Stages Men Move through After Discovering their Wives’ Affair
Just as women move through stages (before and after cheating on their husbands), men also move through very predictable stages after discovering their wives’ affair. In fact, after many years of talking with men, I’ve found that men who save their marriages move through very different stages from men who are divorced by their wives. And unfortunately, as you will learn from reading the stages below, it is quite common for men who are unable to save their marriages to live in limbo for months, and sometimes years, prior to getting divorced; while their wives continue to cheat and have affairs.
In Stage One, men are shocked and disoriented. Panic attacks, loss of appetite and extreme difficulty with normal, everyday functioning is quite common. Men at this stage are often frightened and desperate to save their marriages and, unlike the latter stages, they are genuinely confused about their wives’ behavior.
Men who don’t let go completely and focus their attention on their own healing at Stage One will move into Stage Two—focusing laser-like attention on their wives instead. At Stage Two men constantly monitor and analyze everything their wives say and do in a desperate search for signs of hope. Consequently, because they are only looking for signs of hope they are blind to all the obvious signs pointing to their wives’ lack of commitment and continued involvement with another man. Men at this stage tend to view their wives as though they were some sort of mysterious and complicated puzzle. In fact, the way they view their wives is similar to how women often view men who are either disinterested or unwilling to commit to them. They spend endless hours obsessing and analyzing their wives’ behavior in an attempt to figure out what their wives are “really” thinking and feeling; and when they’re not obsessing and gathering information about why women cheat or about women in general, they’re splitting hairs over what constitutes cheating; believing that it matters whether their wives had an emotional affair or a physical affair, intercourse or oral sex, or whether they had sex one time or a hundred times.
Unfortunately, these men are trying to avoid the real issue. The real issue is that their wives betrayed them and broke their marital agreement; and in most cases, their marital agreement didn’t involve their wives having either an emotional or physical relationship with someone outside of the marriage. So, although there isn’t a mystery that needs to be solved, these men need to believe that there is one in order to distract themselves from their pain.
Like so many women who try to decipher male behavior, these men are unaware that analyzing is a defense mechanism and that we are all prone and/or are tempted to do it when we are trying to avoid painful feelings. In fact, analyzing and circular thinking is quite common in the first stage of grief—denial.
(Note: The behavior of men at Stage One and Two is typically passive, pleasing, and compliant.)
Eventually, after observing their wives long enough to see through some of their lies and manipulations, many men move into a third stage and begin to strategize. Men at Stage Three use a variety of tactics to coax their wives back into the marriage. They continue to be submissive and subject themselves to repeated humiliation, but at this stage they are alternately dominant and begin issuing threats and ultimatums—although they usually have no intention of following through with them. Consequently, their wives continue to cross every imaginary line they draw in the sand.
However, a shift does occur at Stage Three. Although men continue to pursue their wives and may still prefer the option of staying married over getting divorced, the goal for men changes from wanting to save their marriages to wanting to WIN. Men at Stage Three want to outwit their wives, so to speak, and beat them at their own game.
Unfortunately, these men are completely unaware that they are caught in the same addiction and are chasing after the same high as their wives. In fact, most men (and women) aren’t aware that the fear of rejection/abandonment from a spouse or romantic partner triggers the production of certain chemicals in the brain. These chemicals create intense feelings of passion, love, and attraction, and this is why both sexes regularly chase after disinterested, uncommitted, unavailable, and sometimes even abusive partners. Put in the simplest and crudest of terms, the threat of being rejected or abandoned is a huge and powerful turn-on.
Note: Most men at this stage are either seeing other women, having affairs of their own, or are open to seeing other women. Although men are no longer committed to their wives at this stage, they often want their wives to believe they are. Thus, they pretend to be committed.
When men move into Stage Four they’ve reached a point where they will no longer receive a chemical payoff for winning their wives back. The chemical cocktail their brains were producing that clouded their thinking and caused them to feel anxious and excited—and drove them toward the goal of winning their wives back—has run dry. The automatic scorekeeper that we all have inside our heads has tipped and men’s feelings have flatlined because their wives have finally caused them more pain than pleasure. Because these men have crossed over the “more pain than pleasure” threshold, the chemicals in their brains are working in reverse, so to speak; and as a result, at Stage four, men start to feel a natural aversion toward their wives and, in some cases, may even be totally repulsed by them. However, this doesn’t mean that men at Stage Four will file for divorce. These men, similar to their wives, would rather not take responsibility for ending their marriages. Instead, they often continue to live in limbo while they wait for their wives to divorce them.
Note: The stages above describe the natural sequence of events that occur for men who don’t take the initial, first step to saving their marriages, which is to let go completely. In fact, there is really only one difference between men who save their marriages and men who allow their situations to proceed into long-term limbo. Men who save their marriages “decide” to save and rebuild their marriages. Men who allow their situations to proceed into long-term limbo “decide” to ride out their feelings; which is exactly what their wives have decided to do.
When we decide to ride out our feelings in a relationship, we are choosing to let our feelings die. So, the decision that we are actually making from the onset is to end our relationship—slowly.