“My Husband Keeps Cheating On Me”


My husband and I have been married six years. We are happy and have fun together. However, off and on over the course of our relationship he has chatted with women online behind my back on various hookup sites. He has even texted a friend of mine flirtatiously, and she immediately told me. Now he dislikes her and thinks she blew it out of proportion.

It has escalated from chatting (which I still think is wrong but not as egregious as real life cheating) to attempting to meet up in real life. He sees nothing wrong with his behavior and has dismissed it as “just looking around,” which he didn’t think I’d mind. He says he was looking “at” other women but not “for” other women.

Every time I bring up his actions and suggest marriage counseling, he says there is no need for it and he’s happy in our relationship. I reply with my own concerns, and he tells me that, if I have issues, I should get individual counseling. So I did.

I did not like what my counselor had to say: that my husband is a sexually compulsive narcissist. If she’s right, and this is in fact the case, is there any hope that he will stop “looking around”? We have two children together, so I want to stay married if at all possible and reasonable.

I’m at my wit’s end. I even asked if he wanted an open marriage at one point because I thought that would be preferable to his sneaking around. At least I’d know where things stood. He said no, but then said it’s male nature to philander and I didn’t need to worry. Men, according to him, can separate sex and love while women can’t.

At the same time, I truly don’t want an open marriage because I want a stable environment for the children. We are happy but for his problem behavior, which he stops for a while and then starts again. It’s happened four times and I just don’t want to accept that he can’t change. Please advise. Thanks. — Can’t Accept His Behavior

It’s almost funny — except, not really — that you say an open marriage would be preferable to all the sneaking around because then you’d at least know where you stand when, in fact, you DO know where you stand. Your husband does not care about you, or what you want, or what your feelings are, or what you need to be happy in your marriage. That’s where you stand. When you suggested couple’s counseling, he said he didn’t need it because HE was happy, but what about YOU? That doesn’t matter to him. When he flirted with a friend of yours, he got mad at the friend for telling you, not because he felt bad that he was wrong to have hurt and embarrassed you but because the friend “blew it out of proportion.” He argues that he’s looking “at” women and not “for” women even though he’s apparently attempted to meet the women from online in real life. He thought his behavior was ok because he “didn’t think you’d mind.” When you expressed that, yes, you DO mind, he said that it’s just a male’s nature to philander — um, no, it’s not — confirming that he is, indeed, doing more than “just looking around.” And he’s arguing that even if he IS doing more than “just looking around” — hint: he is — it’s ok because he can separate love from sex. It’s all ok, isn’t it, as long as he’s happy and as long as he can excuse away his behavior because it’s male nature.

NEVER MIND that his philandering bothers you (of course it does!). NEVER MIND that you’re unhappy in your marriage. NEVER MIND that you want him to change his ways. HE’S perfectly happy, and, in his mind, that’s all that matters. Because your therapist was right: your husband is a narcissist. And narcissists don’t easily change their spots. Sure, you can try to plead and cajole him into going to therapy with you. MAYBE he’ll go. Probably he won’t. Or, he’ll go and not really open up or put in any effort because this is YOUR issue, not his, and YOU should be the one to accept him because, after all, he’s just being an average man, doing typical male stuff, like picking up women on the internet and cheating on his wife and putting the moves on her friends behind her back.

EXCEPT! That’s not how an average man behaves. Yes, that’s how some men behave. Crappy men. Men who have been told over and over and over that that kind of behavior is ok and acceptable because it’s just their nature. Men whose romantic partners send the message that their behavior is acceptable every time they turn a blind eye to it because acknowledging it — like, really acknowledging it and saying, “That’s NOT ok and I won’t stand for it”–isn’t always as easy as it sounds, especially when kids are involved or when they aren’t financially independent or they simply don’t know how to be on their own because it’s been so long or they’ve lost their self-confidence and the idea of that kind of loneliness is too much to bear (as if the loneliness they feel every time their men cheat on them is somehow better). But, fuck that.

Quit sending the message that this behavior is ok and that you’ll accept it if he’ll just be honest about it and stop sneaking around. Quit settling for bad behavior. Quit settling. Stand up for yourself and tell your husband that you’ve had enough and you will leave his ass if he doesn’t re-commit himself to your marriage and the sanctity of that union. And if he doesn’t show an immediate effort to keep you — if he doesn’t start taking you and your marriage and all the hurt he is causing you seriously, MOA. Because the stable environment you think you’re providing for your kids by with a chronic philanderer doesn’t sound so stable. And it certainly doesn’t sound happy. And, really, what’s the point if you don’t have that?


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.


  1. Perfect response Wendy! Everything I was thinking, except much better written. 🙂

  2. Avatar photo LadyinPurpleNotRed says:

    It’s time to face the music and accept that he won’t change. It’s not that he CAN’T change–but he doesn’t want to. There is no incentive for him to change. He faces zero consequences for his actions, so why should he stop doing what makes him happy?

    1. Well, if he has *actual* narcissistic personality disorder (as defined in the DSM-IV), he probably can’t change either. Not until he admits he has a problem which he won’t, by definition.

      (PS- I’m not diagnosing him, just going by what the counselor said).

  3. Just leave now, take it from someone who’s been there, you will regret every minute you ever spent with this man. Therapist is right, Wendy is right, you are married to a narcissist.

  4. lets_be_honest says:

    Some people put others before themselves. You are doing that right now. You are letting your husband and kids be happy while you are not. That works out great if your partner is someone is does the same. Your’s does not. Just leave. Why spend the rest of your life like this? Its not worth it. Your kids will still be happy, and likely proud of you in the long run.
    I’ve been thinking about these kinds of people lately – the people who truly believe the only thing that really matters in life is whether they are happy, regardless of how that effects other people. Its so fucked up. F those people, LW. I really hope you decide to leave.

    1. Skyblossom says:

      I’m sorry you’re going through this LBH. Internet hugs.

      1. lets_be_honest says:

        Thanks skyblossom! That’s really nice of you to say.

  5. Yes, you’re married to a narcissist. No, he won’t change. Because he does not think he is doing anything wrong. The selfishness is off the charts. He comes first. Whatever he wants comes first. The lying, the excuses, saying ‘all men act this way’, saying it’s your problem, not his, blaming your friend for objecting to his gross, piggish attempt to hit on her…..all classic narcissist. This is going to be what the rest of your life is like….unless you walk away and take your own life back.

    As for the kids: they’re not a reason to stay married. They’re a reason to go. Because they watch everything, and they learn from both of you. I don’t know if you have boys or girls or both, but are these the lessons you want them to learn? That all men screw around on their wives? That it’s OK to break your marriage vows? That it’s OK to treat your spouse with contempt and disrespect?

    And finally, your own mental health. One of my closest friends was married to a narcissist for 20 years. You cannot imagine the damage that it did to her emotional health. The constant drumming into her head that he was right, she was wrong. That it was her fault that he was cheating. She was unattractive, she was unlovable. No one would ever want her. It’s been years since she threw him out and divorced him, and she’s still suffering the effects. She can’t even date anyone because she feels so bad about herself.

    Go. For yourself, for your kids. Just go.

  6. Laura Hope says:

    If you were doing with other men what he’s doing with other women, how do you think he’d respond? I suspect he’d explode from rage. Spontaneously combust.

  7. Think of the example you are setting for your children, if nothing else. As they get older, they will begin to realize what’s going on (as did my mom & aunts with my grandfather). Do you want your children to learn to accept shitty behavior in a relationship? You’re doing a major disservice to them & to yourself by staying in this marriage.

    Also- it doesn’t sound like your husband is going to change his ways… Everything in this letter that you stated he has tolled you made my blood boil.

    Come on, aim higher- you don’t need to live like this!

  8. He’s happy and you’re not. He’s not going to change his ways, and he has pretty much said that. Numerous times.

    If you want to be happy – please move on. If you are in an at-fault state, take this philandering asshole to the cleaners. No matter what you do, he will say the divorce was your fault (trust me, I’ve been there), so you might as well get something out of it in order to take care of your children and yourself while you work on getting back on your feet.

    Good luck.

  9. Laura Hope says:

    Yeah, just try divorcing this guy. He’ll be like You can’t do this to ME! ME! ME! You’re MINE! MINE! MINE!

  10. findingtheearth says:

    My father is/was a philanderer. I have seen him go through so many relationships and cheat on every one of his significant others. I honestly did not think it bothered my perception of relationships until I have been single for the last two years and have done a lot of heavy thinking.

    The mentality your husband has is dangerous. Also, he may be telling you he is not physically cheating, but just looking around, but what is stopping him from not lying to you?

    You are worth more than this. You deserve better. Your children deserve to see you happier and in a safe, equal relationship.

  11. One word: lawyer.

    Get one. Do that first. Do it now.

    1. Yeah, she should probably also get a doctor and get checked out for STDs!

  12. Bittergaymark says:

    Eh, there are things FAR less stable for kids than an open marriage. One of which would be a broken home…

    1. Except I know countless children (myself included) who grew up in “broken” (ie divorced) homes and had a great deal of stability. Capable parenting is possible regardless of marital status.

    2. Two people mutually and respectfully deciding to have a non-monogamous/open marriage is not even in the same arena and one partner buckling under the pressure of the other partner’s cheating and deciding that an “open” marriage would be best. This is NOT the former, and LW, please don’t think that a “broken home” can’t be stable. Of course it can, and many children have grown up in healthy single parent or remarried homes.

    3. Skyblossom says:

      He turned down the open marriage. He wants to sneak around but apparently is open to letting her look around.

      1. Skyblossom says:

        I meant he isn’t open to letting her look around.

  13. You say you’re happy about a dozen times in your letter, but are you REALLY happy or are you just trying to pretend like you’re ok with this? I’m 99.9% sure it’s the latter. You’re faking it and trying to be happy when in reality you’re miserable.
    Your husband is not the only one whose happiness matters. YOU matter. Your feelings have value. he has proven time and time again that he has zero respect for you and for your emotions…how is that a happy marriage? He has control. He doesn’t listen to a word you say and he is unwilling to change.
    Take control of this situation. You can do it. He’s not worth fighting for.

  14. Your husband doesn’t want an open marriage because he doesn’t want you to have sex with anyone else. Only he can.

    I really hope you decide to leave him. Good luck to you! Stay strong and move forward.

  15. Why do so many women want to live in a state of denial? When your husband trolls hook-up sites, he’s trying to hook up with someone! Of course he’s already cheated. And he will continue as long as you are there. I have too much experience with narcissists and your therapist (and Wendy) are right – he sounds like one. There is only one way to deal with narcissists: limit your time with them. You’ll still have to deal with him to some degree because he is the father of your children. Did you really not see him for who he was when you got married, was it a rushed relationship, or did you just see what you wanted to see? I’ve read that women who are co-dependent often seek out narcissists. Try to figure out why you chose him so that this doesn’t happen again.

    Good luck.

    1. A classic feature of narcissist behavior is to be Mr/Ms Perfectly Charming and Devoted as they pursue what they want. Once they have it, not so much. This was the case with my friend’s husband. He was wonderful when they were dating. Not so over-the-top that you’d be thinking he was a creepy controlling type, but just….a lovely person. Kind, thoughtful, devoted to her. I thought he was a fabulous catch, her parents did, our other friends did, even my parents did (and they love her like a daughter). It wasn’t until a few years into the marriage that he started showing his true colors. And she didn’t see it at first, because he was very, very good at manipulating her into thinking it was all her fault. Evil little sociopath.

      1. Skyblossom says:

        That’s my understanding of narcissists too. They are incredibly charming in person, people love them, they are the life of the party and people think they are great. This is probably why she says they have fun together, because when he is with her he is fun and charming.

  16. Your husband operates under the “what’s good for me is what’s good” rule, and in classic fashion discounts and ignores your feelings and has no remorse at all. So not only do you not have a real partner, you are married to someone who actively works against the interests of your marriage. I shudder to think what else might be “good” for him in the future, to the detriment of you and the kids…

  17. pinkaffinity says:

    Yeah, after you get the lawyer, I suggest you get tested for STDs. It is really sad that your relationship with your husband has come to this, and I’m sure it hurts a lot (a lot a lot), but the reality is you just can’t trust him anymore. Get tested. Get a lawyer. Protect yourself.

  18. “He said no, but then said it’s male nature to philander and I didn’t need to worry. Men, according to him, can separate sex and love while women can’t.”

    You’re not having sex with him, I hope?

    Heaven only knows what kind of crud he’s bringing home to your marital bed.

  19. artsygirl says:

    My sister was married to a narcissist and like you tried to hold it together for the sake of her kids. In truth, keeping the marriage alive by herself was more detrimental to the children than a divorce. Her daughters were taught that screaming fights were normal, that it is acceptable for daddy to ignore or yell at them when he wasn’t interested in playing ‘happy family’ for the cameras – because ultimately narcissists want to appear perfect for the public, but not actually put in any effort. Not only was my sister miserable, she also contracted an STI from her husband who had been cheating on the entire length of their marriage. Leave now.

  20. SIGH….

    but also, this occurred to me. The argument that men are polyamorous by nature is one that still gets a lot of traction. Just made me think about how often people in history have used “nature” to justify horrible behaviors related to groups of people like African Americans and gay individuals.

  21. One other thing…your offer to give him an open marriage. Take a step back and look at that. You’re already twisting yourself into a pretzel, pushing aside your own needs and wants, to accommodate his selfish behavior. Either to please him so he won’t cheat on you, or to minimize your pain somehow (“at least I’d know where things stood”). This is a bad, bad road you’re starting down, and it’s an awful example for your children.

    1. artsygirl says:

      Great point – the LW is already going well outside her boundaries in order to appease her husband and he is still dismissive.

      1. Breezy AM says:

        These guys don’t want an open marriage. They want the control. The open marriage doesn’t give them the I DO WTFEVER I WANT control they seek. They do not want to be accountable or have boundaries of any kind imposed on them.

  22. For your children’s sake you should get out now. Ok, so to make a long story as short as I can: My mom was terrible and abusive my whole life. I have since figured out that she has narcissistic personality disorder. My ex that I spent 4 years with and with whom I had a child was super nice and fun and charming when he wanted to be (that’s how he reeled me in) and in the end turned out to have NPD as well, go figure. He cheated and lied and emotionally abused and manipulated and was gas lighty as hell and never wanted to change, only wanted to blame me and then when I’d had enough he claimed to have finally seen the error of his ways and clung to me for dear life, to the extent that I now have a permanent restraining order. One thing that helped me leave and to not fall for his manipulations and pleading (and death threats and suicide threats…) yet again was to keep in mind the terrible patterns that we were modeling for my daughter. He ended up getting with another girl and having another baby with her and repeating the exact same behavior. She ended up coming to me for help getting away. The point is, narcissists don’t change. Please get away as soon as you can!

  23. something random says:

    Wendy’s advice was excellent. I do think it’s bold for a therapist to point blank diagnose somebody they haven’t directly spoken with as a sexually compulsive narcissist. I’m not saying the description doesn’t fit like a leather glove; I’m just surprised the the therapist would use a clinical label. But I’ll go on the presumption she is correct.

    LW, hopefully using a label will allow you the wherewithal to extract yourself from the natural tendency to reason your role in your partner’s behavior. It isn’t about you. And sadly, neither will much of his reaction be if you do initiate a divorce. Please be prepared for the possibility that he may have a very intense, manipulative, desperate reaction. Stick with a therapy for your well-being. Narcissistic people often reign down a hurricane response to perceived criticisms and when they are confronted with their own personal failings. But I project..
    Good luck LW. I would leave with a clean conscience. You will be at a great vantage point to help your kids later on when they most likely hit bumps in their paternal relationship. Just remember to have good boundaries and be respectful towards their dad. Stay focused on modeling strong character and all the traits and meanings that are most important to you. I submit my well wishes in your turbulent times.

  24. Breezy AM says:

    Oh! Hi Me, circa 2011.

    Dump the fucking bastard. Trust me. Trust me so much on this. Don’t let your kids see this as a proper model for a marriage (they will know no matter how much you try to hide it). My husband’s parents did. And he grew up and turned into YOUR husband (and my SOON TO BE EX).

    I was scared to leave. I hoped. I believed. I prayed. I did therapy and counselling. Hell I did it for both of us! It was USELESS. I wasted so much time. I’m still so angry and resentful at myself for that.

    My ratbag moved out in March, after I caught him the last time in January. I cried like a bitch for weeks. I still held out a shred of hope that we’d put it back together once he got help for his anxiety and compensatory narcissism. And then, on our fucking anniversary, we had a lovely day together, and he handed me his computer to fix his email, and two tabs were open to escort sites.

    That was the moment I knew it was over, forever. I didn’t even say a word. Just fixed his email, and left.

    I’d been casually dating a couple people in an effort to just stop feeling like shit (I know what this does to yourself esteem honey, oh do I know!). I’m in a more… serious dating… relationship thing with an actual man now, one who loves me and acts like a fucking grownup. Not the spoiled brat man children our husbands are. I wish I’d done it years ago. Best move I ever made.

  25. Datdamwuf says:

    I’m way late to this letter but anyhow. Wendy, very good advice! LW, check out chumplady.com for help and support in getting away and getting a life! Jedi Hugs to you, your husband doesn’t love or respect you, BTDT.

  26. LW–my father was basically your husband, and I can tell you what it’s going to be like from a kid’s perspective. First, leave. Leave NOW. Narcissists push boundaries, and they will push you further and further until you just can’t take it anymore. It WILL get worse, but the good news is that you get to choose when it ends. My mother “stayed together for the children” because people have this mistaken notion that “keeping the family together” is what we must do *at all costs*, despite the fact that “keeping the family together” is sometimes a TERRIBLE effing idea. If your kids are little, all the better. He hasn’t had the opportunity to screw them up yet. My father got much, much worse over time. You will be Best Supporting Actress in your husband’s show, where everyone else is a fan or a roadie. He cares for “#1”–it’s HIM first, before you, before your children, before anyone. If you choose to stay with him, prepare for gaslighting. Prepare for him to gaslight your children. Prepare for him to try to make you as reliant on him as possible. Narcissists will waver between rage mode (when things “aren’t perfect enough” for him–everyone’s not conforming to his idea of perfect for HIM) and absentee mode (when they’re out having fun when “family man” becomes boring). You may eventually find that you feel like you’re raising your children on your own. They’re all about appearances, and they’re very, very entitled. They will throw money at things to “make it all better”. They are insanely concerned with how others perceive them, to the irrational degree. Prepare for him to become psychologically abusive because nothing is ever enough, and that’s everyone else’s fault but his. Everyone else is inept. He may become paranoid. Prepare for him to spy and snoop or become very controlling about privacy–as in, you and your children have none, but he can go do whatever he wants. Here’s an example: he would go through my stuff (I made good grades, had no drug problems or discipline problems at school–there was no reasonable suspicion of any kind to do this stuff), took away my bedroom door for about 6+ months when I was a teenager (if I wanted to get dressed, I had to do so in the bathroom or in front of everyone) and bugged the phones (my mother told me this when she stumbled across a collection of tapes of her telephone conversations) while he was out screwing around on her, and brought home an STD. Then, he blamed HER. She tried to get us to family counseling to no avail–he pointed the finger at everyone else and would not accept any responsibility for anything. When the therapists would see through it (um, duh), he’d make sure we all quit going. It’s all about the double-standard with narcissists.

    Being home will be hellish for your kids. It will be a living nightmare for them. First, he will teach them that nothing is ever good enough. They will never be good enough for him. (He’ll brag about them to other people though, because it makes him look good.) If you make mistakes or cry or do anything “inferior”, it’s BAD and you will be punished. Everyone will hate you.

    If you have a daughter, this is what he will teach her: that it’s OK for a man to screw around on you, to scream at you, order you around, insult you and be dismissive. It’s OK for him to think about himself first before her and their children and entitled to do whatever HE wants, because whatever HE wants is what “counts”. You’re supposed to bend over backwards and smooth things over and do whatever you can to accommodate a man, even if it makes you miserable. Your daughter will eventually end up with this guy.

    If you have a son, this is what he will teach him: that this is the type of man you’re supposed to be. You come first, no matter what. Everyone else caters to you. Nobody’s good enough. It’s OK to cheat, use, and abuse people for your own ends. Other people don’t really “matter”. He will either become this man or develop crippling anxiety that he can’t be this man. (I have a brother, btw.)

    So, this is what you need to do NOW if you’re to escape before it gets bad. Get a lawyer. Stay with your therapist and talk to him/her about how to do this. Get some friends you can trust to be on Team You. Stockpile some money. I hope your finances aren’t too tied to this guy. If he’s on any HIPAA forms at any doctors offices, make sure you revoke that in writing. My mom stuck with my dad for 25 years. My brother and I had moved out and lived in different states by the time they got divorced He flipped out when she left. FLIPPED OUT. He stalked her and tried to get us on his “side”. He lied to us (and everyone else) and told us (and everyone else) that she had been screwing around on him, that he had “evidence”. We didn’t buy it. Nobody bought it. He called the credit card companies and cancelled their credit cards, claiming “identity theft” and tried to ruin her financially (thankfully she had her own money). He took her computer to have it “analyzed”. He told *us* (his KIDS) that he had her underwear analyzed for DNA evidence (um, sure…watching too much CSI dad?) that she was cheating. He hired a PI and had a tracking device on her car. (He’s also got an alcohol problem and is a gun-nut, so this was NOT GOOD.)

    I’m sure your husband won’t be nearly this bad, but prepare for boundaries to be crossed and him to try to use the kids as pawns to get at you (if they’re too little to understand, you have the upper hand). He will get worse as he gets older, so take care of this now while you have a chance of things remaining normal-ish. Google advice on divorcing a narcissist and go to your therapist and lawyer for an order of battle, psychologically and legally. Oh, and my mom says this is the happiest she’s ever been in her life, btw. It gets better. Good luck!

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