I often read blogs from betrayed wives who seem genuinely baffled by what their husband is thinking in the aftermath of a discovered affair. What are they thinking now when they think about about their affair? Our recovery? About their ex-Other Woman? My own wife expressed this very thought to me this weekend. It got me thinking. Are there commonalities in our thinking, especially among males?
I think most betrayed wives want to know what on earth their husband was thinking during the affair, let alone after it’s discovery. I will tell you this, except for the true sociopath (who feels no remorse for what they are doing, and in fact, feel entitled to it), most men are in a muddle during the affair. They don’t feel happy most of the time, nor do they feel like they are “getting away with something.” Many men express strong guilt and shameful feelings during the affair. Things such as, “(after I was with her), I went home, locked the door, and cried.” Or, “my hands were shaking so hard on the steering wheel on the way home that I was afraid that I might have an accident.” Or, “the guilt was killing me. I could not even look at my wife in the eye. I always felt sure that she knew something was going on or knew that I was lying or had done something very wrong.” Panic. Guilt. Shame. Self-Loathing.
Were there moments of exhilaration? Yes. Most men in these situations report also feeling “free”, “understood,” “desired” or “alive again”, but it tends to be short-lived and then back to feelings of panic and guilt. And the cycle repeats. It’s really more of a private hell than most wives think. Most men would say something like, “I didn’t know WHAT I was thinking. I was just going with it, day to day, and very stressed out for most of it.” They act more like addicts than rational human beings, going from moment to moment as to when they can get their next “fix.”
But what we are here to discuss is what many men feel after the affair over. Discovered. Known by their spouse.
In the immediate aftermath of the affair, men feel under siege, from within and without, panicked and ashamed. Although he may not show this reaction to you, many men typically feel shock and panic once the cat is out of the bag. As unbelievable or as silly as it sounds, most men (frankly most cheaters, females too) never really think that they are going to be caught. In their own minds, they are going to work this out before you find out.
So, their initial reaction is one of damage control on all fronts. They often are not thinking clearly and are trying to scramble around and determine what is their best strategy moving forward. Unlike women who would try to sort out their feelings and to take inventory as to what their “gut” and their integrity is telling them to do, men are often reactive, meaning that they’re merely reacting to whatever is happening at the time rather than worrying about taking the actions that are going to positively effect their future.
Wayward Males, just after D-day, are in a psychological hell and are feeling besieged from within and without. They are beating themselves up and you are beating them up too. Maybe their affair partner is beating them up too (like mine did). They are shell-shocked and vulnerable.
And because feelings of guilt and shame are so awful, and because most humans intuitively want to avoid as a means of self preservation, so often the husband will act indignant and defensive in the face of affair discovery. The wife will sometimes take this mean that he’s not sorry and he’s not guilty. However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, he’s merely attempting to “save face” and is posturing. He figures if he doesn’t dwell too much on the specifics of the affair and he will want to change the conversation as quickly as possible, he can minimize your pain and anger. In short, he wants to spend as little time justifying or explaining his actions as is possible and so his actions are usually going to be in direct response to this.
They may agree to marital recovery, but they may be very confused. The affair fog in their mind is still in place. Emotions are high and clear, logical thought is difficult at best. They may still be on the fence — confused as to whether they want their wives back, their lovers, or their freedom (neither the wife or the OW)! They don’t know if their wives will actually forgive and forget and they are wasting their time. They may not be entirely sure the OW is the answer either. They are under siege from all directions and are hoping for, initially, some relief from that. They just want the pain to stop. They feel shame, guilt, panic and may still be torn inside their heads. They feel like survivors in the aftermath of a bombing…of their lives!! And like a drug addict, they were addicted to their affair partner. No Contact is a MUST!! But realize that a period of withdrawal is occurring. They still feel the itch. The need. It takes time, but if recovery proceeds, they can get the person out of their system. Support that. Don’t drive them away and back to their affair partner.
Yes, men generally do feel guilt, sorry and shame over the affair: Many Betrayed Spouses report that they worry that their husbands aren’t actually sorry for the the affair. That they just want to move on and get past it. Couldn’t be further from the truth. “There is a well known infidelity study which indicates that the overwhelming majority of men (over 90%) are deeply sorry about the affair and wish that it had never happened. Often, they don’t take the time to really think through the cheating, they hope that you won’t find out, and they’re devastated once they realize there is no way to take back this mistake.”
While sorry, many male Waywards are exasperated with their Betrayed Spouses in the aftermath of an affair: The husbands will often say things like: “Yes, of course I’m sorry about having an affair. I wish I could take it back, but I can’t. And, how many times can one person apologize or say they are sorry? How many other ways are there to show your remorse? Am I going to say I’m sorry for the rest of my life because it gets old having to repeat yourself over and over when she doesn’t believe a word that I say anymore anyway?” They may wonder when “healing and forgiveness” actually begins, because they seem to be now in a situation where their Betrayed Spouse is only seeking to punish and control them, not understand and forgive them.
A byproduct of cheating is a reduced sense of dignity. The affair usually boosts the self-esteem, and the aftermath reduces it. To even lower than it was BEFORE the affair!! Understand that most men have affairs largely for the same reasons females do — emotional reasons. Most men have affairs because they no longer feel loved, desired, appreciated and understood by their primary partner. Their self-esteem as a man is taking a beating. An affair frequently boosts this self-esteem, because all of the sudden there IS someone who shows you love, appreciation, desire and understanding! Who doesn’t feel good when that is happening? So the boost to the self-esteem that occurs is an important factor to understand in the Wayward male.
“Once the wife/partner finds out about the affair, the real desperation, sorrow, and remorse begins to set in. The self-esteem that the husband/BF was trying to restore is now at an all time low and it becomes obvious this plan was seriously flawed. Often, the husbands are desperately sorry and absolutely willing to do anything to make it up to their wives, but they are caught in the middle of a bad situation. Many of them tell their therapists something like,
“No matter what I do, it is wrong. If I try to offer my wife affection and reassurance, she sees me as a sex starved pervert, but if I stand back and let her take the intuitive, she thinks that I don’t find her desirable anymore.”
Clearly a no-win situation. You WANT to come back, fix the marriage, make amends and bury the past, but if you don’t have a Betrayed Spouse open to it, but instead is seeking only justice (instead of healing and forgiveness), this will cause the Wayward Spouse extreme dismay. Discouragement. They might leave the marriage anyway because they weren’t being met half-way.
They have a partner who says they want to save the marriage, but in reality, is unable to move past these negative feelings and create new positive ones based on forgiveness, openness, and improvements. You can’t pursue “justice” and “healing” at the same time. It doesn’t work. For some spouses, an affair is a deal-breaker, even if they were a shitty spouse prior to the affair. Their personality, ego, or inner values cannot get past it. OK. That happens. Nobody says you must forgive and forget.
Many Betrayed Spouses overlook the effect of the affair and it’s aftermath on the husband’s self esteem. “Suddenly, overnight, he’s become the second class citizen in the marriage. Don’t get me wrong. He deserves this title. But, keep in mind that he was likely suffering low self esteem which contributed to the affair, so this the marriage even more vulnerable. By no means am I saying that you should let him off the hook. You shouldn’t. I’m just staying that its’ very important that you are both aware very of why the affair happened and that you both address the self esteem issues that occur in the aftermath so that you can move forward.”
This is SO TRUE. Understand WHY the affair happened – the cause — which in most cases, is huge deficits in the marriage — not the symptom (the affair). This requires humility and understanding by both the Betrayed and the Wayward spouse. And risk. But it’s this step that is necessary or you might as well pull the plug now. But I think that the perceptions can be wrong too and perhaps a bit of insight into the former male cheater’s psyche can only help.
New awareness and marital commitment after the affair: “In the wake of most affairs, married men come to realize that the source of their confidence and stability is their commitment to their wife. Only with this realization is a future void of sexual transgression possible. It is also becomes apparent to the shamed husband that the memory of their unfaithfulness will cling to them into the future, always reminding them of their deceit. This alone serves as a heavy price to pay for most cheating husbands. ”
What About His Feelings about the Ex-OW? Again, I see the gamut on blogs and message boards — everything from total disinterest in the ex-OW, to disgust, to incredible, secret (or not so secret) and tortured longing, even years after the affair. I’ve written about my feelings about the OW in detail (if you haven’t read my blog, it’s definitely not “longing”). However, in general, there is no one answer, but Katie Lersch wrote:
“Men’s feelings about the Other Woman vary after the affair depending on many factors: The feelings that a man might have about the other woman will often depend on the circumstances surrounding the affair and will be influenced by how long the affair has been over. Although some men who contact me will admit to still thinking about or having feelings for the other woman, many deny this. Most often, men will recount how they look back now and see how mistaken they were. They’ll say how things feel so differently (and are so much more clear) today. Many are ashamed or embarrassed of their actions and these negative feelings of shame can affect or counter any positive feelings that they might have thought they had toward her.
Also, many look back on the affair and realize what a high personal and emotional cost they paid for it. This too can pretty much temper any feelings that they might otherwise have had. Many will also tell you that the other woman manipulated them or portrayed herself as someone who she was not and that they are able to see her as she truly was as they look back now. (My note: THAT is so true in my case!)
That’s not to say that some men don’t have positive memories or perceptions of the other woman. Some will still tell you that she was a decent person who was there for him at a time in his life when was struggling, but this is very different than still feeling emotional feelings toward her or wanting to be with her after the relationship is over. Many (but not all) husbands will tell you as soon as it’s clear that they might actually lose their wife or their family over this woman, the feelings will often fade quite quickly because he’s very clear on the fact that she is just not worth losing every thing over. (MY NOTE: I see longing and over-romanticism of the lost affair partner on these blogs more often than not. It’s not how I think, but many of these former cheaters still very much see their ex-affair partners as a potential life option. They made a choice to leave them, but they still miss them for a variety of reasons).
I’d like to make one more point. When many betrayed spouses wonder about their cheating spouse’s feelings after the affair, their point of reference is themselves. What I mean by this is that we often look at it from our own point of view. A betrayed spouse will often wonder how their spouse could be so completely involved with someone that they were willing to lie or cheat to maintain that relationship and put the marriage at risk. They don’t understand it.
But what many don’t realize is that a man often doesn’t approach this in an emotional way in the same way that a woman would. That’s not to say that affairs are only physical because studies and statistics show this not to be the case. Men do cheat for emotional and psychological reasons, but in my experience, observation and opinion, these emotions have much more to do with them than they do with the woman who they cheated with.
What I mean is that they are often more motivated by how the other woman makes him feel about himself than how he feels about her. He’s attracted to the fact that he feels desired, special, or validated. (MY NOTE: And these are usually the things missing from his marriage!! HELLO?? DING DING!!).
But, most men will admit that, other than the fact that she listened to and seemed to appreciate him, there was nothing particularly special about her other than the fact that she was available at a vulnerable time. The longer that the affair has been over, the more likely it is that the husband will have these sorts of feelings and can now see the affair (and the other woman) much more accurately and clearly.”
FOR PART 2: How Many Men Feel After the Affair, Part 2
NOTE: For the blog above, I relied heavily on an article from a Betrayed Spouse who really writes some great stuff. I hope she doesn’t mind me using some of her stuff, and some of my own ideas, plus stuff from elsewhere. Her website is at http://surviving-the-affair.com/. Another source is a great website by Katie Lersch. Also worth reading. I used aspects of a couple of her Q&A’s here too. (http://katie-lersch-articles.com/). Some of my own thoughts are mixed in too. I’m focusing on former cheating males because…well…I are one…and I wouldn’t presume to understand the mind of the former cheating female, although some have told me that they feel much the same way.
© COPYRIGHT 2006, 2007, 2013 Recovering Wayward Enterprises, LLC