I Believe My Husband Is Punishing Himself For Having An Affair

By: Katie Lersch: It’s normal for the faithful spouse to watch the cheating spouse’s behavior very closely as the couple struggles to pick up the pieces after an affair. Very often, the faithful spouse wants to see a good deal of remorse. They want to know, without any doubt, that their spouse is sorry for what they have done. So sorry in fact, that they aren’t going to do it again.

Sometimes though, this can be taken just a bit too far. Sometimes, it seems as though the cheating spouse goes beyond remorse and is in fact punishing themselves for their behavior. A wife might explain it this way. “I am not going to say that my husband should not be sorry for cheating on me. He should. He cheated on me when I was ill and therefore vulnerable. I wasn’t observant at that time because I had my own problems to deal with. But this didn’t give him a pass to go out and cheat. When I caught him, he was very sorry and suddenly he became the husband who never wanted to leave my side. At first this was reassuring. But lately, his behavior has become a little troubling. He never wants to leave me alone. I’m sure he thinks that if he leaves the house, I am going to suspect him of cheating again. But it gets a little oppressive after a while. My husband is someone who doesn’t like to sit still. He’s the kind of guy who always wants to be doing something. He used to golf regularly. He used to hit the gym. He doesn’t do anything now. He wants to stay home with me and watch TV. And frankly, he seems miserable doing this. He’s anxious and he seems down. And I think part of it is not having his outlets anymore. Of course, I want to know where he is and I want him to check in. But I don’t expect him to be chained to me as long as he is acting trustworthy. And quite frankly, it’s sort of a turnoff when he hovers. The other day, I suggested we go out to our favorite restaurant and my husband replied that he did not deserve that kind of meal. It seems to me that he’s punishing himself for his affair. Don’t get me wrong. I want him to feel badly about it. But I don’t want for him to feel that he can’t get any enjoyment out of life. Because that would mean that I wouldn’t have as much enjoyment out of life.”

I think that you are right to be concerned about this. I’d like to mention something that you might not have considered. Do you think that your husband could be depressed? I can’t possibly know if he is. You would be in a better position to evaluate this and a therapist would be in the best position of all.

But, not wanting to partake in enjoyable activities is a sign of depression. And, it’s my experience and opinion that sometimes, people who are depressed have affairs when this is behavior that isn’t otherwise typical of them. It is just something to think about. I mention it because if it is true, then you can try any number of things, but if he is still depressed and not getting help for it, then you are really limited to what you’re going to be able to do.

With all of this said, you can try to address this issue. You might try something like: “I can’t help but notice that you are denying yourself enjoyable activities like golfing and eating out at your favorite places. I don’t want for you to feel like you have to do this. It doesn’t make me feel better to see you feeling bad. Yes, I want you to feel remorse. And yes, I don’t want you to be having the time or your life while I am hurting. And I do want to know that you are where you are supposed to be. But part of our recovery is going to be enjoying things together that we can share. If you are punishing yourself, that almost means that you are punishing me. And I don’t want that. I want to be able to go to our favorite restaurants and enjoy that. Perhaps I am reading this all wrong and if I am, please correct me. I’d like to hear about how you feel about all of this. But it’s not like you to skip the gym and golf.”

Listen to what he has to say. He may tell you that he only wanting to stay close to you for a little while longer in order to give you reassurance. Or he may be relieved that you are OK with him resuming his activities. If this discussion doesn’t help, I don’t think it’s out of line to explore the depression angle. Of course, none of this excuses cheating. But having two emotionally healthy spouses makes recovery so much easier.

I think that you are absolutely right to observe him closely during recovery.  Additional issues often pop up when people are feeling most vulnerable.  You can read more about my own recovery on my blog at http://surviving-the-affair.com

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