As harmful as infidelity is to relationships, it's no secret that people are unfaithful sometimes. No one wants to be cheated on, but there may come a time in your life when it happens to you. If it does (or already has), it might help to understand what could have been going on in your partner's head when they cheated.
One thing most cheating partners do before or after committing adultery is attempt to justify their actions. Adulterers know what they're doing is wrong, but they manage to convince themselves it's okay for a number of reasons. Some may say, "It's just going to happen once" while others could think, "It's with a stranger, so it doesn't mean anything." Cheaters are excellent negotiators and will tell themselves just about anything to lessen the guilt of betraying their spouse.
"The biggest one I hear is, 'I wasn't getting my needs met in the marriage,'" says Rachel Sussman, a relationship expert, licensed psychotherapist, and author of The Breakup Bible. "Both men and women say they feel they weren't getting the emotional connection from their partner that they were looking for," she says. Despite what they may say, however, you are not to blame for your spouse's affair. While the cheating partner's feelings may be justified, the action of cheating is not a valid response to those emotions. "The problem with infidelity is that it causes pain to someone else," says Sussman.
Meet the Expert
Rachel Sussman, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist, relationship expert, writer, lecturer, and founder of the New York City-based therapy practice Sussman Counseling, where she focuses on treating individuals and couples with relationship issues.
If your partner cheated and you want to understand how they were able to go through with it, keep reading to learn six things cheaters tell themselves to justify their behavior.
I Wasn't Getting My Needs Met
According to Sussman, the most common justification cheaters use is that they weren't getting their needs met in the relationship. They'll often say, "I was lonely" or "I was being ignored," she says. The cheating partner might also justify their actions by pointing out their partner's issues, such as being controlling, having a drug and alcohol problem, or being inattentive. Some might say their partner has been too busy with work or the kids and that they no longer felt prioritized. Whatever the reason, it all comes down to the person having an affair instead of dealing with their relationship dissatisfaction upfront.
Sussman tells her clients this: "Instead of confronting your spouse, you've chosen to deal with it through going outside of the relationship. So you lost all your credibility as far as getting your partner to change."
My Partner Doesn't Care Anyway
Often people who cheat tell themselves that their behavior is justified because their partner doesn't really care about them and therefore wouldn't care if they strayed. They might justify their actions by blaming their S.O. for not showing them enough affection or not seeming to care about them anymore.
No matter how troubled the relationship might be, however, guessing that a spouse or long-term partner wouldn't care about an affair is a lofty assumption. On some level, they probably know this, but believing the lies they tell themselves is probably easier than accepting what they've done: broken the trust within their relationship.
"I warn them that most people do get caught having an affair and that it's extremely painful for the person who discovers the affair," says Sussman. "Even if the person who's having the affair has validity as for why they're unhappy, they'll lose all that power as soon as the partner finds out about the affair," she says.
I Just Can't Be Monogamous
Although it's rare for a client to admit to a sex or love addiction forthright when they first enter therapy, they may say things like, "I just can't be monogamous" or "I like the thrill of being with different people," says Sussman. Most of the time, a person who is cheating or having an affair (or serial affairs) is doing so to cope with other problems, whether relationship-related or psychological, and it's offering relief that they become dependent on.
"I call it a really poor coping device," says Sussman. "They're struggling and they're using an affair to cope with their issues," she continues. "It's like using drugs or alcohol to cope. It just doesn't work; it's a temporary fix."
I'll Never Do It Again
Maybe the thought of cheating had never occurred to your partner until they were put in a position to actually do it. For instance, if they're out drinking with friends and an attractive stranger shows interest, they may decide to cheat "just this one time."
They may justify it later by saying they "weren't thinking," and if they had taken a minute to consider what cheating could mean for their relationship, they probably wouldn't have gone through with it. They might even think it's excusable because it only happened once, and they're sure they'll never do it again.
This could be true; however, no matter how much you drink or how attractive you find the person giving you attention, it's not possible to go through with an action like cheating "without thinking." One time is enough to ruin the trust in a relationship. Poor judgment, opportunity, and lack of self-control are not excuses to cheat.
If you have suspicions that your partner has cheated, don't sit back and hope they'll go away. The best thing to do is ask your partner for the truth.
I'm Not in Love With My Partner
A person who cheats on their partner might try to justify the situation by assuring themselves that they're no longer in love and the relationship has been over for a long time. Someone who does this may emotionally remove themselves from their relationship in order to make sense of their choice to break vows and other promises made.
"What I always think is, whatever your problem in the marriage is, in the relationship is, deal with it," says Sussman. "Speak up. Tell your partner what you're dissatisfied about. That's the way to solve these issues: communicate," she continues. If you no longer love your partner, the best thing to do is tell them how you're feeling instead of going outside the relationship.
I'm Not a Bad Person
A cheating spouse might also try to tell themselves that they are not a bad person even though they're doing a bad thing. After all, good people can mess up every now and then, right? That may be true, but it doesn't exactly suffice as a good reason to cheat.
They may truly believe that they've done all they can do to save their marriage and that they deserve to be happy—even if that's with someone other than their spouse. That also may be true, but the time to explore options other than their spouse is after they're legally separated. What would Sussman say to someone who is justifying infidelity?
"There's a time and a place to hear how you were feeling, and your feelings are valid, but your actions were hurtful, inappropriate, and wrong. So for now, we have to focus on how you've hurt your partner and work on that."