Frequently, I have read things like, “why do cheaters lie about their marriages during the affair?” Or “Why do cheaters rewrite marital history after the affair is over in order to make their spouses seem so awful?”
In my experience here, reading blogs, answering hundreds of emails, etc, I think I’ve learned this about rewriting marital history during and after an affair, there are three stories that are told:
The version of the marriage told by the Betrayed Spouse, the version told by the Wayward Spouse, and, frankly, the actual truth about the marriage, which is usually somewhere in the middle.
I got an email with this very question just recently and got permission to turn the question (which I’m paraphrasing to protect the person’s identity and story) into a blog entry: A man had not long ago caught his wife in an affair. She was mortified, apologetic, grief stricken. The spouse agreed that he “made every mistake in the book” initially and the stress he put his wife under drove her back to contact her affair partner. At which point, he discovered emails between them. She had in essence fabricated what was to him an inaccurate picture to the affair partner of the husband and their marriage, indicating vast mental and physical abuse from the husband. He said the wife later admitted that “none of this was true”. He asked me why she would do this? Why paint him as a monster?
First, not every cheater lies about their marriages. Some are startlingly honest about them to their affair partners. Some more than others. But yes, some certainly lie. Why?
Multiple possibilities here:
Waywards lie about the marriage to gain sympathy from their affair partner. Some people make these things up in order to “hook” their affair partner in and keep them there. After all, it seems not quite so bad to be involved in an affair with someone who is being actively abused and/or neglected. So it’s a way to fix your partner in place. You can hook someone into an affair by convincing them that they are “saving” you from an uninterested and/or abusive spouse. You’re not simply a cheater or a cheap, libidinous trollop. You are a GOOD person with LOVE to give who is married to someone who isn’t interested in you and tapping your potential, or worse, is driving you away with abusive behavior. It’s a predictable tactic and makes it easier for the affair partner to get involved with you.
Waywards sometimes rewrite history to justify what they are doing to themselves and others. There is a tendency to exaggerate the bad qualities of your spouse and your marriage while you are in an affair (and conversely, exaggerate the good qualities of your affair partner). Why? It’s psychological and predictable: They do it because have to live with themselves and what they are doing. They KNOW what they are doing is absolutely wrong, but they HAVE to create an internal justification for what they’ve done — so that they can keep doing it and not hate themselves.
So it’s easy to exaggerate the state of your marriage as being awful, and pin essentially the blame for your affair on your spouse. For some reason, this seems to be more common for the female cheater than the male. Anyone whoever watched the show “Cheaters” can attest to this. When the male cheater is caught, he usually acts stunned, usually remorseful and tries immediately to repair things with his GF/wife. When it’s a female cheater caught on camera, more often than not, they go on the OFFENSIVE against the husband/bf — that it was THEIR fault she cheated. You see it on the blogs too. Female cheaters seem usually unremorseful and blame others for why they did what they did. Males usually do not. So there’s that aspect of it too.
For most cheaters, male or female, if they can’t find or create a psychological justification for cheating, it’s hard for them to do it. They have to live with themselves too. Unless they are a person without conscience, they have to create a psychological construct in their mind to justify the betrayal and deceit they are inflicting upon their spouse. It’s wrong. It may be 100% inaccurate. But it’s predictable. And honestly, most Waywards/cheaters wouldn’t even fully recognize what they are doing when they are altering the truth.
The Waywards aren’t actually lying. Of course in some cases, the cheater is absolutely correct in their assessment of their marriage and spouse. Some people DO actively abuse and/or neglect their spouses. They forget what made their relationship good when they were dating and first married. People drift apart or push each other away. And an affair can result. This is the power of critical needs not being met. People will often go to amazing lengths to get them met. Their version of your marriage might be 100% true to them.
Some Betrayed Spouses aren’t exactly being accurate either. I think Betrayed Spouses seem to be as likely as Wayward Spouses to “rewrite history” in terms of their marriage. I know from reading many blogs, and answering emails (sometimes separately from both spouses) that many Betrayeds aren’t exactly being honest either — they almost always portray themselves as the “perfect spouse”, that their marriage was “unbelievably happy before the affair, “and that the affair “came out of nowhere”. And that their Wayward Spouse is bad, bad, bad, and they are good, good, good.
A simple explanation, an alluring one, and one that will get you a lot of support on various affair-related message boards from other betrayed spouses, but is it an accurate one?
Maybe, maybe not. If there’s anything I’ve learned in all this from my research and emails, etc is this: It’s extremely rare for a truly happy and content relationship/marital partner to have an affair. Affairs rarely happen in a vacuum. They are the symptom that something has gone wrong terribly inside their marriage and/or themselves. Despite how some portray them, affairs simply do not “come out of nowhere”. But there’s a reason — what’s usually going on when this occurs is a Betrayed rewriting of history, necessary to portray the marriage as “happy”, and thus all blame for the affair, the failure of the marriage, MUST fall with the cheater by definition.
For some Betrayeds, however, it’s hard to look in the mirror and admit to your role in your spouse’s unhappiness. In fact, there is active resistance on the part of many Betrayeds to do just that. It’s human nature to go on the defensive when one is being criticized. And there is power in being the victim. To some, to be honest about themselves – – that they actively neglected or actively abused their spouse to the point where the spouse decided to get their needs met elsewhere – is impossible.
Reminds me of a woman you used to blog here. She admitted on her blog being a workaholic, putting on vast amounts of weight, actively avoiding sex with her spouse, and neglecting her marriage, yet was simply stunned when she found her husband’ s 2-week emotional affair that consisted of steamy emails. And yet she fervently refused to accept any blame for the state of her marriage and to see the obvious “cause and effect” here. And refused to get past the whole episode. To most of us, the cause and effect was obvious, as was what seemed to be a vast overreaction on her part (based on her lengthy, frequent and vitriolic posts on her blog) to what had occurred. An opportunity missed to be honest with herself and fix things, and have a better marriage.
Some Betrayeds won’t admit the truth sometimes because on some level it would seem like they are to blame for the affair, and they just won’t be. They cannot separate “reason” for the affair from “excuse” for the affair (there is no excuse). They hold a powerful position in the marriage by being the victim and the non-cheater. To admit ANYTHING but being a perfect wife/husband would take some of that power away from them. There is some “rewriting” going on there too for very predictable psychological reasons.
Some Waywards will admit to almost anything to save their marriages. And yes, when a Wayward is caught and are DESPERATE to not be thrown out of their home and marriage, they may agree with you that they told lies about the state of their marriage. That they were manipulated by their Affair Partner. They need to shift the blame and focus away from them as much as possible. They will do anything to stop the ship from sinking and save themselves — from being thrown out, from anger and recrimination. At that point, they will be willing to say whatever it takes to make the yelling and blame stop. They want the focus off them and the affair. Even if they have to skirt the truth to do it. T Remember, they already have not only a proven record not only of deceit with you, but successful deceit. They might still be lying to save the marriage. It’s human nature.
Conclusion: Everyone rewrites relationship history, whether they experienced an affair or not. Couldn’t you say this about almost any couple, especially one that has split up? Aren’t there always two different and irreconcilable “versions” of the relationship/marriage told by each? And both deeply believe it? Isn’t it basic human nature to portray yourself as the good, honest person and the victim after a breakup? How many people are actually honest with others (let alone themselves) about how they actually acted in relationship and their role in its dissolution? Few.
I always counsel people — move PAST the affair, and all what was behind it, and the details — and focus instead on the CAUSE. Get to the root of it all. Why did one spouse think that cheating was a viable option? What is wrong in them and/or in the marriage that made them open to this? Can it be fixed? How? If you focus on that and not on how they conducted their affair, you won’t worry so much about the details of the affair. You’ll get further ahead. You’ll “rewrite” your marriage to one that is stronger, more honest, and more resilient than before. As soon as you can, stop looking in the rearview mirror. Look ahead.