I know this is a vexing thought for many women who are involved with married men — whether they are married or single themselves. You see it in the blogs and other places all the time. And I know my ex-OW asked the same thing — “He was so unhappy with her and so happy with ME! Why did he go back to his wife? How could he choose HER when he told me that he loves me!??”
It’s a common question and lament. And understandable. I found many articles/opinions on this. I have distilled some of them here, added in my own opinion as well, as a man who in fact did return to his wife after the affair.
So why do many men go back to their wives after the affair is over?
Husbands Sometimes Return To Their Wives After Cheating Because They Realize They Were Wrong On Many Levels: Men often wake up to the fact that during the affair, they were not thinking rationally. They often base their actions on assumptions that they later decide weren’t fair or weren’t true. And, they will very often later realize that they were basing their actions on fantasy rather than on reality. Very often, in the beginning, they will see the Other Woman as offering something that is lacking in their life and therefore as someone who can fix their problems or alleviate some of their stress. But as time goes on and they come to see her and the relationship less under the veil of fantasy, they will often come to realize that their assumptions were just not accurate.
In the beginning, the affair relationship feels light, fresh, and new. But eventually, he begins to see the Other Woman through clearer eyes, and the affair too. All of the fairy dust and magic soon comes to an end. The Other Woman will usually start to show him who she really is and show herself to be very wife like, with her own demands and expectations. And the husband will eventually realize that he’s gained nothing (or he’s gained some things, but lost other, critical things that he did not consider before he embarked on the affair). Now, the mistress usually will be very careful in the beginning. But soon she too will begin to question what’s in it for her. And then her demands on you will start to kick in — She wants more time from you. Then she just wants you for herself and only for herself — will probably either ask directly, or at least hint around, that she wants you to leave your wife for her. And the pressure sets in. Women in affairs are different than men in affairs in this way. They may intend in the beginning to understand that the affair is temporary, and that they can control their emotions, but they often bond and bond deeply with their married male lovers. And then the game changes for them. In the beginning, they were not demanding and grateful for anything they could get with you, but now they want you all for themselves. Permanently. They can’t let go. They soon develop relationship-like demands and expectations and want to win at any cost. What has the man in this scenario gained but stress and pressure from two women, and from within.
It’s often not until the married male cheater sees his wife’s reaction and pain from the affair that he realizes just what a huge mistake he has made. He often doesn’t mean to hurt anyone or alter any one’s life. But once he realizes that in fact he has (and on a very huge level) this is often enough to wake him up to just how ill advised this whole thing really was. The gut-wrenching guilt of watching someone who completly trusted you and loved you writhing in unspeakable pain because of your self-indulgent and thoughtless betrayal will often make a man snap out of it and realize the full gravity of what he’s done.
Men realize that their affair has very poor odds succeeding as a real life, legitimate relationship if he leaves his wife for his mistress. Any relationship that has a foundation of lies and deception has much of a chance of developing into a healthy, long term relationship. I wrote a whole blog entry on it. Few marriages that result from an affair last more than a few years, for a variety of reasons.
Husbands likely still love their wives, despite having been in an affair. Men can often compartmentalize their affair and their marriages in their brain as two separate, distinct entities. The majority of men report never wavering in their love for their wives during the affair. Women often find this to be impossible to believe. What they don’t get is this: Meny are able to compartmentalize and see the two relationships as distinct and separate. This is hard for women to understand, but it’s very male thinking and is in fact hard-wired into our brains biologically.
Compartmentalization refers to an ability to divide something up into segments or parts as a way to keep from feeling overwhelmed by all the stress in men’s lives. Because men have little training when it comes to their emotional world, men have perfected the art of segmenting or compartmentalizing their difficult feelings away from their awareness in order to deal with their immediate needs…one chunk at a time.
Thus, men, can mentally separate the two relationships in their heads and literally one has little to do with the other. Or literally men can compartmentalize and separate physical intimacy and emotional attachment. They can get physical with other women without actually getting emotionally involved. This is why some men will say the affair meant nothing. Because in their compartmentalized brains it actually was “just sex.” It literally meant nothing to these men!
But this is not the norm. Most affairs are not only about sex. Even for men, affairs are largely about emotions — love, acceptance, understanding. Sex is the bonus, but not the point of it or why it happened (unless sex is what is largely missing in the marriage).
So during an affair many men may still love their wives and still want their mistress. Or even love both. And this seems very logical to them. And, very often, they actually think they are solving their problems on their own and sparing you the bother. Often, they think that (and desperately hope) that you will never find out. (NOTE: Thus, going back to their wives may not be as a big of a leap as some mistresses believe)
However, even these things usually come to a head and the husband looks around and realizes that the wife is the only one who seems to be living in the real world and is the only one who offers any stability. It’s around this time that he realizes that he’s been sold an impossible bill of goods and he’ll typically just want his regular life back. He also will typically realize that he’s been so unfair to his wife, has taken her for granted, and was wrong all along. He may realize that the person he truly loves is his wife. And that this never changed. He was just fooling himself all along.
Fear of the unknown is a huge motivator to end the affair and come back to their wives: Many married men cannot overcome deep and extreme doubts about the unknowns and the combination of familial, social, financial, life-style, and maybe even professional complications, that will come from abandoning their wife and kids for another woman. The complications are simply too overwhelming to contemplate. The financial consequences. Moral consequences. Maybe even professional ones. Potentially being ostracized by friends and family. Fear that the relationship with the Other Woman, if married to her, won’t at all resemble what it was like when you were having an affair. Fear of hurting your children and them resenting you forever. The logistical difficulties of balancing two families, in essence. Fear certainly played into my thinking. My gut told me it was the wrong thing to do on many levels – and loudly. I listened to my gut.
Leaving your mistress doesn’t make a man a coward. Someone wrote a very good book called something like, “The Gift of Fear”. You sometimes have that sinking feeling in your gut that’s so strong that it’s impossible to ignore, nor should you. It doesn’t make you a coward — it makes you smart!! The stats for relationships that start as an affair are too poor for someone to assume that marrying their Affair Partner is a good idea. In one survey, 80% of men who divorced after a affair later regretted it. Sometimes you listen to your gut. And your gut is telling you that leaving your wife for anyone is a bad idea.
Men often end up realizing that what they were looking for is at home. The person who knows them best is their wife. At the end of the day, cheating husbands may come to realize that they were attempting to live in a fantasy world that could not possibly last or be healthy. There will usually come a time when he will realize that the problem he was running from has not gone away and that now he has even more problems. It’s usually at this point that it becomes crystal clear that he would have been much better off staying home and working through his issues with his spouse like a mature adult.
The Wayward Husband isn’t necessarily lying to his Mistress throughout. When left, many Other Women state that that their married man lover must have been lying to them or led them on because he didn’t choose them for a life partner by leaving his marriage. I have to disagree here. Certainly some people DO lie to get and keep someone in a relationship, but I know that sometimes people don’t really listen to what the other person is saying. They hear only what they want to hear, and ignore the the things that would tend to cast doubt on their lover’s ability to leave his wife and/or family. On the contrary, he probably was very honest with her. But he’s changed his mind. Due to all the factors above.
This was the case with my ex-Other Woman. She knew I was wavering for so long in the affair, unsure of what to do. In a terrible dilemma. Torn in half. But when it was over, she pretended like I only told her that I was definitely leaving my wife for her. What she doesn’t remember is all the times I told her of my grave doubts of my ability to do just that. Nor did she remember how she ENCOURAGED me every step of the way to do just that. Manipulated me, even. Tried to put words into my mouth. So there are two sides to every story.
And I don’t know if the reasons are the same why a cheating wife goes back to her husband. Maybe someone else will write that one. And I’m SURE I’m going to hear from a few women whose married Affair Partner DID leave their wives for them and telling me how wildly happy they are, blah blah blah.Yeah, I get it. But exceptions don’t disprove the rule. What some of you are living is so far beyond the law of averages, and you should consider yourselves fortunate that you built something amazing out of something so ugly and wrong.
Personally I certainly got caught up in the fantasy of it all. I got in over my head. And I think I definitely looked at my lover and my wife with “affair eyes” — I exaggerated my OW’s good qualities, and exaggerated my wife’s lesser qualities. I took my wife for granted. I think my OW also sold me a ‘bill of goods.’ She was pretending to be the perfect girlfriend and potential partner, when in reality, she was hiding some pretty important things from me. I woke up from the fog I was in and saw both my wife and “her” in more accurate terms. The choice then was clear.
The primary reason I went back to my wife was love. We were beginning to finally talk openly the month before D-day. Our intimacy was returning and I saw a glimmer of hope. And the way she handled D-Day spoke volumes about her. I knew that there was something more there and I needed to try and repair things. I had an inkling that my marriage could be so much more than it was. So it wasn’t fear. It wasn’t even the the red flags concerning the OW that I began to see. In the end, I knew I loved my wife and I wanted to fix things and not divide my family. In the end, I still loved my wife.
But let me be clear: Lots of married men don’t return to their wives. For these men, they long ago decided that their marriage was a dead-end and the affair was just an expression of their discontent — the final act in the death spiral of their marital drama. No matter what you think or do, they’re not coming back. It’s just a fact. They may or may not want the OW either — but they already decided they want out of their marriage, for whatever reason. For those types of men, the above paragraphs largely do not apply.
But yes, a lot of married men who cheat do return to their wives. Whether their wives will take them back or not is a completely different question. But certainly there is ample motivation for many married male cheaters that they often “wake up”, realize the folly and error of their actions, and terminate their unholy alliances with the Other Woman.
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