Adultery, no remorse and their consequences
Adultery falls under the umbrella name “infidelity”. Adultery refers to having sexual relationships with someone who is not their spouse. The term Extra Dyadic Sex (EDS) is often used in academic and research papers.
In general, those who commit adultery have engaged in many other forms of infidelity as well either with the same person they start to have an affair with or in other ways.
How come that many of those who betray their spouse, do not feel remorse while doing it and only start to express this when the consequences of committing adultery become clear and they see how severely their actions have damaged the marital or common-law relationship and their family? “It’s a sign of self-preservation and a massive internal denial of the truth” writes Katie Lersch (2013). It is an act of pure selfishness with no regard for others or the consequences.
The use of pornography while keeping it secret from a spouse is one form of infidelity. It affects the quantity and quality of the intimate relationship with the partner. Keeping this behaviour secret and lying about it when asked, is one of the many – and unfortunately common – behaviours that may lead a spouse to a path of adultery. The reason pornography use is included in this introduction is because it is one of those selfish acts so often observed in those who betray their partner.
One note: This paper is about adultery committed by one of the partners. The adulterers are in a committed long-term relationship when engaging in EDS.
The path toward infidelity
(Parts included are adapted from the Blog: Affair Resources and Advice, 2013, please click on the link in the references to read this excellent Blog)
When a person begins the road toward cheating, there is time to reflect upon their behaviour and to consider the consequences along the way. It all starts in similar ways with “curiosity”, flirting, and inappropriate interactions that gradually become more sexual in nature. Every single day, the adulterer makes the choice to engage in their selfish hurtful behaviour.
There must have been times when they questioned themselves what are they doing and they must know when they cross yet another line. Selfish people silence their inner voice. They turn of their moral compass and find ways to minimise the unethical and immoral nature of their behaviour.
So, they are usually standing at many crossroads knowing deep in their hearts that what they’re doing (or about to do) is wrong, selfish, and hurtful, but they do not stop. They do not go to their partner and ask for help, guidance and a solution to stop them from going on.
In order to move on and do it anyway, they have to come up with some way to justify their actions. There are many ways to justify adultery.
- They’ll tell themselves that they aren’t getting what they need at home.
- They’ll tell themselves that their spouse does not understand them, or does not validate what they do for the family.
- They’ll promise themselves that it will only be one time, has nothing to do with their spouse, and that no one has to know about it. What they conveniently forget is the “one time” is the first time they have sex, but that was not the first cheating-behaviour: all the behaviour leading up to the sexual/physical behaviour was already infidelity: Inappropriate conversations, texting, off jokes, sneaky touching, sexting, etcetera.
- They tell themselves that they deserve to have a break and to have some fun. They tell themselves that all they do is work and do things for the family (they do not, as selfishness does not come out of the blue and has been there long before the infidelity).
- They misattribute the feelings of anxiety as sexual arousal and excitement and tell themselves that this is “real” and cannot be fought and they have no choice to pursue the opportunity “to feel alive” again.
- They fool themselves that the AP is a great person who is genuine and considerate and who also “struggles” with cognitive dissonance. But, really…..who is fooling who?
- They’ll fool themselves into thinking that no bad will come of this, because they’ll handle the issue and return to their spouse as if nothing has ever happened. This however will NEVER be the case. As even if an adulterer manages to keep the “affair” secret, their spouse does know that something is going on. Many spouses of adulterers think that they missed all the signs, but when they think about the behaviour of their spouse long before, directly before, during and after, they do know that there were clear signs.
The spouses who never really find out foster resentment as they have felt neglected. The longer their partner waits with confessing, the more likely it is that the relationship will suffer until the end (whenever that will be).
As you can see, there’s a lot of lying to themselves happening. They either can’t or won’t see this for what it really is – their attempt to restore their self-esteem and to feel desirable again. Many people use an affair as a diversion or a smoke screen as to what is really going on inside them or what is really going on in their life, but they are not reflecting upon this and seek the solution outside themselves and outside their relationship. “I’m going to participate in the loathsome act of cheating on my spouse because I’m weak, selfish, insecure, and don’t like or respect myself very much right now.”
This kind of self-talk is quite rare. Those who cheat and lie to themselves and others do not admit these things to themselves. So, in their own minds, they have to set it up so that the adultery is no big deal and they keep this charade up, even when they’re caught: “It’s no big deal. The AP didn’t mean anything to me. Deep down, they know these words are loathsome. They know they are lies. Admitting this would mean that have been wrong all along (with thanks to Affair Resources and Advice, 2013).
What to do now?
So, what now? It is NOT up to the betrayed spouses to investigate the motivations, intentions, feelings and actions of their partners and what rationalizations they use to keep their self-esteem intact. It is the adulterer’s job!
The adulterer may be blocking out the guilt and related emotions because it is too painful to feel them, or they have difficulty accepting the extent of their wrongdoings. This is why many spouses think that the cheating spouse isn’t suffering any guilt after the affair: The husband or wife may be having a hard time actually working through those guilty feelings, the suffering their spouse is experiencing, and other damage caused to the relationship and the family. This does not mean that a betrayed spouse has to accept this gracefully as:
- The adulterer however, may have continued the affair if not caught.
- The adulterer may never have shown remorse if the affair was never found out.
- The adulterer may not experience guilt feelings and deep remorse, if the spouse takes responsibility and perceives the affair as a result of their own shortcomings or a shortcoming in the relationship.
The latter gives unfairly an “out” to the adulterer but they may hold on to this as it minimises the guilt feelings they should have. This is why the websites that flaunt the message that it is a relationship problem rather than the selfish act of one person are not helpful. Yes, the relationship might not be perfect, but to go outside the relationship to gain some selfish pleasure is never the solution. It will wreck what could have been and it can never be undone!
If there are signs of continued lacking in genuine remorse, the spouse might have to decide to leave the relationship. If the cheater shows genuine remorse after the affair, they have to do the work (see Linda J. MacDonald: How to help your Spouse Heal from Your Affair). Not doing the work is not an option!
What needs to be clear at all times, is that the actions of a cheater are an indication of intense selfish behaviour, which implies that the cheater only thought about themselves, and the excitement of the affair. Only an intensely selfish person would not consider the hurt done to others through the entire duration of the affair. All their energy was consumed by the variety of actions needed to keep up with the affair. Being honest about their selfishness will be a challenge as honesty is not their best feature. Reflecting on how their selfish behaviour has impacted their life and the relationships with those around them will be a first step to take….and if they want to have meaningful and loving relationships, they need to do a lot of self- searching and make drastic and lasting changes that in the first place are unselfish.
What about Selfish Behaviours?
Self-centredness is the root of infidelity, writes Kuehn (2017). It relates to a distorted idea of believing that marriage has to meet all needs and when it does not, the solution is sought outside the marriage rather than on working on the marriage which increases commitment.
There is a genetic as well as a childhood (upbringing) relation to the development of selfish behaviour. Although research is lacking, I believe that those who come from families where parents care for their own rather than for others outside the family first, encourage selfish behaviour. Rather than them following in their parents’ footsteps, however, the offspring seeks approval and attention from others and seems to take their own family (spouse and children) for granted (as these are not needed to meet the needs that go beyond the basic needs, which are already met). This would explain that selfish behaviour can go together with altruistic (giving) behaviour. In these cases however, the altruism and giving is not directed to spouse and children but to others. Altruism might be a misnomer as there is obviously an agenda.
Happiness correlates negatively with selfish behaviour and positively with trust. This means that when people are happy they are less likely to engage in selfish behaviour and they are more likely to trust others (Lane, 2017). Happiness is a subjective measure of well-being. When people seek approval and attention outside the immediate family and focus their attention e.g. on work they are less likely to have their needs met. This would cause a sense of not being happy, resulting in trying to place more effort in others rather than in trying to seek inner happiness and gratitude, which would strengthen the family ties. The comment of Kuehn is valid here as well, as the behaviour is based on a distorted belief of what makes one happy.
Can we Heal?
Logically, the adulterer is either malicious or naïve when it comes to ethics, morals, boundaries and all the behaviours that fall into the box of infidelity. Therefore in so many instances it is the spouse that does the work. In the case that the adulterer is fully accepting what “the work” entails and is doing it all, there is hope. If the opposite is the truth and the adulterer does not do the work or provides some tokenism, the relationship will not survive as the spouse of the adulterer will eventually come to terms with the fact that their partner is not taking full responsibility and is not genuinely remorseful. This is the case when the spouse finds out that their partner is sporting the descriptive characteristics of psychopathy, Machiavellianism and narcissism (the Dark Triad) of personality traits. All three constructs have some unique features but share the common elements of exploitation, manipulativeness and a grandiose sense of self-importance (Lee & Ashton, 2004).
What about the spouse of the cheater? The spouse will be in shock. They will need time to come to terms with the reality and to accept that their partner did commit adultery and that it is not due to their short comings. The spouse of a cheater will go through rage, intense pain and times of nearly feeling normal again, followed by a deep dip. They need support and understanding and this can only be given by someone who can be trusted and who does not blame them. The support person needs to understand that coming to terms with the adultery of a spouse is to deal with trauma. It is betrayal of the one person they thought loved and respected them. The spouse needs time to come to terms with the new reality and time is needed to make a choice to either work together on the relationship or to leave.
Working on the relationship can only be done by the spouse if the adulterer does their work first or simultaneously. Adultery means betrayal and a lot of lying, although couples know and their therapists might know too what is happening behind closed doors. For obvious reasons not many couples are disclosing how ugly the consequences of working through the pain has been. It is not unusual that a spouse who previously never lashed out physically or used name-calling, resorts to these practices.
Trauma expressed in rage and deep grief does that to people. Harming the adulterer is common practice, and can take the form of physical harm as well as destroying property or both. Self-harming is not unusual and both spouses might be doing this in various forms including, drinking, using drugs, cutting, hitting or starving themselves. Other harmful behaviours often used by the spouse of the adulterer include “spying” on the AP and some become obsessive about checking out the whereabouts of the person who is not an innocent bystander. All goes together with a lack of sleep which is highly correlated with irrational thinking.
One task I feel is important to complete for the selfish person who betrayed their spouse and kids is to find out:
- What really counts in life?
- What are your motivating factors for a certain behaviour?
- What really makes one happy?
- What do you want your legacy to be?
- What do you hope your children remember you by?
So much work to do and there is no short cut…It takes years for a couple to heal from betrayal. Although the scars remain, a partner who does the work and has reflected selflessly on all of the above can become a better and loving partner and parent. The spouse of this partner first needs to see the continued efforts before they can allow themselves to develop trust and have hope that indeed there can be collateral beauty; something good coming out of all the pain!
Affair Resources and Advice (2013). Available at: https://affairadvice.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/when-a-cheating- spouse-shows-no-remorse/
Kuehn, K. (2017). Infidelity: Is it selfishness or Survival? Available from: http://www.selfgrowth.com
Lane, T. (2017). How does happiness relate to economic behaviour? Journal of Behaviour and Experimental Economic 68, 62-78.
Lee, K., & Ashton, M.C. (2004). Psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism in the Five-Factor model and the HEXACO model of personality structure. Personality and Individual Differences, 38, 1571-1582.