The Cheating Landmine

My reader stumbled onto a lost note in an old bag that was evidence of her husband having a short affair that had ended over a year earlier. She kicked him out immediately and started the paperwork. I asked if I could help, and she asked my opinion. I’ve seen one of her family photos with them both and the kids. Here’s what I wrote to her…
Cheating causes damage to marriages in two phases. The first phase is the actual cheating itself – the other woman could get pregnant and siphon child support payments from the marriage, there could be STDs, the cheating may be discovered at work and cause job loss, the cheating spouse may leave the marriage for the affair partner. The way this is fixed is by the cheating spouse completely stopping the cheating and returning to being a good spouse. It’s possible that none of those very negative outcomes could happen, just like you can run a red light and not actually smash into another car, you just get lucky and sail through unharmed.
Unless the cheating spouse does something stupid like revealing the cheating, the stopped cheating just gets buried like a lost landmine. The landmine is not usually discovered and the cheating spouse just lives with the guilt.
Phase two of the damage happens when the cheating is discovered or revealed and the landmine explodes because the cheated on spouse feels they have to do something about it all, and is usually livid about the cheating. The damage caused by the discovery and reaction to the affair can be even more destructive than the actual cheating itself. The marriage is more likely to end from the discovery of the cheating, than the actual cheating. From the note you discovered, it sounds like he had a pretty good offer to jump ship from you to her… but he didn’t, he stayed with you.
Usually phase one and phase two happen exactly at the same time. The cheating is discovered while the cheating is going on, so a huge emotional reaction to cut the cheating off immediately is very appropriate and functional. But phase one and two can also happen years apart, and that is a slightly different situation.
Right now you are extremely angry and very hurt – that’s 100% normal, totally expected and justified. Don’t misunderstand anything I am saying here as implying that he did nothing wrong, or that you don’t have a right to be angry. You do.
However, there’s actually some good potential to work through things here should you choose to. The affair is already over – that’s huge. He’s also broken contact with her. He wants to stay with you, and very importantly he has expressed remorse. Those are all things that usually would take a great deal of work to achieve. With most people I have contact with, the affair is still ongoing and the cheating spouse is not apologizing and actively trying to jump ship to the affair partner.
Assuming that the affair is 100% over and she is out of his life, it sounds like he has done his best to repair the damage his cheating caused as best he can without blowing the whole thing open and revealing it. Obviously he hid the affair from you, because he knew your reaction would be extremely negative and risk ending the marriage. So apologetic “only now” is fairly routine. Basically he did the best he could to bury the landmine safely as best he could, but made that one slip up.
So my question for you is…. from the time the affair stopped, until the time you discovered the affair, was he being a good husband to you?
Or put another way. Are you planning to divorce him because he was being the husband he was a year ago… despite that he has changed his ways since then and is a better husband now?
There is no requirement that you get back together. I’m just saying that if you choose to work toward being back together, I see potential for fixing things. Neither road will be easy though. Solo mom is pretty hard going for a long long time. Working on a marriage is a lot of effort now.
The good news, surprising even to me, is that she asked him to move back home the next day. By her own admission he had been doing the good husband thing ever since. The completely realistic news is that she is still having a very rough time of it and riding the emotional rollercoaster. He did cheat. He did lie. It does suck. It’s going to take a little while to put things back together again. But there’s hope that a family might get to stay intact and some little kids get to grow up happier.
And for the record…
I made it exceptionally clear that she had no requirement to ask him back. Just pointed out if she wanted to go that route there was a better than usual chance of success.
I also made it very clear that she had to be 100% sure the cheating was resolved, and that any further episodes of this nature should result in divorcing him without mercy or reservation. And that he needs to be able to verbalize that understanding.
And Mr. Dude… Man Law dictates you owe me a beer.


  1. This was a nice read. Everyone seems to always thing a marriage is over because of cheating, but it really can be made stronger if the couple wants to work through it. Best of luck to them.

  2. Hell yeah, Athol! You did it again. There are a couple little ones that are going to be way, way more psychologically healthy because of you.

    This battle is for real, and you are doing God's work, moreso than most of my fellow theists. Well bleeping done, brother.

    Dude, that was bad to the bone!

  3. Looking Glass says:

    From the outside looking in, most think that inviting back the other spouse is a horrible decision (the whole "battered Wife" thing). The truth is far more complex, especially with kids involved.

    And, the wife was a bit "lucky" in this circumstance. By which I mean it's like getting shot in the foot rather than the chest, it's horrible but could be infinitely worse.

    So, best of luck to them. They've got a chance, their kids have a chance, but the relationship will be fundamentally different and that's a rough change, ignoring all of the hurt that's happened. Both will have to change.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Have to say that I was that cheating husband. The other woman was exciting, attractive, very sexually outgoing and pushed all my buttons. The lead up to our encounters was incredible. However, once we finally did the deed so to speak, I lay there realizing that I really still loved my wife. I didn't want to leave her, I wanted this amazing sex life WITH her. So I ended the affair. We moved out of town shortly after which helped seal the deal. I had told my wife only part of the story- how I was attracted to someone else and she was attracted to me but that we only kissed. She may have suspected more, but never let on. Anyway, I don't think she ever found out and ever since I have concentrated on making my current marriage into what I wanted it to be instead of sitting back and feeling sorry for myself and thinking the grass is greener on the other side- it isn't. There is nothing more satisfying than the love of your life, your best friend, also seducing you with the wildest, most amazing sex of your life. I don't think I will ever tell her the truth, as that would hurt her deeply and would only be done to relieve my conscious. I would tell others in this situation, keep it a secret but end the affair, and concentrate on making your marriage what you want it to be.

  5. Stephenie Rowling says:

    You know this is similar to something that happened to my best friend. Her hubby fell in love with a woman at work and when she confronted him he was so into her that he insulted her and told her about an affair he had back when she was pregnant with their first children (around 5 years ago) the woman was just using the hubby for extra bucks so it looks like they never consummated but my friend separated for over a year from her hubby and it was not after he started living with mom again and the woman broke up with him that he realized his "mistake" and begged her to come back to him.
    They are together now, but I don't know do you think he is as sincere in his regrets as this guy is? After all it was more the decision of the lover than his and he already strayed twice. I'm just asking out of curiosity. The friends are 50/50 into him not doing it again and I wonder about your opinion.
    Of course I would never

  6. Athol Kay says:

    Stephenie – no that's a little different. In the case in the post, the husband already had stopped the affair and had returned to being a model husband before the affair was uncovered.

    In your best friends case, he returned to her as Plan B. He may have learned his lesson… he may not. It's a 50/50. Should he ever do anything again, he should be divorced without mercy. The tormenting her about the prior affair is particularly cold.

  7. Athol Kay says:

    Anon 10:12 – I think you provide a good example of the situation here. You've done the right thing to correct what you can. Agree on not telling her.

  8. pdwalker says:

    Agree on not telling her

    I expect that'll draw some heat. (But I agree as well, lie that it is)

  9. pdwalker says:

    (and yes, I expect that that serial cheater who posted here previously will find this all a bit hypocritical)

  10. Athol Kay says:

    Pdwalker – well the thing to me is you never know how the spouse will react and when you reveal the cheating, it doesn't just affect you. So it becomes a decision that may end the marriage you make not just for you, but also for the other person, and any children in the marriage.

    I'm not sure you have the right to "ease your own conscience" at the cost of risking your children growing up in a divorced family.

    I know of several perfectly functional, happy marriages that were ended because of revelation of single acts of cheating that had happened as much as a decade or more earlier.

    Prowling Kat is still actively cheating without remorse. My advice to her would be to stop cheating, but not tell her husband… though at this point it's all pretty far gone and I doubt she will ever stop.

  11. Stephenie Rowling says:

    "In your best friends case, he returned to her as Plan B. He may have learned his lesson… he may not. It's a 50/50. Should he ever do anything again, he should be divorced without mercy."

    That is pretty much what we told her and what she thinks of. There had been some hints of him not be totally opposed to cheating again but so far nothing had happened. I really hope he is not waiting for kid three to show up to do the same.

    "The tormenting her about the prior affair is particularly cold."

    Funny enough this is the attitude of the dominican men when caught cheating. Insult the wife and blame all her "faults" for the cheating. Is very cold and sad indeed, but so common and usually the guy ends up begging to come back again after he is done with the new woman *wash,rinse,repeat*…lesigh

  12. Looking Glass says:

    @ Stephenie:

    Outside of a horrible marriage partner decision in the first place, the cheated on spouse has a very large role in how the cheating relationship happened. So, while the cheating spouse made a final choice to have the affair, reaching that "state" takes two parties in the relationship to bring it to that state. (This is part of my Grind Theory that I've developed in the comments section here, lol)

    Best of luck to your friend, but you can't say there's great prospects by your own words.

    As to Athol's point, admitting the cheating many years later brings up huge risks as much as never mentioning it. If it's been a decade, that brings into question the entirety of the previous decade.

    Actually, if it's been a decade, you're saying just as much, if not more, by suddenly bringing it up. An affair's admittance is a crisis, just like bringing up divorce, so if things are functional you're bringing up a crisis for no immediate reason. If your guilt is suddenly that bad after a decade, where was it at year 1? Like I said, it brings up as much, if not more, questions at that point than it does just after it ended.

    This isn't to say I believe dishonesty is a good thing, it isn't. But if you need to assuage your guilt after a decade, you really need to find a Priest to confess to, because that's really what you want. Throwing a sudden bomb, making your spouse question *everything* from the time it supposedly ended until that point isn't exactly a subtle thing.

  13. Just read the Kat blog, first I'd heard of it. To me, what she was doing was having non-consensual sex with her husband, because he was unaware and would probably not consent had he known what she was up to. This is also known as rape. However, the latest developments are that he's been cheating on her for many years with many women, but she still hadn't disclosed to him. Anyway, pathological cases such as that aside, I agree with the general advice here not to disclose in the case of an old affair, but if temptation strikes again to disclose that temptation as it happens just to keep yourself accountable.

  14. Stephenie Rowling says:

    "However, the latest developments are that he's been cheating on her for many years with many women, but she still hadn't disclosed to him."

    WTF!? So we are seeing a case of too horrible people that decided to get married? Really Internet sometimes I wish I'd never knew you.

    "Outside of a horrible marriage partner decision in the first place,"

    Well the latest sexual survey in DR is that 84% of men had cheated in their relationship…so its not like there is much of a choice outside of outsourcing like I did.

    Funny enough this weekend an American woman was telling me that she wanted a hot Latin boyfriend…I had to bite my tongue and control myself not to roll my eyes till the back of my head. And for as why I didn't tried to tell her otherwise…she is a lawyer.

  15. Athol Kay says:

    Looking Glass – the "why bring it up now" thought is a good one. I suspect in some cases the purpose is to act as a massive Fitness Test and/or destablize the relationship seeking change.

    It's a rough tactic to use, but not as rough as actual cheating in the present.

    And some people become more moral over time. Sometimes you do start to regret what do you years ago.

  16. I have been refraining from comment, but I thought I'd jump in here since my name came up. If the cheating is over, I'm all for the "keeping it to yourself" approach. I don't believe you have the right to ease your own conscience at the expense of your spouse and children.

    My husband made his admission because he had no choice. I responded to him by treating him the way I would want to be treated – with love and forgiveness. We are currently dealing with many issues and we're pursuing counseling to help us communicate better. Our marriage is not over, nor will it be.

    @elhaf How do you know I haven't disclosed to him or *what* I have disclosed to him? As for calling it rape, you're nuts. Does that mean that he has been raping me, too, for years?

    @pdwalker Yes, it is hypocritical. You know it is. But I can see the value in doing what one has to do to preserve the family. Life really does have lots of grey areas, doesn't it?

  17. Athol Kay says:

    Kat – good luck. I suspect you have just uncovered the tips of the icebergs with each other. Long road ahead.

  18. Looking Glass says:

    @ Kat: I do wish you the best of luck. You've got a whole heap of stuff you'll be dealing with over the coming years. I hope you come out better for it at the other end.

    @ Athol: yeah, becoming more moral/wiser with age can happen (though it's not a complete given). The issue is that you are saying, probably unintentionally, that you've been consistently lying about the previous years between the end of the Affair and that current date. It's why the longer you don't mention an Affair, but stay in the marriage, the bigger the bomb is for the other spouse while it's actually less of a bomb for yourself.

    If you're going to admit to an Affair after a few years, you really need a 3rd party involved because it's going to be messy. (And you need someone to keep the cheating partner honest)

    In Stephanie's friend's case, that definitely seems like some combination of attempted bump back/childishness (or a complete unwillingness to accept the destructive choices he made). They'll both have a lot of issues to deal with, beyond just the cheating. But, hopefully, they can work it out, especially with kids involved.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Hi Athol – just wanted to say I love your blog and book, and have noticed my own marriage improving as I put your advice into practice.

    So here's my quandry – my SAHM wife and I text back and forth during the day. Today she tells me that an ex-boyfriend (the guy she dumped after I entered the picture) who is now separated from his wife contacted her via facebook.

    Of course alarm bells immediately went off. She said she was trying to fix him up with our single neighbor – I made some joke about she *better* be doing that, rather than trying to reconnect with an old flame… as light-hearted as I could make it.

    Without pursuing the matter further via text, I hop on her Facebook account without her knowledge to watch the chat unfold. For the most part it was exactly what she said it was. A couple of times he made jokes alluding to their sexual relationship – I don't know the details, never cared to ask. Thankfully she immediately shut him down both times. When I asked her later on how their chat went, she said she got the impression he was trying to feel out if she was happy, and invited me to look at the chat log when I got home tonight.

    My wife has never given me any reason not to trust her, particularly between her telling me immediately that he had contacted her on FB, and the fact that she didn't joke back with him about their previous relationship. It's the guy I don't trust.

    My question is – how do I address this? I certainly don't want to encourage it, but at the same time I don't want to come across as a jealous beta that can't keep his woman happy. I do want to put up the largest cockblock possible for the other guy though.

    Any words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated – thanks

  20. Anonymous says:

    I think that you two should discuss it, and that she should politely tell him that they can't be friends on Facebook, that it's not appropriate. She's not hiding anything but that guy clearly wants back into her life. It's not jealous beta to suggest that she cut this guy off. They cannot be "friends". It's totally reasonable. But also, I don't think it's great for you to 'hop onto' her Facebook account. Does she know you do that? I think that is not a great thing to do in general. You say there is no reason not to trust her, and she was totally upfront with you about the entire episode. She might be really upset if she figures that out-because that indicates that you don't trust her. Just my two cents.

  21. Athol Kay says:

    Anon 4:59 – simply telling you about it is a form of testing you. She could have simply told the other guy she wasn't interested. Instead she chose to tell you, knowing that you would have a reaction of some sort.

    I think your reaction was pretty on point. You expressed that you would react very negatively to her getting in involved with him, but didn't overdo it now because all she did was dip a toe in the water so to speak.

    I would check in to her Facebook account again though. Catch it while it's just starting. Over all though, you did fine.

  22. viagra online says:

    You are right, cheating isn't a good idea for a middle aged man, actually, he can lost everything.

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