Hopefully this will enlighten you to the reasons why we tolerate a cheating spouse – among a host of other things.

cheating spouseBy Linda

One of my favorite infidelity experts is Dr. Robert Huizenga.  His book “Break Free From the Affair” was one of the very first books I purchased after discovering Doug’s emotional affair. 

One of his newsletter articles from a while back came to mind after recently noticing several comments and emails from betrayed spouses that centered on all the crap that they are tolerating with their cheating spouses. 

As a result, I’m going to focus on this in a two-part blog post, by starting off with why we betrayed spouses do this.  I’ll be using Dr. Huizenga’s article as the framework for these posts.

Why does the betrayed spouse tolerate the cheating?

Hopefully this will enlighten you to the reasons why we tolerate all sorts of stuff, not only infidelity.  And whether you choose to believe it or not, we all tolerate to one degree or another.

I’m certainly guilty of it.  Not only when it came to Doug’s emotional affair, but also in other areas of my life.  I guess I’m just not a confrontational person by nature, and tend to tolerate things that I probably should not.  During his affair, I was afraid to rock the boat for fear that he would leave.

You may find yourself tolerating too much at times; allowing your cheating spouse to degrade you and get away with almost anything; not standing up for yourself, and backing down from the challenges of life.

But before you beat yourself up about it, let’s take a closer look at your capacity to tolerate.

Dr. Huizenga suggests that if you find yourself tolerating a cheating spouse, you should be commended for your sensitivity. Here’s why:

See also  Discussion: After the Affair Is it Harder to Rebuild Trust or Respect?

1. Those who have a difficult time saying “No” or tolerate more than they truly want are typically those who feel deeply and are greatly in tune with others on a variety of levels.

Huizenga says that “… you may intuitively know the fragility of your cheating spouse. You may “feel” his/her emptiness, his/her inner pain and instinctively understand his/her flailing attempts to fill the void. You know it’s his/her problem.”

And know that this CAN be a tremendous asset. All of us want to live more deeply, profoundly and powerfully and you have the innate capacity to easily do that. A part of you wants to leap with exhilaration when you touch life or it touches you.

2. However…. your sensitivity also leads to a tendency to avoid conflict and confrontation.  You are fearful of the pain that might result.  This is not always rational but it is powerful – and it gets in your way. It tears you down!

3. You fear the loss you might experience. You have a need for safety, predictability and security. And so, you tolerate much, hoping to hang onto the thread of security that you believe is in your relationship with your cheating spouse.

4. Pain and feelings, as important and powerful for you as they are, beg you to tolerate and put up with circumstances in hope that the pain will end and the relationship will return to what it once was.

Even though a part of you wants to tolerate and put up with his/her behaviors, you know that it is physically and emotionally draining.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are those who seemingly tolerate very little. These are the ones who put up with zero crap.

See also  3 Tips to Help You Heal From an Affair

They’re the ones who say: “Have an affair on me…and you are gone, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”

On the surface they may seem to have little problems with tolerating and putting up with other people’s crap.

As we look closer at these types of persons though, Huizenga says that they are typically goal oriented, instead of people-oriented.  They are usually intolerant of those who don’t fit their criteria. They have no problems expressing their opinions, and seemingly tolerate very little.

However, the inability to tolerate a cheating spouse may leave them isolated and constricted.

Huizenga says that their “lack of capacity to embrace others, to see beyond the surface behavior, to accept unacceptable behavior as coming from a broken soul leaves them disconnected with the fragility of life that we all face, experience and are called to overcome as we journey on this planet.”

So instead, these individuals may tolerate an ocean of emptiness and isolation in their life, and may not be aware of their pain.  They also may tolerate a routine life, since their black and white world keeps them from the “edges of exploration, wonder and awe.”

They may also tolerate psychosomatic illnesses, since they have little release for the internal tension they feel from holding on so tightly. Instead, their bodies absorb the fear and tension.

So it seems we all tolerate in some ways and we will continue to tolerate and put up with things since life offers a never ending wave of challenges and intrusions into our well-being.

See also  Q&A with Psychotherapist David Feder

Dr. Huizenga says that once you stop tolerating infidelity (as well as the “smaller” things) as much as you now tolerate; once you stop putting up with the garbage in your life, that which decays your esteem, soul and spirit you will:

  • Move through the pain and agony of infidelity much more quickly and powerfully.
  • Have more energy to build your life. You will become thrilled about you…and where you can go.
  • Become much more attractive, and attract attractive people and circumstances. You will attract others and circumstance of life like a strong magnet. You might even attract your cheating spouse. Believe it or not!
  • Upgrade your community. You will associate with those who give life, hope and live with compassion, passion and purpose – much like you will.
  • Be a wonderful model for your children or others around you. They will watch you carefully noticing what you do to generate well-being, health and dynamic relationships.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

It’s vitally important that we work on our awareness of what we tolerate, what we put up with, those factors in our life that we tolerate that rob us of vitality and the capacity to form deeply satisfying relationships.

In the second post on this subject on Thursday, we’ll touch on how you can work to tolerate less.

In the meantime, in the comment section below, we’d like to hear from you about some of the things that you find yourself tolerating, that perhaps you should not.  We appreciate your comments very much.

For more on Dr. Huizenga and/or to read more of his articles, you can go to his website or blog, by clicking here.


    15 replies to "Why We Tolerate a Cheating Spouse"

    • HurtingHubby24

      Long time lurker (I love your site!), first time poster. I certainly can’t speak for every situation, but my inclination is that most betrayed spouses, myself included, tolerated a whole lot prior to the affair. And while an affair is in no way the fault of the betrayed spouse, I do wonder if my wife wouldn’t have cheated had I set healthy boundaries early in our marriage.

      I tolerated numerous things. First was the gross overspending. Sure, I’d yell and stomp around about it, but in the end I’d always forgive and find a way to “fix” things, whether it was robbing Peter to pay Paul or picking up extra shifts. There were never any real consequences, and my wife learned that as long as she was willing to put up with a little griping and moaning, she could pretty much do whatever she wanted.

      Second was personal and family priorities. If she wanted to do something at time X, and I wanted to do something at that same time, or wanted the family to be together – you’d better believe that the end result would be her doing what she wanted to do. Any attempt on my part to convince her otherwise would be met with accusations that I was trying to control her, didn’t care about her, was just like her father, etc….

      Finally (for now), I tolerated lies about a variety of subjects. This mostly had to do with money, but touched on some other areas as well. I always “forgave” her lies, and chose to believe her when she said she’d never ever lie to me again.

      I truly wonder, had I not tolerated these things – would she have had the affair? Hers has been an ongoing on again, off again deal, and a few months ago she was actually honest enough to tell me that part of the reason she got involved and kept going back was that she knew in the end I would just love her and take her back. Translation: She knew I would tolerate her behavior.

      Over just the last 24 hours (after discovering yet another relapse), I’ve really been pulling back from her, quietly refusing to tolerate her behavior. And it’s had her on the verge of tears more than once this quickly. Instead of answering her compliment/love-fishing assertion that, “you’d be better off without me”, by telling her how much I love her and need her, I have instead answered with, “you might be right. You certainly haven’t been treating me very well”. I hope that as the days progress, I can continue to be strong and refuse to tolerate behaviors that are damaging to me and my children. No yelling, no fighting, just a quiet and confident intolerance of poor treatment.

      Thanks for today’s blog post, it was perfect for where I am at. Looking forward to reading the rest on Thursday.

      • Linda

        hurtinghubby24, I would be interested in finding out if your pulling back will produce a change in her behavior. I have thought about this subject since the beginning of Doug’s affair and often wondered if I were a different kind of wife and person if this would have never happened. I think about a friend of mine who basically treats her husband with disrespect and would have a 1000 reasons to justify an affair. However I believe he would never do that to her because he knows she would never tolerate it. I wonder if Doug would have ended his affair earlier if I would have acted differently. Who knows? Linda

      • HurtingHubby24


        I think that you are definitely onto something here. Your example about your friend and her husband seems spot on to me. I certainly have numerous “excuses” to have an affair at this point – and have actually had the chance. Of course I don’t want to be that person, but I’m not going to lie – part of what has kept me from it is knowing that if I got caught, my wife would kick the crap out of me, take my kids, take half my paycheck, and never look back.

        I’ll definitely let you know how it goes. My prediction is that she’ll do what Dr. Dobson says many wayward spouses do. (I’m also a fan of “Love Must Be Tough”). She’ll probably test me – do something flagrant to try and get my attention, see what I’m made of. That’s generally been her mode of operation anyway. Assuming I can stay strong, when that doesn’t work, she will probably have a meltdown. Could mean she’ll divorce me, could mean she’ll get her stuff together and reconcile. But either option is better than continuing to live this way, which is why I’m finally willing to respect myself. Something I should have done ages ago.

        It should be interesting. All the best.

      • So Sorry

        Dear Hurting— I was the one who cheated,and I believe that it probably wouldn’t have happened if my H had set some boundaries.Hindsight is always 20/20- isn’t it? I had the same issues, over spending,doing what I wanted,being just plain selfish. My H always forgave me,and I just kept pushing the boundaries.We cant sum up why we have affairs in just a few words-[mine was a result of a head injury,depression,and issues in our marriage]- but the fact is that it happened- and I am very sorry. The more my H and I talk,I definitely realize that he allowed me to “get away with so much”,he is the nice guy,the tolerant one. I am the “mean one”-lol—-No seriously, just like you said,maybe deep,deep,down,I knew my H would forgive me-and THAT IS JUST SOOO WRONG– He has sinced learned to set boundaries- show me there are consequences for my actions- granted this is a small part of the over-all picture- BUT you do need to let your wife know that there ARE consequences- nice guys finish last—we shouldn’t treat you like that-instead we should appreciate your kindness—-I wish you so much luck!!!!!

        • Rx lady

          So Sorry,
          I am the one who is “too nice” in this relationship; my new counselor is helping me see this and I am learning to set boundaries. You’re right ; it is so wrong for the behavior that I have had to endure. I’m not sure if my H is having a change of heart or not. He has talked about couples counseling again. I don’t think he listens to all the words that come out of his mouth, though, and his promises, especially in front of the kids. They are the ones who are innocent and will be scarred for life by all of this. I always have been the second choice in life; in pretty much everything I do. My H stated that he will only come home from this separation if it is the right choice and I am his first choice, not “second fiddle”. That all goes with the boundary issue; perhaps I won’t want him to come home once I have defined the boundaries and examined all the hurt he has caused. I am done being the “leftover” in life!!

      • DAE

        Thank you. I am going through the fallout of my husband’s emotional affair with a co worker. This is his third one and our marriage is just like yours, and like you, I’ve tolerated his lies, and dalliances simply because I was totally enamored with him. And he would use his smooth tongue to get back into my good graces. But this affair was different. He was involved deeper with her emotionally than any of the others, and I could see him bristle when I addressed her as a “whore”. (He never defends me when others attack me). He doesn’t love me, but is absolutely terrified of abandonment, and this is the only reason he wants to remain married. So that I can continue to be his maid, cook and laundress. I just need to find the strength to finally leave.

    • Yuki

      I have also been thinking that I tolerated too much in the past, way before the affair ever happened, and that it set up the situation where he thought he could just do whatever he damn well pleased. People will tend to push as far as other people are willing to bend.

      Today’s post also came at a perfect time for me. Just this morning, my husband and I had a huge argument and this very point came up. He asked me, “If I have hurt you so badly, why do you want to stay? Why do you want to live with someone who has betrayed you so completely?” I answered that there is still love between us, so there is hope. And the alternative – divorce – will not take away the hurt or solve any problems. I will still hurt, I will still have all these insecurities to work through, plus I will be alone and without the love of my life, and the family will forever be broken.

      But yes, I am a tolerant spouse, and he is a zero-crap spouse. It often feels like we are in a tornado, spinning helplessly around each other.

    • ppl

      funny but your both right. maybe spouses are just selfish as most people are, testing the boundry. similar situation for me. when i asked for divorce she even said but you told me you would never leave. suddenly i am a liar for telling her that and she is not at fault for her indiscresions. as you have all heard i was also told you dont own me. but i have claimed my own rights by asserting that she doesnt own me either and admitted that the biggest mistake of my life was telling her i would never leave. it gave her a total green pass for everything she did. everything was ok until i found out she is in contact with an old flame again. i said everything was ok with that but i reserved the right to have secret friendships with women too. i know this spiral will end marriage but i am totally ok with that. you see once you give in and forgive it reinforces their understanding that you will put up with anything. why live a life looking over your shoulder. use the time to get things in order, seek new friendships and be positive on life. i believe thats the meaning “work on yourself”

    • Jackie

      Sounds as if your H is proposing that you do the same as he did…Why don’t you just leave like I did? Maybe it is because the betrayed spouse understands, leaving doesn’t solve the problem…working things out together, can fix things. Leaving, escaping in an affair or any other addiction, abandoning everything…just creates more problems.

      A relationship is based on trust, caring and respect. We all know inside what is right and wrong. In an affair, one has to find ways to rationalize what they are doing as being okay…cause they know deep down inside it is wrong. That is why people in affairs or addictions act so irrational. They know they are doing something wrong.

      I have to agree with you on your answer to “Why do you want to stay”. Why do we tolerate being treated badly? I always felt deep down inside that my H had some how lost his way. In spite of all the things he said and did, I still felt there was always something good between us. After 20 years of what I felt was a good marriage, what he was doing just felt as if he was completely “Out of his mind”.

      I knew he was going through a lot of issues before the EA. He was afraid of getting old, what to do when he would retire, being obsolete at work, being over worked, useless at home because the kids were teenagers and they didn’t seem to need him like before. He knew he had problems and considered seeking help…what he found instead was the EA. It took away all the bad feelings he was feeling. Made him feel alive again. Even though it was a fantasy.

      I understood H past and his weakness for addictions. Was this another one of his poor coping mechanisms?

      I put up with a lot because I thought it would damage me and kids less if he were at home, than if he had left to sort out his feelings. Yes it did hurt me more to watch, hear, and feel his addictive insanity. Yes, it did hurt the kids a little and damaged a feeling of trust for them, but I still believe that having H stay at home was the best choice for our family. At one point I feared if H left he may have gotten deeply depressed and suicidal.

      By having H stay we had to deal with the emotional distance, and irrational and irritable behavior. If H had left, both I and the kids would have had to also deal with the physical abandonment issues.

      Two years after the EA announcement, I still feel I made the best choice I could to keep us and our family together. Looking back I wished I had been a bit more assertive in expecting respect within our family. But at the same time, so much was thrown at me…most of the time I was reacting with a sort of shock of surprise as to what my H was thoughtlessly doing or saying to me, and sometimes the kids.

      I alone had to be the one to decide if he was doing more harm than good for me or the kids, because H was clearly not thinking straight. His judgment was both bias and somewhat irrational.

      So yes, we put up with a lot because we love and care about our wayward spouses…but I knew if it became too unhealthy an environment, I would have asked H to leave.

      • Linda

        Jackie, great comment, your feelings certainly mirror how I felt at the time and why I tolerated so much. I also felt that I took on the responsibility of making sure that our family was safe from all the turmoil of Doug’s EA, I even protected Doug from many of the repercussions of his actions. Looking back I wished I would have put more of the responsibility on Doug to sort out and take care of this mess, but I acted in a way that is representative of my personality. I am a fixer and a doer. I have learned to back off and let others doing some of the fixing and doing. I have grown and learned a lot over the last two years. Linda

    • Rx lady

      Wow, this is sure timely. I admit I am somewhat of a doormat. He cheated before we got married 12 years ago and I forgave him. Not this time around, he’s blaming it on his chronic neurlogic illness that leaves him with idle time (isn’t that referred to as the devil’s workshop) and a new diagnosis of bipolar disease. But he’s getting sloppy and is being seen about town with his “lady friend, you know she’s just my “friend”. My 2 sons don’t know what to make of the situation. He at least moved out, but continues to have almost daily contact with us. I am at the end of my rope. I can’t continue to be nice to him. Linda, you are right; we need to stop doing and let them take responsibility. I’ve taken baby steps today; cancelled the credit cards, etc. We’ll see if he notices, considering he has his own and they are almost maxed out. He’s definitely on a high mania phase here.

    • Jackie

      Rx lady,

      If he is bipolar he must be taking medicine and under a doctor’s care?

      • Rx lady

        No, not yet. The counselor wants to meet with me to verify his reports of his manic behavior, and to assess what I have seen over the past 7 months (which has been plenty!).

    • Jackie

      Rx lady,

      I was concerned whether my H was bipolar or not at one time. But many things didn’t fit. Having had a close relation with bipolar illness, I have learned and experienced a lot. There are certain specific characteristics that fit the mania phase of bipolar.

      Delusions of grandeur (believing he is god, or feelings of great creativity). You may see them as acting insane. Even the great creative feat that they are so proud of looks insane to the normal person.

      Spending on things that one doesn’t need is very common symptom. A close relative would go out and buy 5 watches and 5 night lamps. Clearly not out of need.

      Being promiscuous is also a symptom. But as we know on this site, one does not need to be manic to have an affair…but it provides a great excuse.

      I think the biggest symptom of being bipolar was not sleeping for days on end.

      Then all this is followed by depression weeks or a month later, where the person just crashes and the mood swings into a deep depression. The depression is usually so severe that suicide becomes a great risk.

      Read up on bipolar illness. I think it will help you figure out what you are dealing with here. I suspect it is not bipolar illness, but your H rationalizing his poor behavior.

      • Rx lady

        I agree; I think he is using this “new” diagnosis as a crutch. Since both of us are in the health care field, he knows how to play the system and can “self diagnose” almost anything. He is mad at me right now, which is fine, because I need a break from his rants and poor judgement.

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