Here are a few of the many universal behaviors by wayward spouses that sabotage a marriage after an affair is discovered.

a marriage after an affair

By Sarah P.

Rebuilding a marriage after an affair is hard work. Nevertheless, I have noticed there are universal behaviors that some wayward spouses engage in after their betrayed spouse has discovered their affair.

If a wayward spouse engages in these universal behaviors, after their affair has been discovered, they will harm their marriage. Instead of recovering their marriage, they will create a metaphorical canyon between themselves and their betrayed spouses.

Let’s dive in and examine these behaviors.

Lack of Accountability 

Some people do not want to be accountable for their actions, no matter how terrible. Here is one couple’s story about how lack of accountability in their marriage:

In order to overcome betrayal and begin to rebuild trust, I needed my spouse to be accountable for their time, friendships, spending habits, leisure/hobbies and work place. At the center of the betrayal were a collection of secrets that had kept the affair hidden from me. In many ways, the discovery of the secrets hurt as much as the betrayal itself. I thought that we had shared the value of honesty. The affair revealed a long-term pattern of lies that makes a spouse question everything about the marriage. I knew that if we were to make a commitment to reconciliation we must also renew our commitment to accountability. No longer could secrets exist in our relationship.

At the same time, I did not want to be a private detective, sifting through the trash for information or hiding in the bushes with camera in hand. I wanted boundaries in place that made accountability something that we chose to do out of love and respect rather than something I imposed. I didn’t want to be the policeman in our relationship; I wanted us to be lovers and friends.

Accountability means to give an “account” of one’s actions. All married couples need to be accountable to their spouses’. Accountability is not something that is needed only when a crisis occurs in a relationship. On the contrary, accountability is the highest form of respect in a marriage. (1)

Indeed, accountability is the highest form of respect in a marriage, but it is especially necessary after an affair has occurred.

Lack of Empathy

Here is an excellent definition of what empathy is and why it is different from sympathy:


Wayward spouses, it is time for you to put down your beer or coffee and think about what life would be like if you were betrayed.

One of the biggest hurdles that I have noticed towards marriage recovery is this: a wayward spouse’s lack of desire OR inability to truly explore the harm they have caused.

There is a study from Cambridge University that found genes play a role in empathy.

“Empathy has two parts: the ability to recognize another person’s thoughts and feelings, and the ability to respond with an appropriate emotion to someone else’s thoughts and feelings. The first part is called ‘cognitive empathy’ and the second part ‘affective empathy.”

Fifteen years ago, a team of scientists at the University of Cambridge developed the Empathy Quotient (EQ), a brief self-report measure of empathy. The EQ measures both parts of empathy.

Previous research showed that some of us are more empathetic than others, and that on average, women are slightly more empathetic than men. It also showed that, on average, autistic people score lower on the EQ, and that this was because they struggle with cognitive empathy, even though their affective empathy may be intact.

In a new study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, the Cambridge team, working with the genetics company 23andMe and a team of international scientists, report the results of the largest genetic study of empathy using information from more than 46,000 23andMe customers. The customers all completed the EQ online and provided a saliva sample for genetic analysis.

At the Heart of Attachment: How to Use Empathy to Communicate Effectively For On-Going Recovery

The new study has three important results. First, it found that how empathetic we are is partly due to genetics. Indeed, a tenth of this variation is due to genetic factors. This confirms previous research examining empathy in identical versus non-identical twins.

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Second, the new study confirmed that women are on average more empathetic than men. However, this difference is not due to our DNA as there were no differences in the genes that contribute to empathy in men and women.

This implies that the sex difference in empathy is the result of other non-genetic biological factors, such as prenatal hormone influences, or non-biological factors such as socialisation, both of which also differ between the sexes.

Finally, the new study found that genetic variants associated with lower empathy are also associated with higher risk for autism.

Varun Warrier said: “This is an important step towards understanding the small but important role that genetics plays in empathy. But keep in mind that only a tenth of individual differences in empathy in the population are due to genetics. It will be equally important to understand the non-genetic factors that explain the other 90%.” (2)

But, wayward spouses cannot get off the hook so easily since empathy is only 10% genetic.

When a wayward spouse is unwilling or unable to understand the harm they caused to their betrayed spouse, this is unacceptable. Not only does it actively diminish the experience of the betrayed spouse, lack of empathy in a wayward spouse sabotages marriage.

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


People who have affairs because they feel entitled to do so will also bring this same attitude to affair recovery. What is an entitlement affair?

“The Entitlement Affair is usually a serious, long-term one in which the straying partner is charming, popular, successful, and powerful. In some cases, professional interests become more important than family relationships, and the couple lives separate lives. In other cases you will find a narcissistic spouse who is looking out for their own needs, and believes their spouse should be doing the same!

The third party is attracted to the power and the perks of the straying partner, and may have more in common with the straying partner than the spouse. Frank Bruni, in the New York Times (Nov. 12, 2012) states that the “adulation in the public arena probably isn’t mirrored in their marriages.  A spouse is unlikely to provide it.  A spouse knows you too well for that.”

When the affair comes to light, we often wonder “what are they thinking?” Actually they weren’t thinking – they were assuming that their hard work entitled them to the power and related perks. A narcissistic person can often be found having an entitlement affair. Narcissists are more likely to cheat and do not feel as guilty about it.  Narcissists are highly self-centred and want to show off to others. A lack of empathy means narcissists feel less guilt for what they do. Narcissists feel the need to maintain a positive self-image and they will sometimes set aside ethical concerns to get what they want.” (3)

Entitlement is always found within narcissistic people. It is also often found in powerful people who are used to receiving adulation wherever they go. 

This video by Dhar Mann explains the entitlement mindset well. But, what I love about this video is it shows the cost of entitlement affairs… the costs are high. Wayward spouses and betrayed spouses alike, watch this video together. The grass is not greener on the other side of the fence:


Entitlement affairs can cost you everything: not just the destruction of your marriage.

It Does Not Count as Cheating Because….

“Infidelity is a gray area because different individuals have their own boundaries and ideals for romantic relationships,” says Dana Weiser, Ph.D., assistant professor at Texas Tech University.

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While you might consider texting an ex to be crossing a line, other partners might not consider something cheating until intercourse is involved. “In fact, if one is in a consensually non-monogamous relationship being physically and sexually involved with another individual would likely not be considered infidelity,” Weiser says.

In a recent study published in Personal Relationships, Weiser and her colleagues explored how people defined cheating IRL and found that “it is the secrecy, deception, and omissions that seem to be really central to definitions of infidelity,” she says.” (4)

I have met many people over the course of my life who attempt to use the metaphorical “it does not count as cheating” card. They have all kinds of strange rules, that they have made up, never communicated, and when caught, they tell a betrayed spouse their behavior doesn’t count as cheating. 

The expectation of such wayward spouses is this: they hope to use what they perceive as gray areas in relationships to get their betrayed spouse off their back. They also hope their betrayed spouse will not perceive a wayward spouse’s behavior as infidelity so that a wayward spouse doesn’t have to experience consequences for their actions.

But, when a wayward spouse uses the “it doesn’t count card,” they erode trust. Since trust is the foundation of all relationships, especially marriage, a wayward spouse risks losing the trust of their betrayed spouse. Once a betrayed spouse loses trust, they often also lose respect for a wayward spouse.

Some Examples of ‘It Does Not Count as Cheating Because…’

I have been involved in some really outrageous conversations in my personal (off-line) life regarding this topic. I have heard outrageous acts that don’t count as cheating in real life.  Here is a list of things people have told me; but a word to the wise, if you are easily triggered this section it not for you:

  • It does not count as cheating because he/she performed oral sex on me in my car.
  • It does not matter that Jane had sex with Adam, because she was only engaged to Jeff, not married to Jeff. Since Jane was only engaged, what she did with Adam does not count as cheating.
  • It does not matter that Mark had sex with the stripper at his Bachelor Party a week before his wedding. Every man has sex with strippers at their Bachelor parties; it is a normal and perfectly acceptable right of passage.
  • Vicky hooked up with a stranger at a conference. Her husband will never find out and what he does not know will not hurt him.
  • Jerry has set up a secret account and he pays for one-on-one Skype sessions with a cam girl named Vixen. They masturbate together via Skype when Jerry’s wife is out for groceries. They are not touching each other so it does not count as cheating.
  • Jennifer set up an Ashley Madison account because her marriage is in a slump. She is texting erotic photos to five different men when she is in the executive washroom at work. This is just fun; not cheating.

All of the acts above count as cheating. Nonetheless, many people in society like to play in a gray area where they have fooled themselves into thinking they are not cheating.

Wayward spouses do not forget that secrecy, intentional deception, sexual acts, sexual photos, online sex, phone sex, sexual flirting, and omissions of truth are central to the definition of infidelity.

Claiming that such acts do not count, as infidelity, will be problematic to affair recovery.


Let us save the most destructive mind-trick for last: gaslighting. After a wayward spouse is caught, they may feel rage, self-pity, arrogance, and they often scramble to blame-shift their actions onto you.

Gaslighting can be a terrifying experience. It can quickly put you on the defensive – trying to justify your own actions or behaviors – when you started out by challenging someone else’s questionable behavior.

Understanding Gaslighting: A Brand of Jedi Mind Tricks

So what is it?

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“A gaslighting perpetrator’s fabrications may be presented so convincingly and with such conviction you begin to question yourself and your own memories and judgment. You may begin to fear that other people – who don’t know the truth – might be persuaded to believe some of the distortions.

What NOT to do if someone is gaslighting you:

  • Don’t equate intelligence with character – just because someone can run rings around you in an argument doesn’t mean they are right.
  • Don’t waste your time trying to convince someone who has already made up their mind about you that they should reconsider.
  • Don’t argue with a person who is fabricating the facts. Wait for them to return to reality before engaging them in a discussion and do it on YOUR terms – not theirs.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be isolated from others against our own better judgment. Insist on your right to have your own friends and family.
  • Don’t blame yourself for what the other person is feeling or how they are behaving. Don’t look for ways to change yourself to try to fix another person. As the OOTF 3 C’s mantra says: “You didn’t cause it, you can’t cure it and you can’t control it.” You are only responsible for your own words and actions.
  • Don’t stay in the room if the situation becomes physically, verbally or emotionally unhealthy or unsafe.
  • Don’t go it alone or keep what you are experiencing a secret.

What TO do if you are being gaslit:

  • Remind yourself that you are not to blame for the other person’s behavior.
  • Detach yourself from feeling responsible for how another person is feeling, behaving or thinking.
  • Turn your attention on your own behavior and your own thought patterns. Discard the unhealthy and learn what is healthy for yourself and pursue it – regardless of what reaction you get from the person with the Personality Disorder.
  • Talk about it! Talk to trusted friends and family about what you are dealing with.
  • If you are ever confronted with violence or abuse, get yourself and any children immediately out of the room and call for help. Report all acts of violence, threats of violence or self-harm to the police immediately every time.
  • Maintain your healthy lifestyle and thought life. You will need them. If necessary, explain to your loved-one gently, but firmly that you are doing what you need to do for yourself and then close the conversation.” (5)

Gaslighting is a cheater’s favorite tactic because it puts the focus back on the betrayed spouse.

The most evil part of gaslighting is that the person who gaslights is purposefully destroying the mind and the sanity of their innocent, betrayed spouse.

A cheater is so invested in getting themselves off the hook that they have no guilt when using gaslighting to make a betrayed spouse feel crazy. As long as a betrayed spouse is made to feel crazy, the wayward spouse can fully control the situation and control their betrayed spouse.

But, if a wayward spouse uses gaslighting too often, they may find themselves in a situation where their betrayed spouses does not want to recover the marriage.

In Summary

There are many universal behaviors that sabotage a marriage after an affair is discovered. I have only named a few since my past articles discussed behaviors that are more well-known, such as Gottman’s Four Horsemen. This article addressed behaviors that are discussed less.

But, what about you?

We are all different.

We would like to hear from you regarding what behaviors were most destructive to your marriage after you found out about your spouse’s affair.

But, as always, feel free to bring up any topic regarding infidelity.

How have you been this week?





    4 replies to "Universal Behaviors of Wayward Spouses that Sabotage a Marriage After an Affair"

    • Sarah P.

      Hello Everyone,
      How have you been doing? Can you relate to this post and do you want to lend a hand by sharing dynamics in your marriage that were destructive?

      How did you handle them?

    • Rob

      Just read this. So yes from my wife. She ended a 4 month open relationship with another woman that started as a hidden emotional then physical relationship. In the 5-6 weeks since it ended she is blaming me, gaslighting (I’m apparently a coercive, aggressive bully who pressurisers her for sex), denied the truth of her sexuality (confused, driven to it by my support for her understanding of a newly admitted safe sex attraction) and then using the kids’ upset over the frosty atmosphere caused by her emotional withdrawal that has fuelled my anger to prevent me challenging and expressing emotion.
      Also blamed for her anxiety and poor sleep, which is in reality caused by her inability to really face up to everything.
      Thankfully we have an excellent couples therapist and my wife is seeing a psychiatrist for her anxiety – both have special interest in sexual identity.
      It’s such a relief to have my experience validated.

    • NSW

      For me, the biggest challenge has been my wife’s inability to show any empathy whatsoever. Her affair happened many years ago and I had to fight to win her back. It seems like i did all the work to keep the marriage together though, to her credit, she did work on some of her insufficiencies that made her susceptible to an affair. Given that she was not sure that she wanted to stay with me, I think it gave her permission to not show empathy but, rather, to just focus on making herself well.

      With that in mind, it is probably no surprise that while we have remained together for many years after D-day, i sometimes get triggered. But, if I ever mention it to her, she immediately kicks into fight or flight and I have learned that it is just better to stuff it inside than it is to deal both with her emotions and my own. I don’t think that I am trying to attack her but I would love to hear just for once, “I am so sorry that I did that to you. I can see that it has hurt you for many years and continues to be an issue for you today. While I can’t pretend to understand your pain, I want you to know that I love you and honor you for your efforts to keep us together. What can I do to help you feel better.”

      I almost want to cry while writing what I wish she could say but I don’t think that day will ever come. Empathy would be nice for me.

      • Natalie

        I needed to see this right now. I am many years out and relate to everything you have written. My husband has the same mentality as your wife and I long to hear those exact words from him.

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