"When I discovered my husband had an affair I was both devastated and furious, but what I didn't expect after confronting him is that he would blame me for his infidelity!"
In my private practice as a relationship therapist and infidelity expert, I hate to tell you how often I hear reiterations of this statement from my clients. A revelation of an affair is a devastating blow to any relationship, but when the cheater blames their partner for creating a situation that "made them" vulnerable to the affair, that usually puts the shock and hurt over the top.
Quite often the men say it's because their partner has lost interest in them, sexually. Women most often blame a lack of emotional intimacy for why they suddenly became erotically entangled with another man. "He understands me and listens to me in a way that my husband (or boyfriend) doesn't," is the common refrain.
As much as the cheater would like to cast off their guilt by blaming their partner for their bad behavior, it really doesn't work that way.
When infidelity occurs, the cheating partner bears the brunt of owning most, if not all, of the blame. Not only did the cheating partner choose to ignore or downplay the pre-existing problems, behaviors and conditions that made the relationship vulnerable to cheating, but they actively made the decision to betray their partner instead of facing up to those problems and working through them.
However, since a relationship is the creation of what two people put into it, when cheating happens, both partners must take a serious look at their own responsibility and contribution to the downfall of their closeness. An emotional indiscretion or physical affair is really a loud wake-up call to both partners that there is something seriously amiss in the primary relationship.
Why Cyber, Physical and Emotional Affairs Happen.
From my book, Chatting or Cheating here are a few of the reasons why most cheaters say they strayed:
1. We share an address, but little else. Statistics show that couples who lead separate social lives are much more likely to cheat than couples who spend more time enjoying common friends and interests.
2. I feel misunderstood or under-appreciated. Frequent criticism and complaining is a big red flag that your relationship needs work...NOW.
3. We're more like roommates than sexual partners. When this happens, partners may begin to look outside of the relationship for physical or emotional fulfillment.
4. Our lives are changing or in transition. Children, retirement, a mid-life crisis, a new job, loss of parents...you name it. Big life changes are often catalysts for cheating.
5. I deserve it. If they're working too hard or their needs are going unmet, and they feel all they do is sacrifice for others, they may end up having an affair to satisfy some unmet desires "because they deserve it."
Whatever the reason for the affair, it's important to note that while both partners may have contributed in some degree, there is a lesson to be learned and an opportunity to understand, mend, forgive and heal. And if desired by both of you, it's even possible that your relationship can be better after an affair if you both do the necessary deep work (as a couple and individually).
Even if it's too late and the relationship can't be mended, or if you're already divorced, to successfully move on and take control of your life back, it's important to own what happened, learn the lessons of what went wrong, and then forgive your partner and yourself for whatever events lead to the affair.
Forgive My Cheating Partner? No Way!
"My Ex-husband left me for my best friend. They had been having an affair for two years before I found out. The two people I loved and trusted the most betrayed me. I'm still devastated. I'm not sure I'll ever trust again yet alone forgive."
Hey, I get it!
Getting past the pain of betrayal can be difficult and forgiveness can seem impossible. I've seen friends in this situation -- locked in an endless well of bitterness, hurt and blame that's left them untrusting, depressed and lonely. Some remained single for years after a breakup, unhappy and convinced that there were "no good people" out there. Long after the divorce, the betrayal kept affecting them and their choices, over and over again.
This is why forgiveness is so important when you've been betrayed. Forgiveness is not about them as much as it is about you and creating a better, emotionally healthier future for yourself. After infidelity, you are the one that lives with the rage, jealousy and feelings of victimhood, not the cheater.
Forgiveness is the choice NOT to suffer.
Maybe you're telling yourself that you want to feel better first before you extend forgiveness. What I'm suggesting is that you'll feel better faster if you forgive first!
"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you."
Lewis B. Smedes
Forgiveness is not saying "What you did to me was OK" it's declaring, "I'm not carrying this anymore!"
To start the process of forgiveness you must first give yourself permission, out loud, to heal and move on. In doing so, you are acknowledging that you are ready to see beyond the pain of today and project a brighter, more joyful future where you are loving, happy, and clear of anger and guilt. What happened is in the past and cannot be changed or controlled. What you can control is your current actions and emotions. You can reflect on what happened and make wiser decisions in the future.
The way back to love is choosing peace over anger, love over hate and forgiveness over blame and resentment. Remember, forgiveness is not about the person who hurt you. It's about you, your future and opening your heart to receive love and trust again.
Sheri Meyers, Psy.D is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Los Angeles, CA, and author of Chatting or Cheating: How to Detect Infidelity, Rebuild Love, and Affair-Proof Your Relationship. For a free chapter of Chatting or Cheating, please go to: chattingorcheating.com