Rewriting Marital History After the Affair

12648772-angry-husband-and-wife-turning-their-back-on-each-otherFrequently, 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.

humorous-illustration-angry-wifeSome 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.

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8 thoughts on “Rewriting Marital History After the Affair

  1. I think what people get hung up on is the affair will always be a chapter in the marriage. You can’t rewrite it and you can’t undo it. You can never say, my partner would not do that to me. Or we were married 50 years and he never looked at another woman. No matter what there is the dark stain of the affair. I think the reason the BS give themselves so much credit, even if they did contribute to the breakdown of the marriage, is because it is ok to go through tough times in a marriage but it is never ok to cheat, at least in the eyes of society. There are only certain things the society in general really sees it ok to leave a marriage (and for many an affair is leaving the marriage, or stepping outside the marriage) and that is abuse, adultery, or drug or alcohol abuse. Nobody cares if the other spouse hasn’t given it up in the bedroom in three years. You’re married, you hang in there you work it out, or at least that is what our culture and society tells us.

    I love Ron White’s comedy bit where he talks about being a good dog and staying under the porch if you pet him every now, but if you don’t he will cheat, he knows because he has seen him do it.

    I hear many of my married girlfriends complain daily about having to have sex with their husbands and how much they hate and his begging for it. Many of them claim they haven’t had sex with their husbands for years or months. Sex is sex, but it also helps couples to bond, develop and maintain intimacy, a way to provide pleasure for the other and a way for your partner to please…a healthy sex life is good all around for a marriage. When that stops, you got big problems.

    Not that all affairs derive from a sexless marriage, but many do.

    As for gender diffences in behavior for when cheating spouses get caught. I think women get more defensive, because we are taught to always be good and not be sexually promiscuous, the punishment will be more severe. Men are given more room as far as sexual deviance, so it is safer for them to own up to it. They will more than likely be forgiven for it easier. An example of this is female teachers are given more punitive sentences than their male counterparts for engaging in sexual activities with a student.

    At least those are some of the leading theories in gender differences in regards to sexual deviance.

  2. This is how I see it: Both partners see the marriage through their own eyes and have different perspectives. They are experiencing the same problems from different perspectives. What one might consider a deal breaker, the other may not. When one of them cheats, it’s not always just about the problems, although these have shaped their perspective when they do it. But things happen to you when you encounter people outside your marriage who are interested in & interesting to you, both chemical & emotional. And the ground has already been paved by every seemingly irreconcilable difference you have with your spouse. Most people will recognize that they need to be doing better for their marriage than they are, but won’t try all that hard because they don’t see their spouse trying either. Instead of seeking professional help and learning how to work through these problems, they will just do what they have to do to keep the peace at home, and settle for a marriage that may not be bad, but not exactly what they had hoped for or expected when it began.
    When someone is being tempted to cheat, it’s the equivalent of someone telling you that you don’t have to settle for that – you can have something better. You might even start to think that the highs & all those crazy feelings particular to an affair are what a marriage is supposed to be. Or maybe just having something in your life that feels better than this is good enough for now.

    When a BS is looking for the why, it’s easy to look at the rationalizations their WS used, know them to be exaggerations or outright lies, and think the absolute worst of them – after all, they cheated. I personally think you need to see them as the rationalizations of a guilty and irrational mind. Not so much as the truth from your spouse’s perspective, and not as outright lies either, but more like straws they were desperately grasping at to keep their heads above water. Embellishments upon the truth from a skewed perspective, if you will. But it always seems to me that there must be a grain of truth in there somewhere, unless your spouse has emotional/psychological issues, and those are really at the heart of why they are cheating.

    • Good input.

      As I said, there is a certain amount of inner denial usually in both parties. Usually some sort of history rewriting. It’s nonsensical to me, reading blog after blog, forum post after forum post, that ALL these amazing and perfect spouses, who had completely “happy” marriages, were cheated upon. Does it happen? Are some good people and great spouses married to serial cheaters? Yup. But I’m sorry — everything I’ve read from psychologists, cheaters — on blogs, articles, and the hundreds of emails I’ve received — tell me that’s just not usually the case. That happy and content people rarely cheat. That this didn’t “come out of nowhere”. That there is a root cause embedded in the marriage. This not an excuse for cheating (there is none), but causes most often point in that direction. Yet, to listen to many of your counterparts, their cheating spouses were soooooooooooo happy “until he/she showed up.” I just don’t buy it.

      I can only therefore conclude that the truth is somewhere between the rewritten marital history as told by the betrayed and as told by the wayward. That lying, and self-deception, tends to not be in one direction only. It tends to go in both directions.

      And it’s human nature to point the finger away from yourself, no?

      And I admit it. Looking back NOW, i definitely exaggerated my wife’s poor qualities to myself. I didn’t think so at the time. but only with 2.5 years in my rearview mirror can I now say that. That being said, my wife and I both agree that our marriage was not strong. That we had drifted apart. They we both have responsibility for that, even if the choice to cheat was mine and mine alone.

      You have to sometimes put your ego down to really get to the truth. And thereby blaze a path towards real forgiveness, not some Warden-Prisoner prickly relationship after the affair.

      • I like the last two statements. Marriages can have a better chance if both spouses can be completely honest right up front, with themselves and each other. You have to admit that you contributed to the problems in your marriage in order to move on from there. Nothing changes if nothing changes.

        And I laugh because I know which female BS you are referring to. 🙂 Doc

  3. I totally agree. And one thing i think bears pointing out is that everyone views things through their own personal lens. Your every experience in life is colored by perceptions that are unique to you. Your spouse is their own person with their own unique perceptions as well. You can’t run the things they’ve said about you & your marriage through your own personal filter and extract the truth. That’s not going to be their truth anyway. You need the “truth” as they see it – or actually as they saw it before/during the affair – to help you get to the why. And the rest comes from you, and your truth/reality/perceptions. I always strongly advocate honesty in all things when it comes to affair recovery, but I’m not talking about sharing every detail of the affair itself – a great deal of it would be unnecessarily hurtful and not very relevant. I mean relate what you are/were thinking & feeling, share your perspective about them & the marriage, and allow them the chance (whether they take it or not) to see it through your eyes, and try to help them to understand. Not so much the affair itself, but where you were emotionally & mentally when you did it.

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