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OK, Mr. Cheater, you got caught. Now your wife is really pissed off, and you’re kind of OK with that because you expected it. But you also think you ought to be able to say, “I’m sorry, it won’t happen again,” and she should just accept that and forgive you – if not immediately then within a week or two. Especially if you’re able to deliver your apology with a sad puppy-dog face and some really nice flowers.

Well, in case you haven’t figured it out already, that’s not going to work. Because your partner is not like you. No matter how easy it is for you, as a man, to separate your “meaningless” sextracurricular activity from your relationship, she probably can’t do that. Women just aren’t wired that way.

Mars and Venus on Cheating

Generally speaking, men are able to separate and compartmentalize sex from love, while women cannot. Instead, women tend to view their lives holistically, with all things interconnected and meaningful. So for your spouse, a tiny little sexual dalliance on your part feels like a betrayal of her entire life. For her, learning that you cheated is the emotional equivalent of being hit by a speeding truck. If she is invested in you, if she loves you, if she believes in you, if she is committed to you, then she will be emotionally devastated by your betrayal. There is no avoiding that, and there is no avoiding her response. 

Put very simply, as I explain in my recently published book, Out of the Doghouse: A Step-by-Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating, your betrayed partner is going to react with rage, fear, pleading, tears, seductiveness, vindictiveness, and pretty much every other strong emotion or behavior you can think of. And she will probably bounce from one response to another with little to no provocation or warning. So that is what you should expect moving forward. You don’t have to like this, but you definitely need to accept it, regardless of whether you want to repair your relationship or move on to something else. 

You also need to understand that your mate’s emotional instability – no matter how excessive her behavior seems to you – is a perfectly normal response to infidelity. As such, it is not helpful for you to whine about her being crazy or bitchy, because in this case she’s neither. She is simply reacting in a very appropriate way to your betrayal. So even if you really, really don’t like the way she is acting (you won’t), and even if her behaviors seem very, very dramatic to you (they will), you need to understand and accept that she is responding in an understandable and relatively healthy way to the pain, loss, and hurt that you’ve caused her to feel.

To better understand what your spouse is going through, consider the following analogy:

You are a small business owner. You hire a down-on-his luck friend to help you in the office. He has the needed skills, more or less, and you want to help him because you like him. One day you come to work early and catch him with his hand in the safe, at the same time you’ve been noticing that the petty cash accounting has been off. Because this person is a friend, you rip him a new one but don’t fire him. You put him on probation but keep him on the payroll. And he is incredibly grateful. Things are great for the next year or so. Then one night you’re staying late at work and you notice him in the office with the door of the safe pulled open. What is your immediate reaction? If you’re like most people, you immediately flash back to the day you caught him stealing. And this will happen even if he’s not currently doing anything wrong! 

Well, your relationship is quite the same. If your significant other sees you doing anything that even remotely reminds her of when you cheated, her mistrust will be triggered – even if you’re not currently doing anything wrong. And that is a perfectly natural reaction for her to have. 

In your partner’s mind you were her best friend, her trusted confidante, her lover, her financial partner, her co-parent, and her compatriot in life. And then you betrayed her by sneaking around, having sex with other women, and doing everything you could to cover this up. Basically, the most emotionally significant person in her life, the person around whom she has built her past, present, and future, has taken an emotional knife and stabbed her in the back with it, ripping her carefully constructed world apart with lies, secrets, manipulation, and what feels to her like a total lack of concern for her wellbeing. 

So yeah, “Ouch!”

As mentioned in the opening paragraph of this article, in the immediate aftermath of learning about your infidelity, your spouse’s response was probably at least a little bit out of control. And you were likely OK with that because you expected it. What you probably didn’t expect was for her emotional reactivity to continue for more than a few days or weeks. But that’s what you’re going to get. And she’s likely to drag you along on this emotional rollercoaster ride for nine to eighteen months – and that’s only if you do what’s necessary to do to reestablish trust and heal your relationship (a process discussed at length in Out of the Doghouse). 

During this nine to eighteen month healing period, you can expect your partner to engage in some or even all of the following behaviors: 

  • Detective Work. Your mate no longer trusts a single thing you do or say. She thinks, “If you would lie and keep secrets about something as important as sex, what else are you hiding?” So she might check your browser history, emails, texts, apps, bank account, credit cards, etc., searching for the truth. She might install tracking software on your phone and other devices. She might spy on you. She might hire an actual detective to follow you. Etc.
     
  • Mood Swings. Your partner may be sad one minute, angry the next, and affectionate the next. And her moods could shift with no warning at all. You could be happily watching a movie on TV and one of the actresses might look similar to your affair partner (or how your significant other thinks your affair partner looked), and suddenly she’ll be in a towering rage. Then, a few minutes later, she may express remorse and apologize. 
     
  • Control. Your spouse might try to micromanage your life and every aspect of your relationship, including finances, childcare, chores, your free time, etc., the same as she would micromanage a small child. As such, you might have very little say in the day-to-day rhythm of your life. And she will likely resent you for forcing her to assume all of this extra responsibility. 
     
  • Attacks. Your mate may at times behave like a feral cat backed into a corner – hissing, snarling, and lashing out. She may attack you verbally, calling you names, devaluing the good things you do, and basically hitting below the belt any way she can. She might also “lawyer up,” tell the kids what you’ve done, recklessly spend money as a way to punish you, have an affair of her own as a way to get even, etc. 
     
  • Interrogations. Your partner may at times seem obsessed with your cheating, wanting to know every little detail about what you did, with whom, and when. Her obsession may keep her up at night, give her nightmares, and destroy her focus on everyday matters. And no matter how much information you provide, she will probably ask for more, even if you’ve already told her absolutely everything. 
     
  • Avoidance. This is the opposite of obsessive questioning, but equally likely. Basically, your mate may work to avoid thinking about and/or talking about your betrayal. She might pretend like the cheating never happened. She might even avoid interacting with you altogether, except for the most superficial communication. Even more perplexing is that she might flip-flop between interrogating you and avoiding you. 
     
  • Escape. This is similar to avoidance, discussed above. Here, your spouse is so intent on not feeling the pain of your betrayal that she numbs out with drinking, drugging, binge eating, compulsive spending, gambling, exercising, or any other potentially escapist activity. 
     
  • Overcompensation. Many women tie their self-esteem to their relationship. In other words, your significant other may have worked very hard on and placed quite a lot of value on “us.” If so, her self-esteem took a huge hit when you cheated. She might try to right the ship by losing weight, dressing provocatively, being overly nice to you, etc., thinking that if she can somehow “get it right,” you will stop the infidelity. 

Needless to say, none of these perfectly natural responses are fun for you, the cheater, to deal with. Your spouse’s emotional rollercoaster will almost certainly get on your nerves at least once in a while (and probably a lot more often than that) no matter how understanding you are about the fact that you are the cause of this wild and unpleasant ride. When you do find yourself getting angry about her reactivity, you’ll need to make a choice. You can respond to her behavior in kind and make things worse, or you can swallow your pride, your ego, and your desire to “be right,” and allow her feel whatever it is that she needs to feel. I suggest you opt for the latter tactic. The road you’re traveling will be much less bumpy if you do, regardless of whether you want to heal your relationship or not. 

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is a digital-age intimacy and relationships expert specializing in infidelity and addictions. He is the author of several highly regarded books, including “Out of the Doghouse: A Step-by-Step Relationship Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating.” Currently, he is Senior Vice President of National Clinical Development for Elements Behavioral Health, creating and overseeing addiction and mental health treatment programs for more than a dozen high-end treatment facilities. For more information please visit his website, robertweissmsw.com, or follow him on Twitter, @RobWeissMSW

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