Many wives who are dealing for a cheating husband do not feel any sympathy for him, no matter how much he begs for forgiveness or seems totally broken and pathetic while he is doing it. It seems that wives who do feel sympathy are in the minority. And this can make them wonder why they feel the way that they do and what is wrong with them.
A wife might say: “I am not going to tell you that I don’t feel anger and rage toward my cheating husband. I feel both of those things. I truly do. But somewhere along the way, I have started to feel sorry for him. I believe that he cheated because he has been under a great deal of stress. His brother, to whom he is extremely close, is ill. He just lost his job and he hates his new job, for which he is extremely overqualified. He made a mistake when fixing our home that caused our floors to warp and become flooded and we had to pay money that we couldn’t afford to get it fixed. So I believe that for the past few months, my husband has walked around feeling totally incompetent. When he told me about the affair, he sobbed. He said his worst fear was losing me because I was the only thing that kept him going. Maybe I am stupid, but I believe him. And I honestly feel sorry for him. Because he is clearly broken. My mother says that I am very naive to fall for this. She says he’s only trying to garner my sympathy so that he can cheat again and I will not suspect him. Is this true? We have been married for a long time and this is the first time that he has cheated.”
Why I Think That This Can Be Normal: I can’t predict the future, but I absolutely understand why you feel sympathy. Once I got over my fury at my own husband, I could see that he was a stressed out, broken person who was trying different things to get some relief. Granted, there is never an excuse to cheat in an attempt to get some relief. I would never defend someone who cheats on their spouse. But I firmly believe that most people who cheat only once and who have never shown any signs of it before are likely acting in a time of great personal crisis. And this is a time in their life when they are greatly struggling. This doesn’t excuse it but I believe that it is true. Because you love them, of course you feel empathy. And because you can still feel empathy, this can sometimes tell you important things about how you really feel (or don’t feel) about your marriage. So no, I don’t think that you are crazy, are too kind, or are giving your husband a pass to cheat on you.
Pitfalls To Avoid: Here is something that is very important. Even though it’s normal to feel empathy, it’s important that you don’t let this same empathy keep you from doing what needs to be done. Sure, your husband is going through a hard time and this likely contributed to him making a very bad decision. But he must learn new coping strategies and / or he must deal with whatever is the problem. Because you have to take care of yourself. And part of doing that is to make sure that he is not going to cheat on you again.
What I am saying is that you have to be very careful that your empathy doesn’t keep you from insisting that he does the work necessary to fully heal and to safeguard himself from this happening in the future. Because I think it’s safe to say that if he cheated again, you wouldn’t feel as much sympathy the second time around.
So while I understand feeling sympathy, you can’t allow this to take your focus away from the fact that he needs to act in your best interest also. The good news is that healing your marriage after an affair might also help him with his issues because it is going to force him to identity and to deal with them. Please resist the temptation to let him skip this step because it is going to bring up things that are painful for him. Yes, it will hurt and be uncomfortable. But if you don’t address it, then it is going to continue to hurt over and over and over again because it is not really ever resolved.
But to answer the original concern, there is nothing wrong with you. And I don’t think it’s naive or wrong to feel sympathy when someone has made a horrible mistake during a time of crisis. It is extremely unfortunate that his mistake is something that is going to hurt you and your marriage, but it’s not uncommon for this to happen. The key is to not let the sympathy keep both of you from going through the process of healing. Because there is never an excuse to cheat. And not dealing with the issues at hand only makes you vulnerable in the future.