Current infidelity statistics reveal that in over one-third of marriages, one or both partners admitted to an extramarital affair. This number might actually be low because affairs are under reported. Other research estimates indicate that nearly 60% of all individuals will engage in an affair at some point during the marriage.
As a Licensed Professional Counselor, I do a lot of affair recovery work. My clients have taught me that sometimes there are obvious signs that the faithful spouse misses and sometimes there are no signs at all, because (sadly) some folks are just that good at compartmentalizing. The signs below are not meant to represent an exhaustive list and if present, may not necessarily mean your spouse is cheating. Every relationship is unique and you will have to discover the truth for yourself in your own situation.
- Emotional Distance is a huge clue that something may be wrong in your relationship. It’s hard to be emotionally invested in two people at the same time so the guilty partner creates space. The emotional distance works to create a shield that protects them from discovery. If you notice conversations becoming more superficial and your spouse withdrawing more and even becoming secretive, it could be because he/she is growing closer to someone else.
- Critical Attitude over the things that never bothered your spouse before such as your weight, wardrobe choices, not having things in common, the way you clean the house or cook, your appearance or even your sexual preferences and zeal between the sheets. Being unfaithful creates a lot of tension and requires the guilty party to focus on the negative aspects in the marriage. In a way, having a critical attitude helps the guilty partner justify their decision to continue their extramarital liaison.
- Guilt drives behavior changes. Most people cannot handle the guilt of cheating, so they respond by either showering the unassuming spouse with gifts, attention and affection or they withdraw. They may avoid eye contact and communication efforts aimed at explaining their behavioral changes. The guilty mate may pick fights, especially when the faithful spouse does something nice because it creates mixed emotions and forces the cheater to think about their actions.
- Grooming improves during an affair. The cheating partner may suddenly pay closer attention to their looks, change fragrances or begin wearing a fragrance, purchase a gym membership, a new wardrobe or lose weight.
- Evasive or unreachable when he/she used to be accessible. Text messages are not given priority and phone calls are not answered or returned. “Client meetings,” “projects” and “business trips” increase with a hyper focus placed on work responsibilities while at home.
- Defensiveness is a form of self-preservation. It is a way to blame your partner and says, “It’s not my fault, it’s your fault.” Defensiveness when attempting to address suspicions or making an observation about recent behavioral changes can be an effort to hide an affair.
- Blaming the faithful spouse for all the marriage problems and only seeing the marital relationship in negative terms. Often the infidel will flip the script and begin keeping tabs on the faithful spouse or accuse them of being paranoid, delusional or insecure.
- Change in behaviors such as listening to new music, picking up a new hobby, an increase in privacy, shutting doors that used to be left open, becoming more confident or more flirtatious with other men or women. It takes money and passion to fuel an affair, so look for changes in spending, a desire to suddenly control the family finances and credit card statements, working longer hours and pulling away from church or extended family.
- Sexual intimacy fizzles out or abruptly stops. The guilty partner moves to the guest room or the couch for “better quality sleep” because “snoring” or “restlessness” is keeping them awake. Paradoxically, intercourse sizzles with requests to try new positions and techniques.
- A new “friend” enters the picture and more and more time is spent with them. Talking less about interactions with certain colleagues that used to be the topic of conversation can also warrant suspicion.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Ephesians 5:31
Your view of adultery strongly depends on your understanding of the sanctity of marriage. If you believe marriage to be a relationship between two people that exists for as long as you think you’re in love, you have missed the entire point. Marriage is a covenant relationship between a man and a woman, who before God establish a vow to love, honor and cherish one another until parted by death. It is an exclusive, two-person arrangement that requires forsaking all others, cleaving only unto one another. Marriage is unique among all other human bonds because it symbolizes Christ’s relationship to His bride, the Church. Marriage partners are stewards of a sacred covenant and as stewards they are charged with guarding against intruders. Because third parties threaten the marital union, it must be guarded with fierce devotion.
We stopped guarding our marriage in 2015 when my husband crossed the monogamy line. Discovering my husband’s affair was the hardest day of my life. A close second was the day I learned that he and the affair partner were still in contact some seven weeks after I believed the affair ended. I gave this man everything, including my youth and the best years of my life and he gave away the most intimate and precious part of our relationship as a husband and wife. However, as I walk this long and winding road toward healing, I have come to realize that there are five things that he did not give to the affair partner.
- Commitment– The most important ingredient to a long-term successful relationship is commitment- not love, not communication, not attitude. Commitment is deeper than love and says, “I am determined to make this work regardless of how I feel, no matter what it takes!” As a couple, we are committed to each other and our family. There was a brief moment in our history when my man was not as committed, but when I look at the broader picture and consider that his indiscretion lasted a mere 19 weeks out of our 20 years together– well, that is really just a blip in time. Todd has sacrificed time, money and plans for our children and me. He has worked at jobs he hated to provide for our family so I could stay home when our children were babies. He is committed to restoring broken trust and honoring our sacred vows to one another.
- His support- My husband supported my decision to stay home when our kids were born, he supported my decision to go back to school and become a therapist. He even supported the bad decisions I made without his knowledge, like the time I bought a car while he was on a business trip (I’d like to forget that one!). But what makes him a real keeper was the support he gave to me when I had cancer. He held my hair while I tossed cookies in the toilet, carried me when I was too weak to walk, served meals to me in bed, helped empty my catheter bag, listened to my endless complaining about the whole cancer smancer thing and wiped away all my tears.
- Honor- Honor seeks to protect another person’s dignity. Outside of this affair, my man has held me in high regard. I have never felt threatened by wandering eyes or flirtatious remarks because he has always demonstrated high moral standards. He has a pulse so I’m sure he noticed other attractive women, but he refrained from admiring them in my presence. For the exception of the five months he was emotionally absent in our marriage, he has treated me with great respect; he has never withheld information or kept secrets. Today, he is open and transparent about the details and causes of the affair. I feel honored by this man once again.
- Love – Romantic love is the first step in the “falling in love” process and is often confused with lust because of the similarities. Certainly we have romantic love in our marriage- I still get a case of the butterflies when he walks into the room, but our love has matured and we have reached a higher level of intimacy. The biblical definition of love is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 13:4-8). Love endures when it is allowed to go through the transformational process from romantic love (the lowest level) to agape (biblical/highest level). Most couples that do not understand this process quit when they no longer feel the rapture and intense chemistry they felt at the beginning of the relationship.
- Sacred vow– On October 10, 1997 I stood at an altar with the man of dreams beside me. Hand-in-hand before God, our pastor, family and friends we promised to love, honor and cherish one another- forsaking all others for as long as we both shall live. That sacred vow still stands. My husband regrets his decision to cheat every single day. Today, he works diligently to protect my heart so our relationship can experience the safety we once enjoyed effortlessly.
Marriages thrive in transparency and truth. Affairs thrive in secrets, fantasy, lies and deceit and this is what the affair partner gained in the brief encounter she had with my husband. Yet this behavior does not define the man I love. He is giving, loving, affectionate, open, and forgiving. He is a man who is committed to me and our children, he is supportive of my decisions, he honors and respects me (again), he deeply loves me, he is standing by our sacred vow and his arms are still my safe haven.
Part XIII: Surface & Root
As stated in my previous article, I have noticed a common trend: the presenting issue (reason why someone came to counseling) is never the actual problem. I see problems in two broad categories: surface and root.
The surface reasons my husband provided for his unfaithfulness were:
- Emotional: He felt a cataclysmic void by the disconnection in our relationship. He was torn in his soul at the “seeming” loss of what we shared; alone and emotionally abandoned, he finally shut down and sought comfort outside the marriage.
- Physical: In the past year we were hyper focused on everything wrong with each other and failed to pursue romance both physically and emotionally.
- Cognitive: He made the assumption that I did not love him and believed I wanted out of the marriage. In his private mental world, he thought I was “disgusted” by him. Not once did he bring these concerns to me for discussion.
I acknowledge these reasons as an honest evaluation of our relationship at the time; they are valid emotions and obviously he was extremely hurt. However, he made the choice to cross over the boundary line of monogamy and have sex with another woman. That’s not okay with me. Ideally, he should have approached me and together we could have discussed these feelings so we could work towards a mutually satisfying marriage. This would have been an opportunity to improve our emotional intimacy, instead he chose to cheat and no reason or excuse can justify that decision.
These are the root causes the man I love identified for breaking his code of honor by committing adultery:
- Insecure: The conversations we were having prior to the affair centered on him celebrating his 50th birthday within a year. He was looking back on his 49 years feeling dissatisfied with his accomplishments at that particular juncture in life. People who are insecure need to prove they still have what it takes because deep down they don’t feel good enough, desirable enough or whatever enough. He used an extramarital affair to reassure himself that he still had it going on especially since he was missing this assurance in his primary relationship.
- Damaged: Todd’s first marriage came to a screeching halt when his ex-wife and her lover concocted an elaborate scheme to ditch their spouses and share the same address. Todd was repeatedly lied to, deceived and made to feel a fool for being an “overly jealous” husband. He was verbally beat down for not wearing the right clothes or being a high (enough) income earner. When it was clear his dead marriage could not be resuscitated he left, but the damage was done. When I met him, his spirit was broken. He was angry, bitter and licking some pretty deep wounds. Their union produced a son, which necessitated continued contact between the two. Unfortunately even after their divorce communication remained volatile. He never processed the painful and intense emotions of his ex-wife’s affair. In the context of our marriage, he was acting out from this traumatic experience. He had felt the sting of rejection in his first marriage and he was not about to feel it again, so he figured he would call the shots this time. His motivation to leave me was fear driven.
- Confused: Todd explained that after we drifted apart, he felt he lost his best friend and soul mate. He ached to the core of his soul, as he desperately wanted back what we had, but assumed I didn’t want him because if I did, I would have pursued reconciliation. For him, the root cause of the affair was about our missing connection. He didn’t want to feel the rejection he felt in his first marriage, because…well it hurt. If the relationship was going to end, he wanted to be the one to decide when and how. Enter affair partner.
Part IV: Epic Love
My beloved and I met at Crowley’s restaurant beneath a canvas of Marilyn Monroe. Although there was a strong chemical attraction, we just enjoyed each other’s company and hanging out with friends every week. Our first date was two months after we met. We bonded quickly in those early days; our connection was deep spiritually, emotionally and physically. In his words, “I fell for you hard and fast.” We married 13 months later and “we loved with a love that was more than love” (Poe, 1849). Ours was a special union and I would have bet my life that our marriage above all others could stand the test of monogamy and time.
When I walked through the valley of cancer, my man was my caretaker. When I miscarried three pregnancies, when I faced dismal career disappointments and rejection from family, it was Todd who allowed his strong and sturdy shoulders to catch my tears. This man was the last dream of my soul; he was everything to me as I was to him. Matched on dimensions of: intellect, humor, education, looks and spirituality- we were compatible in every way.
From the moment we met we sensed a knowing about one another that can only be described as kindred; truly, it felt we had known each other since our time on earth began. We experienced an emotional intimacy that extended beyond the heart and mind. Our bond only continued to deepen as newlyweds and parents. We attended bible studies regularly, prayed and shared nightly devotions together; keeping Christ at the center of our marriage served to protect and strengthen our relationship. Dreams and laughter filled our hearts and home for many years. Our love was (and remains) an epic affair of the heart and soul.
In 20 years, the majority of our arguments have stemmed from our similar personalities. We are both feisty, dominant type A’s who believe we are always right. We are bossy, confident, and aggressive and we like to assume the leadership position. That tends to present challenges for us at the times when I just need to let go of the power struggle and give him the baton.
This matchless bond we formed effortlessly is the lone reason our marriage could be saved. We stopped cleaving and drifted apart. We lost each other while wondering around on our own in the darkness. Life grew cold and lonely without the other and as we both questioned, “What happened to us?” We were terrified… because if OUR love wasn’t real- was love even possible?
Part III: Raw Emotions
I have walked through some dark valleys in my life: my father’s suicide, cancer and raising a child with bipolar to name a few. Yet none of those valleys were as painful and unbearable as the betrayal of my husband. I turned to a support group of friends who allowed me the freedom to lament raw emotions and prayed for me when I ran out of words. I didn’t know what I was supposed to be feeling. I was trying to forgive him; I loved him deeply and wanted to move forward, but how? This fling that he just drifted into consumed my every thought; I wasn’t sure I could survive much less forgive. In my quest for survival, I discovered there were not a lot of resources for couples wanting to reconcile and work through the wreckage.
In this vein I decided to write a book for couples to assist in the reconciliation process. The book (title TBD) is due for publication by the end of 2016 and will provide counsel, guidance, encouragement and a spiritual component, for couples to succeed in rebuilding their marriages. The purpose of this blog series is (1) to help me heal, (2) provide support for couples that have endured infidelity by sharing my story and (3) promote awareness about my book.
My husband continues to wrestle with guilt and shame for his actions. He would like to tuck this whole ordeal away and hide it from everyone who knows us, but what is done cannot be undone. We cannot sweep this under the rug and pretend it did not happen. He has been amazing on this road to healing with me. He’s been willing to respond to all of my questions, even when he knows the answers will hurt. He is not offended when I hurl insults at him during my human moments. He provides strong arms to hold me when I stumble and tender hands wipe away puddles of tears from pain he caused. I know it is difficult for him as I share our story and I am trying to be sensitive to that fact.
The story I am telling is our love story and while it does divulge details of his sins, he is repentant, remorseful and transformed. Adultery does not define who he is. Today I respect this man by my side more than ever. The man I love could have walked away and chosen someone with whom he had no commitments and no history, but he chose me… again. He chose our children and the life that we have been building for two decades. He chose the path of commitment, hard work and honor. He chose the laborious journey of rebuilding and THAT impresses me.