I tried to comment on this article and found that I had a few too many words to make it just a comment. So I am making it a post instead.
This is the response to https://marriagetroublesite.com/2017/06/26/post-74-adultery-no-remorse/
This was an interesting read and one I had trouble swallowing. It was not difficult to hear that people who commit adultery are selfish people who did things to satisfy their own shortcomings. However, I think this whole article is written from a very simplistic view of adultery/infidelity.
I am an adulterer. While I am not currently cheating on my wife and do not plan on ever doing it again, I feel the moniker is still appropriate because I cheated on my wife. It is something that I don’t think anyone who has done the things I have done, just gets to decide to let that title go. It is very much my own scarlet letter. I know my therapist would like to punch me in the face for saying this as we have “conversations” on this topic, however, it is how I feel
Before I go into the reasons as to why I think your view is simplistic, I would like to preface it with a note that every affair and the details around them are very different. If you have a narcissistic partner or someone who does it for the thrill, your experience will be vastly different from someone who is not. I also am looking at it from the view of an affair relationship, rather than one-off events that are more likely with narcissists and opportunistic thrill seekers. My thoughts are not taking this into account, so even what I am going to say is still somewhat simplistic and not all-encompassing.
As I have read a ton on the subject and more importantly, communicated with a host of people who are going/gone through affairs or recovery. While selfishness is at the center of the problems, I do not believe it is recognized by the adulterer until the end of the affair when they are forced to confront their actions. I think there are actually 3 stages to an adulterer’s thought process of an affair.
The first stage is pre-affair. I think this is where a lot of soul-searching and self-delusion occurs. It is also where a number of potential affairs end. This is where the adulterer has an unresolved issue or issues within the marriage that they cannot find a way to solve. This could be a reoccurring problem in the marriage that frustrates the potential adulterer and they do not seem to get resolved through their normal channels of resolution. If the potential adulterer talks about these issues with their partner and can get a working resolution then the affair may never happen. However, more than likely because it is reoccurring, the potential adulterer looks for another way to resolve this issue. If the issues have been decreasing the adulterer’s sense of self then they will look for self-preserving methods of resolution. I think they will look outside the marriage for a solution, if the problem is contributing to their lack of self-esteem. For example, if the issues is related to sex and intimacy, the potential adulterer may not go to the partner because of the risk of further diminishing their self-esteem. If they want/need more sex and intimacy but the partner is not willing to do this, then it can be internalized as an issues within the potential adulterer (‘Why doesn’t my partner find me attractive?’ What is wrong with me that my partner does not want me?’). This is where the self-delusions begin and the “affair fog” begins.
The potential adulterer does not understand that something is actually wrong within themselves. They may not feel like they have low self-esteem, they only recognize that it hurts when their partner cannot seem to meet their needs. They are also cognizant of the pain the unresolved issue in their relationship causes their partner. If they can find a way to get their needs met and do it without causing pain to their partner be bringing up the unresolved issue then they are actually helping the relationship. This is the root of all the delusions that occur during the affair. To them this self-delusion is a win-win. They do not think about the hurt they will cause their partner if caught, only that they are helping by not bringing pain to them from bringing up unresolved issues. If they were to actually think about the destruction the affair will cause, I do not believe they would proceed with the affair, but instead they are blinded by the possibility of success and making everyone happy. I think it is important that this delusion is not perceived by the adulterer as self-centered. Yes, they are looking to get their needs met, but more important is the delusion that they will be helping the relationship and not causing pain to their partner. They cannot see the selfishness of their actions. They also believe that it will not be something permanent and they can stop at any time without harming anyone. They don’t understand that the real problem is with themselves and once they find something that makes them feel good, they will become attached very quickly, even if the attachment is to a fantasy they have created in their head. They will never recognize the selfishness of their decisions and thinking in this stage of the affair.
The second stage is the affair. I am sure you could break it down into different stages here, but I am not going to go that far into detail. Instead, I think there are important elements to this stage. The most important is that the adulterer is living in a delusion day-in-day-out. It is commonly referred to as “affair fog”. They see what they are doing as helpful. In the beginning, they get a lot of affirmation that it is working. They feel good about themselves because they are getting attention from someone who is not their partner. This makes them happy and usually relieves tension in the relationship, for the short-term. With the temporary decrease in tension in the relationship, it makes the adulterer believe that made the correct choice. This is a temporary state of mind.
Their thoughts quickly go from thoughts about the helping/saving their own relationship to constant thoughts about the Affair Partner. This is where the second delusion is created. It is often perpetuated by the AP. They have these feelings they believe are about the AP and the feelings they have when they are with them and confuse them as something they are not. They may believe they are in love and that the AP makes them so happy. What they do not recognize is that they are really just addicted to the feelings they get from the affair. The boost they get to their self-esteem from the constant attention of an AP, especially one they can confide in about their current problems in their relationship. The low self-esteem that is not recognized by the adulterer is actually what is driving this addiction. The adulterer will find themselves needing a fix to boost their self-esteem. All the while misinterpreting this fix as feelings of love and happiness. When this addition kicks in, the affair will be the center of the adulterer’s life. It will be the center of everything they do and every thought that they have. Their relationship will suffer because of the attention they need to give the affair and the AP. They will read this as their current relationship is failing and the new affair relationship is where they need to be and where they are really wanted. They won’t understand that it is all their doing, that the neglect of their current relationship is adding to the current state of their relationship. The “affair fog” keeps them from recognizing this and instead concentrates their thoughts and actions on what is making them feel good about themselves, which is the affair and the affair partner. This is why few affairs end on their own and when they do, it is usually from the promptings of the AP, not the adulterer. It is also why the adulterer may do one of two things if that were to occur. They may look for a replacement AP. I believe this is when the delusion was at its highest and the relationship with the AP breaks down quickly. They will need to fill that void and get their fix. The second would be to turn their attention back to their own relationship. They may begin to recognize the destruction that they have only begun to cause and while it is not at its highest, they will still be shocked at what they have done. Both of these are examples are assuming the affair has not been discovered.
The affair is usually discovered during this stage and it is when the destruction will be at its most destructive. The adulterer is forced to look at themselves when they are at their worst. They are forced out of the ‘affair fog’ and have to see things for what they really are and who caused them. This dissonance can be devastating. They back up through their delusions and try and hold the thoughts that what they were doing was for the good of the relationship. However, the mounting evidence against this, and seeming the harm they wreaked upon their partner, makes it even more difficult for them to keep this delusion.
This leads to the last stage, post-affair. This is the hardest on the adulterer and challenges them to look at themselves. Many adulterers cannot handle this and hold onto the thought that they were just trying to help. They also don’t not want to fully own up to everything they did because of what it will do to them personally. It will strip them of the little bit of self-esteem they have left. The little bit of hope that they were just trying to help, as stupid as it sounds even to them. It is hard for them to understand what their partner actually needs is for them to come clean and own up to disclose everything because they feel like it is exactly opposite of what they need. The shame and regret are so hard to deal with they just want to forget. In addition, this battle of self-preservation within themselves makes it difficult to fully recall all things in the details that some partners want. The adulterer is fighting to forget and the partner needs certain things so they can heal. Add in the “affair fog” and it is truly hard to remember everything until it is pushed into the adulterer’s face. This does not mean that they will forget everything, this means that they don’t want to remember anything, but can when needed. However, the more they relive it, the more it hurts the adulterer. The best solution for both the adulterer and the partner is the get full disclosure up front and early in the healing process. Then things should only be brought up infrequently about the affair, and only when needed for healing. I have found that if full disclosure is given at the beginning, then there is less need to bring it back up. Instead, the focus is on the healing of the relationship, not what is still out there that needs to be discovered. If the adulterer only provides bits and pieces, then it hurts both the partner and the adulterer because both are forced to relive it over and over and the partner will have constant thoughts that things are still out there to be discovered, which breeds a lack of trust (not that there will be any left).
This stage is where the adulterer is actually at their lowest and the reason many of them cannot do the work to get back into the relationship. They are forced to accept what they have done, and open themselves up to the constant reminders of who they have now become. They are very much at the mercy of their partner, all the while, having the lowest possible self-esteem. They will now recognize that they have no self-esteem left. They will feel like garbage and there will be times throughout the healing of the relationship this idea will be reinforced by the partner, sometimes knowingly, others not.
I think this stage is life-long and they will never regain anything of who they once were. They have to rebuild themselves and often it is a lesser version of themselves. This is all contingent of them staying in the relationship. I think this is why many relationships fail even when the couple tries to work on staying together. Couples try to regain what once was, and unfortunately it will never be there again. The adulterer and the partner have both been stripped down to their core, all because of the actions of the adulterer. The adulterer has to learn to live with that for the rest of their life. They have to live with the fact that they destroyed the partner they proclaimed to love. They have to live with the thought that they were selfish and because of it they destroyed the very thing they thought they were saving. This forces them to put themselves last, not wanting to be selfish again. Which is actually one of the worst things they can do, because they will again not get their needs met, and yet, they will feel like their needs are not important or deserved of being met.
Obviously, I have simplified my depiction of an affair and all the things surrounding it. I also did little to discuss the effects on the partner as that was not my focus. I am cognizant the destruction of the partner is as great as or more so than that of the adulterer. I don’t want to belittle that fact, as the partner did not have a say in the actions of the adulterer. Instead, I just wanted people to understand that adultery and infidelity is a complex and devastating event to everyone involved, even those who caused it.