Why Women Stand By Their Cheating Man. ~ Lori Ann Lothian

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As a woman who has readily forgiven a cheating husband, I’m in notable company.

Former first lady Hillary Clinton, pop singer Fergie and Victoria Beckham, wife of British soccer star David, all chose to continue relationships marred by scandalous affairs. But beneath the nobility of forgiveness lurks the shady possibility that each of these women knew, or suspected, the affair(s) all along.

In my marriage, I fooled myself into believing my husband’s overnight stays on his office sofa truly were orchestrated so he could meet deadlines, or the extensions to business trips to places like Hawaii were for his alone downtime. Or I’d pretend that the women from his office holiday parties, who would stare at me when they thought I wasn’t looking, didn’t really know something I didn’t about their boss or colleague.

Only when the marriage was over, and I happened to accidentally read in his new girlfriend’s diary that he has cheated on every women he has been with, even his wife did I fully admit to myself what I had always known. He had pursued extramarital affairs and I had chosen to not confront him with my suspicions.

Why do women like me sometimes put our head in the sand?

Pinterest via Karrie Miller via Roxana Jones

For one, it’s easier, especially if kids are involved. My maternal imperative to create a stable nest overrode my female pride and my desire to look under the marital rug where I knew I’d find the dirt of infidelity

And then, there’s the sex bit. He was getting elsewhere what I had little desire to provide at home—at least at the frequency he desired. I’d probably have made a great harem wife in another era because at some level, I was only too happy to share the sex load.

And last, getting real about our marital problemss, seeing a therapist, feeling vulnerable, working on the unspoken regrets, resentments and fears I had bottled up, all of that muck held zero appeal. Even had I caught him, lipstick smudged tie in hand, I would not have had the courage to follow through with repair. I would have let the damaged union limp along, albeit with an injunction to “stop seeing her.” Whether I would have enforced that is another matter.

Because in a way, I understood why my husband would go sexing elsewhere, when my sexual appetite, not to mention desire for intimacy, was as robust as an anorexic’s lust for food.

And I’m not alone in justifying a husband’s affair. A recent NY Times Modern Love piece, After the Affair, is an account of a woman who not only forgives her philandering husband, but reaches deep into her heart to understand why he had the affair.
As hurt as I was, it all made a perverted sort of sense. I understood her attraction to him, a 35-year-old man in a suit and tie with a nice car. And I saw how he would be taken in by an adoring young woman who hung on his every word and read the books he suggested. It was every married man’s fantasy, especially a married man who felt unappreciated at home and overwhelmed at work.

That women might not only forgive, but excuse or accept a cheating spouse is not something most men want to hear. Arguably, men prefer to imagine they are getting away with something, that the novel sex partner is a taboo (and probably hotter because of it) and that if their partner discovered the infidelity, they would incur the wrath of a woman scorned.

One man who takes exception to the After the Affair story is gender studies professor Hugo Schwyzer, who sees the piece as an affirmation of the Myth of the Uncontrollable Boner. In his Jezebel column, he writes:

This is what makes the myth of the uncontrollable boner so seductive; it’s preferable to think that a painful betrayal was the result of irresistible evolutionary imperatives rather than choice. “My man is so manly that he gets urges that trump his very real love for me” is ever so much prettier than “In the end, he didn’t care about me enough to keep it in his pants.”

Except that what if the woman doesn’t care enough to insist he keep it in his pants? What if she is simply able to hold the contradiction of his love for her and his sexing elsewhere? Or, as in my case, what if instead of an enraged hell-hath-no-fury response to my cheating man, I simply saw the convenience of feigning ignorance. Because instead of a scorned woman, I was a women looking at my husband’s choices from a cost-benefit analysis. I was weighing into the equation the well-being of my children, my own psychic status-quo, and even the hope in some fantasy future for renewed intimacy.

In the end, I am drawn to the oft-quoted Rumi wisdom that advocates we look beyond the black and white view of any situation, to the nuanced perspective of grey. “Beyond right doing and wrong doing is a field, I will meet you there.”

What if, in marriages, we offered up the possibility of that very field of non-blame becoming the starting point for a whole new game?

In this new game field, the rules of engagement are not about societal mores of monogamy or legalities around adultery. Rather, in this liberated game of real love, we look first and foremost at our own motives, culpability and collusion in marital breakdowns caused by affairs, even when we are the one cheated on.

And what if, in every breakdown, we imagined the possibility a breakthrough is tying to happen? Perhaps then, instead of a catastrophic ending, a discovered or confessed affair could become the springboard for a transformative beginning.

And just maybe, as women we could forgive not as a matter of convenience, safety or compromise, but as matter of love.


(This is the fourth in a seven-part elephant love and relationships series with content partner The Good Men Project on the theme question, Why Do Good People Cheat? Check out , How to Be a Cheater Forgiving Adultery and When a Marriage Melts Down.)


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Lori Lothian

Lori Ann Lothian is a spiritual revolutionary, divine magic maker and all-purpose scribe. Her articles on love, relationships, enlightenment and sex have appeared at Huffington Post, Good Men Project, Yoganonymous, Origin magazine, Better After 50, XO Jane and on her hit personal blog The Awakened Dreamer. She is also the creator of The 40 Day Magic Challenge. a daily practice to create a masterpiece life of ease, flow, joy and prosperity. Lori Ann lives in Vancouver, Canada, with her husband and daughter, where she has learned to transcend the rain and surrender to mega doses of vitamin D. Tweet her at Twitter

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anonymous Dec 28, 2015 9:22am

Love is. Love is unconditional. Love is when loyalty is there, even if in the other is infidelity. So I think the question should NOT be whether we forgive the other, but whether we should make the decision to separate us and not to forgive.

anonymous Aug 29, 2014 2:54pm

I was working long hours. My career had just started and I was off to a great start. Why was she so upset about work, I was doing it for the family. I wanted her to stay at home and not have to work. I was raised to be the provider and caretaker. I did not understand why she was so pissed about my hours at work. I was not cheating on her. I got tired of her nagging, of the accusations, of feeling guilty for trying so hard. Than I met her, she had everything I always wanted in a woman. I left home and was going to live happy ever after. You know the end. Today I am a happy married man, she is a great woman. My biggest pain is know how much pain I caused to a very special person and how I wish I had never cheated. I think of her everyday.

anonymous Aug 20, 2014 5:41pm

This article makes it sound like cheating is often forgivable, but also that cheating is often due to the indifference on the cheated on persons part to work on the relationship. In your case, since you practically knew he was cheating and you didn't want to be intimate with him, it makes sense you forgave. You knew he wasn't being loved in the way he needed and you allowed that to continue. If a woman is giving her man everything she can and desires him sexually, then the cheating can never be justified, that is being a doormat and allowing yourself to be treated poorly by another person. If he is fulfilled and desired at home, but still cheats then he has a problem or needs to be with a woman who either doesn't mind, in a poly amorous situation, or not married. The title of this article triggered feelings that I should accept my husband if he cheats, because it would be 'easier.' That seems to be the cultural norm. Let's start a conversation about how women can get even, or how much cheating says about our true biological nature as multiple partner apes, and how this culture has de-sexualized women to the point that we accept our husbands young mistresses as a consolation he deserves for being married for so long to an sexually inferior being. Perhaps some are so unaware that they must be slapped across the face with cheating before being able to realize what they're partner needs to have a healthy marriage, some awareness and honesty however could prevent the tragedy of the betrayal that is adultery.

anonymous Aug 19, 2014 2:59pm

I have just found out husband was cheating. I had a rather awful gnawing feeling in my gut for a very long time. My husband got very angry and told me it was anxiety and that I was someone who liked to ruin anything good. We had a vera solid and frequent sexlife, great sex but nada on the intimacy front. He told me she helped him, he needed her, that it was more emotional than sexual….
well how nice how fucking wonderful.

I will not be doing any forgiving and we will divorce because I could not live with someone who was so disloyal, I read their Facebook messages.

Right now I know that he could not find what he needed with me, unlike my husbands mistress and there were so many great messages, in particular "I am drinking wine alone…. why….. because you have a wife" now that I have proof of his philandering I will be making a grand exit stage right,

Its sad but now I feel liberated because I am not the anxious paranoid mess my husband had me believe I was. I am not perfect and sure I am sure I must take some blame as to why he wandered but my goddamed gut was on the ball and I am most angry with the fact that I did not trust it.

anonymous Aug 19, 2014 12:45pm

I tried forgiveness too. I also tried all the logic you write about. Once the STD was verified, I threw in the towel. Now I have moved on to a man I truly love, and sex is wonderful. I truly believe that if there is love, it's not sex, it's making love, which I want to participate in. I was not in love with my husband and kept telling myself it was love. It was just convenience. Love is a feeling, not an action.

    anonymous Aug 20, 2014 5:22pm

    That's wonderful who hear you say. I'm i. Love with my husband, I desire sex with him more now than I did in the beginning. If he ever cheated I wouldn't be able to forgive only to leave or get even, because we are best friends, lovers, and partners. He would have no good reason to cheat and if he did I'd have just as good a reason too.

anonymous Jun 4, 2014 3:01pm

Ultimately, women stay because on a practical level its easier and more convenient (cf the thought that no one is going to come bugging you for sex which for these women is a chore!) and because we are all afraid to be alone. But what is the price of staying? I believe the price is a life lived less fully because it is always clouded by the fear to stand up for yourself and the belief that you deserved no better. If you lose your self-respect it is much harder for your partner to respect you. Sad thing is hearing these same women lobby for equal opportunity and women's rights…Respect is earned, not freely given. Unless the agreement between partners states otherwise, if he cheats, he leaves.

anonymous May 22, 2014 8:44am

I'd bet the farm he's cheated many times and you only caught him a few times. Leaving a cheater is about self-respect. It's about telling the person who spat in your face and humiliated you that they were wrong, and that you will not tolerate their hedonistic selfishness. It's about loving yourself and choosing to be happy rather than being eternally insecure and paranoid, wondering when they'll do it again. It's about being strong, and not being a doormat. So many women are doormats, it's pathetic.

anonymous Apr 6, 2013 9:45am

I was a Stander. That does not mean I Stood by my cheating man or for him. I Stood for the man he was before and the man I knew he could and would become and I Stood for my marriage—my vows._Your scenario of a (supposedly) secret affair going on while the couple live together is not the only infidelity scenario._What about those who leave. Some start with a secret affair and leave their spouse upon discovery and others leave to have the affair._Mine left to start his affair. Then he came back before it was over. He wanted and intended for it to be over, but I knew he was not ready. He left again. He left (or I kicked him out) multiple times._I have a zero tolerance policy for adultery, but that is not another way of saying I will divorce him; I also have a zero tolerance policy for divorce. It means if he cheats he must stop and have no contact with the alienator, go to marriage counseling, rebuild trust, Mirror-Work to determine why he cheated… do the work to prevent cheating in the future.
It means he is not allowed to be with me (no living together, no friendship, no contact) if he is choosing to be with someone else. When he chooses to be an appropriate spouse—appropriate according to our marital agreement—and meet the conditions (counseling…) we can begin to rebuild, starting from separate residences—no bed-hopping.
That's how we got to where we are now; happily married to each other.

    anonymous Apr 12, 2016 11:18am

    I'm sorry .. but all the kicking him in and out…. sounds like he is having his cake and eating it to. When I want wife.. I be with her. When I want GF I be with her. Are you a wife or a warden?? LOL. But hey .. it's that's "happily married" to each other – have at it.

anonymous Feb 4, 2013 8:44pm

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anonymous Feb 3, 2013 7:42am

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anonymous Jan 11, 2013 6:26pm

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anonymous Jan 5, 2013 9:27am

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anonymous Jan 4, 2013 3:53am

Interesting take from a “not so typical” POV. I often ponder if marriage is relevant in a modern, fluid, & dynamic society? And I have been married for 23 faithful years. Perhaps what needs to happen is for marriage to change from a “lifelong binding contract” to one of say 5 years, then another, etc? Maybe children should not be conceived unless both parties agree to a 18 year contract? But I digress…

Reasons why people stay in marriages are always curious and somewhat rational. Whether it be cost-benefit, denial, victim status, etc. I am glad you wrote this and am sure it felt good to let your emotions out. Namaste my friend.

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