- “Why can’t he just decide if he wants me or her, so that I can move on?”
- “She can’t make up her mind and keeps saying she’s confused.”
- “He says he loves me and her and doesn’t want to make a wrong choice.”
- “I don’t know why she doesn’t just file if she doesn’t want to be with me.”
When you’re faced with a cheater who quite clearly has a foot in both camps, it’s understandable but misguided to view this as your cheater spinning their wheels in confusion.
Why Can’t They Choose?
So why can’t your cheater choose between you and their love muffin?
If you’re imagining your cheater wringing their hands in anxiety, pacing and muttering to themselves, “Oh which ONE? Marriage or new relationship? Oh woe, oh confusion, oh my,” that probably needs a rethink. Your cheater’s apparent indecision is not fog, and it’s not necessarily evidence of complexity, confusion, or angst - it has a much simpler explanation.
Projecting your own monogamous thinking onto a cheater makes it easy to incorrectly translate the cheater’s behavior as a struggle between which one to choose, the steady spouse or the love muffin. Your monogamous-thinking is ignoring that cheaters cheat for a reason and that reason explains why the poor confused soul ‘can’t choose’: Choosing would wreck their jollies, because they don’t want either/or, they want both.
That’s Not True!
I occasionally hear, “That’s not true!” when I say this, or even, “That’s too simplistic.” Well, what’s the alternative explanation?
It’s clear that if someone wanted their spouse and only their spouse, an affair would not be in the mix. Similarly, if someone wanted to leave their marriage so that they could ethically explore new relationships, they would simply do so, in that order.
Cheaters choose to cheat because they want both the illicit excitement of their love muffin and all the comforts and benefits of their married life, and they want them concurrently. (And don’t underestimate the power and draw of the illicit. Legitimizing the affair relationship by choosing it as the primary relationship might rob the cheater of some of the excitement and sparkles that affair gives them.)
Most affairs do lead the cheater to making a choice (though the long-term secret affair does happen), but before they do they have deliberately taken advantage of both relationships, trying on the affair partner for size, measuring them against their spouse, and weighing their options.
Cheater-Think: control or confusion?
Let’s splash around in the stinky ooze of cheater-think for a moment. Conducting a secret affair requires manipulation, deceit, and control over the flow of information (to both the spouse and the affair partner). These are conscious activities intended to create and maintain the necessary conditions for a cheater to pursue their affair agenda. It would be misguided to see ‘not deciding’ as a confused inability to make a choice or as evidence that a cheater is so lost and unsure that they avoid making any decisions at all.
Painting your cheater as some poor, lost, confused soul might suit your own narrative, especially as it’s more comfortable to justify reconciliation if there is some excuse or mitigation for your cheater’s choices. The truth, however, is that very little happens in an affair that is not orchestrated and engineered by the cheater - their ‘inability to choose’ is no different. Not choosing is a form of deliberate management and control, not one of poor-little-confused-lost-lamb abdication.
a) Decision Management: the invisible divorce papers
So what about the cheater who says they’re done and that they will be filing for divorce, and yet are not hurrying down to the nearest family law offices? What’s going on there?
Well, let’s remember that cheaters want both until such time that it no longer serves their agenda. Because of this they want to be in control of the timeline for any decisions that may affect them, and faithful spouse getting uppity and threatening divorce could really throw a proverbial spanner in the works. However, cheaters often have very useful intelligence about the faithful spouse’s own motivations, gathered from any scrambling, begging, promises, and sobbing - it has given the cheater a huge hint: I still want the marriage.
Having this information gives the cheater the upper hand in continuing to control the timeline. It works to their advantage if they can stall any impetus that the faithful spouse may have towards divorce - and the cheater claiming their own intent to file can be very effective. This tactic takes advantage of any reluctance to end the relationship and can temporarily engineer some extra time in which the cheater can ‘decide’. This might seem like a temporary stall for some but it can be an effective longer-term strategy to keep the faithful spouses stagnant and in place.
b) Image Management: the marital smokescreen
Facing the truth of the worst of ourselves isn’t a comfortable process for anyone, and it’s something to which cheaters are particularly averse.
Cheaters understand the hurt that they are causing - and they often rationalize that staying with their spouse is far better for the spouse than leaving them. This allows them to spin the narrative that they are being selfless, protecting the marriage and the family, and taking on the burden of unhappiness, silently and bravely, stealing just a modicum of comfort for themselves by their affair.
The truth tends to be more that they don’t want to own or be seen as the ‘bad’ person who caused such hurt, and they don’t want to suffer the detriment that divorce might bring to not just their finances, but their status, standing, and reputation with others. They feel justifiably entitled to the pursuit of their own happiness, and can become aggrieved at any censure or repercussions for that ‘legitimate’ pursuit.
c) Risk Management: it’s all about timing
There is a reason that cheaters aren’t racing to choose their affair partner when you unexpectedly uncover their affair and it’s this: They know that while the affair relationship is exciting, it isn’t robust. They have no medium or long term assurance or security about that relationship, and they are not prepared to take the risk of losing what they have without a reasonable guarantee that they will get something better.
Cheaters want to continue their affair without having to choose their spouse or their affair partner, until the time frame suits them. They are trying the affair partner on for size, enjoying the thrill, and possibly harboring notions that it will turn into something that is concrete and has longevity. But it’s all such a risk - they risk significant losses if they choose the affair partner prematurely and it all goes tits up (which it probably will). Taking their time to evaluate the potential is the cheater’s risk management strategy. Meanwhile, they continue to enjoy the advantages of their spouse and marriage.
Playing the Confusion Game
Cheaters claim their ‘confusion’ with regular monotony, drawing their right to pursue their own happiness around them like a magical Teflon cloak that will protect them from any sticky consequences or censure. It’s not confused thinking at all to want to keep all the good stuff without any of the pesky downside, in fact, it’s quite reasonable.
Unfortunately, the faithful spouse -often quite knowingly- is also playing the Cheater Confusion Game. Their role in this game is the foundation of the popular affair fog hypothesis - faithful spouses assert that it is insanity, depression, or the mystical ‘midlife crisis’ that causes the cheater to behave as they do.
Waiting around for the cheater to choose you makes you an active and willing participant in the game. It aids and abets the cheater in continuing to have both relationships. You scrambling to keep your cheater, reforming yourself into a better you, being a model spouse, ‘fighting’ for them? It all adds up to one thing: zero cheater consequences and lots of cheater reward. Moreover, it puts you in a position that makes you receptive and vulnerable to their manipulations and agenda.
In truth, cheater ‘confusion’ isn’t very confused at all: They seek gratification without consequence or loss (nice, if you can get it eh?). Cheaters aren’t confused about why they’re choosing an affair over any other course of action. It’s not that they’re standing there, bewildered and fretting, uncertain as to which option might either explode or improve their situation: “Oh me, oh my. What shall I do? Therapy? Affair? Talk to my spouse? Divorce? Pull a Lord Lucan? Oh whatever shall I do?” No.
Faithful spouses: If you have framed your cheater’s clear and deliberate choice of BOTH as the more palatable CONFUSION, you are likely an active contestant in the Confusion Game where your continued participation implies your agreement to your cheater having both you and their affair partner. If you are comfortable with a unilaterally imposed open marriage, fair enough, but for most, being used in this manner by a cheater is more than a little repulsive.
I have not encountered a single cheater who has not understood the benefits to themselves in the affair, and the potential cost to everything/everyone else. They understand that their affair could only ever make things worse and that they will not be allowed to have ‘both’. What is surprising is how many cheaters are given just that, by the faithful spouse’s willingness to play the cheater’s game.