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How Someone Can Abuse a Partner to Cover Their Infidelity

As part of infidelity, cheaters often victimize and abuse their partners.

Key points

  • Abuse of betrayed partners can be inadvertent or intentional.
  • Abuse can be physical, emotional, or due to neglect.
  • The abuse that so often accompanies betrayal can hurt as much if not more than the betrayal.

The longer I work with cheaters and their betrayed partners, the more I see the ways in which the men and women who commit infidelity sometimes victimize and abuse their betrayed partners—usually as part of justifying or covering up their behavior. Sometimes this abuse is inadvertent and cheaters are not even aware they’re doing it. Other times, it is intentional.

The most common ways in which cheaters victimize and abuse their partners are outlined below, with examples.

1. Verbal Abuse. Verbal abuse, or using words and body language to inappropriately criticize another person, often involves putdowns intended to make the victim feel that they are not worthy of love and respect. Examples include:

  • Belittling a partner’s looks, character, or abilities.
  • Name-calling.
  • Heavy sighs anytime a partner speaks or acts.
  • Purposefully embarrassing or shaming a partner.
  • Telling a partner they are weak, defective, or not worthwhile.

Example: "I told my wife she was letting herself go and she was no longer attractive. I did this to explain why I was not being sexual with her (when the real reason was that I was having an affair)."

2. Threatening Behavior. This can include any action or spoken threat to hurt another person physically, psychologically, emotionally, or sexually, such as:

  • Saying they will leave, take the kids, etc., as a way of manipulating their partner.
  • Acting as if they will punch, hit, kick, slap, use objects or weapons, hurt the children or pets, throw things, etc.
  • Threatening to embarrass one's partner publicly if they do not do what the abuser wants.
  • Threatening to not support a partner and/or kids if the partner files for divorce.
  • Threatening to physically hurt the partner or someone they care about if they do not behave as the abuser wants them to.

Example: "I told my wife that if she wants me to continue to provide for her and the kids, she is going to have to put up with my porn use. I did this because I wanted her to agree that my porn use is not a form of cheating."

3. Physical Abuse. Physical abuse encompasses any forceful or violent physical action designed to intimidate or to make another person do something (or accept something) against their will. Examples include:

  • Punching, slapping, choking, kicking, etc.
  • Throwing things at the partner.
  • Physically making the partner do something against their will.
  • Using any object or weapon against the partner.
  • Pushing, grabbing, or restraining the partner.

Example: "I threw my phone at my husband and told him to look at it so he could see I wasn’t cheating. Then I grabbed the phone back before he could look at it because I knew what was on it. I did this to convince him that he was wrong about my cheating, even though he wasn’t."

4. Sexual Abuse. Any non-consenting sexual act or behavior qualifies as sexual abuse. Non-consenting can include behaviors “consented” to by minors, adults who are inebriated, mentally handicapped people, and adults who are manipulated. Examples include:

  • Pushing a partner for sex when they are afraid to say no.
  • Demanding sex or acting as if a marriage license is a mating permit.
  • Asking one's partner to be sexual after an incident of verbal abuse, threats, physical abuse, or psychological abuse.
  • Demanding, coercing, or forcing one's partner to perform sexual acts in which they do not want to engage.
  • Forcing sexual activity when the partner says no, is asleep, is drunk or high, etc.

Example: "I used my wife for sex and coerced her into sexual behaviors that she did not want to engage in. I told her that if she did not have sex when and how I wanted, I would leave her."

5. Psychological Abuse. Emotional abuse, sometimes referred to as mind games, is intended to cause fear and/or confusion in the victim. It can include:

  • Controlling and/or limiting the partner’s use of the phone, ability to see friends, etc.
  • Blaming the partner for one's own mistake or when things go wrong.
  • Gaslighting; for example, someone who is accused of cheating may deny it and say their partner is misinterpreting, making things up, etc.
  • Controlling the partner with money—not giving enough for groceries and other needs, withholding child support, spending money frivolously on oneself while putting the partner on a tight budget, etc.
  • Treating the partner like a servant or a sex object with no rights, excluding them from decisions, acting as if they are property, etc.

Example: "I accused my wife of being paranoid about me cheating, even in the face of direct evidence that I was. I gaslighted her in this way because I wanted to continue cheating without consequences."

6. Neglect. Neglect includes the failure to provide for the basic needs of one or more dependents. Basic needs include adequate and appropriate food, shelter, clothing, hygiene, and love.

  • Leaving kids alone and unsupervised while cheating is occurring.
  • Not providing needed attention and affection to one's partner.
  • Not protecting one's partner from dangers, including STIs that the cheating partner might bring into the relationship.
  • Not holding up one's end of housework, yard work, and other household tasks.
  • Emotionally abandoning a partner and/or children.

Example: "I emotionally and physically distanced myself from my partner, telling her I was working extra hours so we could live a better life when really I was cheating and spending money on my affair partner."

Infidelity, by its very nature, is a betrayal of the highest order. When a partner is betrayed through cheating, the person they trust the most has basically shoved a knife into their back. And the abuse that so often accompanies the betrayal is like twisting that knife and doing further, deeper damage. The good news is that betrayed partners can heal from both intimate betrayal and related forms of victimization and abuse.

Facebook image: SrdjanVrebac/Shutterstock

More from Robert Weiss Ph.D., LCSW, CSAT
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