An Open Letter to Cheaters


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Based on everything I know, people who cheat REALLY don’t get what they have done.  Yeah, some say they do – they may cry and say they are sorry, but they DON’T GET IT.

They don’t get the damage they have done and the pain they have caused.  They don’t understand how their actions have fundamentally changed the world for the person they have cheated on.  They don’t understand the pain and loneliness, and how this one revelation can completely change everything.  Everything you believed about your partner is called into question.  Every memory becomes tainted.

You find yourself questioning – if they were capable of cheating on you, how well did you actually know them?  If they were able to lie and hide this, what else was a lie?  What is/was real?  Was anything real?

It’s kind of like the movie the Matrix, where Keanu Reeves was going about his daily life and he knew something was wrong, but couldn’t figure out what.   Then he eventually found out his life was a lie and he was really hooked up to a machine; and his whole world changed.

Finding out your partner has been cheating on you can be THAT level of a fundamental shift in your understanding of things.  You may have known that things weren’t as good as they could be (though sometimes people have no idea), then suddenly your world becomes broken and things don’t make sense anymore.

 

Cheaters don’t get this.  They can’t.

Because if they DID get it?

Then they wouldn’t have been able to cheat in the first place.

 

A Breakdown of Trust

Now, I won’t pretend the above is a blanket statement that applies to all cases.

I don’t believe all affairs are created equal.

An emotional affair with an anonymous person over the internet is different from a drunken one night stand.  And both of those are different from long term affairs where someone is leading a double life and hiding their activities from their partner.  There are a lot of different things that can happen, and different “severities” of affairs if you will.

Additionally, I believe that while the person who cheats is ALWAYS wrong, that doesn’t necessarily mean the person who was cheated on is necessarily in the right (to be clear, they are NEVER at fault for the cheating.  They’ve likely contributed to the decline in the relationship that contributes to the cheating, sure.  But cheating is always a choice made by the person who does it).

So affairs can be nuanced, and complex.

 

But they all have one thing in common – a complete and total destruction of trust.  And this is kind of a significant problem, because trust is the foundation relationships are built upon.

So when that is gone, there’s a good chance it will tear down everything else with it.

Your relationship may not have been perfect (obviously it wasn’t, or you wouldn’t have cheated), but chances are even if your partner knew there were issues, they had NO IDEA how bad you felt things were.  They probably thought you were fairly solid as a couple, and you should have been able to work though whatever problems existed.

If nothing else, they trusted you with their heart.

Relationships may be hard at times, but they REALLY don’t have many rules.  Love each other, and be willing to show it.  Try to communicate with each other.  And don’t be selfish – don’t put yourself first all the time, your partner needs to matter too.

If you’ve cheated on your partner, regardless of your reason you have to understand you have broken pretty much every relationships rule there is.

 

Why Did you Cheat?

There’s very little in this world that is black and white; but affairs are one of the few things that are almost universally accepted as wrong.

Something you need to understand is, why?

Why did you do it?  

What in your values allowed you to justify having an affair?

 

This is an extremely important question to be able to answer to yourself honestly.

 

I can understand people being unhappy in their relationship.  I can understand people falling out of love.  I can understand feeling stuck, and wanting some excitement in your life.

There may have been any number of reasons why you felt you would find yourself happier in another relationship.  And they may be completely valid and understandable.

But none of them will answer the most important question of all:

If you were that unhappy why didn’t you leave your existing relationship first? 

If you can’t look hard at yourself and truly answer that question of WHY (even if only to yourself), then you are likely at risk of doing the exact same thing again.  Not saying you will, but it will always be a risk if you don’t truly know why.

When caught, some people will show genuine remorse and make promises that it will never happen again.  And often I suspect they mean it – at least in the moment.  But then it happens again.  Or, if it doesn’t happen it’s mostly because someone is scared of the consequences of getting caught again, and not because they really saw what they did as wrong.

It’s crazy to me, but through this blog I have talked to a number of people who have cheated.  And one of the common things I have heard is they are sorry for hurting their partner but they aren’t sorry for the affair!!!  The regret is mostly for the damage done and the consequences they have suffered.  But they really don’t regret the cheating, or breaking their vows.

I believe serial cheaters tend to be people who have never taken a hard look at themselves and tried to understand how their values became so broken that they were able to do what they wanted and not care enough about their partner to think of how their actions could impact them.

 

When someone has cheated, I think one of two things has happened.

Scenario one, they are people who always put themselves first and think the regular rules of relationships shouldn’t have to apply to them.  In their minds, they are special and feel entitled to do whatever they want to achieve their own “happiness”.  They believe they deserve to be able to do what they want, when they want, and not have to worry about the consequences of their actions and how it impacts others.  Because of course, they are the ones who matter.

These people are true narcissists, people who don’t actually care about anyone but themselves.  So if the opportunity was there?  Sure, why not.  They either don’t really see what they are doing as wrong, or maybe they do and they simply don’t care.

 

Another scenario is someone was unhappy and feeling emotionally dead – often due to something like depression or unresolved grief.  Their emotionally dead state made them start to believe there was something wrong with their relationship, and to believe they have fallen out of love.  While in this emotional state someone started to give them the type of attention they felt they were missing – and they liked how it made them feel.  One thing leads to another, and before they realize what has happened they are in an affair.

These types of affairs often stem from a state of anhedonia, and become like an addiction the person can’t give up.  When someone talks about how their affair allows them to “feel alive again”, often the person who is cheating is dealing with underlying issues with depression or something similar.

These people do realize they are doing damage, and will go through periods of guilt and shame for their actions.  They may even start to hate themselves for what they are doing.  But like an alcoholic with a bottle, they find themselves unable to stop.

In both cases, the cheater likely has underlying issues that need to be faced, and resolved before that person will ever be able to have a healthy relationship.

 

What Now?

It’s always important to understand the “why”, but if you are someone who already HAS cheated and is trying to hold onto your relationship, what do you do?

 

First off, you have to TRULY want the relationship, and you need to be able to say WHY you still want your relationship.  You cheated, so you can’t have wanted it that badly at the time.  What is different?  Why do you want it now?

Your answer can’t be that you are scared of losing it, losing your family, or being alone.  Wanting something and being scared to lose it are two VERY different things.  And unless you TRULY want it, you are never going to be capable of putting in the work required to (potentially) save it.

Even if you do truly want it, you need to accept that there is a very good chance you are going to lose it.  That’s just the reality.  You’ve broken every rule of relationships, and actions have consequences.

Anyone trying to decide if they want to stay with you now will be struggling with the fact that commitment seems to mean something very different to you than it does to them.  The cheating has happened.  It can’t be changed now, but trust is destroyed and that will color the future if it’s not rebuilt.  And only you can rebuild it.

This isn’t the sort of thing you ignore.  It’s not the sort of thing that you say “sorry” and then move on as if it has never happened.

 

I’ve spoken with people who are trying to rebuild/hold onto their marriages after an affair, and the healing process is a slow and difficult one.  It will likely take years, and realistically if the relationship IS salvaged, it will never be the same.

Trust3-backofmind

 

Understanding that, here are a few tips for anyone who is hoping to hold onto their marriage.

First, it HAS to be over.  There can’t be contact with that person ever again.  If you think you can either keep it going, or even just be friends with that person in the future then you are proving you REALLY don’t get what you have done (not to mention you are a sh*tty person).

Likewise, trust with you ever being alone in the future with members of your gender of preference is probably gone.  You have cheated, and it’s now up to YOU to make this better.

You need to sell your partner on why they should stay with you.  And you need to understand that you’ve already shown yourself to be dishonest, so this selling job will take a very long time.

It will take consistent effort, probably for the rest of your life.

 

You need to own your actions.  No blaming, no rationalizing, and no minimizing.

Don’t say you made a mistake.  You may be still telling yourself it was a mistake as a way of rationalizing it to yourself, but it wasn’t a mistake – it was a choice.  And even if someone is willing to buy into the idea that an affair can be a mistake, that only applies if you did it once.  When you continue it and see that person a second time, it becomes a pattern of choices.  And another word for a pattern of choices is behavior.

So no, it wasn’t a mistake.  Here’s what it really was – an opportunity.

You saw an opportunity to live outside the “rules” of your primary relationship.  To do what you wanted, even at the expense of your partner or any promises you may have made to them.  And you did it because you thought you could get away with it.

Sometimes when they are caught, cheaters will say things like “I never stopped loving you” or “I never meant to hurt you”.  For someone on the receiving end, it’s pretty incomprehensible to understand how cheating is an act of love, or to think that you could cheat without realizing you would hurt them.

You didn’t just hurt them, you destroyed their world.

And to hear you “never meant to” just proves what they have likely believed all along.  You didn’t mean to, because you were never even thinking about them.  You were never even considering them, their emotions, or the damage you would do.

You were only ever thinking about yourself.

 

Here’s something you need to understand – the cheating isn’t the actual problem here.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty big f*cking deal.  The REAL issue is the lying.  The deception.  The double life.  The time, energy and effort that was put into another relationship instead of being put into the primary relationship.

More than the cheating, it’s this deceit that will likely tear your relationship/marriage apart.

And there’s only one way past that.

You’ve been dishonest and broken trust, and it’s time for that to stop.

A common thing for cheaters to do is to downplay what they have done, figuring the less their partner knows the better.  Or perhaps figuring that although they are now caught, they will only own up to the things that they have actually been caught in.

You partner is going to want, and even NEED to know things that you probably don’t want to tell them.  And you know that the truth is going to hurt them, and likely push them even further away.

But the truth is the ONLY way out.

Because relationships are built on trust, and that trust is already broken.  So if you EVER want to repair it, you need to start with truth – no matter how difficult it is.

If they want to know the truth, you need to tell them.  All of it.

Yes, they may cry, they may scream, and they may leave.

Better to leave knowing the truth though, then to try to rebuild a relationship on a rotten foundation.

Because I can promise you one thing.

If they give you another chance and you continue to hide things and lie?  After they have tried to forgive and tried to rebuild, if they find out you were hiding things and not being honest?

Well, the trust that needs to be rebuilt will be shattered again.  And once you have broken it a few times, there won’t be any more chances, and there won’t be any going back.

 

Actions have consequences.  And if you’ve chosen to cheat, you will need to live with yours.

 

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21 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Cheaters

    • Thanks. I know this is a topic that sadly hits home for many, many people.

      And everything I know tells me that cheaters really don’t get it. They can’t begin to understand the damage they have done.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Totally agree.
        I really believe like you said, if they understood it they wouldn’t do it.

        The lying and deceit is definitely the worst, but even worse than that is the passing of blame. Yes two people do bring issues into the relationship, but if you cheat, you need to own your shit

        Liked by 1 person

      • Again, I agree. The post was getting really long though, so I just kind of glossed over the blaming part. But that’s a huge issue.

        As I said at the top, there may have been any number of things in the relationship that “contributed” to the choice to have an affair, but the question they need to answer for themselves is why they didn’t leave first.

        If you weren’t happy – leave. It’s a simple as that. The cheated on partner may have contributed to the unhappiness, but they sure as hell did not contribute to the decision to have an affair. THAT decision rests solely on the shoulders of the person who cheated.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, this one has been in the works for a while.

      I’ve talked to a lot of people on both sides of the fence here. And although there are some cheaters who seem to “get it”, and are actually contrite about what they have done most of them are just clueless.

      Completely self absorbed, have a ridiculous sense of entitlement, and take no ownership for what they’ve done.

      It’s mind blowing to see how people can be that selfish.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. And it’s not just ‘physical’ cheaters. My ex had numerous emotional affairs over the years that I justified by saying at least he was home with me each night. But each time he did something with one of his female ‘friends’ it felt like I was providing child care so he could go on dates with other women. When I told him this, he told me I was being ridiculous. But each one of those incidents eroded my ability to trust and increased how much I hurt. I am finally past it now, but I know to this day he has no idea what he did to me, and I’m not sure he is even capable of feeling remorse for it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I agree. In this post I mention that there are different types and levels of affairs. From anonymous online friends, to random hookups to long term affairs with all sorts of things in between. An affair doesn’t have to be physical to be an affair. Being physical just means an affair has hit a certain level. But it starts with a sense of connection, and with emotions, and of allowing the other person in.

      A few years back I wrote about whether or not guys and girls can be friends (https://thezombieshuffle.com/2014/11/28/can-guys-and-girls-just-be-friends/, and I can’t believe that’s from 2014!). Re-reading that post, I still stand by the things I said in it. It’s possible to for me to have female friends, sure. But I have to interact with them differently than I do my male friends. The friendships are different, period. And if I were in a relationship and my partner was uncomfortable with my female friends, then that should matter to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good piece. It seems some cheating occurs as a way to get away from the messiness of family life.

    I’m not sure if you have ever seen the Showtime series The Affair, but that seems to be the motivation for the character Noah. He has annoying inlaws, a teen daughter who is growing up too fast and a kid with stomach problems. His wife is attached to all the messiness. His affair partner is not.

    I’m not sure the cheated on partner has always contributed to the decline. Sometimes life just gets in the way. My husband and I have both been through the experience of having a terminally ill parent and weren’t able to be 100% present in the marriage. I was the one who lost a parent first. When my husband went through his own experiences with losing a parent I’m not sure I would have had the same understanding had I not already been through the process.

    Sometimes I think the cheating partner is looking for qualities their spouse has never possessed.

    My husband has been treated for cancer this year. We will soon find out if we have won the war so to speak, or if we have more battles left to fight. I’ve certainly had needs and desires during this time, but they have had to go on the back burner for now. I think part of being married for the long haul is the acceptance that your spouse might not be able to give you what you want for the short term or even long term, and finding ways to navigate through the difficult parts of life.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Kate,

      I think you have touched on a few important points here. I haven’t watched The Affair (and honestly, having affairs as a central theme in anything makes me uncomfortable, because I feel so strongly against them), but I FULLY agree that affairs are often an escape for people.

      Lets face it, life gets hard (as your own unfortunate situation can attest). Sometimes you’re neck deep in crap, and having a hard time staying afloat. And when that happens, the idea of life being “easy” often seems great. We all have things we do for escapism. Some watch tv, read a book, go to the gym, whatever. For some, an affair is a way of “escaping” from a life that hasn’t turned out quite the way they wanted it to, at least for a little while.

      I actually wrote about this last fall (https://thezombieshuffle.com/2016/11/20/living-in-fantasy-land/), and have written about this notion of affairs as an escape a few times in the past. To me though, it’s clearly a broken form of a coping mechanism. And you will more commonly see it in people who are avoidant – because they spend their whole life running running from and denying their own issues, and eventually something breaks.

      I really like your comment:

      “I think part of being married for the long haul is the acceptance that your spouse might not be able to give you what you want for the short term or even long term, and finding ways to navigate through the difficult parts of life.”

      And I think it’s very true. One central themes of my blog is that in relationships we have this internal struggle of “we” vs “me”. A relationship isn’t about “ME”. I’m an important part of it, but there are times when “we” supercedes me, and we need to be able to handle that. There needs to be a balance, or the relationship becomes unhealthy, but there will always be long and short term times where what we want/need has to hit the backburner for the benefit of the relationship.

      It can’t always be one sided, where only one person is sacrificing. But there are times when it will be, and navigating that is part of what commitment is all about.

      Thanks for writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I see you’re on the money as always!

    ‘But they all have one thing in common – a complete and total destruction of trust. And this is kind of a significant problem, because trust is the foundation relationships are built upon.’ That is without doubt the nub of the issue.

    Speaking from both my own and others’ experiences of infidelity I strongly believe that unless the cheating spouse ‘gets it’ immediately following discovery of the infidelity then the marriage or relationship is likely doomed. They either don’t (and never did have) the capacity to get what they’ve done, or by the time they do ‘get it’ the betrayed spouse has moved on because they have had to.

    There is a world of difference between regret (getting caught) and true remorse (getting ‘it’).

    In the early days I’d have been firing off this article to my ex wife in the desperate hope that she’d see the light. I now realise and accept that she’ll never understand the depth of pain that she has caused because she’s incapable of that degree of empathy. I have learnt not to take it personally. It was never anything to do with me. I was responsible for 50% of the marriage and I hold my hands up to my own shortcomings in that marriage. However she was 100% responsible for choosing to have an affair rather than dealing with the issues in the marriage.

    I believe that until it happens to them, even betrayed spouses have little idea of the depth of emotional devastation that infidelity can cause. The pain that’s so deep and so traumatic that it sadly leads some who can’t handle their abandonment to end their own lives.

    ‘If you were that unhappy why didn’t you leave your existing relationship first’?

    That’s a good question but I think it’s an unrealistic expectation of a cheater. It’s what Pascale Piquet calls the Tarzan Syndrome. Individuals involved in an affair need to cling to a new vine before letting go of the one they’re hanging onto otherwise they’ll fall into the abyss. In many cases they’d prefer not to have to let go of the old vine at all aka having their cake and eating it!

    It’s a hell of a journey out of infidelity and one that after 20 years of marriage I never expected to be having to make :0(

    Keep up the great work Drew.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi John,

      “I strongly believe that unless the cheating spouse ‘gets it’ immediately following discovery of the infidelity then the marriage or relationship is likely doomed.”

      I couldn’t agree more. The first few moments/days after the revelation of an affair are in my opinion KEY to determining if there is any chance for the relationship moving forward. And yes, the cheater needs to “get it”. They need to OWN their actions, and be willing to do whatever it takes to “make things right”. Because no matter what the supposed cause was, it was their choice.

      Sadly, the vast majority of cheaters seem to deny, deflect, minimize and blame. And if they are doing that? Then you’re right, they don’t get it and likely never will. And if someone does choose to stay in the relationship with someone who has cheated and then gone down the road of denying, deflecting, minimizing and blaming then in all likelihood their experience in that relationship will be a pretty empty and soul destroying one (plus they often later find out the cheater never stopped, or continued to have a string of additional affairs over the years).

      I HAVE heard of cases where an affair occurs and the relationship ends up stronger than ever afterwards. But those are ONLY ever cases where the cheater had true remorse, owned their actions and the couple then used the affair as a way to break down all the walls between them and have true vulnerability and connection.

      As a side note, I think one of the common characteristics of people who have affairs is that they are afraid of emotional intimacy – so they build up walls and don’t let their partner in fully. And then they find their relationship lacking as a result of the walls *they have built*. But they can’t handle true intimacy so they look for affairs as an easy fantasy escape/fix. There are a lot of varieties of affairs, but a number of ones I’ve seen kind of fit into this scenario.

      You say that individuals who have affairs are people who want to have their cake and eat it too – and that’s true (I almost used that wording in the post). And when I said that the cheater needs to truly look inwards and answer, even if only to themselves, WHY they did it – that’s what I want cheaters to realize.

      When/if they can get past the denial, minimizing, rationalizing and blaming; and they can TRULY face themselves – I think the conclusion they are going to come to is they are selfish. They may “claim” they love their partner, but the reality is they don’t. Their partner was a means to an end, and their REAL focus was themselves. THAT is their focus. Them. They are entitled, and they believe that what they want is all that matters.

      Until they can face that, and accept that I don’t think they ever can grow, and become a person who can potentially develop enough empathy to have a healthy relationship in the future.

      Facing the mirror is really hard though, and most wont. Because their little secret is, although they focus on themselves and live with a sense of entitlement, it’s really there to fill an inner void because when it comes down to it they don’t really love themselves. They need external validation, but don’t realize it will never fill the void they have.

      I’m sorry about your journey, but hope that in the end you find yourself in a much better spot as a result.

      Like

    • btw, I LOVE this statement:

      “I was responsible for 50% of the marriage and I hold my hands up to my own shortcomings in that marriage. However she was 100% responsible for choosing to have an affair rather than dealing with the issues in the marriage.”

      Like

  4. I’ve been around cheaters my whole life (many of them are relatives). And you are so right they are usually narcissistic, care only about their happiness, and most of them do not feel any remorse about their affairs. I know one who just couldn’t stay in any relationship without cheating on her partner. Perhaps cheating is also like an addiction where they couldn’t stop. I also think they have low self-esteem that cheating on their partners make them feel powerful.

    Liked by 2 people

    • To me, cheating is the worst thing you can do in a relationship. And doing it shows that you are much more interested in you than you are in the relationship – because you will put you first always.

      I agree that cheaters are people who often have low self esteem. The irony of narcissists is, they seem to love only themselves but most of them don’t actually even like themselves. Instead they NEED others to boost their self esteem, because they don’t actually have any themselves.

      When someone has low self esteem, I think it does put them at a higher risk of cheating. Because as soon as someone says nice things to them it makes them feel good about themselves, and they need that to fill the void they have inside of themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “If they give you another chance and you continue to hide things and lie? After they have tried to forgive and tried to rebuild, if they find out you were hiding things and not being honest?

    Well, the trust that needs to be rebuilt will be shattered again. And once you have broken it a few times, there won’t be any more chances, and there won’t be any going back.”

    Unfortunately, this is absolutely true. And unfortunately, when someone refuses to take responsibility for cheating, the best thing to do is leave because by staying, the person who was cheated on will eventually be treated as a doormat, whether they realize it or not.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ll be the first to say that many things in life are relative – and what is best for one person is not necessarily what is best for others. I have seen people who leave a relationship immediately, and those who try to rebuild it. When trying to rebuild, sometimes they are able to build something that is better than what they had before. Sadly, it’s more common for people to find themselves miserable, either because the cheater really doesn’t get the damage they have done (and doesn’t really care), or also because even if the cheater is legitimately trying they (the person who was cheated on) is unable to let go and move past it, and that breakdown of trust leads to a breakdown of vulnerability, and it poisons the relationship. It’s pretty much a mess all around.

      I do agree that if someone refuses to take responsibility for the cheating then it’s likely best to move on. If they don’t, and the other person accepts it (or even better, the couple decides to just not talk about it/resolve it and pretend it never happened), then at some level they are telling their partner that what happened was okay. boundaries were violated, and instead of being enforced they were just redrawn.

      I once read something from a woman who had been cheated on, and it really stuck with me. Paraphrasing here, she said “Early in the relationship I had my boundaries of what was acceptable and what was not. Over the years he continually violated those boundaries, and instead of enforcing them I just accepted things and redrew my own boundaries. I did this again and again, and eventually there was nothing left of me”.

      I think this happens, a lot. We believe there is something good and noble about holding onto the relationship. So we do all sorts of things, compromising ourselves to hold onto a relationship. As we are doing this, we fail to realize that the relationship we are holding onto no longer even remotely resembles the one we signed up for. And maybe, it’s not actually worth holding onto anymore.

      Like

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