“Well, I never said anything bad about you to our friends.”
Show of virtual “hands:”
Who has heard a version of this from his or her cheater?
I “see” those “hands.”
Permit me to share a couple observations of what is happening when a cheater speaks like this:
1. This is a damage control statement.
How so? The idea is that cheater is hoping that you will extend this courtesy to them. They don’t want others learning about their treacherous, cheating behavior.
Minimally, it is a manipulation powered by guilt where the cheater hopes the faithful spouse will feel too guilty to actually expose the truth of what the cheater did to friends (and family). They realize the truth is damaging to their image. It must be suppressed!
Armed with the truth, people who genuinely care about the cheater and the faithful spouse might start asking the cheater uncomfortable questions. The cheater might actually have to answer for their poor, sinful choices–or awkwardly try to dodge a direct question along those lines. Plus, they might loose friendships over their treacherous, deceitful behavior with the faithful spouse.
The cheater is trying to stop that train from rolling by silencing the faithful spouse via a false sense of duty–i.e. I did this for you so you–being a decent person–ought to do it for me.
2. Cheaters lie; so, be highly skeptical of them when they claim not speaking ill of you.
The temptation is real to believe a cheating spouse’s statement at face value. It is an especially strong temptation when one is desperate to hope this spouse still cares about one’s well-being–despite their devious, unfaithful actions saying otherwise. A cheater is counting on the faithful spouse biting on this temptation.
Don’t be that faithful spouse.
A spouse who has cheated emotionally and/or physically has squandered his/her right to the “benefit of the doubt.” The wise faithful spouse treats everything they say afterwards as fiction until verified as otherwise. Liars lie. And cheaters are liars.
The reality is that others may have known about the cheating before you did. If not, they likely heard some sort of sob story about how the cheater was living as a modern day martyr in his or her marriage. In fact, the faithful spouse might have had an indirect disclosure of this very talk in couples’ therapy when the cheater tried to pin “what’s wrong with the marriage” on the faithful spouse.
In my opinion, a cheater employing this sort of defense does not do so without priming the narrative with others first. They care too much about what others think to leave how people perceive them to pure chance. These folks want to control that; hence, they are trying to control it by manipulating the faithful spouse into silence (see Point #1).
It is so important for healing to be able to share your story with someone(s) who is trustworthy. When a faithful spouse has discovered the lies and infidelity, this is precisely the time they need those true friends. They need non-judgmental listeners. People who can handle the truth.
How can you heal from catastrophic loss if you are not allowed to name it and acknowledge the truth of the devastation?
The answer is that you cannot.
We understand this on a natural level:
Hiding and denying the reality of a deep stab wound–for example–is not a good plan towards healing. The same idea applies to deep soul wounds inflicted by an adulterous spouse. We cannot enter the healing journey until we are willing to stop hiding the wound and acknowledge it exists.
This is why this particular “cheater-speak” is so dangerous. Once again, the cheater is selfishly choosing himself or herself over the faithful spouse’s healing and well-being. They decided protecting their image is more important than helping the one they just grievously wounded heal from said wounds.
A really repentant cheater would never say such a thing; they would accept and support the faithful spouse sharing the infidelity story to whomever they need to understanding it only sounds bad for them because they did something very bad.