Many wives who are dealing with the aftermath of an affair will tell you that this process has affected their self-respect or their self-esteem. This may not make sense unless infidelity has happened to you, but having your spouse cheat on you can make you feel like you are less than everyone else and that you weren’t very intelligent or observant for having this happen to you. Thus, you can become angry at yourself on so many levels for allowing this to happen. I know that this might seem crazy, but it’s true. Many wives share their frustrations about this with their husbands and are surprised when he claims that his self-esteem and self-respect have also taken a hit. This upsets many wives because they think that not only is he not validating their feelings, but he’s now trying to play the victim in order to take the wind out of their sails.
She might say, “one of the biggest struggles that I am having after my husband’s affair is that of my self-respect. I’ve always considered myself to be a strong person. I don’t let people walk over me and I speak up when I feel that I’m not being heard or am being taken advantage of. I like to think that I am competent personally and professionally. However, now that I am considering trying to work on my marriage after my husband cheated on me, frankly, I think less of myself. I see myself as a meek housewife with no self-respect. Granted, I could support myself and one the biggest reasons that I am still here is because of my kids, but still. I shared this with my husband and I was hoping that he would tell me that this was silly because I was strong and that I was certainly not letting him off easy. But do you know what his response to me was? That he understands because he feels less self-respect too. What? How does this make sense? I am the one who is staying when I am the injured party. I was the one who was betrayed. So why is he suffering from lower self-esteem?”
Why Cheating Men Can Have Self Esteem Issues: I can pass on what many men have told me and what I have read. In no way am I defending your husband. But men can take a hit with their self-esteem and self-respect because they are embarrassed and ashamed of their choices. They betrayed their family. They put what they valued most at risk. And they can feel very helpless when they go to fix it. They can’t take your pain away. They can’t make you believe that they are sorry and won’t cheat again. They can’t take this back. They can only feebly try to improve a bad situation, all the while knowing that the people who they love are in pain because of their own actions. They can wonder how they could have been so stupid.
So yes, what your husband is saying isn’t completely uncommon. But that doesn’t mean that he should not validate your concerns as well. He may not be consciously trying to bring the attention onto himself or to divert away from your own concerns, but I can see why you would think that and feel angry. Ironically, often the person who cheated and the person who was cheated on feel exactly the same way when they are dealing with the aftermath – frustrated, angry, helpless, scared, and incompetent. Of course, they feel this way for different reasons. And the person who didn’t cheat really doesn’t deserve to feel this way because you truly are the injured (but innocent) party.
Insights That May Offer A Little Relief: If it helps, I will tell you some things that helped my self-esteem. I was angry at myself because I didn’t suspect the affair, but in truth, it was when my husband was in another area for work. So I consciously decided that unless I was just a paranoid wife who was overly suspicious of her husband, why would I have seen it coming? I gave my husband the benefit of the doubt, as trusting spouses are supposed to do. It was unfair of me to blame myself for that. Another place where I beat myself up was that I worried that I was no longer attractive. I worried that I’d lost my looks and that my husband would never love or genuinely desire me. But then I realized that I looked the same as I did the week before the affair. And at that time, I wasn’t exactly delighted with my looks, but I didn’t think of myself as hideous either. I did address issues that bothered me (like my teeth,) but I didn’t go crazy with unrealistic changes. I’m a mom. I am of a certain age. I decided to take care of myself and to be healthy, but beyond that, I’m not going to chase unrealistic ideals. As far as deciding to stay, yes my kids did influence me. But I stayed because I love my husband, my marriage, and my family. This doesn’t make me weak, uneducated, or a pushover. It means that I am someone who prioritized my family more than staying angry. It means that I am a problem solver more than I am someone who runs away. My decisions weren’t the right ones for everyone, but I made them and I wasn’t going to feel “less than” because of them. I am still a strong and capable person and I am sure that you are too.
If you don’t like your husband deflecting about his own self-esteem, you can just try something like, “well, I guess we can empathize with what the other person feels like. For myself, I’m going to do a lot of self-work to get my self-respect back and I hope that you support me with that, since you know how I feel.”