Revenge: The Ugly Side of Infidelity

What brings out the worst in people

What can having an affair mean about a relationship

In my last article, we talked about learning from an infidelity, which looked at understanding what had brought on the affair in the first place and how it was related to the relationship. When you take the time to question yourself on how you contributed to the relationship issues, whether you cheated on your spouse or you were cheated on, you can start repairing what had already been broken.

It was briefly mentioned how partners can neglect and betray each other in a relationship in other ways than being unfaithful. In a relationship, we have unwritten rules and expectations from each other that we rarely if ever talk about. When they are not clear, it can lead to many dissatisfactions surrounding the relationship and then partners tend to take it out on their spouse's when they feel that they've been wronged concerning their expectations.
Take the time to reflect on what exactly were yours at the beginning of the relationship and what are they now. Have they changed? Does your partner know about them? Do you know and understand theirs? Did you just assume they had the same as yours? Do you feel you have been taking care of them? If not, why did you neglect them? Does your partner take care of yours?


As humans, people tend to feel entitled to certain things in a relationship even though they don't even do their own part. When we feel that our partner must answer certain demands of ours without even considering if they want to or can, this creates a lot of frustration. When we feel that our partner has neglected some of our expectations, we can sometimes be compelled to get revenge and just be mean to each other. Sometimes, we will neglect their expectations and demands because we want to punish them. Eventually, you end up with 2 people constantly punishing each other for the lack of effort each of them puts into the relationship. 

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Wanting sex and not getting any

Let's give an example of how entitlement and our expectations lead to hurt feelings and bruised egos. Sally wants more sex than Kim who has always been the partner with lower sexual desire. Sally feels that sex is something that couples are supposed to do in order to be happy. Kim wants quality time and to have shared responsibility concerning the kids and the housework. When one of them doesn't get what they want, they don't give back what the other one expects. Eventually, each partner builds up frustrations, feelings of entitlement, resentment and the seed of revenge is slowly and painfully making its way into the core of the relationship dynamic. Both partners feel hurt that the other one isn't taking care of them, but neither is willing to give out first because their egos would have to take a hit. 

Revenge is sweet but ultimately bitter

Even though revenge for most people is seen as a bad thing, it doesn't take away the instant satisfaction you get out of doing it. Most people will deny that they have this tendency but rarely do people not have the knee-jerk reaction to use it when they feel they've been taken advantage of. Admitting that we do this in our relationship with our spouse is what most people would consider relationship suicide and the cause of an instant separation. If you ever do admit to it, do yourself and your relationship a favour: Do NOT pretend this is an unconscious thing! 

The thing that is hard about stopping revenge is that we actually truly enjoy it. We feel entitled to it even! When you get two spouses playing the revenge and entitlement game, you end up with a lot of hurt feelings and a very unhappy relationship. This relationship dynamic isn't always so obvious, as it can be very subtle and ultimately very hard to even perceive. 

Being vengeful by having an affair

The subtleness of entitlement and revengefulness in couples is what can lead sometimes to be unfaithful. One partner might just use this reasoning to go seek elsewhere what they wanted from their relationship all along and that they feel has been neglected. All the while knowing, that it was done out of spite to their partner. You might be thinking that this is a monstrous way to look at relationships and people. I would absolutely agree, but it is also the way you can bring the best out of people. As David Schnarch, so clearly says: "the best in us brings out the worst in us because the worst in us denies its own existence". 

Confronting our own inner demons

When partners in a relationship individually decide to face the horrors they have been putting themselves and their spouse through is when the real change can begin. When we deny what we purposely do to our spouse out of revenge and entitlement, we create an even worst dynamic where we perpetuate the myth that we are just not capable of being a better person. 


Learn more about the author

Francois Renaud M.A.
Sex therapist & psychotherapist in Downtown Montreal

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Infidelity: Is it really the worst thing that can happen to a couple?

How to grow from an infidelity

The deep trauma of infidelity

No one wants to experience infidelity from their partner. The hurt feelings, the betrayal, the hate, the resentment, the unanswered questions, the feeling of being undesirable in their eyes, the competitiveness from the other partner. Nothing from infidelity seems to be positive and the first thing we want to do is throw them to the curb. Which is what most of your friends and family will tell you to do. For some reason, you aren't sure if you want to leave and you might even feel guilty about it. What would explain such ambivalence towards someone who profoundly hurt your feelings and broke your trust. What if this infidelity was the best thing that could happen to your sex life and relationship?

Learning from the infidelity

Now don't get me wrong! I am not and never will be pro-infidelity. It can be compared to a traumatic experience to learn that your partner betrayed you and chose egotistically to satisfy their needs with another person. Infidelity is unfortunately not that uncommon and men as well as women do it for various reasons. Those reasons is what you can learn from this terrible experience. How they answer the questions and how your partner expresses their process of becoming unfaithful is a dialogue that can bring you to have a deeper understanding of your relationship and possibly what was wrong with it. 

It is possible that the answers you receive are going to be hard to hear or sometimes even untrue. Other times, they will never satisfy your curiosity about what went on, or how or when or how many times. But, they might also make you realize that there was something lacking in the relationship or your sex life. That you might have betrayed them in other ways and never gave it a second thought.

Let's not start pointing the blame towards the person that was cheated on with this discussion. The importance is to take the time to listen on both sides about how this came to be in the relationship and maybe, how you could even repair it.

Infidelity is a very complex process that couples need to explore deeply before taking a decision

What questions should you ask?

The time of day, the number of calls, the where and the who are not questions that will alleviate the hurt feelings. Actually, they might just make it worst as they don't really bring the answers to the questions you are probably not willing to hear. A true dialogue on our partner's infidelity is one of the conversations that can be extremely confrontational and requires that we truly listen, even though, we might be the one that needs comfort and listening at that time. The questions that might bring light unto the situation are the following:

  • What did you get from having sex with the other person?
  • Was there anything lacking from our relationship and/or sex life?
  • Did you try to talk to me about it?
  • Did I listen if you did?
  • How come we never talked about this before?
  • What brought you to do it?
  • Were you thinking of me before, during or after?
  • What are you remorseful for, if you feel it at all?
  • How can we mend this situation from now on?

What to do with the answers

The discussion with the questions above are most likely things you didn't want to hear about yourself or your partner. You might realize how awful of a person your partner is or just how badly you've ignored or hurt them as well. Maybe, a little bit of both. You may want to decide that after the numerous conversation on the issue, that the best thing is to leave the relationship because that is how you will keep your integrity and self-respect. You might also consider that you had a part to play in this, even though you weren't the one who made the decision to be unfaithful.  You might have ignored the signs or your responsibilities towards maintaining a fulfilling relationship and sex life. 

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Bringing back the trust

Jealousy and possessiveness

It is not uncommon that jealousy and possessiveness will rise up after being so badly wounded in our egos. We seek after being hurt, to feel secure and capable of having some form of control over the situation. It is important that this jealousy and possessiveness don't overwhelm your new dynamic after an infidelity. The partner who cheated can help by insuring the boundaries of the relationship for a while and reassure the other on their actions. It is important though, that this does not become the new norm, nor that it binds you and your partner in a prison of insecurity. 

Jealousy and possessiveness are common reasons why there is infidelity. Feeling trapped in a relationship you can't get out of is sometimes what brings one partner to jump the fence. The partner who has been cheated on must find ways to self-soothe their insecurity and build on a solid-flexible self that makes them a desirable partner to be with. By changing the dynamic in ourselves from being validated by our partner to being self-validating and feeling self-desirable makes for a strong foundation in a couple. 

Recognizing the hurt and remorse

The partner who cheated is often times not remorseful of having been unfaithful, but of hurting their partner. When they were having the affair, they felt alive, desirable and awake. Rarely does someone regret that. Showing true remorse for what we did, demonstrates that we still care about our partner even though we hurt them deeply. The one who had the affair needs to now deal with being the one who has created such pain. You can't hurt someone by your actions that you knew would hurt if they found out and then asking them not to talk about it. The person who cheated must face the consequences of his actions and have a mirror of the devastation they created. 

It is important to note that the one of was cheated on must have the space to talk and process their pain and not just use that time to attack and play the victim towards the other. Coming to terms with such betrayal of what we once assumed was a safe and secure environment takes times. Time that must be used appropriately by expressing and processing the mourning of what will never be the same again. 

Learn more about the author

Francois Renaud M.A.
Sex therapist & psychotherapist in Downtown Montreal

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Learn more on infidelity

Revenge: The Ugly Side of Infidelity