those criteria then it’s an addiction whether it’s food, anger, sex, love, porn, exercise, or whatever else might meet that criteria.

Some reading this might be tempted to define their mate’s behavior as an addiction because of the negative consequences of the affair to you or the marriage, but the four C’s are not just about the negative consequences.

For instance, a one-night stand isn’t an addiction if there’s no craving, compulsion, or a loss of control where each time they repeat the behavior it spins totally of control and they have multiple one-night stands in one night. Addictions have nothing to do with frequency. Even if the behavior happens only once every ten years, if it begins with a crazy craving which results in a compulsion that sends them out of control and ends up with serious consequences then it’s an addiction.

For instance, porn isn’t an addiction if there’s no craving, or compulsive use resulting in them being out of control and going much farther than intended, which leads to serious consequences. However, I’m not saying that if it fails to meet the criteria of the four C’s then it’s not a serious problem. In my mind anything that is contrary to love is self-centered and presents a serious problem. But, the course of treatment will vary according to whether it’s an addiction or some other form of acting out.” *

I also wanted to share a piece I found the other day on this topic.  The following is a 3-part series – in its entirety – by Dr. Scott Haltzman for the website Hitched.   

Affairs: The Relationship Between Infidelity & Addiction

After decades studying human behavior, I had a revelation that has since colored my perception of infidelity: Almost everything that happens to an addict happens to someone who has an affair.

See also  Straight from the Horse's Mouth: Why Some People Have Affairs

Think about drug and alcohol abuse for a moment: Not only does the syndrome result in abuse of substances, but it includes hiding behaviors from others, lying about activities, investing time and money seeking a chemical high, and changing just about every aspect of one’s life. Moreover, most of these individuals have wished to break away from their substances of abuse, but doing so has proved very difficult. Doesn’t that sound an awful lot like what happens when someone has an affair?

So, we’re talking about “sex addiction,” right?


Sex addiction is a specific kind of addiction, the existence of which is highly contested by researchers in psychiatry. When sex addiction is addressed as a problem, experts refer to individuals (mostly men) who crave sex—specifically sexual release—as in orgasm.

Now, there’s nothing wrong for wanting sex. After all, it’s encoded in DNA for sex to be pleasurable. I’d venture to guess that there was a time during virtually every teenage boy’s life when sex constantly consumed his thoughts.

But sex addiction is different than enjoying sex or wanting to experience a sexual liaison.  For sex addicts, it’s an obsession. Things that remind them of sexual release will initiate a cascade of intense yearning, and drive them to seek sexual release in whatever way they can. Often these people have learned how to skillfully entice other men or women into having sexual relations with them, even though their desire for sex is not driven by feelings of emotional connection or love. Often, sex addicts will hire prostitutes or pay for “happy ending” massages. Sometimes, in the absence of contact with other people, the sex addict will turn to pornography and masturbation as a way to find relief from these urges. Like other addicts, this person will spend an inordinate amount of time preoccupied with the thing that gives them a high—sex—while hiding the obsession from others.

If you’ve gone to a therapist after an affair and you’ve been told that you or your partner are addicted to sex, look carefully at the paragraph above. Does that describe either one of you?  In most cases of infidelity, the issue is not about sex addiction. Enjoying sex is normal. Feeling that there are others who may give you more sex, or better sex, than your spouse is, regrettably, also very common. It doesn’t prove you’re addicted to sex, though. Ask yourself the following questions to help understand whether your problem is a sex addiction or something else.

  • Even before the affair, I was obsessed with sex to the point where my desire interfered with being able to accomplish important things.
  • I have a deep yearning for sex as one of the only ways I can feel “normal” and sometimes it doesn’t even matter whom it is with.
  • I use sex as a way to escape my typical problems either at work or at home.
  • I spend hours every week on the internet looking at images of sex or sexually provocative images of people I don’t know.
  • I spend several hours a month on the internet engaging in sexual-related chatting or IMing with individuals I don’t know.
  • I usually have to masturbate or have sex at least twice daily in order to concentrate on normal work or relationship requirements.
  • I frequently pay for or exchange favors for sex with people I don’t feel an emotional connection to. When I complete the act, I feel temporarily satisfied, but the feeling quickly goes away and I feel ashamed or guilty.
  • Anonymous sex appeals to me, and I feel more comfortable with it than sex with someone I know.

If you have answered “Yes” to four or more of the questions, then you may suffer from sex addiction and you’ll probably need more individualized help for your problem than this article can provide for you.  (Sex Addicts Anonymous is an excellent resource for getting help.)  Most of the people I have treated, however, even those who use pornography or visit prostitutes, answer no to most of these questions. They do not have a sexual addiction.

I began this article by looking at affairs and drawing parallels to addictions. Then I described a specific type of addiction, sex addiction, and concluded that most affairs do not happen for that reason. Confused? At this point, you might ask, “if people having affairs like people who have addiction, but they don’t have a sex addiction, what kind of addiction is it?”

Infidelity is a flame addiction.

The Flame Addiction

What is a flame addiction? 

The noun “flame” isn’t used much these days when people talk about relationships. A flame is an object of romantic attraction as in, “Taylor Swift is my flame.” Flame also describes an internal state of the person who feels the attraction as in, “I have a flame for Taylor Swift.” This uncommonly used word is uniquely suited to help explain the process of addiction that occurs when an affair happens. 

Flame has been adapted from its literal meaning, the essence of a fire that leaps out from the source of the heat. It also has a double meaning: it is both the fire itself, and the product of the fire. When I think of flame addiction, I think of a flame atop a candle’s wick, and the way a moth will circle around it. 

The moth and flame relationship is as old as time—in order to fly in a straight line, moths will orient themselves toward the moon. Since the likelihood of them ever actually landing on the moon was pretty low they were pretty much safe with that strategy. Then man came on to the scene and invented fire. Ever since then moths now mistakenly think they can capture the moon. Confronted with a flame, the moth approaches and believes it’s destined for a lunar landing.  It excitedly and persistently moves closer and closer to the candle, circling in ever smaller loops while its fragile wings clip the flame and the moth dies a fiery death.

Sobering, isn’t it?  But if you have had an affair, you know that the kind of attraction you had felt is no less intense, and misdirected, as a moth circling a candle. You may tell yourself that you ought to stop your misguided flight path, set your sights on something safer and saner, but every time you move away from the flame you are compelled to return. 

See also  Understanding Why You Had Your Affair – The Simple 5-Step Process

In contrast to flame addiction, people with a sex addiction are always looking for sexual gratification, so marital infidelities are par for the course. But people who have had affairs are as surprised by the development of a sexual relationship as their affair-mate is. These individuals do not typically seek out extra-marital sex. Nonetheless, they are attracted to another person, and that attraction becomes irresistible. 

People who have affairs discover that the infatuation with another person can be as strong as the obsession for orgasm for a sex addict, or for that matter, as strong as the drive for cocaine for a crack addict.  How can we explain the emotional experience that leads a faithful companion to become obsessed, preoccupied, reckless, conniving and depressed? 

We should start by looking at chemicals in the brain. Dopamine, for instance, is the brain’s reward chemical. When you associate a pleasurable sensation (the sound of waves crashing on the beach), with some outside experience (vacationing at the shore), your dopamine system is forever primed to feel good when you are triggered by the exposure to the stimulus—so whenever you hear waves in the future, you get a rush of positive feelings.

Most of the time, the surge of dopamine in the brain is a good thing, especially when it’s associated with positive desires. For instance, when married couples who are deeply in love see each other, their dopamine levels rise. Dopamine gives the message to the brain to “Go get ‘em! You’ll be happy you did!” This idea isn’t rational; it’s not well thought out. It’s an irresistible gut feeling. 

The dopamine centers can’t tell when the desires are less healthy. For instance, heroin addicts also have a surge in their dopamine when they see a bag of drugs. Although on a conscious level, they know that using heroin can lead to deadly consequences, they nonetheless begin to feel a powerful urge to shoot up (even if they are in sobriety). 

Almost all addictions can be understood as irresistible cravings, and most experts agree that those cravings are mediated by dopamine.  Flame addiction is no different. The person who wishes to end an affair might consciously tell him or herself that things are over, really over, once and for all. But any reminder of the other person—the voice, an e-mail, a picture, or even a memory—can generate a dopamine surge and start the avalanche of automatic feelings and the intense desire to be with that person. 

Let me be clear, though.  Understanding the chemical basis for addiction helps people understand how a perfectly sane person can act so insane sometimes. It explains how difficult it is to resist actions that will end in negative consequences.  It does not excuse the behavior. The crack addict with the most intense dopamine rush still has the choice to not use. Having an addiction doesn’t mean that you have to succumb to your urges—you can stop. Lots of addicts have. Lots of flame addicts have also. 

I find it helps the person who has been cheated on to understand how flame addiction works. Addictive behaviors are not turned off because someone simply wills them to stop—it often takes time. Like the alcoholic who swears off drinking, but can fall of the wagon, a partner who promises to stop seeing the other person can slip and go back on his or her word. That is often part of the process of beating flame addiction.

Beating Flame Addiction

A colleague and I were discussing the concept of “flame addiction,” a term used to describe the behavioral and psychological changes associated with infidelity. The syndrome includes typical addictive behavior such as obsession with and dependency on the affair mate, as well as the secondary consequences of addiction, such as being secretive and taking depleting resources from work, friends, and family.

My colleague, a PhD and renowned advice columnist, asked whether or not making affair behaviors an “illness,” is just providing the unfaithful partner with an excuse: “My addiction made me do it!”

There is some validity to that concern, but I don’t believe that once people learn their symptoms are because of an illness they have the right to blame their “medical condition.”  If diagnosed with diabetes (or high blood pressure), a patient had the duty to control sugar (or salt) intake and take medication. Obesity: lose weight. Emphysema: quit smoking. You get the idea. 

Indeed, recognizing infidelity as a flame addiction can be productive in helping couples learn how to get the problem under control. Not surprisingly the approach to treating flame addiction is much like treating any addiction. 

Step 1: Abstain

You must set up a barrier between yourself and the object of your addiction, be it alcohol, drugs, or gambling. Addicts who are serious about recovery know that even small doses of their “substance” can lead to complete and total relapse.  For the flame addict, it means having no further contact with the extramarital person who ignites your passion.

Step 2: Avoid Triggers

People who want to quit alcohol need to stop going to bars; people who want to quit cocaine need to stop going to crack houses. Seems obvious, but sometimes people believe they can hang with the same friends and go to the same hang-out places and not relapse. In fact, when just the opposite happens: being around places and situations that remind you of the addiction trigger cravings. In flame addiction, sometimes that “place” can be the internet, the job site or the sidelines of your kids’ soccer game.

Step 3: Foster Recovery

Addicts have learned certain approaches for moving past their addictions, often involving 12-step meetings or other support organizations. There may not be flame addiction meetings in your area (although Codependent Anonymous may be a good substitute), but even if you do not go to meetings, there are principles from these recovery-oriented organizations that you can apply in getting past your affair:

One day at a time: Sometimes when you give up your addiction, the idea of never being able to speak to, see, or hear from your flame seems too unbearable to endure. If you break down to one day at a time, it’s much more tolerable and manageable. You can tell yourself that, just for today, you won’t have contact. Each day, awaken and commit yourself for staying away from your flame for that day, and continue to do this one day at a time.

See also  How to Cheat on Your Spouse Without Feeling Guilty

Find serenity: One of the most helpful aspects of the recovery program is the overarching desire for the addict to seek inner peace as an alternative to the outer craving. The flame-addicted individual must be prepared to say, “Today I seek serenity, rather than seek ____.” It means loving, craving, and working toward the tranquility that comes with taking control of your life.

Turn toward your higher power: One of the other features of 12-step programs is the belief that one must call to a higher power to help themselves through addiction. Likewise, some people who have had affairs will find that when they can reconnect to their own higher power (for most of my patients, that has been the God of their religious denomination) that they find the courage, strength and direction to get themselves on track. Those whose partners have cheated will also sometimes find comfort and purpose in their religious community.

Seek support: Feeling like part of a network of loving, caring individuals can help people move past addictions.

You can turn to close friends and family. Having some discretion is necessary when something as big as an affair affects you and your family, but telling absolutely no one builds up your sense of isolation and makes it harder to move forward. Find one or two close friends, and ask whether they are up to the task of helping you out. Generally, it’s better to turn to people who are married. And forget about making your confidant someone who is currently having an affair him or herself!

Seek professional or spiritual help: Therapists (including religious counselors) who specialize in treating couples or individuals with marital problems can help you find ways to energize your marriage and break away from your flame. I recommend therapists who identify themselves as being marriage friendly. If not, you could get bad advice. Take “Aggie,” a woman who responded to a blog I wrote on the subject:

When my marriage was affected by infidelity after 25 years, I entered therapy individually as a very disoriented middle-aged woman. My therapist nudged me toward divorce when I wasn’t sure that was even what I wanted. It seemed like before I even knew what happened, I was in a lawyer’s office (her recommendation), just to find out where I stood legally, and then the ball was rolling… We’ve all been crushed and still struggle to pick up the pieces eight years later. I’ve lost my home, my financial security, and my health insurance. My husband and I both have new partners, but neither of us is happy. I feel like I was sold some silly bill of goods about building a “new life,” just on the whim of a therapist who was used to helping women through “transitions.”

Keep in mind that finding a good therapist can help you move forward if he or she is willing to help you focus on how to direct your energy back into the marriage.

Finally, seek support from your spouse: help him or her get involved in your commitment to change.

Spousal Support

What can spouses of a flame addict learn from understanding this model? Patience! After you’ve discovered your spouse was unfaithful, your instincts may tell you to avoid him or her like the plague. But if a person who has had an affair is serious about wanting to kick the flame addiction then it may require extraordinary courage on the partner’s part.

Understanding flame addiction means realizing that changing behavior is not easy. People in trying to kick addictions frequently can succeed, but on the way they often slip. If a heretofore unfaithful spouse responds to a text message from an old flame, it does not necessarily mean that the marriage is doomed. It means there’s still work to be done, and sometimes your support can make all the difference.

Scott Haltzman, M.D., is the author of “The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity” (Johns Hopkins University Press). He served as a Brown University assistant professor of psychiatry for 20 years, is board certified in Psychiatry, and is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. You can get more information at his website,


The Relationship Between Infidelity and Addiction – Hitting Bottom

I frequently tell people I’m mentoring that affairs can be a lot like an addiction in that there won’t be sufficient motivation to make changes or to stop the affair – the drug of choice – until the unfaithful person (addict) hits some sort of bottom.

And I like what Rick Reynolds says about this:

Bottom doesn’t have to be a moment in time where you lose everything. Addiction is an elevator that continually moves downward, but we have the ability to get off at whatever floor we choose. All it takes is a desire for a different life and seeing the problem for what it is. You have to accept that, strange as it may seem, you have an addiction. You don’t overcome addiction by stopping the behavior; instead, you create a new life where it’s easier not to act out. You find something worthwhile to live for.

If you struggle with addiction there are many resources available: 12 step programs, Smart Recovery, addiction counselors, and support groups. The one thing those in recovery have are others who will walk with them. As I mentioned in the second week’s video the power of the addiction’s motivational engines will overcome reason and logic. Unless the addict can find others who understand the problem and are willing to come alongside them and help direct their recovery, the power of the addiction will return to once again drag them into a living hell. So please don’t try it alone. Find others who can keep you on the path of healing.”


So what do you feel about the relationship between infidelity and addiction? Do you feel this makes sense when looking at your – or your spouse’s – situation?






    43 replies to "The Relationship Between Infidelity and Addiction"

    • Exercisegrace

      I have very mixed feelings about bringing the term addiction into the affair world. On one hand, I definitely see components of it, but we could say the same for any immature infatuation. If you have teens, just observe their budding romances LOL. My husband grew up with an alcoholic father, an emotionally distant mother, and a toxic home life. It left emotional holes. It made him extremely needy for my attention. When the kids came along, he often felt neglected because HIS emotional needs were just abnormally high. So there was a vulnerability there when his ho-worker started pursuing him. Looking back I can see that he acted very much like a teenage boy with a new girlfriend. The secrecy and clandestine nature was all very exciting. I was like the parent that two teenagers were trying to pull one over on, to sneak off together.

      But on the other hand, I feel that throwing down the addiction card is a get out of jail free pass. “It’s not ME, it’s my DISEASE”. It removes (at least partially) the concept of the affair being an active choice, and moves it to a level of inevitability. If the affair was some type of biological imperative, you are no longer responsible. AND EVEN BETTER! Now you should be pitied!

      I told my husband he made dozens if not hundreds of tiny decisions before things completely crossed the point of no return (sex
      Or words of love and commitment). How many texts typed back and forth that he erased? Because he KNEW they were wrong and would deeply wound me. He walked towards his whore one step at a time. He wasn’t drug there by a disease.

      At the end of the day, I accepted the role his shit family played in his choices. I accepted his abnormal needs for attention. BUT. Stronger than normal boundaries (per therapist) were put in place. One thing MOST cheaters don’t want to accept is that if they cheated, they must protect their partner with stronger than average boundaries for life.

    • Better days

      I agree. I feel it’s trying to jump onto the addiction epidemic bandwagon for a free ride. It’s a lack of respect for your spouse and reduced boundaries. True addictions don’t stop with proper ultimatums and exposure the way an affair does. You don’t get snapped out of the “fog” with a true addiction. Harsh consequences work here, not so much with addiction. I actually have a respect for a recovering substance addict with a success story. I find it hard to find that same respect for a “recovering” cheater. This is one stigma that is deserving actually aids in stopping the cheating.

      • WhoKnows

        Can’t agree more! I haven’t thought about that snapping out after exposure aspect. It is true that they cheated themselves with the fantasy before they cheated anybody else.

    • Kittypone

      I agree with all of you. There are components of addiction with the behavior of the cheater, but it should never minimize the responsibility the cheater has of making the right choices for both themselves and their spouses. I can see how my H is no longer in the affair fog and regrets making that abismal mistake, but at the end of the day, he walked into it with eyes wide shut. As a faith-based person, he KNEW BETTER than to entertain temptation, only to find himself burnt almost beyond help…..I thank God for placing this site in my life when I needed it the most! It has been a life saver!!

    • Sarah P

      Hi All,

      This is a very well-written and comprehensive article. Thanks for giving us so much to think about, Doug.

      I have to admit I had never heard before that moths orient themselves to the moon. The image I got in my mind of a moth chasing the moon made me laugh out loud. Who knew moths were the first would-be astronauts? Maybe NASA could ask the moths about their secret that helps them attempt to achieve a lunar landing. (Or maybe there is a conspiracy here.! Maybe moths made the first spaceship and landed on the moon first!) But moths don’t talk and don’t give up secrets. Anyhow, that makes sense as to why moths approach fire. But, they aren’t very smart. are they? So there goes the moths building spaceships theory. Darn it!

      Okay no more of my silly sense of hunor.

      Onto the serious stuff.

      Affairs and addiction are a gray area and they certainly provide a way for cheater’s to reframe their behavior as an addiction.

      They will get a “boo hoo” response versus a “shame on you” response from others if they sulk and say they have a disease. that tragically causes them to fall into random and strange holes wherever they go. If they play the addiction card they can frame themselves as a victim when the only victim is the betrayed spouse and/or any children a cheater hurt due to their affair.

      Now comes the “however” part.

      So, addiction in general is highly genetic. This is what we are learning. Of course, genes don’t doom someone. They only account for 40% of the picture. If someone has genes that predispose them to addiction and then they have an affair, this will trip the genetic addiction switch in their brain and they are likely to eventually BECOME addicted to the feelings of newness that an affair provides. The affair partner could be a stripper who lives in the gutter, so the person they are having an affair with is not special. Any person that is new and is having an affair with someone prone to addiction, could activate the tendency for addiction to occur in the brain. Once that is activated, they will get an elevated high from the neurochenicals that their brain releases when they are with a new person. This could cause them to appear to be addicted to the affair partner when all the affair partner did is help activate the addictive tendency. The addiction will be reinforced each time they see the affair partner.

      The affair partner is like taking a hit of heroin. Of course, everyone gets tolerant to heroin and also to feel-good brain chemicals.

      Eventually the affair partner will no longer provide a high. And then someone who is prone to addiction could get depressed, or find another partner, or both. (Or maybe drink themselves to death.)

      Now, do these people deserve to be given slack? Not really.

      I have said in the past an affair is a journey of a thousand steps and a journey of 1,000 choices. Everyone is predisposed to some kind of negative behavior, but as adults we make choices based on free will. Someone who is an addict doesn’t get to play the victim and they are NOT victims because they knowingly chose the wrong thing to do.

      In this case, it doesn’t matter if a person is an addict or not. They are adults and as adults they must be their own keeper and set their own grown-up boundaries.

      Also…Just because someone is an addict, they may not have an affair. They could choose to drink, do drugs, gamble, over-spend, game for 14 hours a day, and over eat. Those are all avenues that feed and perpetuate addiction. If someone gambled the house away and lamely said, “But I am an addict,” the police would come and evict that person from his home. And they would tell him he was 100% responsible for his choices and that he chose to put himself in a situation where he lost his home. That’s his fault. He is not a victim. And no one would treat him like a victim.

      So people prone to addiction can get addicted to an affair partner. That person doesn’t have to be attractive, successful, moral, or anything else. The other person is like that heroin vile. And one day a cheater will get bored because the newness will wear off. The brain is not built to feel euphoric for extended periods and so there are built in systems in the brain that dampen that euphoria given time.

      Bottom line: I hold everyone accountable for their good or bad choices. People must be accountable for their actions. Even someone prone to addiction knows affairs are wrong. They can choose NOT to participate and they can choose NOT to take the journey of 1,000 steps. It’s all about their choice and they are not allowed to hide behind excuses or take on the role of victim. It doesn’t matter if we are in a so-called loveless marriage or anything else. We must choose to do the right thing at all times, regardless of our urges or desires. If we make terrible choices, we must fully own them.

      What are your thoughts?

      • Kittypone

        As usual, you are spot on, Sarah! Thank you for your insight and your perspective, it puts things in place! I KNOW I can’t blame myself for my H choices, but I do OWN my part in having allowed my marriage to take a back seat in the face of the busyness of life, and I regret that……

        • Exercisegrace

          Kittypone, that’s one area I have struggled with. I don’t see that I own any part of it. Marriage is so fluid. It’s never 50/50, those percentages shift daily. I think it’s perception. Did my husband and I let the stress of life, finances, raising kids, running a business, etc take a larger chunk of our time? Probably. But that was a mutual decision. Personally I think the cheater doesn’t have a problem with it UNTIL they are tempted and then AFTER the affair begins. Then they look back and re-write history. I was too involved with the kids, I don’t prioritize him, etc.

          Here’s the rub! If I had been the one who had chosen to cheat? I could have said….he works seven days a week! I feel like a single parent! I’m lonely! Neglected! Etc. At the time? I always said…my husband works so hard to provide for us. I’m doing my part by picking up the slack around the house etc. I saw it as a team.

          Looking back, I don’t see a ton that I would do differently. Even he says now that I supported his dreams to my own detriment. Kudos to the faithful spouses for hanging in there!

          • Kittypone

            Exercise Grace,
            I completely get what you’re saying…..I think that it takes two to tango, so, I do accept responsibility where I might’ve slacked off or slouched in prioritizing our relationship……we have 4 children and one of our boys is ADHD/ODD… was never slow with our son around, so he took up most of my time and attention …I own my part where I didn’t make the time for a date night, or a back rub, or just snuggling in the couch….did I push my H into the OW arms? Most DEFINITELY NOT, that was his choice, but I can see where tiny things just accumulated over time where needs just were not being met on a regular basis, and that goes both ways, as I could also have resorted to having an affair and have MY own needs met as well, yet I didn’t ….but, I understand completely your perspective as well and I can agree to your view looking at it from where you found yourselves……completely valid point that you’re making….

          • Hopeful

            Exercise Grace, I totally agree with you. I have said to my husband I take 0% responsibility for your actions and decisions or whatever you perceived to be going on in our marriage. If he could not handle having kids or a demanding stressful career he should have made different decisions. If he was too young to get married he should have made different decisions. That is how I see it. I never once brought up marriage or pressured him. I even moved to a different city and state to pursue my dreams and career. I never put pressure on him. I was determined to make it on my own and not follow him and his education/career. I also knew we were young and it would be good for us to follow our own paths. I felt if we still felt connected then it would work out. I also never pressured in any way to have kids. If anything he pressured me. I have never questioned his dedication to work, investment into his work or demand material items. Before and during “the affair years” I would come to him with ideas of how we could connect and focus on our marriage. His response was it was too hard to find babysitters or too much money. Which was/is a joke based on his income. There was almost always some reason it would not work. He always had a comeback. And most of the time it was a knock at me, total gaslighting. It was hard for me to see since his affairs were sporadic over 10 years. So things would seem great/normal then things would be odd.

            My husband had/has all the tools to not do what he did. He said he was screaming no inside his brain right before he cheated on me each time. I will not take any responsibility. I could go on and on but I have been nothing but 100% invested and probably even more than that. If anything I shortchanged myself. I have endured surgeries and been left to take care of myself. I could go on and on as I said. But he always had a reason why I should be happy.

          • Sarah P

            ExerciseGrace and Kittypone,

            EG is so right. Also for any new readers, the mantra here is the cheater bears 100% of the burden for the affair. Any spouse poachers out there also bear their part in intentionally trying to take down a marriage.

            But the betrayed spouse bears NO burden (unless perhaps they cheated).

            But here, the cheater bears 100% of the burden.

            As adults, life will have ups and downs. And as adults we choose HOW to respond. It doesn’t matter if a marriage is in shambles – in fact if that’s the case, you use that time to cling to your spouse and rebuild.

            The reason the idea has perpetued that we can cause a partner to cheat by not being (fill in the blank) is based on the belief we can control others. Well, anyone who has been through any kind of therapy will be told over and over again we cannot control others. We can only control ourselves. That’s a fact.

            So if we CANNOT control others, it logically follows we cannot make a spouse cheat or prevent them from cheating.

            I will admit in the beginning when I first was cheated on, I looked only to myself because I had been falsely taught that if a man doesn’t stay at home, it’s the wife’s fault.

            It has taken me MANY years of research to see that a person chooses to cheat.

            A spouse CANNOT make their spouse cheat. It’s an impossibility.

            I discourage betrayed spouses from going down the road of what they could have done better. It’s a dead end.

            We must look to those who choose to cheat and they need to reflect on what caused them to make the choice to cheat. Note: it has solely to do with their OWN brokenness and their terrible choices and the excuses they make to themselves in order to carry out the atrocity that is infidelity.

            ExerciseGrace, I totally hear what you are saying about being neglected due to his work schedule and still choosing to stay at home (versus finding a lover) and keep your marriage in tact. And the rub is, most wives don’t get what they need from their husbands. (I talk to women all day and when people are honest, no one is truly getting her needs met.) And I am referring to women I know in real life – not people who talk to me from EAJ. But these women find hobbies, or they suck it up and hold in their pain, just to keep their wedding vows intact.

            I can tell you that when a husband is cheating, he is not meeting his wife’s needs. Even a minute spent with a mistress is a minute that should have been spent with a wife. It’s a stolen minute from the life of the betrayed spouse.

            In the end, the cheater gets 100% of the blame for choosing to cheat.

            Cheating is not easy. I wouldn’t even know where to start if I wanted an affair partner. So what I mean is cheating on a spouse is VERY intentional on one level or another. Where would I put my kids who both have special needs? And when I think about what would be required for someone like me to cheat, I get disgusted half way through even thinking about it. Because I am NOT that person and cannot be that person.

            When I worked outside the house I was hit on a lot. I would ask my female friends at work why I was getting hit on by “that one guy.” Then we would compare notes and figure out that one guy was hitting on all of us when we were alone with him. And none of us took the bait. I am glad I compared notes with female coworkers because I was beginning to feel shame – like what vibe was I sending out? I am glad I asked because I wasn’t sending out any vibe. There was always one particular male in the office who secretly hit on everyone – one who was always “fishing” to see who would take the bait.

            Anyhow… I never took it and if in the future I do take the bait, I take full ownership. (Although hell would have to freeze over for me to take the bait and have an affair. I have never been wired that way). But let’s say one day I do, I only have me to blame. And no, this is not “coded language.” I have no male suitors waiting in the wings. Just saying. ????

            • Hopeful

              I love your reply Sarah. It triggers a memory of my husband during his affair years being very upset I had a young handsome handy man over while he was at work. He could not stop questioning me about what happened while he was at our house. And of course this was while he was in the thick of his affairs. Just a little projection going on. And all I could think was I have no idea where to start. I agree with everything you say 100%. Any times of challenges should be where you double down, work harder. And when my husband was not receptive to my efforts I focused on myself. That was the only thing I knew. He on the other hand chose the other path. But he betrayed himself first. I would never do that ever. It is who we are at our core.

      • Exercisegrace

        Sarah, as usual a very welll written and thought-provoking response.

        I guess when I think of addiction, I think of my experiences working in a medical field. Seeing people experiencing the very real physical impact of addiction. Delirium tremens, cardiac issues, etc. I’m sure we ALL have something we say we are “addicted” to having or using. For me it’s caffeine. I can get pretty bad headaches and be very grouchy when I’m “under caffeinated”. So while I certainly have a strong dependency, it’s a stretch for me to call it an addiction. It’s not life-threatening for me to choose to quit caffeine cold turkey.

        When I worked outside of the home, I had numerous opportunities to have an affair myself. While I set up immediate boundaries and made it abundantly clear that is not who I am, i can also admit that it was a tiny bit flattering. Mostly I was disgusted that someone would cast me in the role of potential affair partner, but nevertheless it has a component of flattery as well.

        This is where I can’t really buy fully into the addiction. There are hundred of steps before a full-blown affair is underway. Many conversations, hundreds of texts that progress beyond one boundary after another. A million warning signs to turn back. Yet I know all the reasons my husband was vulnerable to that very thing. What I will say to my own kids when they are older is…understand yourself. Know your own weaknesses and those of your partner.

    • Hopeful

      I am not sure where I fall on this topic. I can see many similarities with addiction and affairs. But sitting on the outside and seeing how my husband has issues with boundaries in many areas of his life (food, alcohol, with family) it feels like it is not a leap to porn and affairs. I am no professional however to me I think it seems very similar. With most of these things someone overdoes it and regrets it at some point. And at least for my husband and I think others they always have a way to justify it. And I think alcohol at least for my husband’s affairs played a huge role. If he never drank I do not think he would have cheated. He has agreed with me.

      We have actually talked about this a lot from a professional perspective. And yes I have been told people that are addicts need to be in a plan that supports abstinence or a program to support a healthy existence. But as my husband has said many people live on a continuum. It is not always black and white. I am not sure what to think of this. I do not have any addictive tendencies from what I know. It is hard for me to relate. I do not have a feeling like I need a drink or anything like that ever. If I drink it is social. But I also will drink water. Then there is also the argument about the company you keep or surround yourself with. I could go on and on about this topic…

      • Sarah P

        I admit none of this is set in stone for me, especially since I know all about addiction but choose NOT to work with it. I know all about addiction because of how it played a part in a non-genetic relative’s suicide. And that in-law came from a family of black-out drunks who died of cirrhosis. There are many things that are interesting about that family but the thing that stands out is their material wealth and also the idea that they were very pleasant people even when drinking. The family member who eventually killed himself went to the best rehab centers for the wealthy and he did so at least six times. As soon as he got out, the lure of cocaine, alcohol and prostitution was like a “siren song” and he was like the sailor who didn’t want to “wear the ear plugs and say la la la!” Even though he knew it would kill him. They had so much money they threw every treatment at him constantly. He would do well in rehab but simply couldn’t live in an environment where he had free will. And what was sad what that he knew this about himself. And it brought him great pain and off to rehab he went again. This is where the genetic component comes in. Any man in their right mind would have killed to have his life: endless wealth, sports cars, mansions on a couple of coasts, hundreds of friends and a wife who was a former beauty Queen sheerly by circumstance, but who had a high IQ and got graduate degrees and who loved him more than anything else in this world. She could have done without all of it. She just wanted him. She would talk about how happy they were when they were poor (married) students and could only afford a twin bed. (His family gave him his inheritance soon after that and it’s when things started to change). He bought the houses and the toys and the trips and of course my family member didn’t mind because she grew up poor. But at the end of the day, she told me they NEVER went a day without marital relations for their entire marriage and it was a marriage of many years. She was crazy about him and never lost her love. She loves him to this day and never remarried. She’s past retirement age and still working by choice. That is typical for women on my side of the family. My grandma worked for a moving company, by choice, until she was 86. She loved organizing people’s houses and packing everything in an orderly fashion. She loved talking to people. She is 93 years old and finishing her first round of chemotherapy. Everyone send prayers her way because she is very frightened. So back to my other relative. She hasn’t retired and I really want her to write a memoir. I know she hates writing through and I have done some ghostwriting for her in the past. She loves talking and is a compelling speaker- but doesn’t like writing. I really want her story told out in the open one day. It could help many women and I think it could help her let go. He died many years ago and she still talks about him everyday. Hers is complex. And at the center of it is a mistress who literally caused his suicide. The story haunts me on many levels because I lived through much of it and the fall out. But most of all it haunts me because it humbles me. I often have the belief that if someone just meets the right psychiatrist or right psychologist or bows on their knees and cries out to God, something will prevent the demise of a human. In the case of my family member, all of it failed and it failed after many years. The fact that he was in the best environment to get better and instead was swallowed whole by his addiction humbles me. I know all of the backstory and please take my word for it when I say every remedy known to humans was tried many times and failed. Something in him was pulling him down and all the people who tried to pull him back through medicine, therapy, and prayers were not powerful enough to beat that force.

        And so I say there are many things medical science has yet to learn. How genes interact with the brain and the environment is now only being studied. We have barely hit the tip of the iceberg.

        Everyone wants a nice, cut and dry path through life and a guarantee that if they only do that one thing, it will all work out.

        I learned that when true addiction is at the helm, those of us trying to help the addict are often like ants trying to stop a train that is speeding toward a cliff. We all know how that ends. And this is why addiction will always be a somewhat gray area for me. We have not begun to understand it (as psychologists or phychiatrists) in a way that guarantees the ants can stop the train every, single time. That doesn’t exist yet and it’s profoundly sad. Where there is true addiction, everyone loses.

        • Hopeful

          Sarah, So sorry to hear about that. And I can see how addiction has long lasting affects to all who are touched by it. Very sad. I think you are exactly right and his is similar to what I hear from my husband. I think it is like anything some people are able to make those long lasting changes others cannot. Just like betrayal. Some can change others cannot. But it is not black and white all or nothing. I always circle back to I can only control myself and I have to decide what I can live with and accept. Thank you!

          • Sarah P

            Hi Hopeful,

            You have written the idea that can change lives: the idea that you can only control yourself and have to decide what you can live with and accept.

            That’s the core of it all.

            And another related piece – I meet many adults, single and married, who still quietly grumble about some imaginary perfect person out there.

            None of us are perfect and each of us must decide what we can live with in any marriage partner and what we cannot.

            One of the big lures of an affair is that a person finally found The Perfect Person. Mistresses (who are especially in the spouse poacher category) are very adept at creating this illusion and intentional about keeping the illusion going. Then they listen carefully to what the wife does wrong and then do the opposite of that thing. And on and on it goes. Some men will do this as well, but I have found men generally don’t work as hard unless the woman is some multi million dollar heiress. I have seen women pursue men and change every aspect of their personality to suit him. But the mask falls often after the wedding ring goes on.

            But regardless I know my weaknesses and my husband’s and work with them. I don’t have one of my eyes looking out on the periphery for “the perfect person.” Even if said perfect person came along, what most people consider the perfect person can change every ten years as life changes.

            But really the person someone married can be the perfect person in all stages of life if both spouses work on their marriage and love each other, versus look elsewhere.

            • KC

              My husband said his long time AP he kept around and going to bec she was “easy” (she was quite older than me, rode hard/put up wet/worn out and ugly but slutty nevertheless). He said he had zero feelings for her, could have cared less about her chatter and just wanted the relief of release and to stop the spiral of the compulsion to go away, even if for a bit….my hubby is 5 years sober from SA and we have very candid convo’s about his activities (at least what he can actually remember) and I just don’t know anymore…someone who so willfully disregarded me…I miss sex, I don’t want to have sex with him anymore but want to have that intimacy but cannot bring myself to it with him…I wonder if I’m just….done…have any of you experienced this? He is trying so hard, in recovery and doing everything he is supposed to and he loves us and I love him…I’m believe in my vows but I’m numb…after 25 years of dealing with this nonsense and 2.5 year post the last D-Day…I’m just blank

            • Shifting Impressions

              A good read that you might find helpful is INTIMATE DECEPTION by Sheri Keffer.

    • Blindsided

      I don’t know enough about the science of the brain, addiction, etc. to understand whether infidelity/cheating is an addiction. Sarah’s comments on 3/9 certainly support what I believe happened to my husband – he exhibited the 4 C’s Doug outlined in the post. He craved his affair (or at least how it made him feel) was compulsive and lost control (we all know the drill here … continued contact, lying, subterfuge, ‘playing with fire’, and more). What I think separates the ex-waywards from the waywards are the consequences. If the consequences are harsh enough, meaningful enough and if the wayward spouse wants to stay in the marriage, that’s the point that they break off the affair and (hopefully) become an EX-wayward spouse. The betrayed spouse can establish the boundaries, the non-negotiables, the ultimatum if that’s the case. But, until the wayward spouse FEELS them, knows they are real …. there is no end to the “addiction”

    • Better days

      I guess one of the main rubs for me is that there isn’t really any socially accepted form of cheating to the BS. Strictly from a socially/legally accepted standpoint. If of age, anyone can walk into a casino with $50 and gamble it away. Anyone can go to the store and get their six pack for the week. Anyone can have a cigarette while out with friends for a drink. At least in my state, anyone can have a drag of marijuana. The list goes on and all of those are OK until their not. In my eyes, it’s never OK to cheat. That’s taking an attraction, which we all have towards others, to crossing the line at the very first text, email or coffee suggestion. The way I see it, it’s more like petty theft(texting) vs armed robbery(screwing in the marital bed). None of it is ever OK.

      • Hopeful

        Better Days, I personally agree with you and that is in line with my beliefs. However I feel like based on how society portrays betrayal and how common betrayal is statistically. It is mind numbing for me how common it is. And I never paid attention before dday but how it is portrayed in movies, tv, books is so not accurate. And I think it most states there is no legal ramifications anymore and it does not affect spousal support or custody. So where are the repercussions. And with the use of technology it is easier to facilitate and access more than ever. And I agree in the circles I travel in it is not socially and maybe people do not brag about it but it is so common. I think it is such a huge issue and it is sad how it is kept quiet.

    • Kittypone

      Better Days,
      You said it perfectly. These are my sentiments exactly, and you put it down in words.

    • Uusimmatkasinot

      had my share of cheating partner and gambling was contributing factor. because i was strict and stuck on his gambling budget, with hiss addiction at the time he had to find ways to fuel it. even it means sleeping with others. the most painful of it, was he did it with 2 of my childhood close friends. who was the very reason i found out about it. it was the guilt feeling of my friend.

    • Marie

      Thank you so much for this article, it describes what I’m feeling. I must be a flame and /or sex addict?! I crave seeing him or fantasizing about him every single houR of the day. . It has been 18 months of this. I have tried everything…..Repressing, distracting, focusing on the huge risks to my sweet kids, Accepting The feelings and letting it pass, putting more effort into my marriage, Hobbies….nothing takes away this aching burning passion. I used to judge cheaters so harshly but now I will never judge them again. I feel so helpless and almost like it’s out of my power. I feel like I will always regret it if I don’t have this experience. I am very sure that my spouse will never have to know. I can see myself justifying like this. And yet My brain won’t stop…..There’s nothing u can say. Ive read so many great words of advice and I believe them And I’ll see clearly for a while but in the end I just crave him still.

    • Fred

      Sex-sex, or opportunistic cheating sex, is fungible. Anyone would do to do it with. If you were having illicit sexual thoughts about someone, and then you had sex with your partner, or masturbated, you wouldn’t even think any more about the person you’re just in lust with.

      But there is a different kind of attraction, one which finds expression through sex, but where the attraction is more than merely sexual and is a kind of *overall craving* for someone, a sort of extreme longing, one that no amount of sex with your partner can easily solve. Being with the illicit person makes you high, and sex usually results, but it’s certainly not a shallow sex urge that motivates you to go to that person in the first place. It’s like being in pain, and that being with them gives you a hit to cure that downer feeling. It operates very much like drugs.

      The former kind of shallow lust is easy to control. The second kind of attraction is difficult to control. It is definitely more like an addiction.

      This is not to excuse; but rather better to understand, so that one can recognise the signs and the considerable effort required to cure oneself.

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