The Thought Refuse

A Virtual Repository for the Mind

The Rationalization Behind Cheating

with 28 comments

Chances are if your an adult, you’ve been in a relationship that ended because either yourself, or your significant other, cheated.  There is a distinct rationalizing process that occurs on the part of the cheater, both during the affair and when dealing with the aftermath.  This should be of interest to anyone who has cheated or been cheated on before.

Cheating is equally defined as forming a close, emotional attachment to another person that has to be actively suppressed(until it reaches a point of irresistibly), and engaging in sexual intercourse with anyone other then your significant other.  It can, and has been argued that the former is a far more egregious form of cheating.  Regardless, in both instances the fundamental rationalization on the part of the cheater surfaces.

The essential characteristic in an attempt to rationalize unfaithfulness is to create a framework in which the cheater was justified in his/her action by an imagined or non-addressed fault caused by the cheated.  The frameworks can vary widely.  The most common frameworks employed are a lack of sexual activity within the relationship and not enough attention paid to the cheater by the cheated.

By effectively reversing the role of victim, the cheater’s rationale framework for his/her actions can avoid the crushing guilt that comes with any humanizing criticism that being unfaithful would naturally entail.  A cheater is unable to honestly take a look at what they have done.  Everything within their deluded logic will be utilized, in order to not have to cope with what cheating is, at it’s core.

From a moral and ethical viewpoint, cheating is, at it’s essence, a direct attack on the emotional investment the other person has made in a relationship.  An attack on the most damaging, scarring level that, to actually face it’s direct consequences would equally debilitate the cheater.  Almost all of our actions and post explanations serve the purpose of self-protection.  We are survivalists, and a cheater is no different.  Just as we’ll do what ever is necessary to preserve our lives, a cheater will take whatever steps are required to keep intact their self image.

Any attempt to bring to light to a cheater in the midst of his/her self-defense is a futile endeavor.  The cheater has another framework to place around the initial framework.  It is the creation of attempts to correct on the part of the cheater.  A cheater will often tell the cheated that they tried to tell them the problems that were taking place.  However, these corrections are always vague, insinuated, or half-hearted.

If a direct address of the perceived problem had taken place a resolution would have been reached either through a dissolution of the relationship(and effectively removing the opportunity to cheat), or a renewed effort would be made to fix the problem within the relationship.  It is because of this aspect that the framework a cheater works up comes from a perceived, imagined problem.

This illusionary problem serves as another mask for the cheater.  This mask(or framework) covers up the negativity associated with selfish need fulfillment.  Cheaters, typically act as they do, because they require a high degree of personal want that operates outside the confines of the relationship.  These are often sexual compulsions, low self esteem, and perpetual loneliness.

Understanding the rationality of a cheater is difficult to put into use during the aftermath of an affair.  Neither the cheater, fully engulfed by his/her own defensive frameworks, or the cheated, wracked with intense pain and hurt, are in a state of mind to approach the situation rationally.

At best, the rationality behind cheating, when logically understood, can be used as a tool once the dust has settled.  The cheater, we would hope, might be able to take steps to not fall into the same precautionary framework.  The cheated might be able to ease his/her pain.  In the least, the next time we have to go through the torment of having our significant other being unfaithful, we can lessen the pain just a bit by realizing how confused and misguided the cheater truly is.


In Freudian psychology, the defense mechanisms employed by the cheater fall under Freud’s first category and are listed as follows:

  • Denial: Refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening; arguing against an anxiety-provoking stimulus by stating it doesn’t exist; resolution of emotional conflict and reduction of anxiety by refusing to perceive or consciously acknowledge the more unpleasant aspects of external reality.
  • Distortion: A gross reshaping of external reality to meet internal needs.
  • Delusional Projection: Grossly frank delusions about external reality, usually of a persecutory nature.

Certain defense mechanism’s in the second and third categories also apply:

  • Projection: Projection is a primitive form of paranoia. Projection also reduces anxiety by allowing the expression of the undesirable impulses or desires without becoming consciously aware of them; attributing one’s own unacknowledged unacceptable/unwanted thoughts and emotions to another; includes severe prejudice, severe jealousy, hypervigilance to external danger, and “injustice collecting”. It is shifting one’s unacceptable thoughts, feelings and impulses within oneself onto someone else, such that those same thoughts, feelings, beliefs and motivations are perceived as being possessed by the other.
  • Acting out: Direct expression of an unconscious wish or impulse without conscious awareness of the emotion that drives that expressive behavior.
  • Dissociation: Temporary drastic modification of one’s personal identity or character to avoid emotional distress; separation or postponement of a feeling that normally would accompany a situation or thought.

Ironically, anyone attempting to take a rational perspective on cheaters might be accused a category three Freudian defense mechanism:

  • Intellectualization: A form of isolation; concentrating on the intellectual components of a situation so as to distance oneself from the associated anxiety-provoking emotions; separation of emotion from ideas; thinking about wishes in formal, affectively bland terms and not acting on them; avoiding unacceptable emotions by focusing on the intellectual aspects.

Written by huxbux

February 6, 2009 at 6:18 pm

Posted in Logic, Psychology

Tagged with , , ,

28 Responses

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  1. Chanced across your blog today and I have to say that I love your writing style. Haven’t had a chance to read many of your older posts, but if it’s okay with you I’ll add you to my blogroll so that I can check back.

    el burro

    February 6, 2009 at 7:54 pm

  2. Thanks for stumbling on by. Feel free to add me to your blogroll, and please leave your blog link here if you’d like.


    February 6, 2009 at 10:44 pm

  3. Thanks…I’m at

    el burro

    February 7, 2009 at 10:56 am

  4. What a telling and refreshingly lucid piece of writing. I have just discovered that my boyfriend of 2 and a half years has been unfaithful to me, starting approximately one month ago. We were in a long distance relationship which compounds the feelings of hurt even more. Obviously, I am extremely hurt and he is in total denial, taking the role of victim and trying to rationalise and defend his actions, mostly by piling the blame onto me. Some very hurtful things have been said by him to me, but tellingly, they reveal a very distorted view of things. With the benefit of hindsight, I can now clearly see that he had also been projecting his feelings of guilt directly onto me, sending accusatory text messages questioning my fidelity, which left me extremely hurt and angry at the time. It is very early days yet, and the pain will die down but I wonder if he will ever truly come to realise the damage caused and the depth and consequences of his denial.


    July 17, 2009 at 11:16 pm

  5. Thanks for the article ‘ Rationalisation behind Cheating’.
    How long does it typically take for a cheaters defense mechanisms to be mentally dismantled after cheating is revealed? Any ideas?

    Ben P

    April 22, 2010 at 10:15 am

    • @Ben P

      My best guess is a cheaters defense mechanisms aren’t fully removed until either a) the cheater feels confident enough is his/her own financial and/or personal security to fully admit his/her deeds and is prepared to make a full life change(make a full relationship change) or b) a cheater comes to terms with his/her actions and wants to repair the relationship.


      May 2, 2010 at 9:50 pm

  6. I stumbled across this article because I was looking for rationalization of emotions. My husband of 29 years cheated for 4 years and actually lived with another woman for a year without me knowing. (He came home weekends) I still live with him although he kept a private email for 4 months and when I found it I found that she was excited about the clandestine aspect of the relationship. He says he broke it off last week but I get bad vibes. Am I being made a fool or is there something more sinister going on? He told my daughter and 3 nieces when they were out drinking in a bar that he didn’t love me anymore. This was just before he cheated for the first time 4 years ago although he did have a relationship 16 years ago and, at that time, he asked for a divorce. I got counseling at this time and he refused to go. The counselor told me to leave him because he would cheat again. I have spoken to a counselor and a psychiatrist and they both say he wants his cake and to eat it too.

    Do you think he really doesn’t love me and is keeping me around for money or security or something else?


    April 28, 2010 at 12:03 am

    • @Beckie

      I can’t imagine having 29 years of my life torn apart beneath my feet like that. I truly do feel for you. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what to do. Only you truly know your emotional state. From my perspective and experience, cheaters do perpetuate the lie to preserve their own comfort. They don’t want to or aren’t ready to create drastic change in their lives whether it be because they want to continue their living standards(money and security) or, as they convince themselves, that it’s best for their own children. I do sincerely question any person who only admits and begins to make amends(or at least give the appearance of)after they’ve been caught and not prior to. For most people, once they’ve shown they are capable of infidelity the chances for a repeat greatly increase and continue with each instance. Once you’ve rationalized to yourself that cheating is morally acceptable, or the suffering it causes others doesn’t exceed your own personal satisfaction, then it can easily be done again.

      My only advice to you would be that know you have self-worth and are entitled to a faithful, happy relationship.


      May 2, 2010 at 10:03 pm

  7. I have cheated before and I agree with the analysis. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, I honestly did not know the best way to go about expressing my feelings- correction I did not feel confident enough in expressing my feeling. I was also very judgemental of my significant other..the only way I can rationalize it is that I was intimidated by them and had to find a way to bring them down -this is looking back. I have worked at it, but it isn’t easy- I agree with what was said in regards to rationalizing for your own self benefit. I don’t want to allow myself to hurt anyone, especailly as I can see the effort the other party puts into it. It is hard but god damn it I am not going lapse by feeling sorry for myself. I am not going to cheat, I am not going to cheat, I am not going to cheat—-> It just is not right!


    May 20, 2010 at 10:46 pm

  8. Greatly articulated! Cheating is a complex topic and the ramifications; life altering mulish.


    December 21, 2010 at 3:28 pm

  9. This is a brilliant post..describes an awful lot about what goes on inside the head of a “temporarily insane” individual…I’ve shared it with many and they are feel enlightened…thanks for sharing…

    T. Edward

    January 27, 2011 at 8:07 pm

  10. Thank you for these wonderful words of wisdom. I now understand his deluded logic of self justification.

    My husband left myself and my two gorgeous sons after 24 years together. Initially he moved out saying although he loved me dearly, he loved me like a sister and needed to be alone, which was very traumatic as we were the golden family with no issues whatsoever – or so I thought – until I discovered his secret life of a 2 year affair.
    My world and that of my sons has been shattered but we have managed to build a new life for ourselves with happiness and trust.
    The divorce was finalized 3 days ago and I look forward to growing in strength and dignity.
    He on the other hand, appears to be regretting his decision, how sad for him to have lost all he ever held dear – for what – an affair which is no longer? and sons who no longer respect or trust you?
    To rebuild the foundation of a 24 year relationship with someone new is virtually impossible – so please think twice before you cheat.


    February 1, 2011 at 7:36 am

  11. I think this is a great article, however I think it needs to be discussed about abusive relationships . I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for 3 years, being constantly called fat stupid mental a low life a looser good fir nothing lazy etc being told if I didn’t loose weight he would sleep with other women, mind you he was on the net every single night until 1or 2 am talking to teenaged girls, ( he is 30) so eventually as you can imagine I was depressed and emotionally ruined and it only took one man to come along and tell me otherwise, that I was beautiful and I slept with him. So for me it was having my self esteem stolen and having someone try to restore it through a sexual experience, im not saying it’s right, but it’s not always as cut and dry as this article suggests


    September 20, 2011 at 8:09 am

  12. The person currently assassinating you is describing, yes you’ve guessed it,,, themselves!….yes in DAMN deed!!!

    Matt Johnson

    January 23, 2012 at 2:02 am

  13. Was reading up on “psychological projection” and came across you blog…Very well written.
    a cheater will take whatever steps are required to keep intact their self image….the person currently assassinating you is describing, yes you’ve guessed it,,,, themselves!

    Matt Johnson

    January 23, 2012 at 10:56 pm

  14. whatever a relationship is about, it has to be mutually agreed upon to exist in the first place. and that has to be clear and understandable to the other party. if “needs” (the cheater’s) ‘aren’t being met’ (often the rationalization), then that party needs to make the effort to find the person who can do that for them–not try to make the monogamous partner feel there is something wrong with them for wanting to be in a monogamous relationship. shared values is the bottom line, not deception about that happening.


    January 29, 2012 at 2:24 pm

  15. p.s. and of course, have the integrity to be upfront about that search to the monogamous party before doing so (cheating without telling about that can be a ‘have my cake and eat it too’ self-centered motive, or cowardice about doing so, because of possible rejections during that search… deception has no place in a healthy relationship. accountability for that is key!!)


    January 29, 2012 at 2:29 pm

  16. I think this is what is happening in my relationship…my SO accused me of cheating at the drop of a hat, would question what was said between me and “that one guy,” and was a huge guilt monger. I speak in past tense because these issues haven’t risen up in recent weeks. But, coming across this article is opening my eyes to the possibility that this whole time he has been projecting his actions onto me. He has done this with other stuff, too. I’ve noticed that he tends to believe that other people think/feel/act the way he days about most everything. For instance, recently I was accused of receiving texts from guys and deleting them to “hide” something….which is totally ridiculous. And totally untrue. Then I realized how often I’ve noticed him with HIS phone in the bathroom, and I’ve noticed he deletes his text logs, both sent and received, fairly often. He claims to have been cheated on by women in the past, but I’m not clear on these situations and don’t think I have the full story. My gut is going haywire, even though he gets very defensive and offended when I even hint that he is lying to me (in fact, I caught him in a lie here recently about bills and he got furious at ME)

    Why is he so sensitive to being called out in an obvious lie but he pounces like a panther on any circumstantial evidence that I was being unfaithful to him? Anyone been in this situation, where you feel like you know that you know that you KNOW you are or have been cheated on but have no evidence other than your stomach being in knots over it? How did you deal? Did you leave? Or did you have faith in the relationship even though you were uneasy?


    February 7, 2012 at 6:01 pm

  17. This is an excellent, informative and well written article.

    Following the demise of my last relationship, I have come to the realization that I am a serial cheater. My wife has left me following a series of Internet exchanges with women, including photo and email exchanges. My wife saw these on my laptop and was mortified. This all surfaced approximately one month ago.

    I instantly saw the hurt and pain that I had caused in her face, but went into full on denial mode. The denial morphed into rejection, loneliness and eventually verbally attacking my wife. The past couple of days have brought me out of it, and I am ready to get myself sorted. The first step for me is understanding the hurt and pain that I have caused my wife, daughter and family. The crazy thing is that my wife is my soul mate, and I love her intensely. There is a huge void inside me where her heart was next to mine.

    I have destroyed my life for a cheap thrill…what a guy.

    I am still unable to rationalize why I have cheated all throughout my adult life. I do know that I don’t want to lead my life in this duality of existence. I am visiting a counselor as I cannot do this alone.

    I hope that I can repair the damage that I have caused in time.


    PS I am not looking for sympathy, but any resources/guides/CBT that may assist me in my journey would be greatly appreciated.


    March 16, 2012 at 10:39 am

  18. I’m going through the role of the cheated on person. I’ve been accused of not trusting, not loving, lying about this or that, as well as being given the runaround about what I’ve been up to. I know she took a trip to see “the guy” (he lives in another city), telling me she was going to see a friend in a whole different part of the country. I found her boarding pass (which she tried to hide), but have not told her I saw it. I found a note she wrote to herself about the trip and what all she did while she was there, but have not told her I saw it. I’m just keeping it all to myself until she finally leaves me for him. She texts him all day and even at night when we’re home together, sometimes even after we’ve made love. “He’s my FRIEND,” she will say. “He’s soooo not my type. We have no connection like you and I have.” If all that is true, then why would she lie about going to see him? More importantly, why won’t she observe a decent boundary or time limit for texting, such as no texts after 8 p.m. or so?

    I work in law enforcement and know how to find out when someone is lying, and have discovered more things that she still doesn’t know that I know. I know the red flags that exist when someone is cheating (my first ex-wife cheated and this gf is doing many of the same things). She constantly tells me she loves only me and wants to be with me forever. She constantly tells me she has NEVER cheated in her life. But she hides her cellphone or keeps it close all the time. She changed all of her normal e-mail passwords because she figured out that I had looked at that once and found some incriminating e-mails. Whenever I come into the room while she’s on the computer, she instantly closes everything down.

    What’s funny is that I have started mimicking her behavior. I keep my phone close and on silent. I close my e-mail or Internet windows when she comes in the room. I try to get her to tell what her texts are saying, hoping she’ll get so sick of my asking that she’ll stop it altogether (although I know that won’t work–she’ll just run to the bathroom and text him while she’s in there). I have gone to some counseling sessions for my anxiety and other issues, but when I asked her last night if she was interested in counseling, she acted like I had slapped her in the face. She doesn’t have any problems. She doesn’t need help. It’s all in my head and she’s never done anything behind my back. Right. And I still believe in Santa Clause.

    The problem I’m having is that I feel my self-esteem gradually diminishing, but I’ve taken control of that through the counseling and reading blogs such as this. I know that I’m not wrong, but I’ve decided that I’m just going to treat this as something that has a short life-span and will end before it ends our relationship. If she wants to come clean, she will, but I can’t control that. If she never comes clean and it all ends for us, then I will let her know everything I have discovered (and it’s a lot, let me tell you). She has no idea what I know, but maybe she wants to be caught, else why would she leave a boarding pass and a note about the trip so easy for me to find? If she knew I had seen them, she’d accuse me of snooping (Hello, it’s what I do for a living!). That would probably end it right then and there, but maybe that is why she leaves things so easy for me to find. I’m just going to have to wait and see.


    March 21, 2012 at 11:21 am

  19. Great post! I am at a cheating crossroads myself – the reason I got to this post in the first place.

    I suspect my wife of 4+ years of cheating. She is probably engaged in sms/chat sex chats with her old boyfriend. At the core of my dilemma is our beautiful daughter – all of 2 years old. If not for the baby, I would have filed for divorce in a jiffy. I think I have the following options:
    1: Ignore: Let the relationship (unhappy most of the times) continue with the wife not knowing I suspect her of infidelity. 20 years down, when the baby is grown up, I part ways.
    2: Confront and Repair: Confront the wife, alone, with proof. Have a long heart to heart chat with her where we keep the interests of the baby central to whatever decision we take.
    3: Confront and Break: Confront the wife, with her family. Shame her in front of the family. Apply for divorce with 100% custody for the baby and NO visitation rights for the mother. Effective 100% break up with the past.
    4: Confront and Break: Confront the wife, with her family. Shame her in front of the family. Apply for divorce. Courts do not grant 100% custody. I do not accept ANY visitation rights. Effective 100% break up – and plan to reunite with baby 20-25 years later, where I share details on why her father walked away from her.

    Scattered thoughts going on in my head:
    a: She alone cannot be held responsible for infidelity. I have NEVER strayed but, obviously, I was able to give her only a less than ‘ideal’ life. (this is the charitable view, I sometimes take… but is also, a brutally honest assessment from my end)
    b: We both have a responsibility for the baby. The Baby needs both the mother and the father. Divorcing her and bringing up the lil girl on my own (can do, as i love her and will, I hope, make a good father) is not optimum. Neither is re-marrying since whichever woman comes new in her life will be an alien – and they will never have that bonding.
    c: However, its not that the mother feels any responsibility for the child. She would not have cheated in the first instance! More than that, there are several direct examples of where she has kept her lust at the forefront and put the child’s interest at the back burner. One example – She sms/chats in the morning – approx 8 am to 10 am (when i have left for work)…. She puts the baby on extended sleep, just so she can peacefully engage in sex chat!
    d: She cant have visitation rights – nor me. Do not want to put the child through an emotional wringer. Much better to confront the child 20 years down the line, when the child has grown up and realizes whats right /wrong.
    e: Fear for the psychology of the child – and the uphill struggle and problems to be faced by me and the baby.. for the next few years of life….

    Its been 4 weeks since I discovered this. In various ways, I have passed several indirect hints to the wife… but she carries on with the liaison behind my back. the first 2/3 weeks I went into a mad fury. I have since calmed down and am looking at how best to deal with this on a ‘crisis project’ basis. My end outcome No 1: minimal (or NO) impact on the baby. I would like to be happy to – but the baby comes first.

    In this period, my smoking has gone up to about 40+ cigs/day. Am on acidity tablets, have lost appetite and am making do with barely 4-5 hours of sleep every night. All this is in the background. In front of her, I am acting normally and casually – just like she is, notwithstanding the fact that she is betraying my trust.

    Please Advise, Thank you.

    Vincent Vincent

    August 22, 2012 at 8:37 am

  20. I am going though this right now. My wife is living with another guy. She has rationalized her actions almost exactly as stated. Our eight year old son stays with me about half the time, and stays with my wife’s mother the other half of the time. My wife is leading a singles life with her new boyfriend. Divorce is in the works.

    Jim Morris

    October 7, 2012 at 12:23 pm

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  22. Thank you for this amazing post as it has helped me significantly. I have struggled to understand why and how cheating takes place. You post has helped me understand the reason for illogical behavior patterns and the impending end of my marrage. I now see how anyone engaged in this behavior can see it as correct and justified. I just wish the resolution of the situation was not so devastating. I truly loved my wife and I will have remorse toward our failure for the rest of my life.


    March 25, 2013 at 5:04 am

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    July 19, 2013 at 11:18 am

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    September 12, 2013 at 3:41 pm

  25. Reblogged this on Kami's Lost World and commented:
    …a cheater will take whatever steps are required to keep intact their self image…


    March 20, 2014 at 1:57 pm

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