This point of post is perhaps a bit overdue. I realized this after I told somebody off in the comments. Among the problems I had with their original comment was they confused my explanations of what I did, of how I felt, and of what I thought, with excuses for the inexcusable thing I did.
Before I get any further, let me say a couple of things to set the ground rules for this conversation. First, there is no excuse for having an affair. No matter what the situation is or was, there was always another choice that didn’t involve violating your or someone else’s marriage vows. The second is a corollary to the first: the only person responsible for an affair is the cheating spouse. That person is without excuse and cannot blame the affair on the affair partner, the faithful spouse, a rotten childhood, or anything else.
I’ve made those two points in various ways and in various posts, but the point can get muddled when I start talking about how I was feeling or what I was thinking nearly two years ago. I don’t want muddled thinking because muddled thinking can quickly turn into hurt feelings when I talk about affairs.
As for the explanations, I don’t think there is some big overarching way to look at it that describes the why of the affair. Instead there are many facets to it and many ways of looking at it. Blaming other people is not one of those facets, although it is a way that some people choose to look at and explain an affair. I do not.
So what can we say about why I had an affair? All of the following statements are correct: “it was an act of selfishness”, “it was an act of stupidity”, “I was a fool”, “I fooled myself”, “it was an act of rebellion against God”, “it was a betrayal of my wife, family, and friends”, “I broke my marriage vows”, “I was in a fog that confused my thinking”, “I was caught in a vortex of my sin which I found difficult to escape”, “I was addicted to the affair”, “I wasn’t acting like myself/I wasn’t myself”, “I was depressed before it happened”, “I was in love*.”
The first one is a big one and undoubtedly true, but it’s hardly the overarching explanation of every affair that some take it to be. Ultimately, just about every bad thing we do is motivated by selfishness.
We are all selfish to one degree or another – it is literally in our nature to be selfish, regardless of whether you think we evolved or we were created and fell into sin. We all seek to have our wants or needs satisfied at the expense of what is right before God and society or what is good for others (including what is good for God, by the way, since Jesus paid for every sin on the cross). Even the first sin in the garden of Eden was an act of selfishness (also stupidity, self-deception, rebellion, etc).
My point is selfishness is a valid explanation, but not a complete explanation. I could make much the same argument about affairs and other sins being acts of arrogance. They would be just as correct but also just as incomplete.
The reason is that our motivations are rarely, if ever, simple. Exploring these other motivations doesn’t take away from the individual explanations, nor does it change the fact that the thing you’re explaining is sinful. The purpose of looking at things from all of those angles is not to excuse what you did, but to understand why you did it, thereby gaining more knowledge of yourself so you can fix it or avoid the sin in the future.
Statements about affairs being foggy, or like a vortex, or an addiction do not detract from the selfishness, arrogance, or sinfulness of the affair. Those statements describe how it feels to be caught up in the sin and the difficulty of seeing and of choosing the right thing to do when the affair has taken over. The reason these statements are so common and are frequently seconded on blogs is because so many cheaters feel that way during the affair. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I do not deploy them to elicit sympathy. I think about them and write them to increase understanding of the affair and of the cheater.
Really, that’s what this blog has been about since the beginning. Through writing this blog, I’ve come to understand myself better, and in God’s graciousness he has given betrayed spouses better understanding through my writing, too. One of the things I understand more clearly now is just how much this is all my fault and that I’m without excuse. Because of that deeper understanding, I treasure my wife’s forgiveness and God’s grace more now than ever before. That simply wouldn’t be true if the explanations were excuses for what I did.
*I have a post on the topic of love in the affair, but I haven’t posted it yet. For now, let’s just say that it was a twisted sort of love, not pure or true love.