“It Wasn’t About You”

One of the stupidest things cheaters say is: “It wasn’t about you.”

This is both infuriating and true. It wasn’t about you. They were not thinking of you at all.

What they mean, of course, is that hey, they didn’t intend to hurt you. And because they didn’t go out there with Bad Intent, this isn’t quite as bad as it seems. And look at all the trouble they went to — hiding their cell phone and conducting their illicit activities away from home — just to spare your feelings! God, it’s positively generous of them.

When cheaters say “It wasn’t about you” — they’re throwing you a bone. Don’t take it personally. It falls short of actually taking responsibility for the affair and saying, “This is about me. I am a fuck up.” And it’s a step above the truly toxic habit many cheaters have of trying to make it ALL about you — if you weren’t such a horrible/fat/lazy/sexless spouse I Wouldn’t Have Cheated. So, yeah, that’s a mercy.

But how else are you supposed to take cheating except personally? If a tornado blows your roof off, if you get cancer — okay, it’s not personal. The universe was not singling you out. Storms erupt, cell divide, no one is at fault. However, cheating is an intimate crime against you. It’s a violation. And the person entrusted with your personal safety and emotional well-being betrayed you. How can it feel like anything but very, very about you.

The repercussions are very personal. STD testing. The mortification of telling (or not telling) your family. Explaining your distress and/or divorce to your children.

“It wasn’t about you” is cold comfort. Cheaters use weasel words to minimize what they’ve done and how it affects you. The horrible thing is that there is total truth in the statement. They were not considering you or the kids at all. And insomuch as they did think of you — because they had to, affairs require loads of reconnaissance — they determined that the risks were worth it. That your potential devastation was worth the frisson of excitement that fucking new people brings.

The antidote to “It wasn’t about you” is to make it very much about you now. You set the terms of how you move forward. You protect you. The cheater cannot be entrusted with your healing.

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11 years ago

Dear Chump Lady,

A friend of mine who had previously cheated make this same point to me after he learned about my now ex-wife’s affair. He said, “It was never about my wife. It was always about what I wanted and how far I was willing to go to pursue it.”

I think that cheaters say “It wasn’t about you”–which is true–because they can’t bring themselves to state the more precise truth: “It was about me.”

Cheating is just selfishness played out with lives and families.

Love your site. Keep up the great work!

11 years ago

When this started 4 months ago, my wife would say “I’m not leaving for this guy, I would have left anyway. I did fall in love with him, it ‘just happened”, but you were a great husband, it’s me I’m messed up, I’m so sorry, I just don’t love you anymore.” Recently I had to tell her I never want to her to ever apologize to me again. It was a selfish act that decimated 2 families and how sorry can you be? Maybe there is some remorse, who knows, but apologies mean nothing, it’s just to sooth her conscience and to try to convince herself that she isn’t a horrible, self-centered person.

11 years ago

I think it is a fallacy that this was not personal. I have seen very few affairs where the cheater did not harbor resentment and a level of contempt for the betrayed.
Just look at what ,typically, happens post discovery. The cheater attacks the betrayed and is angry, alleging all types of deficiencies and dissatisfaction. This is standard, and happens in a majority of cases.
No, in reality, most affairs are a form of revenge affair. The cheater has deep seated resentment and is very angry at the betrayed.
Of course, studies have shown that it is , most of the time, the cheater who has been deficient and neglectful. But, the way these folks look at it, it was definitely all about the betrayed and their deficinecies etc.

10 years ago
Reply to  Arnold

I think this totally applied in the case of my ex’s 2 affairs. At the time of the first, our relationship was TERRIBLE, because of his on-going negativity, criticism and nastiness. I think he was very angry at not getting his ego kibbles like before, and very angry that I was demanding that he act like a reasonable, caring human being.

The second affair was also really about my reducing the ego kibbles, after seeing how little he was willing to do to maintain our relationship and to contribute to my happiness. Weirdly enough, our relationship had been improving over the previous months, because I had threatened to leave if he didn’t become less mean and negative. But how dare I threaten that? How dare I again reduce kibbles?

When I gently confronted ex about the second affair, he attacked me for every thing I had ever done in 13 years together. THAT’s when I knew the relationship was OVER.

I think the fact that both his affair partners resemble me physically a LOT is also about his anger at me. Both a way to have what he threw away (me, giving lots of kibbles!) and a way to strike out at me.

Sigh. What can ya say to this crap?

11 years ago

Perhaps the person with a long history of serial infidelity, like your H, CL, does not feel anger or resentment. Or, as you suggest, maybe he just hates anyone who gets too close. Or, perhaps he is a sociopath.
But, the “it was not about you ” deal, oft spouted by both the cheater(in an attempt to, in some sick way, make their actions seem less hateful) and the betrayed(most often in an effort to distance themselves from the allegations of deficiency put forth by the cheater) seems inaccurate to me.
I think it is true that the betrayed’s qualities had b nothing to do with the choice to cheat. However, in the cheater’s mind, this was very much a conscious, personal attack on the betrayed. It was very much about the betrayed to the cheater,whether it was done to intentionally inflict pain, or was done to symbolically thumb their noses at the betrayeds.