Repairing Infidelity Begins with Asking Why It Happened

broken love and photographThe act of infidelity raises many questions. The questions are mainly generated by the hurt partner and directed toward the unfaithful partner. Unfortunately, not nearly enough questions are asked by the unfaithful partner of himself or herself.

As a clinician who frequently works with people who are working through the damage of infidelity, I have witnessed many face their partners and try to answer the question as to why they were unfaithful. This question often goes inadequately addressed. This makes some sense to me—the unfaithful partner most likely did not put a lot of thought and consideration into why they betrayed their partner. They may have decided to cheat because it felt nice that someone else was paying attention to them, they liked how flirting again felt, or they were bored, angry, or feeling resentment for their partner. Perhaps they couldn’t deny the attraction, they rationalized that it would only be once and not hurt anyone, or maybe they were intoxicated.

Of course, the above list doesn’t address all of the reasons someone would be unfaithful and doesn’t excuse it, but my point is that sometimes there isn’t much thoughtful contemplation before someone acts. Therefore, in the immediate aftermath of affair exposure, they truly may not know why they cheated.

This is where the hard work starts. What I share with people in the therapy room is that if you and your partner are interested in rebuilding your relationship, you need to create a firewall around it so you will never again be susceptible to cheating. While you may not be able to clearly articulate your decisions for the affair upon its immediate exposure, you can be sure there are reasons that led you astray. The reasons might be tough to talk about, but there definitely are reasons. The firewall is built through serious and painful personal reflection, difficult conversations with your partner, honesty, time spent with a couples therapist, and with an individual therapist.

In my work, I see many hurt partners who struggle to accept that the behavior won’t happen again—they need evidence that they can trust you. There is tremendous emotional vulnerability when a partner is betrayed and then decides to trust his or her partner again. The fear I see stems from fearing he or she may do it again. From my experienced perspective, the best way for a formerly unfaithful partner to live up to their promise of future fidelity is by understanding why they cheated in the first place. Make no mistake, this process is not easy, but you have to go through it. You can’t just shut a door on the whole messy situation and pretend it didn’t happen.

It is a tough chasm to cross, trying to determine why you chose to put your most significant emotional investment, your relationship, at risk. Why did it happen? When did you become susceptible to becoming attracted to another person? What was going on in your relationship? Were you feeling overlooked, neglected, dismissed, or unimportant? Were you angry at your partner? Did he or she change too much, or not enough? Did he or she prioritize the children over you? Did he or she not hear you or listen to you when you shared your concerns about the family spending? Did he or she not respond when you indicated that alcohol consumption was a problem?

I’m a believer in the idea of never letting a crisis go to waste. By this, I mean if you and your partner are willing to go through the repair process and endure the pain that is associated with rebuilding your relationship, you should figure out what caused you to make that decision originally. If you don’t determine the factors that led to you being unfaithful, you can’t protect yourself and your partner from making the same mistake again.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Anne Brennan Malec, PsyD, LMFT, therapist in Chicago, Illinois

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jasmine

    Jasmine

    November 25th, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    The problem is that I know a whole lot of people, maybe myself included I don’t know, who would find it very hard to ask why it happened because they are afraid that the answer is looking right at them in the mirror.

  • Glynn

    Glynn

    November 25th, 2014 at 2:58 PM

    It is never a good idea to be unfaithful but at the same time I know that for many people this is how they feel like they get their lives back after a long and crisis ridden relationship. They get no love form their spouse so you begin to look for that love and attention from somewhere else. That does not make it right but you know that this is how someone will rationalize the decisions that they have made.

  • league

    league

    November 26th, 2014 at 4:09 AM

    Yep, if the problems go unresolved the chances are pretty good that at some point you will be going down this same path all over again at some time during the relationship

  • scot

    scot

    November 26th, 2014 at 2:31 PM

    I think that for a lot of men especially, and maybe women too I am not sure, a lot of what happens when people cheat is that one person just simply starts to feel ignored by the other. It is not typically that you have found someone to be with that you immediately fall head over heels in love with, but there is someone new and exciting paying attention to you again and telling you all of the wonderful things about yourself that all of us need to hear. I think that this more than anything is what most people are looking for when they go outside of the marriage and cheat, they are looking for something that they are no longer getting from the marriage.

  • cas

    cas

    January 3rd, 2015 at 4:16 PM

    Well said

  • Brenda

    Brenda

    November 27th, 2014 at 8:21 AM

    I think that there are so many elements that go into a relationship breaking down in this way that there will be times when it is truly not understandable.

    I do think that if this happened I would want to know almost too much information. Of course I would want to know why it happened, mainly so that we could hopefully work on that so that together we did not have to endure this again.

    But I would also want to know about the other woman, and what was it about her that made him turn to her. Not that I would want to emulate her because she is just as much at fault, but I would want to try to extricate what was so appealing about her that would make him risk his marriage for being with her.

  • Gregory

    Gregory

    November 27th, 2014 at 1:47 PM

    I was very hurt when my first wife cheated on me but I was never able to accept the fact that much of the reason that she did what she did pointed right back at me. I was gone all the time and that left her very vulnerable and lonely. Although she and I could not repair the damage and we divorced it did make me more aware of what I needed to be as a husband and a father when I was given a second chance to do it again.

  • brandon a.

    brandon a.

    November 28th, 2014 at 8:59 AM

    My wife and I both strayed, both at just around the same time so I think that there was a part of both of us that was dissatisfied with the marriage and also took this as a chance to get back at the other. Immature to say the least but we are young and those were the choices that we made.
    We are slowly inching our way back toward being with one another because I think that our actions were what showed us that we really did love each other and that this was who we wanted to be with, but that things would have to be different if we were ever going to make it work.
    And yes, it required some honesty from both of us that was hard for both of us to come to terms with, but the work, while hard, has been rewarding to see everything coming back together the way that it should.

  • Sara Beth

    Sara Beth

    November 29th, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    It can be so hard when you know that you are largely to blame but at the same time it is not doing anyone any good to ignore that fact. You don’t always want to be the cause of something that went terribly wrong in your marriage but you cannot fix the problem without first understanding the role that you have played and also understanding the things that you need to contribute so that it can be repaired. Infidelity I believe would be the hardest thing to overcome just because of the loss of trust that will always be there but I know couples who have recovered from it so I know that it is possible.

  • Layne

    Layne

    November 30th, 2014 at 11:05 AM

    I could never confront what I “did wrong” because I honestly believe that this fault all has to lay at the feet of the person who does the cheating. I am sorry I know that will not be a popular opinion but no matter what I do as a wife, does that give you the right to go out and cheat on me? What happened to talking through the issues or getting some counseling? Couldn’t you try that before deciding that an affair is your only solution?

  • laura

    laura

    November 30th, 2014 at 11:16 PM

    Infidelity is a choice made by someone in response to, or escape from, his/her own unaddressed emotional issues. Decades of research support this – see the work of Shirley Glass, Peggy Vaughan, and Esther Perel.

    Laura S

  • Lorraine

    Lorraine

    January 1st, 2015 at 5:57 AM

    How dumb do I feel ,he slept with my so called best friend ,I never confronted him I was young and dumb.
    Then I found years later he cheated again , this time I believed his lies it didn’t,t happen .
    I never had any feeling over any of his affairs until years later which is now . I had the memories but no feelings
    Until we holidayed back to where it all happened the first time I think he cheated ,it is many years later but suddenly
    I,m really angry hurt and I,m now questioning why did he do this to me,
    I am feeling very sad suiside crosses my mind every night. But my grown children run threw my head I love them so much
    And do not want them to suffer,because of some thoughtless husband .NOT COPING

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    January 1st, 2015 at 10:03 AM

    Thank you for your comment, Lorraine. We wanted to provide links to some resources that may be relevant to you here. We have more information about what to do in a crisis at https://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html

    Warm regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • shelley

    shelley

    January 29th, 2015 at 5:14 PM

    With my fiance’s repeated cheating and his 3 failed marriages due to cheating, I am left with a feeling of hopelessness and betrayal. I am unsure of my(our) future, where I go from here. :( just utter sadness.

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