I’ve watched many men plodding through the devastation of a wife’s emotional and physical affairs for many years. In doing so, I’ve identified ten common attributes among the men who have managed to turn things around after affairs. Many of these men created a new relationship with the same female. For others, it meant a renewed self.
I offer my observations here to encourage men suffering to move past the devastation of infidelity. In my experience, men who can find or create these internal attributes often happily marry the same woman. However, I don’t believe focusing on that outcome should be the top priority.
Note: I won’t be differentiating between emotional affairs and physical affairs in this article. In reality, an emotional affair is just a physical affair where physical intimacy hasn’t happened yet. Just as we don’t say, “do you have an emotional relationship or a physical relationship?” when someone begins any different romantic relationship with another person, neither is it as meaningful in this conversation.
Okay, so here are the attributes of the men I’ve witnessed survive affairs.
#1. Each Man Made A Conscious Choice to Pursue Restoration
It might seem obvious to some but needs to be said regardless. Men I’ve seen restore relationships after affairs have all been men that willfully chose to pursue reconciliation.
The men I’ve watched go on to experience the restoration of self have all been men who deliberately chose to. They wanted this and worked to that end.
Some men choose not to pursue restoration or reconciliation. For them, an affair is not something they desire to work through. I believe this is a viable choice that should NOT be judged as inferior.
However, plenty of men – perhaps even the majority – don’t pursue their restoration and recovery. That is a real and unnecessary tragedy.
#2. Each Man Refused to See Themselves as Victims
The same men have all been men who refused to see themselves as victims in the story.
They moved past merely seeing the affair as something “she or they did to him”. Instead, they shifted their focus toward “what had to happen in him.” One hundred percent of them.
In other words, these men all moved from an external to an internal locus of control.
Locus of control is the degree to which people believe that they, as opposed to external forces (beyond their influence), have control over the outcome of events in their lives.
Men who have developed an external locus of control about the affair have been rare. These men went on to take ownership and responsibility for their shortcomings. They learned what contributed to their partners’ cheating and began working toward becoming better men in those areas. They then determined to make themselves responsible for what happened next.
These men, refusing to be victims, naturally refuse to wait for someone to rescue them from their victimization. Instead, they possess a “self-rescue” mindset. That means they refused to wait for their spouse or the affair partner to change course or direction. Instead, they saw themselves as the only ones empowered and necessary to be the agent of change.
#3. Each Man Found a Willingness to Address Their Shame, Fear, Anxiety, and Insecurity
When a woman is or appears to be cheating somehow, she’s usually going to experience questioning by her male partner. The most common responses to being confronted with questions about her inappropriate behavior or actions are denial, defensiveness, and gaslighting.
Psychological manipulation of a person usually occurs over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.
The betrayed man often experiences gaslighting from a cheating spouse by being told he’s just being insecure, anxious, and fearful.
Most honest men recognize this to be at least partially accurate. Because they realize this, they often relent in searching for answers to their spouses’ behavior. Instead, they sink into a form of despair, shame, and self-loathing for their lack of security, confidence, and strength.
When a cheating spouse sees that this is effective, she experiences relief. She is now equipped with an effective tool she can use whenever she experiences shameful feelings about her infidelity. She learns to use more vigorous gaslighting the longer it goes on.
Therefore, men who would turn their broken relationships around must learn to be resilient to shame, fear, anxiety, and insecurity. They know to handle the tension within themselves between the need for growth and it not being used to justify a partner’s unfaithfulness.
Men with such resiliency resist shaming and critique that their cornered partner dishes out when she feels her own shame.
#4. Each Man Developed Unconditional Positive Regard for Self
These men’s journeys through their shame, fear, anxiety, and insecurity also led them to cultivate a love for themselves. I’m not talking about conceited self-admiration but an unconditional sense of positive regard for themselves.
That means these men become more mature in calculating their worthiness for acceptance, love, and fidelity.
He had to change how he felt about his worthiness.
Most men operate according to a performance-based sense of self-esteem. Their worthiness for this acceptance, love, and fidelity is based on their unwavering perfection in nearly every area of life.
Unfortunately, that is not sustainable no matter how great a man is, and is vulnerable to destruction and demise. When this man experiences any drop in his performance, he encounters a correlated drop in his sense of value, worth, and significance.
Such men don’t endure or survive affairs well.
Why? Because they see themselves as being able to recover only insomuch as they can be better than other men. This mindset is a dead-end for most men. If he’s honest and intelligent, he realizes this is a hopelessly non-sustainable and insecure way to live life.
Furthermore, such a man cannot reliably rise above his sense of shame to resist the gaslighting mentioned previously.
He had to learn how to love himself better.
However, men who adjust their worldview to hold themselves in high positive regard without conditions survive and thrive. They break the chains of conditional love that tie worthiness for love to merit and perfection, performance, and achievement. They learn to see themselves with grace, kindness, and worthy of acceptance, love, and fidelity for more profound reasons than their day-to-day performance.
Such men become impervious to shame and gaslighting. They cultivate the necessary self-acceptance to move forward and upward without self-judgment and critique.
Lastly, such men apply the same grace, kindness, and worthiness for love despite mistakes to their wayward cheating wives.
This foundation of grace and kindness creates warmth and invitation. It’s often what eventually melts the ice on a woman’s cold and unrepentant heart.
#5. Each Man Pursued Unconditional Positive Regard for Her
An interesting thing happens in the hearts of men that cultivate unconditional high regard for themselves. They discover it becomes the yardstick by which they measure others as well. Especially their cheating spouses.
The men who survive and thrive after infidelity are the men who chose the difficult road to become deeper lovers.
They discovered a difference between what it means to love their partner for her innate, intrinsic value versus her behavior.
These men figured out that holding on to unconditional positive regard unrelated to behavior was possible. They learned to love their partner’s person versus her behavior. This is a lesson they picked up when learning to love themselves despite their behavior.
The men who learned to love with unconditional positive regard were not men without boundaries! Indeed, they’ve been the men who created them with blazing clarity and strength.
This clarity and strength permitted them to continue to offer love, acceptance, and a warm heart to their cheating spouse without sacrificing love, acceptance, and warmth to themselves.
Let me clarify… this does NOT mean these men became okay with her cheating, dishonest, deceitful, and disrespectful behavior. It does NOT mean that they permitted it, excused it, or became resigned or immune to it. Not at all!
Many men, in fact, choose to serve their wives divorce papers from this place of high-regard warm-heartedness.
They learned the power and freedom that came to them by continuing to believe the best about a person’s core even when that person does horrible things. These men are the ones who move on most easily by refusing to carry the baggage of painful anger, bitterness, and resentment.
#6. Each Man Cultivated Compassion, Understanding, and Empathy for Her and What Led to Her Affair
Building from their foundations of unconditional positive regard for themselves and their spouses, these continued to grow. They became men of compassion, understanding, empathy, and curiosity.
Compassion for what led their wives to feel like her best chance to meet her needs was through acts of betrayal.
They developed an understanding of his shortcomings, failures, and weaknesses. Understanding the pain that contributed to their wives’ feeling alone, afraid, unseen, unheard, overlooked, uninvited, uncelebrated, and unloved.
Empathy for the pain and turmoil their cheating partners feel as they remain stuck between limerence and loyalty with no obvious way out and feeling stuck between the choice of hopelessness and fantasy.
Curiosity about what their partners see, feel, and experience in their affair partners and what they might learn from it.
These men unwittingly were becoming better men while simultaneously becoming who their partners daydreamed about all along.
#7. Each Man Became Emotionally Safe for Self, and Her
Men who experienced the above growth within themselves were rewarded with emotional safety and resilience, learning to feel their own emotions deeply without making anyone else responsible.
Because they had to, they learned to find their sense of well-being within no longer being able to find it from their unfaithful partners.
These men became bastions of emotional safety—steady, warm, cozy, and durable lighthouses on the rocky beaches of the oceans of infidelity.
Make no mistake about it, their female partners noticed! They witnessed what had been men who were formerly triggered by the smallest of things move into an entirely new way of being calm, pleased, and unassailable.
And they liked it!
But could their limerent partners risk trusting these men once again and bet that if they warmed their hearts and returned to the relationship, they wouldn’t experience feelings of being unloved as before?
How could they be sure that their formerly impotent and insecure men had the testicular fortitude to lead themselves and their relationships?
#8. Each Man Gained Clarity About Five Things
- Who they are
In their painful journeys through the pain of their partners’ infidelity, these men became clear on who they are and who they are not. This clarity about their person gave them the confidence and strength to say and do hard things and resist blaming, shaming, and gaslighting.
- What They Want
These men clarified what they wanted in life, relationships, and partners. No more ambiguity, compromise, covert contracts, or manipulation.
- Where They’re Going
Each man drew a roadmap for where and why he was going in life and the timetable for his travels. According to his roadmap, he moved beyond “one of these days” thinking and started living each day.
- What They’re Creating
Because these men became clear about themselves, the lives they wanted, and where they were going, they gained first-hand insight into what they were creating and were ready and capable of describing this to their wayward partners.
- Who Can Join Them
Lastly, with an understanding of the last four points, each man understood what kind of partner could join them in their life’s journey. They revoked such decisions as being up to her. They took their power and agency back and shifted their mindset to seeing themselves as the leader of their own lives instead of the follower in hers.
#9. Each Man Established and Maintained Clear Boundaries for Self
The men I’ve witnessed restore their failing relationships have all been men who eventually created clear boundaries for themselves. This was something their women ultimately understood as the evidence of their security, self-worth, courage, and integrity.
These men have been those who understood the clear difference between a boundary for self and a rule for others. They learned that personal agency and self-leadership couldn’t require anything from others, only the execution of personal actions aligned with their clarity of person, purpose, and passion.
Men who turned around relationships have been the men who stopped seeing themselves as victims and stopped needing and waiting for changes in others. They stopped demanding their wayward spouses do or don’t do anything, realizing that such things were never and will never be within their power to control.
How did they do this? By getting clear…
- about who they were
- about what they valued
- on what the above two required of them in their actions
#10. Each Man Reached Readiness and Willingness to End the Relationship
One of the paradoxical realities in many of the men who have gone on to restore their broken marriages has been their complete, utter readiness and willingness to end those relationships.
The natural consequences of learning who they were, what they valued, and what those required of them in their actions led them to conclude that they would not participate in a relationship where their cheating partners continued to give intimate or romantic energy to persons outside the relationship.
To be clear, these men were not men that made threats or gave ultimatums. Nay, these men took calm, deliberate actions according to their boundaries for self.
Such men have been like breakers on the shore, defining the line where the ocean stops and the land begins and letting the roaring ocean know “this is as far as you may come”.
Many of these men took the epic leap of faith, moving forward to destroy their 1.0 version of marriage, knowing that only a brand-new 2.0 version would be possible.
Many men will read the above and sigh, gulp, cry, or guffaw. Others will throw their hands up in despair.
Brother, you’re free to handle your failing relationship however you wish to. These are just the observations of what attributes and characteristics I’ve witnessed in men who turned their lives and relationships around and flourished.
Each man must choose who he will be and stop waiting in passive inaction for someone else to improve it.
As an old friend of mine said,” Aim at nothing, and you’re sure to hit it.” Unfortunately, that is precisely how most men believe emotional and physical affairs are best handled. Unfortunately, that’s a recipe for personal misery and continued suffering.
What Kind of Man Are You Ready To Be?
If you find yourself reading these with sobriety, hope, and readiness to be such a man, I stand here ready to walk with you. I wake up every day to guide men through the landscape of cultivating these ten attributes within themselves.
I can’t guarantee that you will save your relationship or that you should. However, I can promise you that you’ll live an epic, happy, and profoundly fulfilling life regardless of the outcome if you find these attributes within yourself.