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Was I the last to know my partner was cheating?

Why we push it away and live in denial

You’ve probably heard the old adage that “the wife is always the last to know “when her husband is unfaithful. I got to thinking about that, and whether and why it may be true. In my experience as a couple’s counselor I think I’ve probably heard it all… well, almost. I have heard from woman after woman that she felt that everyone knew about her husband having an affair. When she finally did find out, she realized that everybody else already knew. Why is that?

One of the reasons is that women of a certain generation were raised not to ask too many questions. Not to stir the pot, not to rock the boat. They might confront their husband, but not be prepared to act on the response. They’ve been living under the impression that their husband would take care of them and if that is no longer going to be the case, what then?

They may have a hunch that their man is being unfaithful, but to know for a fact may be more than they’re emotionally prepared to handle. If it becomes too real, they will have decisions and choices to make, and often they’re just not ready to do that. So they’re willing to live being unhappy and suspicious without knowing the real truth.

When there’s no way they can deny it, when he admits it, they have a great deal of shame and guilt because of the betrayal and because they knew deep down that something was wrong, and they didn’t act on it, no matter the reason.

This goes for husbands too. We all want to believe the best in our partners and see them through the eyes of love. When we have suspicions, jealousy or doubt, we tend to push it away and live in denial about what we really think is happening. It’s a way of coping and protecting our emotions. We know that if we accept that bitter truth that our partner is cheating on us, then we also have to accept that there was something wrong in our relationship that made us vulnerable to an affair. What did I do wrong? Why wasn’t I enough? These questions carry so much self-doubt and have such a drastic impact on our self-image and self-worth.

So why ARE the victims of infidelity the last to know? Is it because they don’t really want to know? I think they do know, but it’s so painful to realize their partner’s betrayal, and they don’t want to accept their own responsibility for their part in causing the affair. This is why couples will go on for years in a failing relationship knowing that they’re “out of love” or living as roommates, that one or both of them is in a relationship or romantic entanglement with someone else. They would rather feel isolated and alone than deal with the truths of having failed themselves and each other.

The best course, in my experience, is to confront the problem honestly and vulnerably. If you and your partner want to save the marriage, discuss this and come to an agreement about it. Get help from a qualified counselor and do the work needed to repair the relationship. Do away with the issues that made the relationship susceptible to the affair(s). Find out what you both need to feel loved and important to one another and do what you need to do to fix yourselves and your relationship moving forward so that this will not be a problem in the future. 

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