Whether they decided to come clean, or were caught in the act, there are certain excuses that cheaters tend to utter. These overarching phrases typically try to pass off blame and, in doing so, raise the ire of the betrayed spouse.
Here’s what you’re likely to hear and the important truths that may be hiding behind these words:
“It was an accident.”
This excuse is especially infuriating because it implies that you’re a fool, while at the same time completely brushing off any responsibility. It also confuses intent with action. Even if the decision was not carefully premeditated, there were still plenty of opportunities to make a better choice before the clothes came off.
What it may mean: “I never thought I would cheat. I don’t see myself as a cheater. In some ways, that made me more vulnerable to the bad decision because I didn’t think that it could happen to me.”
“But I still love you.”
Sometimes this is uttered in an attempt to retain a hold on the marriage, either exclusively or in addition to the affair partner. Other times, it’s delivered as part of a “smoothing over” campaign, trying to limit the fallout from the affair. Sometimes the cheater honestly seems to believe that love fixes all, including betrayal.
What it may mean: “I do love you. But I’m realizing that love is a lot harder than I expected. I’m afraid of losing you, and I’m also afraid of being honest with you (or myself). But more than anything, I’m afraid of being alone.”
“What did you expect? After all, you…”
This excuse places the blame for the affair solely on the shoulders of the betrayed spouse. He or she may be painted as controlling, out of shape, or overly focused on the kids or work. This is a devious excuse, because there is often an element of truth in these chosen words. However, marital problems warrant a conversation, not an affair.
What it may mean: “I’ve never learned to accept responsibility. From my grades in school to my behavior in relationships, I always pass things off as someone else’s fault. I don’t know how to admit to messing up.”
“You should have known it was going on.”
Again, the blame is shifted to the partner, only this time because of his or her trusting nature. Cheaters have a way of thinking that everyone behaves like him or her. Therefore, it’s your fault that you weren’t suspicious enough. Of course, this excuse conveniently ignores the fact that it’s too late by the time there is something to discover.
What it may mean: “Part of me wanted to get caught. I wasn’t comfortable with what I was doing, but I didn’t feel like I could stop.”
“It didn’t mean anything.”
This is a strange one to hear. On the one hand, it can be comforting to learn that (supposedly) there was no meaningful connection with the affair partner, that it was a meaningless fling. On the other hand, it’s hard to swallow that trust was destroyed for something that lacked significance.
What it may mean: “I don’t want to hurt or anger you any more than I already have. I’m not sure what it all means yet. I’m confused about how I feel.”
“If you were more open-minded…”
Cheaters have a propensity toward selfishness, putting their desires above the wants and needs of others. This excuse is an after-the-fact rewriting of the marital vows that again shifts culpability to the betrayed partner.
What it may mean: “I’m not sure if traditional monogamy works for me. I’m interested in exploring other options, but I’m not yet comfortable or brave enough to have that conversation.”
“I needed to feel appreciated/desired/understood.”
This is one of those excuses that is worth listening to in order to extract the truth within. Not feeling appreciated and desired is a common reason for an affair, the new attention filling the void. Of course, this deficit is only compounded with an affair. A conversation is a much better place to start.
What it may mean: “I’m hurting. I don’t feel like I’m important to you or wanted by you. When the affair partner expressed such desire for me, I felt alive and full for the first time in a long time.”
“It won’t happen again.”
And maybe it won’t. The words here are unimportant; it’s the actions that matter. Has all contact been cut off? Have the reasons for the infidelity been explored? Has responsibility been accepted? If these things haven’t happened, then this is truly an excuse and better ignored.
What it may mean: “At this moment, I don’t plan on ever doing it again. But I also feel weak. Powerless. I’ll try to do better.”
The words spoken by someone caught cheating are usually a combination of projection (accusing you), reflection (looking at the reasons for choices), and misdirection (trying to pass off blame).
For the betrayed, find comfort in the fact that most of these words are about trying to make him or herself feel better. Try not to take it too personally. On the other hand, an affair is a wake-up call. Make sure you listen to what it’s telling you about your marriage and about how you respond in relationships.
Written by Lisa Arends
Lisa Arends is a divorcee working to inspire others to move forward, recenter, and repurpose their lives. She has written the "How-To-Thrive Guide." Learn more about "thriving" and be inspired by visiting LessonsFromTheEndOfAMarriage.com.