“When I found out my wife was having an affair, I was completely devastated. When she said it was my fault, it hurt even worse.”
Few things are more hurtful than discovering your spouse has been unfaithful, but this pain is made even worse when the blame is pointed toward you – the one who didn’t do the cheating.
Surprisingly, though, this is quite common, and when left unaddressed, it creates a rift between couples that is extremely difficult to resolve.
To the person who has been cheated on, the element of “blame” feels simple. The person who was unfaithful is clearly at fault – after all, they made the choice to follow through with the affair.
To participate in any kind of infidelity – an ongoing, secret relationship, a one-time fling, even an emotional affair – an individual person has to make a series of choices, following through with actions they know are inappropriate.
A person having an affair knows that it hurts their spouse, but they continue anyway. If we’re placing blame, they are the obvious culprit, right?
As hard as it might be to accept, things aren’t always quite so simple…
There’s more to placing “blame” than we see on the surface.
Let’s back up for a moment. While affairs come in many shapes and sizes, there’s a common cause at the root of almost all of them, and it all boils down to unmet needs.
This idea of unmet needs is precisely why a cheater might try to point fingers back at their spouse, with common rationalizations like:
• “He actually listens to me. It feels like he really cares, like he understands me in a way my husband doesn’t.”
• “The way he looks at me makes me feel attractive. My husband seems like he doesn’t even want sex anymore.”
• “My husband pushed me away.”
• “My husband doesn’t even want to spend time with me. He ignores me even when we’re in the same room.”
Does any of this sound familiar?
While these kinds of statements certainly don’t (and shouldn’t) absolve the guilt of having an affair, it does begin to raise some questions about what led to the environment in the marriage that made them consider infidelity in the first place.
Affairs happen because couples become disconnected emotionally, physically, or both – and that’s something that you BOTH allow to happen.
The longer the problems go unaddressed, the further apart you drift, and when one person begins to seek connection in other places, that’s when affairs happen.
So, a much more realistic view for placing “blame” in the event of an affair is to blame the state of the marriage itself – whatever the dynamic was that left one or both of you feeling neglected.
Again, this DOES NOT remove blame from the person who cheated, and it doesn’t minimize the pain you’re going through because of it. It also doesn’t put the whole burden on your shoulders. You can’t be blamed for your spouse’s decisions…
The point, however, is to make you understand that affairs are not as simple as you blaming the cheater for their hurtful and inconsiderate actions, and the unfaithful spouse can’t just push off the blame by pointing fingers.
The only way to move past the affair and rebuild the marriage is to recognize the parts you both played. Most of this will be well before any affair happened – it’s the gradual disconnection that happens when you aren’t both invested in the relationship.
It’s never going to be a cut and dry case of “who did what” because marriages and love are more nuanced than that.
It could be the tiniest things like a decline in your sex life… that leads to less affectionate interaction outside the bedroom… which leads to less time spent together actually communicating… and so on.
In most cases, we don’t realize how far along the problems are until something extreme like an affair snaps us into the severity of the situation.
Trying to determine “fault” is, in many ways, beside the point. If you want to get the marriage on track, worry less about blame and more about the problems between the two of you that allowed things to get this bad.
Be honest with each other. What’s missing? What needs to change?
Identify the problems honestly – including your own role in causing them – and get to work on fixing them together.
You can both readily admit your shortcomings (again, the person who cheated IS at fault for making such hurtful decisions), and worry more about how to develop the habits and actions that are going to strengthen your relationship – not drive you apart.
If you can understand that the overall climate of the relationship is something you both contribute to in an ongoing way, you can start to shape it into the marriage you’ve always wanted – with the person you’re already married to.
For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!
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Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com