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Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

Wondering if They’ll Cheat? Look For This…

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I had the honor of joining Helen Tower last week on her podcast, Sail Infidelity. A listener, an unfaithful spouse, sent in the question, “How can I get my wife to move on from my infidelity?” My first thought was,

“I wonder if he’s asking because he hates seeing his wife suffer and wants her to feel better or if he’s uncomfortable with her strong emotional response and he wants to alleviate his discomfort.”

Nobody likes to be on the receiving end of someone’s anger or disappointment. None of us like to examine our own fears and regrets too closely. We all can use avoidance tactics to put off difficult conversations or decisions or find an illusion of security in denial.

Those who choose to cheat cannot handle emotional discomfort.

Yet for most of us, difficult doesn’t mean we don’t do it. We accept that the emotions – either our own or those of another – are uncomfortable and yet we do not turn away. But the cheater? They run. Or shut down. Or turn it back towards you.

Those who choose to cheat seek to outsource their emotional regulation.

When they are feeling insecure, they look for others to alleviate that feeling through attention and accolades. If they’re anxious, they use sex like a drug to feel better in the moment. Instead of learning to self-soothe, they expect those around them to make them feel better.

Those who choose to cheat struggle to stay present with difficult emotions.

When faced with intense emotion, those who cheat are more likely to flood or flee. They have not learned to name and accept myriad emotional responses as a natural side-effect of being human. Instead, they become fearful when emotions run high. But of course, they can’t accept that fear either. So they dismiss it all entirely or stuff it into their shame sack where they can pretend it doesn’t exist.

Those who choose to cheat fail to recognize the impact of their own traumas.

For so many of us, we continue to play out our childhood traumas in our adult relationships. With awareness, this can become an opportunity for growth and healing. Yet those who have a propensity for infidelity often remain unaware of the impact their own past has on them. Instead, they act out their pain in unhealthy, immature and selfish ways.

Once a cheater, always a cheater?

People can grow. People can change. If the unfaithful spouse is willing and able to give space for your emotional reaction without seeking to control it or stifle it, that’s a sign that they’re learning. Furthermore, look for evidence that they are becoming more comfortable sitting with – and taking responsibility for – their own emotions. And finally, if they’re trying to make amends, pay attention to whose pain they are trying to alleviate – yours or their own.

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4 thoughts on “Wondering if They’ll Cheat? Look For This…

  1. As a betrayed, still trying to control my emotions/triggers. I feel after nearly 5 years since D-Day, I am doing better on that end. TV shows talking about infidelity still get to me.
    It is difficult because my wife and I — even though we are still legally married — are living in an in-house separation situation since August of nearly a year ago. She wants us to work on ourselves and then get counseling as a third-party mediator to work out our bigger issues that we still need to address that we can’t get past one-on-one. We had marital counseling for about two years after the initial discovery, but due to finances and a cross-country move, we had to put it on the backburner and have been stuck in a rut ever since.
    I am doing my best to navigate through my pain. I give it over to God daily and try to find rest in Him, but it is very hard to be around a woman that I still love and have strong desires for, but not have that reciprocated back to me. I battle loneliness, disconnect (emotionally, physically – we NEVER touch) and an overall sadness and wonder how long I should cling to the hope that things will ever truly get better because I can only do so much on my end and am I just wasting away the best years of my life?

  2. Wow. And she is the Betrayer. I would quit wasting my life. She should be worshipping you and yet after all this time you are living like roommates and she wants you two to work on yourselves? She is either still carrying on with someone, or is just waiting for you to look like the “bad guy” and leave first. I’d stop wasting my life if I were you especially if there are no young children involved. Give it God – absolutely, but as a believer, you are not the guilty party. She is. Move on and work on yourself without her messing with your self-esteem with the daily expression of disregard. Good luck and God’s blessing on you and you extricate yourself from your life in chains. You have the key.

  3. I have enjoyed reading your blog after I found it a few hours ago. My husband of 30 years has told me after our lease is up in May 2021 he will divorce me. Ha! He is a great guy and everybody loves him. He worked his way to mid-level leadership position in his career. I encouraged him or never would have because of fear of failing a certification test several years ago. Our two sons adore their father. My family, my own parents have berated me for “not being a good wife”. My mom cried saying “I don’t want him to not be apart of our family anymore. So you need to be a good wife” I don’t know exactly what went wrong but he blames me. He said I was too needy. He said I was too reliant on him. He said I did not help with responsibilities. I work and have always worked at one of the hardest jobs there is. I have been at some very stressful places to work in my career. I did complain at times but believe me I did so with good reason because if authorities knew what goes on in places they would shut them down. I said two years ago I was not going to work unless I was in a better place so that I could be a better everything and more health. It happened. I loved it. The past 5 years my work has been more enjoyable. There is still stress. I think he thought that once I got in a much better work situation I would never ever say anything negative about work even if he fueled it at times because he has the same employer but a different building. I did say some negative things and was stressed at time but nothing like before where I was just going through the emotions of life because of work related stress. I get fairly good money and benefits but the work is so stressful that somebody said the only other job that is more stressful is the special armed forces. That might not be so truthful but it does say a lot. But he wanted me to be so thankful for my job that I never showed any and I mean any unhappiness. So even if my life improved and I was much happier I did vent at times. So he said I was NEVER happy. That word never is an absolute, even spome dictionaries call it an exaggeration and it was. He is the kind of person that if he does something nice for you he wants you to act like he saved your life from a horrific death. I was thankful, appreciative, and felt loved. I let him know that. But that was not good enough. I had to act like he was God. So he wants a divorce and now my life is over. Even other people around me such as my sons know I cannot live and THRIVE after this. So sorry to blah blah blah. I know I am having a pity party but for good reason. I am in awe of everybody is is able to overcome.

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