I wish I’d known what to look for…

It’s funny how when you talk to others who have been betrayed, you notice that there are many of the same characteristics in those who have cheated.  When I first started noticing red flags, I was SURE he would not cheat.  Don’t we all say that?  Aren’t we all sure that our spouse or significant other would never hurt us like this?  Until they do.

I wish someone had told me that distance was a red flag.  Sure, I felt distance in our marriage, but I assumed he just felt the distance the same as I did and realized that life events would change and shift, and things would smooth out again.  It was a season of life we were going through, and though it was difficult, we would survive the craziness.  I wish, too, that I had known that anger was a red flag.  During the affair, he was ALWAYS angry.  It was like I suddenly realized that no matter what I did, it was wrong, and he was angry with me. He was the same with our son.  At that time, home never felt peaceful, and unfortunately, it slowly dawned on me that this was my new reality. I had no idea that it was one of the signs of an affair.

Looking back, I see these characteristics as qualities that contributed to the perfect storm.  It makes me sad to know that with just a few words, he could have changed the trajectory of our life and chosen not to cause me pain, not to destroy the sanctity of our marriage and not shove down his feelings but give voice to them (ah, that amazing conflict-avoidant behavior).  It is something we both have to live with now.  I’m not saying that EVERYONE who chooses to cheat has all of these qualities, but in my experience (and after reading the stories of hundreds of others), they unfortunately have many of the same character traits.  Add to my life situation both of us in graduate school, young babies, and a husband who worked every weekend and nights, and one can see how difficult things can get.  I keep hoping that my words will help someone else, and if I can save anyone from this pain, it is worth it.

One of the character traits they all seem to have is immaturity, and it is often partnered with seeking  the attention of others.  I know he was immature.  Even in his 40s, he acted like a teen.  It was exhausting.  There were ridiculous comments and even sexual ones, comments that hurt but hey, they were just a joke.  This always seemed to combine with attention-seeking behavior.  He always needed to be the center of attention and had to make people laugh.  The more shocking the comment or behavior, the better.

Another characteristic they seem to possess is a total lack of boundaries.  It starts out with just talking to others, but it continues to chip away to the point where they are able to say or do anything and justify their behavior.  My husband was always helping others, especially other women.  He liked how it felt to help them, even if it took time away from home.  The lack of boundaries partners with their lack of self-esteem–when they don’t feel good about themselves, it leads to them having poor boundaries in order to seek approval from others.  Soon they are looking for attention and comments from others simply to feel better about themselves. They don’t seem to realize that the only person who can change how they feel about who they are is them.  Most seem to lack self-awareness at all.

The ability to compartmentalize can be a major character flaw in relationships.  We all have the ability to compartmentalize, and it is not always a bad thing.  Sure, it is important for firefighters and those who work in extremely stressful situations to be able to compartmentalize, but a spouse who can compartmentalize can easily make excuses and live two separate lives.  One has nothing to do with the other in their minds, and they can sort of just put their actions away when the other woman or man is not around them.  Certainly what you don’t know won’t hurt you, right?  You will never find out.  If it makes them happy in the moment, they go with it, and almost never seem to think through what the true consequences will be.

They tend to be selfish and feel entitled to having everything in life.  What they lack in their relationship, they will just get elsewhere.  In their minds, they deserve…love, sex, whatever they deem necessary and whatever they feel their spouse is not doing for them (To be clear, the “love” they seek is not healthy, mature love.  They are seeking something that makes they feel special, that gives them ego boosts).  It is all about THEM and not about a marriage or a partnership.  The things that many of us value seem to be pushed aside–growing old together, family, someone you can trust–all of this is shoved aside for whatever the immediate need is, and instead of turning toward their partner to discuss what they are missing, they go outside of their relationship, not realizing that no one can fill the holes they have in their life.  They must fill these holes themselves.  No person can complete another.  That just is not reality.

Those who choose infidelity often lack the ability to empathize with others.  They seem to not be able to put themselves in others’ shoes.  They don’t think through their actions and how they might hurt others.  Empathy seems to be something they were never taught.  My husband would make very judgmental comments about the weirdest of things–even a news story would receive an unnecessary commentary.  It isn’t that he was not physically there if someone needed him, it just seemed like he lacked the full ability to feel their pain.  It makes sense, then, that if a person doesn’t feel empathy, it would be easier to ignore the pain their choices might cause others.

Life events seem to set all of this into motion.  Infidelity becomes an option when life stressors are added.  They see it as an escape.  Events such as the birth of a child, job loss or unhappiness at work, the death of a parent, and financial difficulties just seem to send many people over the edge and with their lack of good coping mechanisms, they choose to cheat.  However, some seem to cheat simply because they have the opportunity to do so.

Do you notice these qualities in your significant other?  Were they present when (or if) they cheated?  I look forward to hearing your experiences.

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11 Responses to I wish I’d known what to look for…

  1. Simply Bren says:

    Yes, yes, and yes! The emotional distance is a big one. Like you said, my husband also was very angry and distant when he was “involved”. He still will never own up to his betrayal, even though the OW did to her spouse. I think some are just born liars and cheaters and nothing can make them happen. At least, that’s my experience. Hang in there!

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  2. T says:

    … yes, it seems those who cheat, have a “lack of” the above mentioned. I know mine sure did. The selfish entitlement, lack of empathy and boundaries…yup! Check, check, check! Very well written! I am at almost 3 years since the discovery of my husbands betrayal, we have talked through everything, at least as much as we basically can, cuz lets be honest, I will never understand it but I just live with it, I guess, and just pray he wont do it again, but that is a big red flag! Just like you wrote, our husbands obviously have these character flaws or whatever you want to title them, we know they are capable of cheating, being selfish, compartmentalizing, attention seekers, lack boundaries, lack empathy…. which are big red flag of their own and just because we have talked it out and are living with their downfalls, are we (the betrayed spouse) just setting ourselves up for another fail? I mean, the red flags are right in front of our faces, yet we are trying to reconcile and work it out…hmmm, idk…catch 22?…

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    • Yeah. I would not stay without him going to counseling and digging into his issues because as you say, it’s scary. I need to SEE change, even if it is slow change. Otherwise, I think it’s all just words. I think we need actions. So if his actions are showing he hasn’t been working on boundaries and empathy (and the millions of other things), then we aren’t in reconciliation (in my marriage).

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  3. T says:

    so with all ^ that said, your post title is ” I wish I’d known what to look for”…well, you do now and those red flags are no longer a “proceed with caution”, they are more of a “enter at your own risk”..and now that the red flags are so apparent, you then have to decide if the risk is worth the reward or should the betrayed spouse run for their dear life …lol…for real tho right?

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    • Yes, it’s scary, isn’t it? I think for us, we’ve given up so much by staying, that if we see any red flags or if they violate our boundaries? Yes. I guess we have to make that decision. For me, I’ve been very clear. If he flirts or crosses any of my boundaries? I’m done. I refuse to accept less than I have always deserved, you know, T?

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  4. P.S. none of this is easy. None of it. In fact, it’s a constant battle with yourself, I think.

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  5. The thing is, until it happens, most of those don’t realize they were red flags. Hindsight and all that. And especially for remorseful former wayward (cheating) spouses, they are also hopefully doing the work to identify and remediate the “holes in their bucket” that allowed them to betray in the first place. In my husband’s case, he’s learned a lot about all of those things that resilientspirit37 wrote about in this post. And he’s aghast that he allowed himself to go down that path.

    OTOH, as I say to him, NOW I KNOW. It’s a weird conundrum that *not knowing* didn’t prevent his disastrous choices, and yet knowing what we know now may actually save us both from further pain.

    This is such a good post. I wish more people could understand that the decision to cheat is solely the function of an emotionally unhealthy person – that it’s NEVER about the betrayed spouse. EVER.

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  6. Moi says:

    You just described a narcissist.

    Like

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