You didn’t cause your husband to cheat — he chose to have an affair. But, your marriage style may have created an environment that set the stage for your husband’s cheating. Learning about this type of marriage style will help you answer one of the most difficult questions of your life: “Why did my husband cheat on me?”
Here’s what a reader said on How to Forgive Your Husband After an Affair:
“After we got married I didn’t feel my husband’s love or emotional attachment. I assumed it was because we had been together so long, in a long distance relationship for three years. I waited for our marriage to mature and I followed my husband blindly, loving him deeply as any wife would or could. We had differences but I thought we resolved them. My husband never wanted to open up or talk to me about what he wanted. He is eldest in his family with highest income. I found out that he was having an affair three years into our marriage. Later when I talked to a marriage counselor I learned that our marriage style was what led the affair. Why did my husband cheat on me? For the same reason he married me: he needed someone with a very good job who could help support his financial goals.”
She added that she forgave her husband for cheating on her, but their marriage broke up.
Whether or not your marriage survive your husband’s affair, it’s crucial — for your own sake — to forgive him for cheating on you. The first step toward forgiveness is learning why your husband cheated in the first place.
Why Your Husband Cheated: A Marriage Style That Allows Affairs to Flourish
In Torn Asunder: Recovering From an Extramarital Affair marriage counselor and pastor Dave Carder describes why husbands cheat, how certain marriage styles allow affair to flourish, and what both husbands and wives need to do to recover from the affair.
I was particularly interested in the chapter called Causes: Environments That Allow Affairs to Flourish. In this article I describe a main marriage style that sets the stage or make it more likely for husbands to cheat. If you see yourself and your husband here, you may be one step closer to figuring out why your husband cheated on you.
“In this section we’ll look at two role aberrations, where husbands and wives related to each other in inappropriate ways — ways that can predispose either party for an affair,” writes Carder in Torn Asunder. Note that he said either party can have an affair! If you’re a husband who is wondering why or if his wife is cheating, this marriage style will help you, too.
Mixing Spouse/Parent Roles: The Spouse as Parent
To make Carder’s description of this marriage style easier to understand, I’ll refer to the wife as the “caretaking partner” and the husband as the “spouse being taken care of.” However, it is just as easy for husbands to turn into caretaking spouses and wives being taken care of. In fact, in my marriage my husband is more likely to be the caretaker! It’s just that it’s simpler to have one specific, consistent role in this explanation.
The wife as the “caretaking spouse”
A man from a dysfunctional family background with abuse, enmeshment (overly close relationships), or abandonment patterns will often choose to date a woman who turns into a missing surrogate parent instead of a healthy marriage partner. This type of marriage style isn’t a conscious choice, nor does the husband purposely choose to marry a woman to take care of him financially, socially, or practically.
“Those who practice this marriage pattern rarely do it on purpose,” writes Carder in Torn Asunder. “Unaware of unfinished business with their own parents and their unmet need from childhood, they choose to enter a marriage with huge emotional deficits that no wife could ever meet. Often that cavernous need is exactly what attracts the wife in the first place, because he or she has a complementary need to take care of someone else. She is called a caretaker.”
Helping and loving your husband is normal and healthy. But, when normal caring and loving is taken to the extreme of a parent/child relationship, this marriage style becomes unhealthy. It sets the stage for an affair — and it could be the reason why your husband cheated on you.
Signs of the “spouse as parent” marriage style
“The marriage seems perfect at first,” writes Carder in Torn Asunder. “It’s as if the partners have been looking for each other all their lives (and in a sense they have). Eventually, however, such intense need and smothering becomes exhausting. Resentment and smoldering anger will settle in because both husband and wife are disappointed when their unrealistic expectations are not met. That anger will corrupt the entire marriage. Adult relationships ideally involve mutual giving and receiving, but this marriage style is totally lopsided.”
A parent/child marriage style doesn’t cause husbands to cheat or lead to affairs in a marriage. It just sets the stage or allows an affair to flourish because it’s not a healthy relationship.
Examples of this marriage style include:
- The wife who buys her husband’s clothes and even lays out his attire for the day. It’s not dysfunctional for a wife to buy socks, underwear and other clothing for her husband — but if she is responsible for his entire wardrobe (and even belittles her husband’s clothing choices), it’s an unhealthy parent/child marriage style.
- The wife who gives her husband an “allowance” instead of each spouse sharing equally in the financial management of their income, expenditures, big money decisions, etc.
- The wife who is always correcting her husband’s pronunciation, behavior, manners, posture, chores, way of driving, parenting, etc.
- The wife who won’t allow her husband to grow up — always checking up on his whereabouts, requiring a report of his spending or time, running his social event calendar, etc.
This type of marriage style may seems ridiculous, but that degree of care taking actually goes on between adults. At first, it often even seems reassuring to both partners. For the husband who was never cared for as a child, it can generate wonderful feelings of significance and love. For the wife who loves to nurture and be needed, it increases feelings of self-worth.
How the husband feels
This style of marriage “allows” affairs to flourish — or sets the stage for a husband cheating on his wife — by creating feelings of resentment, anger, exhaustion, and even depression. So, instead of asking “Why did my husband cheat on me?” perhaps a more interesting question is “How is our marriage style related to my husband’s affair?”
How the wife feels
The caretaking wife also feels resentment in this marriage style, because she receives little nurturing from the one-way relationship. If the husband attempts to change this marriage pattern by returning some caregiving, the wife often panics feeling uncomfortable receiving kindness. She senses that her power and control may be eroding, so she smothers her husband’s “rebellion.”
“Neither husband nor wife are happy with this marriage style, but both are usually afraid to change it,” writes Carder in Torn Asunder: Recovering From an Extramarital Affair. “It’s exhausting work to continue to cover up marriage unhappiness with pretense. The resulting exhaustion causes depression…and now we have real helplessness. The wife becomes motivated to increase her dysfunctional behavior. Instead of changing gears in the face of her husband’s depression, she just turns up the throttle and notch or two. Misery is thus multiplied.”
Why marriage counseling fails
In Carder’s experience as a marriage counselor and pastor, the husband’s resulting depression can also encourage the couple to seek help from a therapist, counselor or pastor. But the counseling fails because it’s difficult to adjust to the advice given by the counselor. The couple they may just intellectualize or discount the advice and insight, which prevents counseling from saving their marriage. The same marriage pattern remains…and the wife finds herself asking “Why did my husband cheat on me?” The husband may also find himself wondering how he as a married man fell into an affair.
“Couples in this mode will go from therapist to therapist seeking help, only to move on if attempts are made to change the way they relate to each other,” writes Carder in Torn Asunder. “In other words they want the counselor to help them save their marriage, but they don’t want too much change in their relationship. That denial can set up an affair or illicit relationship.”
Learn more about why husbands cheat
In Anatomy of an Affair: How Affairs, Attractions, and Addictions Develop, and How to Guard Your Marriage Against Them Dave Carder — counselor, pastor and author of Torn Asunder — helps couples affair-proof their marriages. Even if you or your husband already cheated, it is not too late to build a stronger, healthier marriage!
This book will teach you how “innocent” friendships and attractions can lead to affairs, how you may be vulnerable to affairs, the common ingredients of adultery, how to restore intimacy to your marriage and how to make wise, protective decisions.
It’s never the wife’s “fault” that her husband cheated (or the husband’s fault that the wife cheated). A wife does not cause her husband to have an affair — he chose to cheat on their marriage. But, it’s possible that the marriage style created an environment that set the stage for the husband’s cheating. If you recognize that you and your husband are engaged in this style of marriage, you may have a more clear answer to the difficult “Why did my husband cheat on me?” question. If so, you may be that much closer to repairing and saving your marriage.
If your husband says he ended the affair but you doubt him, read Is the Affair Really Over? 5 Signs He Will Cheat on You Again.
Your comments – big and little – are welcome below! Feel free to share your story. Writing can be one of the best ways to figure out what you think and how you feel, and help you cope with the pain and grief of your husband’s affair.