My Spouse Describes Going Back To The Other Person As Relapsing

By: Katie Lersch:   Often, when you catch your spouse cheating, he will swear that the relationship is over and that he is going to focus on the marriage.  You may or may not believe him, but he continues to make the claim that he would not possibly make the same mistake twice.  And then he does.   At first glance, the reason would seem simple – he lied about the affair being over or he was never sincere about the marriage in the first place.  But many husbands in this scenario will swear that they WERE absolutely sincere about the affair being over.  In fact, some of them will claim that they simply resorted back to undesirable behavior – sort of in the way an alcoholic might explain taking another drink.  They will use words like “relapse” or “fall” to imply that they misstepped in some way.  Of course, wives understandably don’t buy or care about this rhetoric.  No matter what words he’s used, he’s unfortunately been unfaithful again.   And even worse, he’s been unfaithful with the same person.

The wife can have a hard time making him understand this.  She might say: “when I caught my husband cheating, I wanted him to get out of the house right away.  I found proof on his phone.  And not only was it an affair, but it was a long term thing where he was promising her that he was going to leave me and be with her.  As soon as I confronted him, he quickly changed his tune.  He cried and pleaded with me not to leave him.  I asked him to move out, but did concede to go to counseling.  And I felt that we were making process.  I wasn’t ready to completely reconcile yet, but I did feel that we might talk about it in the future.  However, I had a strange feeling and went through his phone again and I found out that he’s been picking back up with her again.  This time, he’s not telling her that he’s going to leave me.   And he even said several times that he knows that he’s in the wrong and that he shouldn’t be seeing her.  But see her he did.   When I confronted him, he did not try to deny it.  He said that he was extremely ashamed of himself because he “relapsed.”  I told him that this was ridiculous.  He was talking like an alcoholic who had taken another drink.  Or someone will an illness who had symptoms come back.  I told him that these things were different because he chose his behavior.  He conceded this, but said it isn’t as easy as I think.  He said that he can’t answer why that he went back and emphatically claimed that he didn’t enjoy any of it and actually felt self-hatred doing it.  Honestly, I just don’t understand this.  He made a choice.  He acts like he had no free will.”

Your husband’s rhetoric is not at all uncommon, but I know that it is very hurtful and frustrating.  Men who have repeat affairs are those who either do not understand why they cheated in the first place, or those who do understand and didn’t do anything to fix or change their issues.   Although the people carrying out the affair can really want to think that it is about the other person, it’s often much more about themselves – and what is lacking within them that they are hoping to find – rather than about the other person.  Until they figure that out, they may keep right on repeating the behavior or the “crutch.” Which is why they may try to get you to buy lines like “regression” or “relapse” that mirror phrases of addiction.  If you know anything about addiction, you know that it’s not actually about the alcohol, or the gambling, or the shopping, or whatever the addiction is.  It is instead about escape, feeling momentarily better, or the addictive activity being used as a coping mechanism by someone who has never learned how to effectively cope with the situation in which they find themselves in.   Your spouse may intuitively suspect this, or they may be clueless about it.  But they may have a sense that something larger than an affair is happening and they are having trouble dealing with it.

Where you want to go from here is up to you, but if you do intend to try again with your marriage, I’d strongly suggest requiring your husband to work with a counselor or with very good self help in order to identify what he’s trying to escape from or cope with by having an affair.   It’s very rarely about the other woman.  It is most often about him.  Until he figures out what he’s reacting to and then removes that issue, he is going to be at risk of coping in the same way again (which is cheating) no matter how serious he is about your marriage or how much willpower he thinks that he has.  “Relapsing” is certainly not a valid excuse for repeat cheating.  There is no valid excuse.  But it can be a reasonably accurate description of how he feels when he’s not equipped to deal with his issues in another, more productive way – at least not yet.

Men don’t want to see that they are struggling, so they act as if they had no control or they pretend that they are powerless.  Sometimes, you have to make it clear that everyone has free will and that you expect him to learn new techniques to ensure that he doesn’t cheat again (if you are still invested in your marriage.) Some saw the work that we did after infidelity as overkill, but anything that you can do to not have to go through this again is worth it.   You can read more on my blog at

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