What do you call a wife or woman who knows their spouse or partner is unfaithful but pretends either to (1) not care or (2) to not know? In this scenario it's important that the cheating spouse or partner believes his wife or partner hasn't found out. That he is having one or more love affairs without being caught.

I did manage to unearth an archaic term wittol, which The Chambers Dictionary defines as
a man who knows his wife's unfaithfulness, and accepts it.

The Collins English Dictionary online says:

wittol (ˈwɪtəl)
a man who tolerates his wife's unfaithfulness
[C15 wetewold, from witen to know (see wit²) + -wold, perhaps from cokewold cuckold]

I'm curious if there is a modern-day female version. I can't think of any off-hand and yet I'm sure we all know someone in our lives who has knowingly accepted their partner's infidelities be it for religious convictions; a sense of loyalty; pride; love; fear of loneliness; fear of hardship or merely motivated by social status.

A modern literary example:

In Gillian Flynn's novel Gone Girl, although the beautiful pro/antagonist Amy Elliott Dunne is fully aware her husband has been cheating for over a year, she pretends not to know and is far from being acquiescent. Only the reader is privy to that information.

(I realize it doesn't match the description perfectly, but it's important that Nick Dunne is unaware of his wife's discovery.)

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    @Josh61 I had never heard of wittol until I stumbled across it yesterday. The fact is, the person I am describing is one we all know about, the situation is hardly rare and yet, apparently, there isn't an expression that fits. I was hoping for some slang, or idioms but it seems pretty quiet today. :( Nowadays women can divorce, and they are more economically independent. The woman who keeps her mouth shut when she finds her husband has been cheating on her is no longer the norm.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 9, 2015 at 13:49
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    I'd say she's turning a blind eye.
    – anemone
    Feb 9, 2015 at 15:08
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    Do you want words that specifically refer to marital infidelity, or would you accept more general words or phrases describing someone who tolerates ill treatment? In the latter case, long-suffering might work. Feb 9, 2015 at 18:48
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    She's accommodating basically, in relation to the behavior, as she plays dumb/ignorant.
    – user98955
    Feb 9, 2015 at 19:30
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    She is a "Hillary"
    – DSKekaha
    Aug 18, 2015 at 18:50

7 Answers 7


Cuckquean is the word you need, a female cuckold (cuckold being the more common word for wittol).

Cuckquean refers to a woman with an adulterous husband. In modern English it generally refers to the sexual fetish in which sexual gratification is gained from maintenance or observation of sexual relations by a man with a woman or a number of women besides his girlfriend, wife or long-term female sex partner, and therefore, the reversed gender roles of a cuckold relationship.

Sadly there is a Wikipedia page so probably counts as sort of general reference.

But to make it a little less general reference I could add some other stuff...

While cuckold and cuckquean are not directly related to the word cuck (passing excrement, shit) as such, the term cucking-stool (corrupted to ducking-stool) has also been called the coqueene-stool and the cockqueane-stool.

OED says of the cucking-stool:

An instrument of punishment formerly in use for scolds, disorderly women, fraudulent tradespeople, etc., consisting of a chair (sometimes in the form of a close-stool), in which the offender was fastened and exposed to the jeers of the bystanders, or conveyed to a pond or river and ducked.

Seems to me that a cucking-stool is more than a dip in the river. If I can find anything ruder or more vulgar I'll add it in.

Wikipedia contributors, "Cuckquean," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cuckquean&oldid=641764807 (accessed February 9, 2015).

  • 3
    I did not know that nowadays cuckold and cuckquean is a sexual fetish. Apparently since the 1990s, I'm seriously out of touch! But for me a cuckold implies a husband who is oblivious to his wife's affairs/betrayals, likewise the less common cuckquean.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 10, 2015 at 10:02
  • @Mari-LouA I had no idea of the modern sense myself, which is why I was so surprised to find a Wikipedia page about it.
    – Frank
    Feb 10, 2015 at 10:08
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    I found The female equivalent 'cuckquean' is used by Heywood, Proverbs (1562; 76) 11.vi: 'Ye make her a cookquean'; and in Golding's Ovid (1567) V1.682 in A Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature Feb 17, 2015 at 15:07
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    The existence of a Wikipedia page with an explanation only proves that someone uses the term in question in that sense, and not even that with 100% certainty. Feb 19, 2015 at 21:17
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    Also, I don't think that 'Cuckquean is the word you need' [Cuckquean - In the 16 and 17 th centuries, the wife of an unfaithful husband: Definition-Of.com community dictionary] matches OP's 'I'm curious if there is a modern-day female version.' Feb 20, 2015 at 9:28

Descriptively wittol is currently attached to men who know their wives are unfaithful. Prescriptively, it seems like a prime candidate for gender neutrality. Being formed from the root wit and the pejorative suffix -ault, there is no natural gender:

(n.) "compliant cuckold," late 15c., witewold,

probably from witen "to know" (see wit (v.)) + ending from noun cuckold (Middle English cokewold).

Emphasis mine


"to know" (archaic), Old English witan (past tense wast, past participle witen) "to know, beware of or conscious of, understand, observe, ascertain, learn,"

from Proto-Germanic *witan "to have seen," hence "to know"

(cognates: Old Saxon witan, Old Norse vita, Old Frisian wita, Middle Dutch, Dutch weten, Old High German wizzan, German wissen, Gothic witan "to know"), from PIE *weid- (see wit (n.)). The phrase to wit, almost the only surviving use of the verb, is first recorded 1570s, from earlier that is to wit (mid-14c.), probably a loan-translation of Anglo-French cestasavoir, used to render Latin videlicet (see viz.)


mid-13c., kukewald, from Old French cucuault,

from cocu (see cuckoo) + pejorative suffix -ault, of Germanic origin. So called from the female bird's alleged habit of changing mates, or her authentic habit of leaving eggs in another bird's nest.

In Modern French the identity is more obvious: Coucou for the bird and cocu for the betrayed husband. German Hahnrei (13c.), from Low German, is of obscure origin. The second element seems to be connected to words for "ardent," and suggests perhaps "sexually aggressive hen," with transferal to humans, but Kluge suggests rather a connection to words for "capon" and "castrated." Related: Cuckoldry.

Why should there be a gender distinction in this matter? In the 15th century, when these words were being formed, women had no recourse. Whether they knew of their husbands' unfaithful ventures or not was absolutely irrelevant. Now that the playing field has been leveled, women can co-opt this unfamiliar derogatory word from men to affront their spineless sisters.

If you must have a gender distinction, then mari complaisant (complacent husband) for the men becomes femme complaisante for the women.



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    'Currently'? Most dictionaries I've checked in flag this as 'archaic'. Feb 20, 2015 at 9:23
  • Though the word sleeps, it has never been detached from men. If we decide to wake it up, it should be gender neutral.
    – ScotM
    Feb 21, 2015 at 7:10
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    The biggest drawback to your well-argued answer, which I upvoted, is that wittol is archaic and consequently unheard of. I needed a more updated version.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 23, 2015 at 9:39
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    I agree that you didn't have an ideal option,and cuckquean had advantages over wittol. Since it is not well-known either, it may be easier to expand cuckquean, which doesn't carry the notion of willfully overlooking, than to expand wittol beyond its gender barrier and antiquity.
    – ScotM
    Feb 23, 2015 at 15:16

A spouse of either sex willing to tolerate infidelity might be called complaisant:-

complaisant - showing a cheerful willingness to do favors for others; "to close one's eyes like a complaisant husband whose wife has taken a lover"; [The Free Dictionary]


I think I'd call this type of woman an infidelity pragmatist - she knows what's probably going on, after all, its not exactly uncommon is it, but chooses to ignore it because of other benefits, presumably. Plus she's probably sensible enough to have recognised the possibility of infidelity on the part of her husband as extremely high even before the marriage, which is why she is not making a fuss about it - it hasn't come as a real shock or an insult. She may choose to acknowledge it, or just ignore it, whether or not it causes her pain or disappointment.

Most women know when infidelity is happening, men are usually very poor at covering their tracks (unlike women); I guess there's no word for it because historically, it was expected that men would be unfaithful and wives were expected to put up with it, so it simply wasn't important enough, whereas 'cuckold' does exist because men, again historically, did not expect their wives to be unfaithful and are usually pretty poor at detecting the signs.

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    Because I have read multiple, credible sources that directly contradict the majority of your factual claims, such as "Most women know when infidelity is happening, men are usually very poor at covering their tracks," I believe your answer calls for some evidence of your claims. Said differently, I believe your answer describes commonly-held beliefs about gender stereotypes but does not reflect the conclusions of serious scholarship--citations would demonstrate I am wrong, which is entirely possible. Feb 18, 2015 at 0:05
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    @HunterHogan - not 'fact' really, never claimed it was - purely empirical and logical deduction, garnered mostly because I am female and old, seen a lot of infidelity, experienced it, done it, attended discussion groups, talked to women and men. I'm in the UK, maybe that makes a difference (although I doubt it, people are pretty much the same everywhere.
    – bamboo
    Feb 18, 2015 at 11:23
  • Thank you bamboo for a very helpful comment, which clarified and explained that the answer is based on the experiences of real people.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 20, 2015 at 8:17

Earlier answers appear to fully answer the precise question; which is a search for a particular noun.

Notwithstanding this, modern British usage (and by this I mean journalistic usage) is to use the adjective 'long-suffering' for this,


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    I prefer the idiom turn a blind eye, it conveys more accurately the action of someone who accepts their spouse's acts of infidelity.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 20, 2015 at 8:27
  • 'Long-suffering' may well be used in this context, but is hardly a modern-day female version of 'wittol'. Feb 20, 2015 at 9:21

'passive' - accepting or allowing what happens or what others do, without active response or resistance (as per Google) - is simple and effective.

  • A passive wife does not imply a woman who chooses to keep her husband's acts of adultery secret. A passive person is one who fails to react or respond to a particular situation, it denotes apathy, and (perhaps) timidness. It does not mean that their partner is unfaithful. He/she could be the most loyal faithful spouse in the world.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 17, 2015 at 13:55
  • You can check on 'forbearing' or 'unmindful'. Of course there are multiple aspects that the answer/word is expected to 'cover'. There is a phrase of course in Tamil to denote the same - indiastudychannel.com/forum/… - 'Kallanalum kanavan, pullanalum purushan' - essentially meaning 'even if the husband is unfaithful'. Not aware of ONE english word to indicate the same. Feb 17, 2015 at 14:52

If you want to use some old words, there's:

Bedswerver (noun) unisex - can apply to either husband or wife

unleal (adjective) meaning 'unfaithful'. unleal usage

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    Neither of these words describe the person in the question at all. They describe that person's spouse. Feb 20, 2015 at 10:00
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    @JanusBahsJacquet You're correct. silently slinks back into the shadows
    – Tucker
    Feb 22, 2015 at 4:29

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