What Are You Teaching Your Cheating Spouse?

Responding to Cheating

Cheating is a major problem, whether it is your wife or the husband doing the cheating. How you respond to the cheating behavior in many cases is as major as the cheating itself in terms of impact on the marriage relationship. How you respond to the cheating depends a great deal on what you intend to accomplish. You have to seriously consider if you are out to punish them, restore the marriage or bail out of your marriage.

Even the word “cheating” has dark associations with it. It implies that someone is taking what does not belong to them; they are not playing by the rules; they are finding loopholes to avoid natural consequences. Cheating in relationship is also frowned upon in literature. In the history of literature, cheaters often end up having bad things happen to them. Cheaters are often victims of fate or some vengeful party from having to ear a large “A” like Hester Pryne or Anna Karenina being thrown under a train for their adulterous cheating.

Cheating is frowned upon in whatever form it occurs. Consider how many NCAA teams have lost position and prestige due to cheating on grades or sports actions. Even academic cheating is frowned upon. Cheating in taxes also has strong negative connotations. In these cases, the authority often punishes and penalizes the cheats. Since you are dealing with a marriage rather than government, you need to consider taking steps to preserve the relationship. The cheating has consequences which cannot be escaped. With a marriage you will want to preserve the relationship, yet deal with the unacceptable behavior.

In cases of cheating, the person penalized often resents the punishments. They do not return with open arms professing their love and loyalty to the penalizing body. Keeping the relationship while addressing the cheating is a challenge for marriages.

I want to teach my husband a lesson

Although your husband may need a lesson, consider “Is it up to you to teach it to him?”. By assuming the role of the teacher and punisher, you are taking a one-up position in your relationship with him.

Assuming a one-up position raises the question as to whether you want a husband, victim or student. When you become the parent, then you put your spouse in the position of being the child. Taking on the role of teaching them a lesson changes the dynamics of the relationship.

One way to change relationships is to change the roles each person has. Changing your role to one associated with punishment definitely changes the roles of the marriage. Once the punishment is over, changing back into another role is not easy.

If your desire is for your husband to be an equal partner, then another approach is needed. Consider how you would confront a peer or equal. How you approach your spouse has a bearing on how they will respond to you. The decision you make on how you approach him, will set the ground rules on how the relationship will operate in the future.

You will also want to consider how you would want someone responding to bad choices on your part. Is that when you need to be punished or loved? Is that when you need restoration or rejection? Is that when you need a hug or to be kicked out? Restoring him in no way means that what he did was acceptable. It does send a message that he is acceptable, yet his choice was not.

What lesson are you teaching?

Although the intention is teaching a husband a disciplinary lesson, consider for a moment what you are teaching him? When your husband is irresponsible, is the choice of teaching him a lesson helping him to learn responsibility? In this case, your husband makes an irresponsible choice. You respond by exiting his life. Will exiting his life make him want to spend more time with you? When you push him away will it make him want you more? The likelihood is that pushing him away or moving away will allow him to be MORE irresponsible during that time.

Moving out to punish him is a ‘hair of the dog’ response. (with drinkers, ,they often want a drink in the morning to cure the hangover from the night before-hence, hair of the dog that bit you). It teaches, you hurt and abandoned me, so I abandon and reject you type of logic. To fight rejection with more rejection is often counter-productive.

Another thing to consider is that if you move out and it works, “What have you taught him?” You have conditioned him to react to fears of loss. He is reacting to the punishment. Teaching someone to avoid punishment is not a major accomplishment. If you are wanting him to stay with you because he loves you, the lesson is lost. He is staying with you out of a fear of losing you, not out of a motivation to want to be with you and love you.

Using punishment as a teaching method is often ineffective. You may feel better by punishing your husband, but it will not endear him to you. You may end up teaching him to fear you, or that being in a relationship with you is painful, or to hide the evidence better next time or some other unexpected lesson. Bringing punishment and spanking into the situation does more to further sadism and masochism than it does to increase loyalty.

If you want to teach him to be more responsive to you, consider seeking an intervention that increases responsibility. Think through how he can become more responsive to you when he is out of the picture. After cheating is discovered you need your spouse more that before. Let them know you need them. Spend more time with them and draw closer rather than further away. Although it is counter-intuitive, taking steps that include more responsiveness and responsibility will draw the two of you closer than if you push them away. The distance between the spouses often leads to the affair, increasing that distance or threatening to expand what is already a chasm is not much of a solution.

Having your spouse want to reconcile due to them feeling repentant and remorseful due to conviction of the wrongness of their actions on the inside is preferred to inducing guilt or forcing pain on them through punishment or abandonment on the outside.

“I am afraid”

In dealing with the aftermath of cheating, it is important to consider your own gut reactions. Consider how many times your gut reactions have led you in the wrong direction. Consider how many times your heart or your head have steered you in a wrong direction. After considering the track record of each, the choice becomes very easy. With most people, trusting the gut is the best course of action. If you are afraid, you may need to reconsider the action you are thinking about.

Fearful reactions also raise the question of “Where is the fear is coming from?”. Fear is a powerful motivator. Since it is so powerful, it helps to know what it is that one is afraid of. Are you afraid of abandonment? Fearful of reprisal? Fearful of the unknown? Fearful of being replaced? Finding the answer to ‘fear’ questions requires some serious soul searching.

Taking your fear out on your spouse will not make the fears go away, nor will it make them want you more.

When you know what the source of the fear is, it will give you some clues as to what is missing in your relationship and what it is that you need.

Discussing what you need, what they need and what your relationship needs will do more to restore the relationship than punishing them.

Relationships have a way of exposing our needs and vulnerabilities. Many times we miss out on getting our needs met, because it is easier to blame someone else or take our anger out on someone else.

Our spouses and their choices often reveal parts of our lives which we do not like to look at. Learning how to stay ‘in relationship’ while admitting and confronting such ugly issues is challenging. In order to maintain relational health, couples need to learn how to confront each other while still staying emotionally connected with each other. Rather that each confrontation causing a split, they need to learn how to stay together, even when looking at or confronting the ugly parts of the relationship.

Spouses often need support and encouragement the most when they are most vulnerable and devastated. Punishing them when they are wounded is not going to make them want you more. People often remember how people reacted to them when they were down and how people reacted to their mistakes.

The choices you make will either restore the relationship or push your spouse further away.