Hurt People Hurt People: Infidelity and Self-Deception

‘Hurt people hurt people’ explains, but does not pardon, the damage done by those who cheat on their partners.

Editor’s Note: Rod Arters’ very popular “Before You Cheat: 14 Things You Need to Know” was originally posted on his blog exploring matters of faith. His follow-up post, a version of which appears below, is more distinctly Christian and as such may not be appropriate for all readers. 

I have a friend who writes a blog called, “Writing is cheaper than therapy.” There is a lot of truth in her title. Writing and blogging and reading others writings are great ways to work through issues you are dealing with. Though I do write for myself first (aka cheap therapy), I have found that many of my entries have resonated with others as well. Based on some of the private comments I have received after writing Before You Cheat: 14 Things You Need to Know, I must have struck a chord with some of my readers.

When the topic of cheating comes up, there are few people who take a neutral position. Because of the serious nature of the crime and the emotional baggage it carries, it often brings with it a very passionate reaction. Most people despise the cheater since that emotion is easier and comes naturally. After all, cheating is despicable and non-defensible. Some people offer sympathy, not just to the offended person but even to the culprit. Those who empathize can usually relate to one or the other on some experiential level or they are more in tune with their own fallen nature. A few will recognize the universal truth: hurt people hurt people. Though the offended party is understandably hurt, the cheater is not without his/her own level of pain. For many cheaters, their pain existed long before the affair and their selfish actions were born from that pain. For those that were wronged, their pain begins after the betrayal and they often do what they can to seek revenge. As I said, hurt people hurt people.

So, why do cheaters cheat? What causes them to even entertain the thought? Why do they take the risk? Do they really think they can get away with it? In a word, yes. Remarkably, every cheater who has ever cheated has done so because of two powerful reasons:

  1. Pride and
  2. They actually believe their own lies.
#8. My spouse will forgive me. Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. Is this the risky card you really want to play? Forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation. It does not mean you will be accepted back or restored to your previous position.

Cheating is the height of selfishness. In that world, there is a cheater and his/her perceived needs that must be met. Nothing else exists. In this narcissistic state of mind, there are a number of lies that must be told and believed before a cheater can even begin to think his/her plan is possible, let alone feasible. Here are the top 10 lies that must be purchased.Interestingly, most of these lies can apply to someone who wants to rob banks, embezzle money, look at porn, or even do drugs. The “crime” doesn’t matter. The over inflated sense of self and the ability to believe their own lies are essential.

  1. I won’t get caught. This is probably the most absurd lie of them all but is truly the cornerstone of all the other lies. If this lie can be believed and swallowed, then the rest of them go down much easier. The truth is, you WILL get caught. It’s not a matter of if, but when. If the Director of the C.I.A. cannot conceal an affair, what makes you think you can?
  2. No one will ever know. This lie is similar to the first but more in-depth in its scope. Not only will you not get caught but this is a secret you can take to your grave. After all, you have all your “bases” covered. All your alibis are solid. All your stories are straight. All your text messages deleted. All your emails erased. No one will EVER find out about it. You repeat this lie over and over until you believe it. The truth is, one day, EVERYONE will know, even if that knowledge occurs after you’re gone.
  3. What they don’t know, won’t hurt them. This lie makes a lot of sense to a cheater but few cheaters would want that logic applied to them. Would you want a merchant to overcharge you for a product without your knowledge? Or worse yet, would you want a doctor to not share the diagnosis of cancer with you? I mean, if you don’t know the truth, it can’t hurt you, right? The truth is, sometimes, what people don’t know can destroy them.
  4. Everybody is doing it. This is a common phenomenon in human behavior. Thieves think others are stealing because they are. In like manner, cheaters often assume others are being unfaithful because they are. Granted, adultery is rampant in our culture. But the truth is, NOT everyone is doing it. There are many faithful, loyal men and women out there—showing the rest of us what fidelity and commitment looks like.
  5. It’s not that big of a deal. Downplay. Minimize. Reduce. Common tactics for someone who is playing Russian Roulette with a fully loaded pistol. If it’s not a big deal, then why all the lies? If it’s not that big of a deal, why the secrecy? If it’s not such a big deal, do it openly. The truth is, it IS a big deal and the knowledge of it will devastate everyone who knows you.
  6. People already know and are ignoring it. Some of the lies sound crazy once you are living in the truth. This is one of them. There are times when you are convinced that everyone knows and they are turning a “blind eye” to your behavior. This is false anesthesia to the soul. The truth is, no one is condoning your actions. They truly don’t know … yet.
  7. God will forgive me. This is a case of spiritual gymnastics. The cheater has enough knowledge of God and His word to be deadly. Yes, God will forgive all sins except unbelief (Mark 3:28-29). However, this does not mean you should presume upon His grace or forgiveness (Romans 6:15). Even if God forgives you, it does not mean you will come out unscathed by His consequences (Proverbs 6:29). The consequences for such behavior are truly devastating for everyone in your life.
  8. My spouse will forgive me. Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. Is this the risky card you really want to play? Forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation. It does not mean you will be accepted back or restored to your previous position. Forgiveness may be quick but trust will take years. You are making some dangerous assumptions about someone you are hurting.
  9. I’m not getting what I need. This may be true but cheating isn’t the answer. Just because your employer does not pay what you “need” does not mean embezzling money is the answer to that dilemma. If you are not getting what you need, tell your spouse. Go to counseling. Meet with a therapist. Attend a support group. Talk to a friend. Though cheating may scratch your itch for a season, it won’t make the itch go away. There is a deeper itch beneath the surface that cheating cannot scratch. Commit to finding the proper solution for it.
  10. It’s just a physical thing. Nope, wrong again. It’s an emotional thing. And a mental thing. And a spiritual thing. It may seem physical to you but your whole being is involved here (mind, body, spirit), not just one horny member of it.

For a cheater, most of these lies will sound familiar. They may even have a few more of their own. Some or all of them are essential to believe before the cheating begins. So important are these that you can’t continue in the destructive behavior without swallowing one or more of these pills daily.

One day, though, the truth will come out. One day, the lies you digested will make you utterly sick. One day, the world you have created will face the world that is. Reality eventually trumps fantasy and you will wake up to realize the dream is actually a nightmare. The alarm cannot be snoozed. The deeds done in darkness will eventually be exposed in the light. Each and every lie will be addressed by the Truth.

A word of caution for all the non-cheaters reading this. It’s easy to throw a judgmental rock at a cheater, particularly if one has cheated on you. It’s easy to create a “me vs. them” mentality. After all, you are better than they are since you didn’t cheat. Remove your judgmental glasses for a minute and grab a mirror. Or better yet, grab a Bible. It appears that you may not be off the hook either. According to Jesus’ standard of faithfulness, “anyone who looks at a woman (or man) lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)

You may not have committed that particular “deed” but all dirty deeds start in the heart and yours isn’t as clean as you think. The only difference between your heart and theirs is they followed through on what you have already considered. Or, you just haven’t been caught yet. Or your temptations are different. Adulterous thoughts, actual affairs and judgmental pride are all the same in God’s book. Consequences are certainly different but hearts are the same. And Jesus didn’t come to clean up behavior. He didn’t just come to pardon sinful actions. He came to change wicked hearts.


A version of this originally appeared on The Official Blog of Rod Arters.

Read more on Infidelity on The Good Life.

Image credit: jetheriot/Flickr

About Rod Arters

Rod currently resides in Columbia, SC with his three children (14b, 12g and 7b).

He has been published in both local and national publications and is currently working on a few book ideas. New to the blogging community, Rod’s blog has already been read in over 150 countries. As a result, he now considers himself to be an international blogger.

You can follow him on Facebook at “Rod Arters, Writer” or on Twitter at: @rodarters.

He also enjoys writing about himself in the third person as it makes him seem more important.


  1. Hmm. Many (I’m guessing) have read. And so few (clearly) are willing to comment.

    There are fundamental belief systems at work here, I realize, that I do not participate in. It is also my experience that many of the points made (above) are not true in the lives of many men and women I know.

    But we don’t like to admit as much aloud, as though the result would be (more?) sexual anarchy and (more?) destruction of the family unit.

    I believe in fidelity. I believe in trust. I have also witnessed marriages that are broken by betrayals that have nothing to do with sexuality, and are no less a breech in the most precious of core values.

    I agree that “hurt” people are more likely to cause hurt; but there are worse hurts than an extramarital slip.

  2. wellokaythen says:

    The author and I probably disagree a lot in matters of theology and philosophy, so it probably won’t be productive for me to respond to the article that way. I’ll try to stick to a pragmatic, practical approach. And, I can speak pretty authoritatively only about my own experience as someone who, unfortunately, has cheated.

    First, what I agree with, or the wisdom I get from the article: During extramarital affairs, cheaters often lie to themselves or rationalize their behavior with really warped arguments. They tend to have a very imbalanced view of their needs compared to their partners’ feelings. People who surround themselves with lies are very likely to lie to themselves. (All true in my case.) Show some empathy for cheaters, because they are not lower life forms, and don’t act high and mighty because you have not cheated (yet).

    Where I disagree is with the explanation, the conclusion, and what I sense is the tone of the language. The article seems to boil adultery down to lies, pride, and sin. (The “sin” part, especially the sinful desires part, gets into that whole theological territory which tends to be a dead-end when two people don’t believe in the same things.) I’m not convinced that any affair can be fully explained that way. Simply trying hard to be a more moral person, being more honest with yourself about your lying, sinful ways, pray harder, read the Bible, listen to what Jesus says, has failed to stop many men for a few thousand years now. There seems to be more to adultery than that.

    The “my needs are not getting met” is not by itself a lie. The lie is that “my needs trump all other considerations” or that “because I feel like I need it, therefore I deserve it.” But, the reality is that a man who has an affair does so because he feels something is missing in his life. Saying that does not take any responsibility away from him, though some men might try to use it that way. Avoiding a moralistic approach doesn’t take away the cheater’s culpability. Explanation is not justification. It is still HIS responsibility to deal with that issue in an appropriate way, and an affair is the wrong way, and the worst way, to deal with that unmet thing, whatever it is. But, there is something he strongly wants that he is not getting. An affair can be a terrible, immoral, unethical method for trying to get something that may actually be worthwhile.

    Not every affair is strictly the product of arrogance, just thinking I’m king of the world and I can do anything I want. If a cheating man really truly thought that way, he would never feel the need to rationalize it to himself over and over in so many ways. Cheaters lie to themselves so often because they don’t fully believe their own lies.

    The tone seems a little ironic or even contradictory. The message sounded like this to me: Love the sinner, hate the sin. Don’t be judgmental about the sinner, just show the sinner how and why he was sinful and explain that God hates such things, but without being judgmental. Don’t lie to yourself by saying God is on your side, except when God really is on your side.

    I know if I had read this article in the middle of my affair it would have backfired. In my own life, I tend to associate my conservative Christian upbringing with doing everything I was supposed to do even if I didn’t believe in it. My religious experience encouraged me to tell people what I thought they wanted to hear so I wouldn’t get in trouble, maintain the illusion no matter what. Fake it till you make it, I had always heard, but I got sick of that life of lying, and my totally stupid, destructive way of acting out was to have an affair. So, this article would have reminded me of self-repression, which I hated, and off to the other woman I would have gone.

    Finally, I have to part ways with many Christians (and many feminists, for that matter) on the idea of “sinful thoughts.” I don’t think thoughts can be put into “good” and “evil” categories, and I don’t associate sexual thoughts with lust and therefore with evil. If the way to stop adultery is to rid the mind of lust towards any woman other than your wife, then that sounds like a fool’s errand. At least, I have yet to hear a good, practical strategy for doing so, even if I were convinced to start policing my thoughts. Just stop thinking those sinful thoughts?

    (And, my memory of that passage was that the desire to possess ANY woman was sinful. There was no exception for lusting after your wife, so even lusting after her could be sinful as well.)

  3. Most of what you’ve described are examples of poor judgement, denial, and maybe even in some cases, delusional thinking -but they are for the most part not “lies”. In your #9, you even come right out and say that “it may be true, but…” Your analysis is shallow, one-sided, rhetorically inaccurate, and therefore, misleading. I can say with the assurance of personal experience; infidelity is much more primal, nuanced and complicated than the simplistic picture you’ve sketched here.


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