I sometimes hear from wives who are trying to decipher their spouse’s comments and feelings after he has cheated or had an affair. Sometimes, it almost seems as if he is talking in riddles. Common comments that cause for confusion and doubt are things like “I feel empty and lost and I don’t know why I acted that way and I don’t know what I want.” As if dealing with the affair isn’t difficult enough, the faithful spouse now has to decipher what he means by these words and what this might mean for the marriage.
I might hear from a wife who says: “my husband admitted to an affair. Apparently, he broke it off with the other woman and then came right home to make his confession. He says that he told me because he couldn’t lie to me anymore and he feels that if we are going to save our marriage, then he needs to own up to what he did and to be honest. I guess this is a promising start. But my husband has been saying something repetitively that bothers me. Lately, he’s been saying over and over again that he just feels ‘so empty.’ I don’t know if this is a ploy to make me feel sorry for him or if he is being sincere. What in the world does he mean when he says he feels empty? I feel empty too, but I’m not the one who cheated.”
This expression is actually very common. Many cheating spouses uses this phrase, and they can be referring to their feelings before or after the affair. I have my own opinion about what they might mean by this. And I base this off of the comments that I get and my own experience. Of course, it’s only my opinion. The best person to ask about his feelings is the husband himself, but he can’t always articulate his feelings well when he’s unsure of what he’s feeling himself.
He’s Very Disappointed In Himself: This is one logical conclusion. He feels empty because he’s now having to take inventory of his life and he realizes exactly how reckless he has been and how much damage he has caused. This can make him feel a bit depressed and empty.
He Means That He Was Struggling Before The Affair And That This Might Have Contributed To The Infidelity: I firmly believe that there are times in a man’s live when he is much more likely to cheat. It’s extremely common to see happily married and well adjusted men cheat when they are facing a major life struggle. Examples are a job loss or career disappointment, illness, losing someone close to them (like a parent,) and struggling with anxiety or depression or the dreaded mid life crisis. I don’t think that this is a coincidence. I think that they are tempting to deal with or ease their struggles by having an affair.
So when a man tells you that he feels empty, he’s simply reflecting those struggles. Honestly, he may not even have connected the dots and realized that his infidelity had anything to do with his personal struggles, and the only way he knows to articulate this is with a simple phrase like this one.
He Means That He’s Emotionally Blank Because Of This Entire Process: Every one knows that the faithful spouse can struggle emotionally after the affair. It’s a very painful process where you have to confront the shock, disappointment, and hurt. However, few people realize that the cheating spouse can go through these same struggles. They can feel all of the same negative emotions and, in a sense, it’s even worse for them because they know that they are the one who has caused this type of pain.
As a result, it’s very common for them to shut down emotionally. Think about it this way. Men in this situation have had an affair because they were having trouble dealing with their negative emotions. So it only makes sense he’s going to shut down and feel closed off emotionally as the negative fall out of this all comes to a head. If he was struggling before, imagine how he feels now when he not only has to face the emotions that contributed to the cheating in the first place combined with having to look at your hurt face now. Frankly, this would make anyone feel empty. It’s quite understandable, really.
His Feeling Empty Shouldn’t Excuse What He Did, But It Is A Signal That Healing Is Important: By no means is it my intent to make excuses for cheating spouses. Having dealt with this situation myself, I honestly don’t think that there is any valid excuse for cheating. Even if he feels empty beyond all description, that isn’t an excuse for what he did. But, it can be an indication that healing for him is as vital as healing for you, especially if you want to save your marriage.