I cheated on my alcoholic husband, now he can’t get past it

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on July 4th, 2008 - Last updated: November 21st, 2023
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Dr. Stanton,

My husband began drinking after being sober for 15 years. I was so disturbed by this and began having little mental breakdowns.

One night while I was at work I was very upset and cried to my boss, he held me and kissed me and this is not something my husband has been able to do in our marriage. It felt wonderful, but this guy moved away for 6 months. After he came back we began having an affair.

My husband thought something was going on between the two of us, but only talked about it while he had been drinking and would become angry with me while he was talking about it. I told him each time that nothing was happening.

I had ended this affair over a year ago, but my husband has just informed me about two months ago, that he had a digital recorder in my car for the past 2 years and knows it all. He not only heard me and this guy together, but watched us on two occasions. I have heard way to much from him to know it’s true, he has told me about things only he could have heard if he’d been there.

He said he never told me about it because he didn’t want the confrontation, or the out come of it all. Now that he knew it was over he confronted me with it. We talked, and he says he wants us to work out, he wants me and him to be together forever, but there’s a problem…he cannot seem to get over all that he’s heard and seen. He thinks about this 24 hours a day 7 days a week. He said that he thinks he was able to control it so well before because he was drinking, but now that he knows just how upsetting his drinking was to me, he has stopped. He acts like he never knew just how bad it was on me, but yet, he watched me have these little mental breakdowns and would hold me and tell me he was so sorry, and say things like, now would be a good time for me to stop, yet, a week later he was back at it again. He says his drinking got worse after he found out what was going on with me and this guy, I can’t blame him for that at all, but it’s over and done with and my husband mental state is not normal by any means. He never stops thinking of this affair I had and is ALWAYS stressed from it. He says to me all the time, this has to go away or it will kill me. I don’t know what to do to help him. Sometimes I think he’s doing it to me for a payback. I just don’t know what to think or do, but we have both suffered enough and it’s time this all goes away.

He is on medication to help him through his days, but he can’t even make love to me without seeing me and this guy together when he does.

He wanted a threesome with me and my best friend when I was younger and after five years of begging me for it, I set it up. Big mistake, but when I showed my upset over it, he would say, oh, come on, you wanted it, you set it up. Now if I tell him I know how he feels, because that hurt me when it happened, my feelings again, are just pushed aside. He tells me, this is different, I didn’t go behind your back, it didn’t go on and on and last for a year and a half. I told him, well, sex with someone else is sex with someone else, whether it happened once or six times, it happened and I have feelings too.

Please, tell me what I should do to help my husband stop these thoughts he has, and move on if that’s what he really wants to do.

Thank you,

Dear Anne,

Would you say your husband was selfish?  What leads me to ask you this are (1) his hectoring you to have a ménage a trois, (2) his inability to comfort you, (3) his regularly quitting drinking because it upset you, only to quickly return to drinking.  Your affair seemed to shake up his world.  You did have the affair in response to his actions.  Perhaps you should say to him, “I am the aggrieved party – you drank yourself senseless and ignored my pleas for you to stop – until I started an affair.  What you need to do now is to convince me I was right to stick with you.  If you can’t act like a husband towards me, I need to understand that and move on.”


Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.


  • Nick M. says:

    This answer is crap. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Anyone who knows anything about addiction will know that “quitting” is a lifelong process that will likely have several relapses along the way. If the cheater here was really so distraught about her husband’s “selfishness” then she should have initiated divorce proceedings and been done with it. Cheating is never a justification and the husband in this situation has nothing to prove – other than trying his best to maintain his sobriety. That’s hard enough.

  • Michelle says:

    This is exactly what I went through. 20 years ago two years into our marriage I had an affair.. it really at first hurt me to the core.. because I truly loved my husband. But sadly my husband was a horrible alcoholic. He had not been faithful before my situation and I knew it but my husband like many addicts always denied or switched blame on someone else when he was caught. My husband was also very mentally, physically abusive. I was miserable two years in.. My friend walked into my life unexpectedly at a bad time of my marriage. My husband was serving a prison sentence for domestic battery against me. The guy who I was seeing was so much more than I was used to. We developed a great friendship.. and honestly having sex with him was so good. He was giving me all of his attention.. something I wasn’t used to..plus he pursued me nonstop and I was starting to like how he put in all this effort.. I didn’t see it coming but my guy fell in love with me. And my husband knew it. My husband threw that affair in my face everyday. Numerous times. He never could get past it. So my husband turned to using this as his excuse. To have multiple affairs. I broke his heart blah blah blah Every time he was caught cheating denial and I was to blame. It was so bad that it drove me into my guy’s arms more and more. He made everything feel so good.. The pursuing, the sneaking around, the connection and the amazing sex because I finally realized that I fell in love with him too . I stayed married to my husband for a total of 22 years. I had to take it every time he cheated because of one affair. I wanted to get caught to wake him up . His addiction never got better. I finally left him.. once we got divorced 6 weeks later he was diagnosed with liver cancer and given a death sentence. Guess who I am with now? And after waiting for me to finally get this marriage ended . He waited for me. We are getting married next year. He’s still the best thing to ever happen to me. Out of the blue.. and everything I want or need. And he really really does truly love me.

  • Nick says:

    This is a crap answer. Cheating is NEVER an appropriate response to an undesired circumstance. You know what is? Divorce. I don’t blame your husband for what he’s going through due to your actions.

  • Defeated says:

    Wondering how things turned out for you?
    I too have gone through your situation. My boyfriend was addicted to pills, even going as far as stealing them from me, my vehicle, my safe, and my pharmacy bag I just picked up. He would have bad withdrawal when he couldn’t get anymore, and sleep for 3-4 days, but when awake be moody. I repeatedly begged him to stop but he wouldnt. I ended up having a 7 wk affair, and ended anything physical at that point. Weeks later, he found out. Long story short, he stopped abusing pills, but has made my life hell with lack of trust. He would call me a liar, a whore, and I’m a horrible person. I tried to explain to him the affair was out of character for me, that his addiction pushed me away, but he wont hear that. Everything is my fault in his mind.
    He recently moved out because he claims I ignore him and wont be intimate. Its hard to be intimate with someone that puts you down, accuses you of things you didnt do constantly & doesn’t trust you. I should have left him long ago, but didnt because of his daughter at the time, and he would cry and promise change. Things changed alright. I feel like I have PTSD from dealing with him.

  • Eugene says:

    I am Posting from the Alcoholics POV and Side of it All.
    I drank for Many reasons for 22 years, due to things in my past. When I met my current wife, I told her to Leave me Alone and I was Content just drinking every evening. I told her I didnt want a relationship with anyone and all I needed was my alcohol.
    She pursued me with a vengeance, constantly calling, visiting, tracking me down from bar to bar? This was only after 6 weeks from when we met.
    Eventually we fell in Love, Even though I was an extreme Alcoholic, I still went to work, never late, Never absent. I was what I considered “Functional”. I Never harmed anyone, was always the Life of every social gathering, etc. I was Fun.
    Even while being an Alcoholic, I Honored and Loved my soon to Be Wife, Adopted her Child from another marriage, raised OUR child into a successful adult, gave my Wife everything Physically and Emotionally that she Never Experienced in all her Life. I Was the Greatest Man she had ever come to Fall In Love with.
    I even Managed to start my Own business while an Alcoholic, I worked Hard, Provided, etc. Eventually I bought a second business and after 17 years of being the Most Wonderful Father, Husband, Person? I went from being the “Functional” alcoholic to a totally Incapacitated shell of myself, having to spend every waking Moment on customers, Projects, phone calls and Numerous extensive responsibilities? I eventually begain to come directly home, drinking until bedtime. I no Longer had time to share with my wife. The previous 17 years of A Wonderful relationship had been destroyed in a matter of 6 months. I stopped going away, couldn’t do any chores at home, became so Very Mean to her, saying I wanted Out of the relationship, Telling her I Hated My life, hated being married, etc.
    She cried most every day, because she lost the Only thing that Never let her down before. Her self esteem disintegrated, her hope died, she felt worthless. We both assumed that I chose the alcohol over her, Us, etc.
    We didnt realize I Needed Actual Help. It escalated to where She Needed to Feel Whole again, valuable, Loved, wanted and looked for Everything I Took away in another person, we eventually separated.
    Realizing I needed Help? I obtained it, Detox and Rehab. We were starting our New Lives.
    Over time when My wife discovered I became SOBER, She contacted Me, slightly Enraged and Berating me over the phone? I didnt understand why all this when we weren’t even together anymore? She Explained that All she ever wanted was The Husband she Married Back, the One who gave her everything, to give her everything again and She was Upset that I had gotten Sober and would possibly give all that she used to have, to Someone else. Even though we Separated, she was still So In Love with the Man who Got Lost inside of Me.
    We eventually started dating again and Decided to try all over, in the wake of My Alcoholism and Her affair, We Are Making our Way back to US.
    It is Very Rare that The Offending Alcoholic admits that, THEY have been the Root of Issues in a Marriage and Instead of Condemming the Reactions and Circumstances of partner, who was ONLY Trying to Survive, they Realize that They were the SOLE reason for All the Damage.
    We have learned that I Have a Disease and we Treat it as Such Now.
    I Never meant to be hurtful and most times I Felt like the passenger in a vehicle, just letting the Alcohol take me where it wanted to Drive.
    It was a Prison for Me to be an Alcoholic and My Wife and I Almost became casualties of the war Within.

  • Cedge says:

    I am literally going through this right now! Everything except the threesome part. I kicked him out 3 weeks ago and he’s chosen to stay gone. He refuses to quit drinking. I’m having his baby next week. He’s so disconnected from my us and he constantly blames me for everything. He was in recovery for 2.5 years when we first got together and then he wanted to drink socially. He’s a grown man, I can’t stop him. This is extremely difficult. I had a two week affair and I came clean and told him everything. I wanted to stay together and work on us. That was 5 months ago. He stayed but it has now gotten so bad. His drinking was bad before. I felt like he never put me first. He’d go out all night and not come home. He tried to sleep with my best friend. He tried to do coke. He hates me right now for what I did. I can’t help but hold onto hope. I don’t know if I should let it go or keep trying. Every time I try he’s so hateful to me.

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