5 Ignorant Things People Say About Infidelity

Photo: getty
young woman with dark hair and orange shorts lies back on a bed
Heartbreak

Writing about infidelity has its share of occupational hazards. 

In my work, I’ve seen many common misconceptions about extramarital affairs.

From blaming "the other woman" to assuming you know every detail of someone else's relationship, these misconceptions only end up harming everyone involved. 

RELATED: The Surprising (Real) Reason So Many People Cheat

Here are five ignorant things people say about who's to blame for infidelity — and how it happens.

1. “The other woman (or man) is a homewrecker!”

Here’s the truth: An affair is the last symptom of problems in a marriage, not the first symptom.

When an affair happens, the fact is that the two spouses have often been hurting for a long time.

The problem is that neither of them discussed it. Or, when someone tried, repair attempts on the part of one person went unnoticed and unheeded by the other.

Finally, all communication broke down, and one desperate party went outside the marriage to someone else.

Of course, there’s also the scenario where one party is a malignant narcissist or another mental or emotional disorder, and has been acting out the entire time, but the other party didn’t see the signs.

Either way, problems have been brewing for a long, long time. 

The affair is not when the problems start. The affair is when the problems become visible in a way that neither marriage partner can ignore the problems any longer.

2. “I wish women were kinder to each other. We shouldn’t steal each other’s husbands/boyfriends"

There are some ethics around that.

If we “Others” (the person someone is cheating with) see you emotionally and/or physically abusing your spouse, we don’t have to have sympathy for that.

For my part, I can and will say, “Look, something’s wrong with this person’s behavior. It isn’t you, you’re an adorable person, and you’re wrong to think this behavior is your fault.”

And I will do that with a clear conscience. 

"Others” can also recommend that your spouse go to therapy, and can do that with a clear conscience.

If your spouse indicates to us that they don’t want to save the marriage, they’re ready to leave, and they want to be with us, we can accept that with a clear conscience as well. (With a signed divorce decree and all necessary papers filed first.)

What "Others” cannot do with a clear conscience is observe a situation in which counseling broke down or hasn’t been tried.

They’re trying to get any of their needs met with us — needs which should properly be met by the marriage partner. 

Staying involved and encouraging dishonesty on the part of this person isn't ethical.

Even if the “Other” loves the spouse. Even if it breaks their heart. An “Other” crossing these lines could rightfully be said to be "stealing" your spouse. And that’s uncool.

Some folks are unscrupulous, but you can’t control them, only you.

If you’re throwing glass in your own house, your spouse is cut and bleeding, and you will not go for the bandages, step one is to notice this, if this is indeed you.

It isn't always. Each affair is its own unique situation, and we need to pull back and see the big picture.

RELATED: 8 Things All Chronic Cheaters Have In Common

3. “Cheating is selfish”

I firmly believe that cheating is the result of attachment issues that began years ago, often when we were babies and very young children.

Something happened in the home that disrupted our ability to connect fully and freely to another human being and to anticipate and trust that our needs would be met.

Something impeded our ability to know and share our emotions. Something made us feel like inferior, unlovable human beings.

In my situation, something happened that gave me a control-freak streak about a mile wide. My mom had borderline personality disorder, and dad and stepdad were both dishrag codependents.

In husband’s case, his mom was an alcoholic and dad was a dishrag codependent.

In his wife’s case, as far as I am led to understand, she was a very sensitive little girl squelched by a domineering mother.

We may not remember it. We may think our childhood was normal, or even wonderful.

But it happened, and the scars show up every time we can’t connect in our marriages, every time we can’t talk about problems, every time fear prevents us from leaving even when we know we should, and every time we bring our pain to a third party instead.

The cure for what ails us is simply hard work in therapy on our own pain and brokenness from childhood.

Barring serious issues like addiction, strong narcissistic traits, or a personality disorder, people don’t cheat because they are selfish.

Unless it’s a caregiving situation with an incapacitated spouse, people cheat because they’ve been in serious emotional pain from earliest childhood, they haven’t had exposure to a better way, and they don’t know how else to handle it.

4. “You should be ashamed of staying with someone who cheated”

My married ex-man has been married over thirty years. They’ve had beautiful children and grandchildren and have a lovely family. Neither is a bad person.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Join now for YourTango's trending articles, top expert advice and personal horoscopes delivered straight to your inbox each morning.

If a marriage and family can survive unbroken, then they should.

The best outcome for this family is for the wounds to be healed and the marriage to become real.

The trick here is that this healing process requires work. And work is a four-letter word.

In order to save a marriage, you need to work, not on fixing up that other person so they show up as they always used to — but on fixing yourself.

And that’s tough. Nobody wants to do that.

When one person in the marriage is ready to do the work and the other person isn’t, that’s when the marriage should end.

And for the person ready to work and change, divorce is going to be a matter of self-preservation.

But sometimes, both people are ready to do the work, and the relationship makes an amazing and beautiful breakthrough. That is a great triumph of the spirit and in no way shameful.

If you are on the outside looking in at the relationship, you have no way of knowing for sure what happened (unless you were a fly on the wall in their counselor’s office.)

In short, if they’re holding hands and they’re happy and they’re glad they stayed together, be happy for them and butt out.

(Even if it is Bill and Hillary Clinton or some other famous couple.)

5. “I can pass judgement on what you did”

I don't assume that because I’ve seen so-and-so socially for thirty years, I know all the issues involved. 

I’ve done tons of work on this for six years, and that’s because the whole infidelity situation upsets me greatly. It was important to me that, when it was all over, I could live with what I chose to do.

And, despite all the work I’ve done, I’m still prepared to admit that I could be wrong about something, if I’m presented with evidence that shows me that.

All onlookers to an affair need to be prepared to do the same thing. Chances are you don't have all the information.

RELATED: The Weird Way Cheating Can Actually *Help* Your Marriage

P.D. Reader runs Struggling In Or With An Affair? on Medium.

This article was originally published at Medium.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.