Affair Fog Theory: Character Change

Part 4: Affair Fog Theory: Character Change

Part 1: What is Affair Fog?

Part 2: Affair Fog Theory: Mental Health

Part 3: Affair Fog Theory: Sex Addiction

Who IS This Person?

Who Are You

  • I know him better than anybody - he’s not the man I’ve known for 20 years.”
  • “I don’t even recognize her - where did my wife go?”
  • “It’s like a monster invaded their body and took over.”
  • “My real spouse would never behave this way.”

Sound familiar?

Most faithful spouses will observe their cheater’s affair behaviors as new, unprecedented, and unrecognizable. Some seek to attribute this to a spontaneous mental health issue but most are simply confused and upset by their cheater’s unanticipated behavior.

Affair fog theory provides a reassuring framework to explain these apparently sudden departures from ‘normal and true’ behavior:

  • it seeks to confirm that the cheater’s behaviors are entirely the fault of the affair
  • it suggests that the behaviors are time-bound to the affair
  • it supports hope that the true ‘right-minded’ cheater will re-emerge
  • it does not require the faithful partner to question their acceptance of pre-affair traits and behaviors

Character Change

On infidelity support sites, it’s common to hear that either:

  1. an abrupt character change caused the affair, or
  2. that the affair caused an abrupt character change

Whilst most people do understand that spontaneous character change - conveniently confined to an affair - is nonsense, it can still be difficult for a faithful spouse to see their cheater as the same person as their pre-affair spouse.

So why might the faithful partner be so keen to believe abrupt, affair-related character change?

  • Staying with someone who chose to cheat, reject you, and treat you abominably is often judged as weak, codependent, and lacking in self-respect.
  • Claiming supportive and unconditional love for someone who had a temporary but reversible personality change allows a self-image of selfless virtue.
  • Religious dogma suggests that ‘loving them through it’ makes you righteous, forgiving, and good.
  • Fear of being blind to, or taken in by, the cheater.
  • Admitting that you are more outraged by your new rejection than you have been by any historical mistreatment, might force inspection of your own issues.

Two main reasons are generally offered as ’causes’ for spontaneous character change:

a) Mental Health:

This is often conveniently employed to explain and excuse cheater’s behaviors, and was tackled in greater depth in Affair Fog Theory: Mental Health.

b) Affair Partner:

The affair partner is commonly painted as an evil, amoral, conniving, and destructive taint in the lives of the cheater. They are specifically blamed for the change in the cheater, often with derisive and dismissive (and often hypocritical) comments like, “The other woman has got my husband’s balls in her pocket” or “My wife clearly has Daddy issues” etc.

Affair partners are not all-powerful mind-controllers, able to hijack the cheater’s ‘true’ personality and twist it into something new and fundamentally different. They might well be manipulative but they aren’t exerting a magical form of mind control that changes the character of their target … yet they are popularly and conveniently blamed for a sudden and complete shift from the cheater’s ‘true’ character.

We are all influenced by our partners; we like them, spend time with them, and want to please them, so we are perhaps more open to their influence. But is this influence so strong that it spontaneously undermines or overtakes our basic character? No.

Affairs Highlight Patterns

We all have faults and flaws that others accept in us. Those who love us are probably more tolerant of our failings and bad habits than might be our employer, for example. Some of our behaviors might be irritating, but minor: Slurping an entire cup of coffee noisily from a teaspoon because it enhances the flavor? No biggie, because I love you.

Yet people also overlook or normalize bigger issues in their partners. Poor money management, cruel criticism and name-calling, using sex as a manipulation tool, flirting etc … these types of behaviors are often present, unchallenged, in intimate relationships. But they ARE there, often as background noise, often deemed ‘harmless’ or ‘just part of who they are’.

Affairs can highlight previously accepted poor behavior. The tone, frequency, and viciousness of the cheater’s behaviors may have reached new heights, but they are rooted in the same character and views.

Biased Observation

“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.”
~ Robertson Davies

Faithful spouses often have idealized views of their pre-affair cheaters, describing them as good, moral, and righteous - the ‘true’ character of the cheater.

When a marriage is comfortably bumping along with no obvious deal-breaking issues on either side, it’s easy to reduce the negative traits of a partner into justified quirks of character.

  • Why rock the boat because she calls people names? It’s only the heat of the moment - it’s not like she means it, after all.
  • Why make a mountain out of a molehill that he stole that box of K-cups from work? He works hard - they can cope with losing $8.
  • Okay, so they ate fried chicken and potato salad for lunch, not salad like they said. Eating healthily to control diabetes is difficult; they must be embarrassed or ashamed and want to hide their failure - it’s only a little white lie.
  • So we were late for my sister’s party because he didn’t get home on time, as usual. He just has poor time-management skills.

These things are easy to overlook, justify, or normalize and it’s understandable that they are seen as so minor as to be almost non-existent, certainly not an indication of a larger behavioral pattern. It’s this that can result in an unrealistic, unblemished - or at least rosier- view of the pre-affair cheater.

Eyes Wide Open

Honest reflection on the relationship’s history in the wake of an affair can show that there were pre-affair patterns of behavior - but that the faithful spouse either overlooked, justified, or misinterpreted them.

The post 12 Things I Learned in the First 12 Weeks of the Affair highlights world views that are common in cheaters. The examples* of real behaviors below illustrate how small behaviors can be part of bigger patterns when viewed collectively.

  • entitlement
    • petty theft, embezzlement, outrage when things don’t work in their favor, sneakiness, debt problems, believing any personal punishment is largely unfair, fraud, shirking their share of childcare/household duties, promise breaking, carpe diem approach to life, blaming bad behavior on alcohol/addiction/peer pressure etc, selfishness, believing that ‘petty’ social rules don’t apply to them
  • ego
    • flirting, easily flattered, enjoys being envied/admired, always believes they’re the smartest person in the room, priding themselves on not being a sheeple, belief that they have special insight (maybe from/about a higher power), superiority complex, approval seeking, rescuer/white knight, sees attracting partners as an exciting game
  • abuse
    • name calling when upset, blaming others when things go wrong, deliberately hurtful when angry, ‘fighting dirty’, disregard for others’ feelings when it conflicts with their own wishes, violent behavior, threats to leave ‘if you don’t like it’, behaves differently in different company, withholding affection as punishment, verbally abusive, dismissive
  • power and control
    • hiding or controlling household finances, imposing gender roles, jealousy and possessiveness, sneakiness, always being right, manipulating others, head of the household mentality, problems with authority, lies, controlling the flow of information, do as I say, not as I do, punishing the failures of others, isolating the spouse from friends/family to be the primary influence, passive-aggressiveness, consistent failure to complete tasks they agree to undertake
  • blaming/judging
    • uses the Bart Simpson Defense (I didn’t do it, it wasn’t me) to deflect blame, is often ‘fact challenged’, finds fault in others, blame-focused not solution focused, blames others/conspiracies for failures/inability to get ahead etc
  • grass is greener/escapism
    • bemoaning their circumstances, fantasizing about the good life/winning the lottery, keeping up with the Jones’, dissatisfaction with own life using a comparison to Hollywood-esque life or relationship ideals, substance abuse/addiction, burying themselves in romance novels/50 Shades etc, living beyond their means, idealizing others’ relationships, gambling, competing for bragging rights, thrill seeking/reckless behavior and hobbies, ignoring responsibilities to play video games etc

The list above is an informal collation of real traits and patterns we encounter in cheaters. It highlights that affair behaviors are not departures from true character but are different behavioral manifestations of existing character and thinking.

If Their Character Didn’t Change, What Did?

Affairs can bring out the worst in the cheater but they don’t replace the cheater’s old and good personality with a new and bad one.

The real change is two-fold:

  1. How the faithful spouse views the behaviors
  2. The intensity and prevalence of the ‘bad’ behavior towards those who do not support them because of their affair

It’s easy to understand how the faithful spouse accepted/overlooked/justified behaviors in the cheater pre-affair: These behaviors didn’t sufficiently disrupt their own lives so they didn’t feel that change was necessary. An affair - and it’s attendant awful behavior - materially and significantly alters the faithful spouse’s future in ways that few find easy to accept.

Affair Fog Theory

Affair FogWhat is notably absent from the hypothesis that affair fog causes significant character change is an explanation of why this negative change is specifically directed at those who do not support - or are barriers to - the cheater’s affair/new life.

It’s most commonly described that a cheater alienates and behaves poorly towards the supporters of the faithful spouse, but continues good relationships with their affair partner and those who support the cheater regardless of the affair. This is not evidence of wholesale and foggy character change, but targeted behavioral choices.

Is it actually foggy thinking to distance yourself from those whom you believe are detrimental to your well-being? Isn’t that very strategy recommended to faithful spouses, in fact? Aren’t faithful spouses told to protect and distance themselves from upset, hurt, and detrimental behavior? Does the cheater not have a right to also perceive their interactions with the faithful spouse as hostile, critical, upsetting, abusive, and damaging?

As we have found before in looking at affair fog theory, we cannot reasonably call a faithful spouse’s strategy healthy and right-minded but dismiss the same strategy as foggy, wrong, and invalid when it is used by the cheater .

Members of infidelity support sites sometimes posit psychological theories, claiming they confirm elements of affair fog theory. The next post in the affair fog series will address Salber’s model of psychological morphing to examine if it’s a valid theory for spontaneous and complete character change in a cheater.

What really changed isn’t the cheater, but the context in which the cheater’s behaviors are now viewed by the faithful spouse.

“Nothing ever becomes real ’til it is experienced.”
~John Keats

~ Wayfarer

* Obviously, none of this ‘defines’ someone as a cheater, it’s not an exhaustive list, and these things are in no way being presented as a ‘diagnostic tool’ for cheaters. It was arbitrarily grouped under headings for ease of reading - some issues may fit in more than one place.


“I'm not a teacher, only a fellow traveler of whom you asked the way. I pointed ahead - ahead of myself as well as you.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
  • Wayfarer_IHG

    A relevant question and response for this article was posed on another post - I’ve copied it here for interest.

    Question from MYR:
    His personality really has seemed to change. We’ve had conversations where it appeared he was not lucid. How do you explain that?

    I am not entirely sure if you intended to comment on this post (Yes, Their Affair Was Your Fault), but shall work on the assumption that you’re referencing another one: Affair Fog Theory: Character Change.

    The article is saying that there are patterns to our behavior and personalities, informed by our experiences, world view, and personal narrative. It’s saying that where different behaviors and personality develop, these changes are NOT overnight changes and that they come from PRE-EXISTING foundations in personality and thinking.

    We all have the capacity to change of course - it’s part of the natural development and growth of us as individuals. The article is not saying that people can’t change - it is addressing the common claim that a cheater abruptly and spontaneously changes into an entirely DIFFERENT person when they begin an affair, and then magically and abruptly change back into the first entirely different person when the affair ends and they return to the marriage.

    I don’t doubt that you’re noticing that your husband has exhibited or emphasized different aspects of his personality - ones that have perhaps been less noticeable in the past, or even hidden from easy view.

    I too have encountered many cheaters who appear confused and nonsensical - this has been easily uncovered as their attempts to project and/or say one thing (often what they think I want to hear or that they’re supposed to say), when their actual thinking and beliefs conflict with that. (For example, “I accept responsibility for my affair though I would never have done it had my wife met my needs.”)

    Long-term change is possible of course - if your husband has developed enduring aspects of himself that were previously not significant and that you now view negatively, that’s a good reason to take inventory of what kind of person you want in your life. Even if he is personally motivated to change and grow, it’s not an overnight process, any more than initial change is an overnight process.

    In my experience, faithful spouses struggle to accept negative change in their lives, and it’s understandable. When you sign up to a relationship with someone whose personality and declared values seem compatible with your own, their unilateral decision to cheat can confuse your understanding of who they are, especially in light of how this might impact your life. It’s entirely understandable how this causes internal conflict - the faithful spouse doesn’t want change that negatively impacts their life - they want the comfort of what they thought they had. Finding and clinging to explanations that allow them to rationalize the new reality, while keeping their circumstances UNCHANGED, is understandably attractive.

    MYR, none of this is easy I know. I encourage people to approach this mess with eyes wide open, and to be skeptical of convenient or comfortable explanations for a cheater’s behavior.

    Sending you my support and well wishes through this difficult time,

    ~ Wayfarer