Why Can’t My Cheater Choose?

Cheater Confusion

Cheater confusionOne subject that we tackle regularly with faithful spouses is the question of why their cheater won’t choose.

  • “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.

It’s neither insane nor confused to pursue happiness at the expense of others, merely self-centered.

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 rewardMoreover, 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.


“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


  1. Jollies eh?

  2. where im struggling is…i didnt know about the cheating…for months…
    the cheating relationship has now stopped…that is clear to me…
    my wife, however is still expressing unsurity of whether she wants the marriage, even after months of nurturing our sex life, having regular date nights and days etc…all seems to no avail.
    So…am i wasting my time?…there is no affair now, but still no committment it would seem to the marriage.

    • Hi Rupertdk

      Often, the attendant behaviors in an affair (manipulation, deceit, gaslighting etc) can be far more damaging in the long term than any sexual activity in an affair, so what you’re feeling is entirely understandable.

      Without having much in terms of detail here, I wonder if you have been scrambling to save your marriage, and trying desperately to repair the damage? You might like to read these:
      The Power of Mayonnaise
      The Magical Reconciliation Pixie

      Often, the faithful spouse ends up doing little more than rewarding the cheater by their scrambling. The cheater isn’t challenged by any real sense of loss - of the faithful spouse, their lifestyle, their status, the ease of their life. Why choose if you don’t have to, right? If she gets the best of you as you scramble to keep her without her having to do a jot of work, that sounds like a total win for her.

      I would highly recommend that you join our discussion boards and start learning a new coping strategy that might help you clarify your situation. If she is ambivalent, stop pursuing her and trying to salve her self-inflicted wounds. If she is not committed to the marriage, believe her and act accordingly. Instead of spending your energy on her and the marriage, it might well be time to invest that in yourself instead, disengage from the drama, and find your footing again. If that then causes her to sit up and take notice, you can deal with that from a position of strength and stability.

      Having a strategy is important, and I hope you find some answers in the forum.

      Take care.

  3. Thank-you Thank-you for this article. My husband of 19 years finally admitted to me he was having an affair on Sunday (after 6 month of wondering and denial). I asked him to break it off with his OP when i found out, & predictably he said he didn’t know if he wanted to do that. He didn’t know if he wanted to be a in our marriage anymore.
    I have spent three days walking on eggshells. Crying in my room so the children won’t hear during the day and playing “happy family” in the evening when he comes home, as if he had not dropped a freakin’ ton of bricks on my head on Sunday. It has been a living hell for me these last few days because I do actually want my marriage to survive.

    This article has me shaking. It’s SO true!! I called him and told him we had to talk tonight. For better or worse, I sent him a link to the article. I want him to know the jig is up! I was doing exactly what you said the faithful spouse does, working with his confusion, being very kind to him, hoping he’ll choose me over her. No more. I read this and my blinders have lifted!! We’re talking tonight and decisions will be made.
    There may only be 1 person sleeping in my bed tonight, but this article may have saved me from a worse fate- the hellish continuation that he was clearly intending. (Oh his OP is also married, with a small child! )
    Thank-you again! Wish me luck!

    • Hi Brandy

      I am sorry that you’re in the middle of this awful mess, but I am really glad that you found the article useful.

      It’s so common for the faithful spouse’s knee jerk reaction to be one of scrambling, without taking the time to pause and try to get a handle on what they’re facing, as objectively as they can. That you have done this at such an early point in the process is really positive.

      I would highly advise you not to send him articles/books/links at this stage - it can confuse your understanding of his own thinking and intent when you most need to observe him, without interfering. You might also like to read this: The Magical Reconciliation Pixie

      I do hope that your conversation went well yesterday. If you’d like some support through this process, please do register with our forum and post your story - I hope to see you there.

      Take care.

  4. This is a great article. I just divorced my cheating husband of over 20 years. He did not calculate the consequences of his adulterous actions. Once I found out of his affair to young cop co worker , I did not get mad. Instead I got the best attorney I could find. I took him to court. I came out the winner. He lost everything. His house, his family, his money etc. he now has to pay me spousal support, bis only child hates him and lost all respect for him. What he gained was the little minion from his work. She is nothing special ,she was just available. I am now happy and at peace. I got rid of the liar, the cheater, the idiot. He never thought I would file for divorce. Anyone who thinks the grass is greener. It’s not. My ex should have never treated me as an option. I was his wife and mother of his child. He lost everything. And I gained so much. Thank you God for taking this evil man out of my life. Cheaters do not think how much pain they inflict on their children because they are selfish idiots

    • Hi Kaya

      I am happy to hear that you are happy and at peace, and made choices for yourself which brought you that. Forging ahead into a new life, not anchored in the negatives of a cheater’s choices, is truly a success and something I applaud.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment - seeing success stories like this can really help others.

      I wish you and your son the very best.

  5. What do you do if you know in your heart and soul that he is having an affair but denies it ? Nobody in his family or my family believes me and are siding with him. My mother just told me what are you going to do if he walks away. I spent four years out of the five talking to her about it and she acted like she believed me now she doesn’t. Very confused! My husband has been abusing me physically since I started accusing him. I had hernia surgery and he caused it to tear now I have to have it done over again. In the meantime he shoves divorce papers in my face. One minute he tells me to get the surgery and then the next he says I can wait until the divorce. I’m in alot of pain and not sure what to do. I am risking my life by not having it done. And if I do I’m afraid he’ll throw me out. I already had surgery on it before that I was told that my back issues caused the first one. So if and when I have surgery again will make three total. Each time you have surgery on the same spot it weakens it even more. If he goes for the divorce i won’t be able to pack or move my things. This affair has been going on for years and years. I questioned him on my suspicions but he would just Snicker and say nothing’s going on but that’s not what my gut feeling was telling me. My mother seen things that happened between them two but as far as his side of the family they didn’t see nothing. They were very sneaky and secretive. And the sick part about it all is it’s his brother’s wife. Very Very Lost and Confused!

    • Hi Kim

      There are correlations between accusations of infidelity and domestic violence – I am concerned for you.

      I suspect, though, that you are in the same position as many who suffer domestic violence by feeling trapped in the situation. It would be remiss of me if I didn’t encourage you to report this to the police, and to request the help of emergency services if this happens again. I would also encourage you to contact the domestic violence support groups in your geographic area (either local or national). Our Emergency Contacts page has numbers you might find useful. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to them – you will find support, advice, and help if you ask for it. They can also help you find and get into a local shelter should you wish to do so.

      I would also strongly recommend that you seek legal counsel as soon as possible. Many lawyers offer free consultations – I’d encourage you to make a discreet appointment with them (don’t use this as a threat or leverage against your husband) and meet with them to really explore your rights, entitlements, and liabilities. Please also discuss the domestic violence situation with them – a lawyer will be able to tell you what legal protections are options for you. Often, getting sound legal counsel can help allay fears about being thrown out etc. Please do see a lawyer – you might find you are in a much stronger position than you imagine.

      In your situation I don’t think there is any value in confronting him about an affair any further – it is liable to simply escalate an already difficult and dangerous situation. I think your best option is to see a lawyer and to start making arrangements for your own safety and protection; please try to get an exit strategy in place before the situation explodes uncontrollably.

      I also suggest you read this: Infidelity and Your Safety

      Even if you choose not to make a report to the police, please do make seeking legal advice your top priority.

      I wish you well.

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