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Surviving Infidelity: Living with a Cheating Spouse

Not so long ago, marital infidelity and adultery were fairly easy terms to define. In the recent past most people would have said that terms like infidelity and affairs simply referred to relationships existing outside of a marriage that involved some kind of physical and/or sexual contact.

What is Cheating Today?

In the past, someone cheating on a spouse or having a sexual affair would often be absent from friendships, family-life, and intimate relationships due to clandestine meetings or hidden hook-ups. In order to carry out their cheating behavior they would have to be physically absent from their day-to-day lives. Others might have added the concept of emotional cheating or emotional infidelity, meaning that if an outside relationship had a significant emotional charge, it could be considered one of the signs of infidelity, even without a sexual or physical component.

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Smartphones, Facebook, online chats, and Ashley Madison have given infidelity and adultery a variety of new names and new ways of being carried out. In the Internet age, online infidelity and casual sexual hook-ups via streaming video are just a few of the many of the ways that partner infidelity can take place, often without any physical contact between those engaging in the behavior.

Webcam and smartphone cheating allows people who are sometimes halfway around the world from each other to engage in “live” sexual encounters, without ever actually touching.

Cyberporn cheating, most often dismissed by the cybersex user or cybersex addict as, “just what guys do,” can mean endless hours stolen from intimate relationships and family life . The hours spent in front of the computer engaged in viewing porn often also involve compulsive masturbation.

Those who engage in e-mail infidelity and chat room cheating lose themselves and their lives in a world of erotic words and picture exchanges that sometimes lead to live hook-ups.

Despite the technological advances offered by the Internet, what hasn’t changed is the amount of time and emotional energy stolen from important relationships and family life and given away to intense, external sexual and romantic acting out. While the person doing the behavior will now most often say, “I wasn’t cheating, I never touched anyone,” spouses know better. Spouses know that the painful emotional absence and distance of a cheating partner is the same whether that partner is engaged in cybersex webcam cheating or having a physical affair. The hurt, pain, and confusion of living with emotional distance, promiscuous sexual behavior, and a non-intimate partner is the same, whether or not the partner is having ‘live sex’ or engaging in online hook-ups.

Causes of Infidelity

The causes of infidelity and affairs online or off are complex, and almost never as simple as the justifications those who cheat use to rationalize their sexual acting out behavior. Statements such as, “My wife isn’t interested in me anymore,” “She has gained so much weight that I’m not interested,” or “I want to have sex that is hot and exciting, not the same old thing” are more statements about the ego and narcissism of the person who engages in serial infidelity and sexual acting out than authentic identifications of a marital problem. Those who justify their cheating by playing the victim and blame their spouse to justify their uncomfortable feelings are simply not being honest, and they are likely to become increasingly unhappier, no matter how ‘hot’ their sexual life may feel.

How To Deal With Infidelity

For the spouse who is surviving infidelity of any kind, it is important to trust your feelings and intuitions. People often seek therapy asking how to deal with infidelity, but often come to realize that they already knew what to do all along, they just don’t want to deal with the potentially painful result of having to act upon their gut feelings.

If you don’t feel comfortable with what your spouse has to say, tell them so. If you don’t believe what they say is going on for them online, check it out. If you feel like your feelings are being dismissed and your concerns disregarded, pay attention to that. Spouses are nearly always accurate in their perceptions about their relationships.

The challenge for the spouse committed to overcoming infidelity is nearly always self-care. The spouses of a cheater can become so caught up in what the cheater is doing and saying, and in where he or she is going or has been, that they don’t attend to taking good care of themselves emotionally and physically. The spouse of someone who is cheating needs to find their own form of infidelity recovery for themselves. The real key to healing from affairs, infidelity, and adultery involves self-care, reaching out for help, and putting you first.

Warning Signs of Infidelity

Below are a few warning signs of infidelity in someone you care about:

  • They spend increasing amounts of time online, particularly at off hours or late at night
  • If asked to stop or reduce the amount of time spent online or looking at sexual images they become angry or defensive and don’t really hear you out
  • They have lost interest in family intimacy or your time spent together
  • They lie about their online behavior or how they spend their time.
  • They make promises to change their behavior or stop, only to keep doing the same thing

More helpful information for spouses can be found at:


Disclosing Secrets: Guidelines for Therapists Working with Sex Addicts and Co-addicts
By M. Deborah Corley and Jennifer P. Schneider, M.D., Ph.D.
Microsoft Word document (104 KB)

Disclosure of Extramarital Sexual Activities by Persons with Addictive or Compulsive Sexual Disorders: Results of a Study and Implications for Therapists
By Jennifer P. Schneider, M.D., Ph.D. and M. Deborah Corley
Microsoft Word document (82 KB)