5. "OWN IT" -
THE BLAME CYCLE
Most couples enter affair recovery taking turns blaming each other for the affair. In the blame cycle, the betrayed partner says:
You were lying and cheating on me. Don't you dare blame me.
The unfaithful partner says:
You ignored me, withheld sex, and never said a kind word. You drove me out of this marriage.
The truth of the matter is that affairs do NOT happen because a marriage is struggling. Consider:
There are MANY deeply troubled marriages that do NOT have affairs. The bad behavior of the betrayed partner should eventually be acknowledged as a contributing factor. In fact, it is dangerous to ignore it. But that is still not justification for an affair. There is a world of difference an explanation and a justification.
There are marriages where both partners genuinely feel loved but one partner still has an affair.
Even in the worst marriages there are alternatives to the deception and betrayal inherent in an affair. A desperate partner could seek out spiritual counsel or therapy or ask for help from friends and family. And, if all else fails, there always is the choice of separation or divorce.
AVOID BLAME SHARING
Unfaithful partners may feel a natural instinct of to ask the betrayed partner to "share the blame”. This is a huge mistake. It will feel like pouring salt on the betrayed partner's affair wound.
Sure, the betrayed partner made mistakes in the marriage. Everyone does. But mistakes do not justify an affair. If the couple accepts the "share the blame" reasoning, then every mistake in the future will leave the couple wondering if another affair is coming!
Furthermore, the betrayed partner may convince him/herself that the affair is his/her fault and then begin trying to earn his/her way back into the unfaithful partner's life, resulting in the unfaithful partner never facing the real reasons why the affair happened in the first place. Thus, the chance to really address the cause of the affair will be missed.
TAKE FULL RESPONSIBILITY
We want to be 100% clear. Do NOT blame the affair on the marriage.
The unfaithful partner made a decision to have the affair instead of addressing the underlying issues of the affair (within him/herself or within the marriage).
Thus, getting over an affair requires that the unfaithful partner:
accept responsibility for the decision to have the affair, and
acknowledge that there is never a justification for infidelity, regardless of the circumstances.
DETAILS OF TAKING OWNERSHIP
The details matters. Here are some specifics that the unfaithful partner should consider and share with his/her partner:
BROKEN COMMITMENTS: Discussions about owning the behaviors should address the gap between what you (the unfaithful partner) did and the relationship commitments that you made. Be clear about the vows that you took and how they were broken.
ABSENSE OR LACK OF BOUNDARIES: Discuss how you constructed a life that allowed an affair to happen. Share how you failed to keep your marriage safe by letting your guard down. Own how each of these actions were mini-decisions that you made your marriage more vulnerable.
REJECTED INTERNAL WARNING SIGNS: Discuss the opportunities that you had to NOT have an affair. Open up about what you did at those moments that you could have turned back. Be clear that each point was a decision you made to continue.
REJECTED EXTERNAL WARNING SIGNS: Recognize the efforts made by your partner when he/she sensed that the relationship was in trouble and tried to get your connection back on track. Be clear about your resistance or refusal to cooperate with these efforts.
MINIMIZATION: Discuss your minimization of your behaviors. Perhaps you described a talk with a "friend" as just catching up when it was really much more. Share how your minimization thinking may have helped you justify your actions.
RATIONALIZATIONS: Expose the irrationality of your rationalizations. Explain how you not only fooled your partner but you completely fooled yourself. Be as specific as you can with the twisted knots of your rationalizations.
LIES AND OMISSIONS: Own the lies that came out of your mouth and the critical omissions that you held back. Discuss role deception played in your life and your current rejection of it.
GAS-LIGHTING: Talk about how you created false narratives that effectively "gas-lighted" your spouse. Acknowledge how crazy-making, damaging, and painful that experience was.
NOT ABOUT LOVE
Avoid the urge to convince your spouse that you loved her at the time you were cheating. The purpose of taking ownership is to clearly acknowledge, validate, and affirm your understanding that you made a choice to be unfaithful and that you are not shying away from it.
The unfaithful partner will have to endlessly repeat:
"The affair was ultimately MY decision and it was WRONG."
The betrayed partner can not hear this enough. And when this is repeated, it is also soaking in to the unfaithful partner's mind as he/she has probably told him/herself the opposite for a long time. When you get to Step 6, you will have a chance to take ownership in writing as part of your "Restitution Letter".