Tell me the truth – do you find that you are blaming yourself after your spouse cheated? Are you angry and sad and overwhelmed but do you find that you are ultimately taking responsibility for what happened?
I so often hear this from clients – that their partner cheated but that they are blaming themselves. And this self-blame is preventing them from moving forward in any direction, which isn’t healthy.
Let me explain to you why you might be blaming yourself after your spouse cheated and how to get past that self-blame and move forward.
#1 – You feel rejected.
When we find out that our partners cheated, it is devastating. While, in my experience, there are many emotions at play, the predominant one that I hear from people is that they feel rejected. That they weren’t good enough.
I have a client who thought that she and her husband were happy. They had just returned from a vacation where they really enjoyed each other and were planning another. And then she looked at his phone and saw messages of love from another woman.
Yes, she was furious but at the same time she immediately questioned why she wasn’t good enough for her husband. Why did he have to go seek love and affection somewhere else?
Was it because she worked too much or had gained some weight or that she spent too much time with the kids? Was she no longer young enough or pretty enough? What could she have done to have kept him interested enough that he wouldn’t have strayed?
I am here to tell you that affairs happen for many reasons but none of them is usually because of something that you did or didn’t have, that you did or didn’t do. People are attracted to each other for a variety of reasons and attraction in affairs often has nothing to do with the original partner – it has to do with the bubble the cheaters find themselves in as their relationship developed.
It’s not what you didn’t have or do that caused the infidelity – it’s what existed in that relationship that caused the affair.
#2 – You feel gullible.
If you are honest with yourself, were there times when you wondered if there was something going on with your spouse? Did you sense they were distant or not always properly accounting for their time or keeping their phone close? Did you notice those things but push the thoughts away as unthinkable?
Or maybe you truly had no sense that anything was off and learning so has made you feel incredibly stupid for missing the signs?
Many of us do this – we don’t even consider that our partner might be unfaithful or we ignore red flags because we just don’t think our partner capable of cheating. And, when we discover that our partner has cheated, we are mortified that we didn’t know, that the person who swore to love us forever willingly deceived us.
I can promise you that you aren’t gullible for not speaking up when you noticed signs. That you aren’t stupid for being totally unaware of what was happening behind your back. You are a person in the world, trying to get by, to be the best that you can be in a relationship and to trust your partner to be true.
Your partner lied to you. They deceived you. This is not on you – it is on them!
#3 – You trusted them.
For many of us, when we find out our partner cheated, we simply can not conceive it to be true. I mean, this is our person, the person who stood up in front of our friends and family and promised to love us forever. How could this person, this person we have shared a life with for years, betray us so completely?
Ironically, it is exactly this trust that is why you are blaming yourself after your spouse cheated. You are so programmed to love and trust your partner that the instinct to look inward at your own deficiencies is a profound one.
I know that when I found out that my ex was having an affair, I went right to that dark place. This person was the father of my children, a man I greatly respected, with whom I had made a life. That he could betray me in that way made me doubt everything about me and us. If I was questioning everything about my relationship, how could I not question myself for my role in the fact that it happened?
I now know that yes, my ex had an affair, but that affair didn’t nullify everything in our past. Yes, he let me down in the biggest way but that doesn’t mean that I bore any responsibility for his actions. What he did was all on him
#4 – The family.
The biggest victims of infidelity are the children. They are innocent bystanders to their parent’s marriage and when someone cheats, they are often directly affected.
I am the child of divorce and I didn’t want that for my children. When I found out my spouse cheated and wanted a divorce my first thought went to my kids – to the family that they would lose.
I promised them I would do everything in my power to try to hold our family together and I failed. All of my efforts to do so were met with anger and disrespect and I ultimately had to walk away.
For years I blamed myself for taking their family away from my kids but I know now that it wasn’t on me. My partner was the one who strayed in the first place. He was the one willing to put our family on the line for his selfish needs. While I tried to fix things, I couldn’t do it in a void. If he wasn’t in, there was nothing I could do.
Blaming myself was a huge waste of time. I see that now.
#5 – Taking blame is what we do.
There is a quote I read someplace sometime – If you are willing to take the blame, someone is happy to give it to you. As someone who is chronically willing to take the blame for anything, whether it’s my fault or not, that quote really speaks to me.
In the aftermath of an affair, when we are questioning every single thing in our lives, it’s so easy to go down the path of self-blame. It’s what we do.
If a friend is upset, we immediately take stock of what we might have done to make them so. If we bump into someone and spill coffee, we immediately apologize, even if we were the ones bumped into. If something goes wrong at work, we are willing to take blame whether or not we deserve it to save our jobs.
Self-blame is what we do, especially women. But we don’t have to do it. We don’t have to blame ourselves for everything that is wrong in the world. And we don’t have to blame ourselves for the fact that our spouse cheated.
It does seem crazy that you are blaming yourself after your spouse cheated but it is a very common occurrence.
The feelings of rejection, of feeling gullible and deceived, the guilt around the loss of the family and our tendency to accept blame more often than not are all present as we are struggling with the aftermath of the affair. And all of those things are clouding your judgement and your ability to think clearly.
I would encourage you to push back on those feelings of self-blame. This is not your fault. You are responsible for your role in the relationship but not for your partner’s cheating. That is all on them.
And the sooner that you can see this and accept it the sooner you will be able to move forward and start to heal.
You can do it!
I am a NYC based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate. My writing has been published on The Huffington Post, Prevention, Psych Central, Pop Sugar, MSN and The Good Man Project, among others. I work with all kinds of people to help them go from depressed and overwhelmed to confident and happy in their relationships and in their world.