4 Reasons an Affair or Marital Crisis Kills your Self Esteem

affair or marital crisis low self esteem

Nothing tears at your self esteem and sense of well being more than a marital crisis.

The question is often posed to me by someone in the midst of a painful relationship upheaval: “What did I do wrong?”

You assume you failed. You ask yourself in the middle of the night, “What could I have done differently? If only I would have paid more attention, been less angry, been more positive, listened better, spent more time with” and the list of “If only I would haves” goes on and on.

You may feel terribly responsible and a part of you won’t let go of the idea that somehow, perhaps in glaring ways, you are to blame.

You kick yourself. You berate yourself. You want to turn the clock back. But, you can’t.

There’s another level to the erosion of self esteem and self respect as well; another pernicious level that rips a hole in your soul.

I hear a suffering spouse utter or imply, “What’s wrong with me, that this could happen?”

You may believe that the marital or relationship crisis points to the reality that you are in some way defective and inadequate.

That sense of being defective or inadequate is finally brought, at least from your point of view, into the open. You as a person are outed.

Your nagging sense of inadequacy, you so valiantly tried to mask or overcome is now exposed.

It is exceedingly difficult to manage well and recover effectively from your marital crisis with low self esteem or shattered sense of self.

I want to help you regain your self respect so you can get on with the job of healing and restoration.

Regaining your self respect often occurs when you understand that you are neither totally responsible nor defective and inadequate but marriage or a relationship of significant emotional investment provides a rich environment for self esteem to get flushed down the toilet.


1. Marriage exposes you.

There is a vulnerability in all of us; at least all “normal” functioning people.

In most relationships you control others’ access to that part of you. You can hide. You can pretend. You can avoid.

You may attempt to use that same strategy with your spouse, but events, words and strong feelings emerge that cut through your façade and touch on that which you try to hide.

Your humanity, idiosyncrasies and foibles are exposed. They may or may not be accepted by your spouse. They may be acceptable to a degree at particular times.

2. You are taught an unrealistic ideal

We also are bombarded from the media and other forms of communication, even well intentioned self help people, with an image of marriage or being married that flies in the face of reality.

I watch parts of the “Bachelorette” on television and cringe. Is this what it means to “fall in love” or “be in love?” Are most of us really that naïve, or do we get off on the silliness and superficiality of the show?

Or, is there a part of you that longs to be swept off your feet to some exotic place and live with that “love” for the rest of your married lives?

And so we believe that these beautiful people “have it.” And, we don’t.

We feel our emptiness, our frustration, our resentment, our loneliness and we think, “What’s wrong with me/us?”

3. We create roles

We also attempt to cope in married life by adapting and living different roles, thinking, “This is how I’m supposed to act in a marriage.”

The husband plays the role of the provider. The woman is the nurturer.

The man plays the take charge role. The woman plays the submissive and helpless role.

One initiates sex. The other receives sex.

One is the strong silent type. The other is the gregarious seductive vixen.

One becomes the parent. The other becomes the child.

Roles may work for a period of time or may last the length of the marriage. However distance is perpetuated and you never truly encounter one another, only the roles.

The strain of the roles is shattered by a marital crisis.

4. Unfinished business

We take into our marriages the unfinished business of maturation. The patterns and thoughts about self, others, marriage, sex, intimacy, abandonment, etc. we carry along and place at the feet of our spouse, usually unconsciously.

The marital crisis is often an outbreak of unresolved and unfinished business from the past and has very little to do with you, the hurting spouse.

Understanding the powerful dynamics of a marital relationship or relationship of deep emotional commitment may help gain your self respect, knowing that many forces are outside your control, responsibility or sense of adequacy.

Another factor or way of thinking powerfully influences belief in your self.

I’m often asked, “How do you keep your sanity after you hear all the stories of heartbreak and pain from those enduring a marital or relational crisis? Don’t YOU get depressed?”

I’ve thought long and hard on this question. I’ve literally logged tens of thousands of hours of listening to pain and heartbreak of couples and individuals since 1983.

I know clearly and deep within me the answer.

I am able to hear stories of pain and anguish of different varieties, over and over again, because I have absolute and unswerving faith in a person’s capacity to dig deep within and bring to light and power the solutions to their problems, the healing to their relationships and themselves.

I convey the utmost confidence in your innate and given capacity to heal and guide yourself.

I’ve experienced this with thousands – moving beyond the despair, neediness and desperation – discovering their voice and power and creating a new life and new relationship. It truly is amazing.

I love. I care. I guide and I get out of the way!

Click here to get your personal coach.

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15 Responses to 4 Reasons an Affair or Marital Crisis Kills your Self Esteem

  1. Pulled to Thin says:

    Unfinished Business – this is exactly what my wife pulled into our marriage. Unfinished and unsettled business of the heart. Actually, it was her unsuccessfully adjusting to a new life, it’s challenges and not wanting to have a life different from the one she envisioned as a 16-19 year old. At 38, she went out to settle that “unfinished. One thing the affair did for her was to put the ridiculous notion to rest that the OM was the same person as she fantasized about in her heart for so long.

  2. John says:

    Agree so much of article but maybe also worth pointing out that the whilst the betrayed must learn how they played their part in the marital breakdown, the betrayed must also learn to realise and accept that an affair is the sole responsibility of the unfaithful (no one coerced the unfaithful to do as they chose to do) and that affair(s) arise due solely because of the way the unfaithful (so wrongly) attempt to deal with what is deficient within the personality of unfaithful themselves. It helped me enormously to start to heal myself and to be able to better engage in the recovery when I understood those simple but very important facts.

    • Brad says:

      Very well written!
      To anyone new suffering from infidelity as the cheated upon spouse, read this carefully and believe it.

      No matter how bad of a partner anyone could be, it never justifies cheating by anyone. Cheaters have their own demons and it’s their issues that at the heart of their affair. They own it, but also realize that few will ever take responsibility for their actions. It is always going to be deflect the blame onto you. If they were able to take responsibility for their actions in the first place, they would have taking responsibilities for their own issues and dealt with them in a healthier way.

      I’ll say it again. Only a cheater is to blame for their actions. And their affair partner is no prize either. You can not build a solid relationship that starts with and is based on deceit, betrayal, lies and dishonesty. The affair partner is not healthy. The cheater is not healthy. You have a choice. Take the time to be alone, rediscover who you are, heal from your pain and hurt and deal with your feelings. You have a choice to be healthy for your next partner and thus greatly reducing your risk of ever having to suffer and feel this hurt ever again. It takes time but it will be worth it in the long run. Best wishes!

    • Kevin says:

      I agree. At first I struggled when my wife started laying out the things that led her down this path, the minor complaints about my habits, my day-to-day choices, the way we interact, how the household is managed (which I still struggle to get her to participate in). She was trying to make the case that I drove her to it, and at first I believed her.
      But eventually we reached a point where I said, “but wait, you’re not the only one who had problems with the other. I have grievances too, and yes, we need to talk them out if we’re going to survive this. But your grievances are not worse than my grievances.” The only difference is I didn’t try to resolve them in someone else’s arms.

      • Confused for life says:

        That last sentence says it all. Even as we go to counseling to learn to co-parent. I want her to take accountability. I used buying shoes and video games to cope with my problems and it affected us all. But she told me I was verbally abusive.. that was the reason she wanted out.. 3 weeks after separation I find out she has a lover. No matter what I did I knew finding another person wasn’t the answer.

      • Some guy says:

        I asked if she thought she was a perfect wife to me. long silence. Didn’t cross her mind that maybe I had a grievance with her.

        • Bill says:

          Same here. I’d listen to her grievances about me and I’d say OK, you’ve told me 3 three things about me you don’t like, now it’s my turn. She just got upset. No self awareness that she wasn’t somehow perfect. Oh well.

        • John Voytek says:

          Stay strong in this thought. My wife tried to console me by saying “at least I was faithful for 23 years”. I replied by stating that’s great, but I was in the same marriage for the same amount of time with the same tribulations, but I didn’t run away to make myself feel better. I had just as many reasons to turn my back, but I morally and ethically made decisions to stay out of pure love for my wife.

  3. Confused for life says:

    That last sentence says it all. Even as we go to counseling to learn to co-parent. I want her to take accountability. I used buying shoes and video games to cope with my problems and it affected us all. But she told me I was verbally abusive.. that was the reason she wanted out.. 3 weeks after separation I find out she has a lover. No matter what I did I knew finding another person wasn’t the answer.

  4. Neil says:

    Long before the faithful spouse notices it, the unfaithful spouse has formulated an escape plan… The latter will criticize, their other half which turns to introspection, in order correct what he/she is doing wrong… only to realize that they cannot do anything right. This is a continuous character/identity assassination that breaks the faithful spouse down emotionally, spiritually and physically to such an extent, that they believe they cannot survive without the unfaithful spouse.

    These are all lies that we start to believe – and only once we realize what the truth is, and start to act accordingly, we can start to enjoy our lives again.

    The truth is the following:
    – The faithful spouse might not feel like it immediately, but he/she is actually better off without the unfaithful back-stabber spouse. Because you have been faithful to your marriage, you have a higher value. The unfaithful has lowered his/her value by continuing with the immoral relationship.
    – The unfaithful spouse is worse off – although they might not realize that immediately. This is because he/she has swopped a faithful partner, for someone with dubious morals. There definitely has to come a point in time where the person he/she has cheated with, will ask the question: “When is he/she going to be unfaithful to me as well?” Although nobody might have asked this question to him/her, this is something so obvious, that it gnaws at their mind unconsciously. And this is when the pawpaw hits the fan in their relationship…when there is even the slightest hint of cheating…

    The best thing you can do is to decide to forgive on continuous basis (especially if you’ve had kids together), and make a conscious decision not to love him/her anymore (as your spouse). To forgive doesn’t mean you have to allow them to hurt you again, it just means that you let go of your right to hurt them as well. I realized that during the phase when I had not forgiven yet, that I missed a lot of opportunities in life.

    Also you should have expectations of bumping into him/her with another partner, and then be prepared with what to say or do. When you don’t get angry anymore when seeing him/her with another partner, then you know your forgiveness has come a long way….

  5. Debbie says:

    One thing that you didnt really talk about regarding the loss off self esteem is the physical aspect. I know it seems pretty, but what I am having the most trouble with still is feeling so physically unattractive. I have never felt so low about myself in this way. Part of it is that he us 8 years younger than me and going through menopause definitely ages you. While men look distinguished as they age, women just look old. If I had the money, I would get collagen and botox injections, just to feel better about myself. Maybe it sounds superficial, but it is really beating me up. How do you work through those feelings? I know I’m a good and intelligent person, I don’t feel like someone else can compete with me that way, but I don’t know how to get past the physical stuff

    • Louella says:

      I understand. The woman/girl my husband cheated with was not attractive. Everyone who has seen a picture of her says she looks like a man. But she’s ten years younger than me (with no kids). I have 3 kids and turn 40 this year and therefore the toll it’s taken on my self esteem is huge. I didn’t love myself before – now I hate myself. Knowing all the inadequacies of my body/looks compared to someone ten years younger. It’s hard.

      • Hi Louella, I definitely feel the same way about my self esteem, after being married 35 yrs. and dating 10 years, 45 years all together, at 64 my husband decided to have a emotional affair with some young tramp who was 34! I’m 57. He carried this on for 10 months until I found the texts message. It was texting back and forth him buying her gifts and paying her bills!
        She wasn’t very good looking she just had age on me, everyone that knew said he downgraded. But just the fact that he would even cheat is beyond me after all
        These years. I failed to mention they worked together him being her supervisor.
        The the fact he was in a affair with someone half his age and his oldest daughters age was sickening, it was like he was throwing the old shoe away for a brand new pair. It has been a year this month Since I found out and it doesn’t get any easier. Self esteem is just as low has it was since I first found out, hopefully I can get passed that!

  6. Rudo says:

    Hie Debbie
    Am so sorry I can feel your pain. On the physical stuff I suggest you actually do something to work on yourself. Join a gym..join a walking club etc. To tone that body. Put a budget to do your hair…get a good makeup kit. Buy some nice jewellery for yourself. Go shopping for some nice clothes. All the time repeat to yourself that you are beautiful and sexy. Go out with some friends. Have fun. The happier you become…the more attractive you become. Make it a habit to always look your best…even if you are at home. Good Luck

  7. Diana says:

    It has been 10 years since I found out my husband of 35 years had been cheating on me & even had a kid with the other woman. He lied through his teeth as i worked hard as a professional woman running 3 practices in 2 different provinces all the while expecting that he was taking care of our 2 daughters- i thought at least one parent there was better than a baby sitter . His job was to run the house hold & the mononies of the business – he had free control to make all financial deccisons & access to all ban k accounts- I was tired, exhausted from working , our daughters as they grew told me they expected he was having an affair, this man had convinced me to buy another house as revenue property of course with him on the title , when I came home from work he became vicious, telling me that I was a sopend thrift, had no friends , depressed and I could not run the business without hime. He even hired the illigtimate daughter to work with me , when this finally broke he lied denied everything etc. I had to deal with this myself maintaining the practices, assuring

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