The search for clarity may be elusive, despite the really great contributions to this discussion.
Ultimately, I think a betrayed spouse who hasn’t chosen to cheat will be unable to fully comprehend a series of choices they’ve never made.
I think most of us have at least had opportunist or temptations or even questionable boundaries at times, but if we haven’t actually cheated, it is hard to wrap our heads around it.
Catching up on this thread, it’s interesting that defining "love" — in addition to duplicity and cognitive dissonance — has been added to the discussion.
Love is tricky, because the word means so many different things to so many different people, yet, all agree betrayal is the antitheses of what love SHOULD be.
That aside, my wife was certain, based on her limited understanding of love in her 20’s, that she loved me, despite her horrible decisions.
In fact, her AP, who was a family friend, turned out to be a serial cheater. His last question to my wife before the A started was, "Do you love your spouse?"
She said she did. Thus, their fantasy bubble was something "special" and unique. Of course it wasn’t.
I do think the reason the duplicity starts with or at least the rationalization is: what a betrayed spouse doesn’t know, can’t hurt us. The WS is protecting us from the truth. That’s the lie they tell themselves, and where the cognitive dissonance kicks in to build the reasons they aren’t being BAD.
In my specific case, my wife wasn’t caught. Her A ended and she planned to take her secret to her grave — keeping me from harm (in her mind). Nearly two decades later, she understood the damage was done, and keeping it a secret only made it worse. So, she confessed.
As to the love part, neither of us fully understood what love was or could be, until we began our journey to reconcile and rebuild our marriage from the ground up.
My wife is still sure she had feelings for me, and didn’t set out to destroy or hurt me, but understands NOW that’s what infidelity is, and it certainly wasn’t any kind of healthy love. She betrayed her own standards. She didn’t love herself, at all. She only thought she knew what love was.
It sure would have been easier for both of us if she had learned what love is or isn’t before our marriage. Although, if I’m honest, I really had no idea either. And neither of our families were good at it either, some tough FOO lives (for most of us I imagine).
I’ll always hate the A, yet, I am amazed what we’ve built and rebuilt from the foundational reset.
I’ll also likely never fully comprehend a choice or series of choices I have never made to hurt someone else.
I have learned a key element of love is empathy. It’s what I showed my wife after her confession. The irony being, I think ALL infidelity lacks empathy -or it couldn’t happen in the first place.