Infidelity is horrible for everyone involved. If you’re the person who’s been cheated on, it can make it hard for you to trust again.
But if you’re the one who’s done the cheating, then you don’t get off that lightly either…
The guilt of what you’ve done can really weigh you down and take its toll on your future.
This is a difficult one to process. After all, it is something you should feel a certain amount of guilt about. You betrayed someone you loved, and that’s something you need to come to terms with.
But whilst you shouldn’t sweep it entirely under the rug, you also shouldn’t punish yourself for it.
What’s in the past is in the past. You definitely shouldn’t forget, but you need to move on, forgive yourself, learn the lesson, and vow to do better in future.
Keep reading for a reflection on the guilt you’re feeling, and some advice on how to process it and put it behind you, whether you’re still in a relationship with the partner you cheated on, or are newly single and want to make better choices in future.
Feeling guilty is a good thing.
First off, it’s important to say that it’s a positive thing that you’re here.
If you’re reading this, then you’re feeling guilty about something you did to hurt someone who was or still is really important to you.
And that means you’re a good person, who just did a bad thing. It would only be if you weren’t feeling guilty at all that you’d really have to start worrying.
It’s only natural to feel a certain amount of guilt in situations like these, because you’ve betrayed the trust of someone important to you and caused them pain.
Feeling this way means you’ve accepted responsibility for what you did, which is the first step to moving forwards.
The guilt you’re feeling is also somewhat of a guarantee that you won’t be cheating again in a hurry.
You’ve learned from this experience that no matter how tempted you might be, the guilt, remorse, and pain that came after cheating just aren’t worth it.
But there’s no point wallowing in it.
So, your guilt is a positive, in a lot of ways, as it means you’ll come out of this as a better person, having learned a hard lesson.
But it’s important not to let that guilt overshadow your future. What’s done is done.
You’ve been honest with your partner (yes, you should tell them that you cheated). Maybe you’re working things out, or maybe it’s over.
Either way, it’s time to focus on all the good things still to come, rather than dwelling on the bad things in the past.
If you’re still with your partner…
You and your partner have decided to stick together.
You came clean with them about what you did, and you’ve mutually decided that you still love each other and what you have is worth fighting for.
You might have convinced yourself when the two of you made that decision that you’d just be able to put it behind you and move on.
But there’s still plenty of work to be done. Your feelings of guilt are still cropping up, so how can you deal with them?
Here are some ways to overcome your guilt.
1. Forgive yourself.
They say that if you want someone else to love you, you need to love yourself. The same is true of forgiveness.
The first step toward moving on is totally forgiving yourself for what you did. You’ll have to accept it, face up to it, and put it behind you.
After all, if you’re still berating yourself for what you did, it won’t matter whether or not your partner has totally forgiven you.
2. Confide in someone you trust.
The last person you should be talking to about your feelings of guilt is your partner. They don’t need you putting that on them. It’s not their job to make you feel better right now.
But you do need to discuss your feelings with someone to be able to work through them, and figure out why you did what you did, and exactly where your guilt is springing from.
Turn to a friend that you know won’t judge you, and preferably one that doesn’t have loyalties to your partner.
Or, speak to a relationship counselor. They can help you work through your guilt. We highly recommend the online service from Relationship Hero – chat with someone now.
3. Put the effort in to prove you’re committed.
If you’ve cheated on a partner but want the relationship to continue, you need to be prepared to put some hard work in to make it right.
Be willing to go the extra mile to show them how important the relationship is to you. Doing so will also help you to feel better about yourself and overcome the guilt you feel in the process.
4. Ask them what you can do to show them your love.
If you’re struggling to find ways to show them how important they are to you, maybe it’s time to ask them.
Ask them what they need from you to reassure them that you are 100% committed to making things work.
Doing positive things for your relationship will really help to assuage your guilt.
5. Don’t allow them to treat you badly.
Just because you’ve cheated on them, it doesn’t give them an excuse to treat you badly in any way. They shouldn’t be trying to make you pay, or make you suffer.
You’ve made a mistake, but you still deserve their love and respect.
6. Go to counselling together.
If the two of you are struggling to move on, it might be time to turn to a professional for help. You might find it easier to discuss the infidelity and any other problems when there is someone else there to guide the conversation and keep the peace.
Again, we highly recommend the online counselling service from Relationship Hero. You can connect to someone through chat or video and talk things through.
If you’re newly single…
So, things didn’t work out. Maybe cheating was what ultimately made the relationship implode, or perhaps there were lots of other underlying factors in the mix.
Either way, you’re concerned that your infidelity will cast a shadow over the relationships to come.
1. Accept the situation.
If you’ve found yourself in a situation like this, the first thing you need to do is accept it. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to move on.
If you try to deny what you did, or its consequences, then you’ll never be able to work past it and learn the lessons you need to learn.
2. Speak to a trusted friend.
When you’re going through a tough time emotionally, voicing your feelings to a trusted friend who will listen but not judge is incredibly important.
It’ll help you to figure out why you’re feeling so torn up about it and think about the changes you’re going to make going forwards.
3. Know that one bad thing doesn’t make you a bad person.
In this modern world, we have this strange idea that people are either inherently good, or inherently bad. That you can’t be both.
The truth is, no human being is 100% good, or 100% bad, 100% of the time.
Having done one bad thing doesn’t make you evil, and you need to remember that, as deciding that you’re a bad person won’t help you or anyone around you.
4. Remember, no one expects you to be perfect.
Do you expect perfection from the people you love? From your friends and family?
Of course you don’t. The only person in this world who expects you to be perfect is you.
Sure, you made a big mistake, but we all make mistakes of one sort or another, sooner or later.
Perfection is not realistic, and setting such a high bar for yourself only makes it more likely that you’ll fall short.
5. Don’t brand yourself as a “cheater.”
There’s a popular idea that someone who cheats once will always do it again, sooner rather than later.
And that’s just not true.
Having made a mistake doesn’t mean that you’re branded as a cheater for life, and you need to remind yourself of that.
Otherwise, your self-loathing might mean you end up cheating again in future, just because you’ve decided that it’s something you’ll always inevitably do.
The power of the mind, and the power of labels, is something you should never underestimate.
6. Don’t lower your standards.
Having cheated in a relationship doesn’t make you any less worthy of love. Be careful about not lowering your standards or settling.
It’s so easy for someone who’s cheated to allow future partners to cheat on them or treat them badly because they think that’s what they deserve.
Whatever you do, don’t let that become your mindset.
7. Focus on the lessons you learned.
Sure, a lot of bad came out of what you did. But I’m sure some kind of positive has come out of it too.
Maybe your ex is now in a relationship with someone who’s really good for them.
Maybe you realized that your cheating was a result of a particular problem in your relationship, like bad communication.
You need to learn that lesson and carry it forwards into future relationships.
8. Consider professional help.
If you’re really struggling to overcome the guilt of your cheating, then you might benefit from speaking to a professional, who can help you learn from what you did and look toward the future.
Once again, we recommend Relationship Hero for this. Here’s that link again to start speaking to someone right now.
Remember, cheating doesn’t define you, and there’s so much love waiting in your future, if you’re only willing to open your heart to it.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Does the guilt of cheating ever go away?
The memory of cheating and the guilt that goes with it won’t ever fully go away. Strong emotions lead to strong neural connections in your brain and this means you won’t completely forget what you did or feel entirely guilt-free.
But you should see this as a good thing. If you were to no longer feel any guilt about your infidelity, you’d be more likely to cheat again.
That’s not to say that the feeling of guilt will remain at the forefront of your daily experience. It will fade into the background for the most part, but the memory of what you did will likely trigger the feelings you have about it.
And your memories are not entirely under your control – sometimes they can propel themselves into your consciousness randomly, meaning you might think back to this time all of a sudden and experience some level of guilt again.
How long does the guilt of cheating last?
Though the guilt won’t pass completely, you can expect it to ease as more time goes by. If your relationship is still going, you might find your guilt becomes less of a problem as you work through the incident with your partner and/or a relationship counselor. With each month that passes, you’ll find it easier to live with the guilt of what you did.
If your relationship ended because of your infidelity, you will still benefit from speaking to someone about what happened and why. Bottling things up and avoiding the subject will only keep those feelings vivid.
Will telling my partner that I cheated help me overcome my guilt?
Being open with your partner about your affair is a must if you want to feel less guilty about it. If you keep it a secret, you will always be on edge. You will fear that they might find out about it or that you’ll accidentally reveal some clue that exposes your betrayal.
As hard as it might be to come clean and risk the relationship, you will eventually feel better for it, whatever the outcome.
Concealing what you did will weigh you down. You will feel this burden as you go about your life. It will always be there at the back of your mind.
Telling your partner that you cheated on them will release much of that weight. Yes, it will be tough at first and emotions will run high, but at least you don’t have to feel bad about lying to your partner on top of cheating on them.
How do I forgive myself for cheating?
Forgiving yourself for cheating is essential if you are to get over the intense feelings of guilt that come with it.
The first and most important step is to not beat yourself up about it. You can know that what you did was wrong without talking to yourself with unkind language. Yes, you may have been an idiot for cheating, but it doesn’t do any good to keep telling yourself that.
Remember, you are an imperfect human being who makes bad choices that lead to bad outcomes. But so does everybody. Sure, not everybody cheats on their partner, but everybody makes poor choices that affect them and others. It’s part of what it means to be human.
You shouldn’t punish yourself or seek punishment from your partner (or anyone else for that matter). What you did was wrong, but you already feel bad about it. Punishment serves little purpose in moving forward as a better person.
You shouldn’t wait for your partner to forgive you before you forgive yourself. If you break up because of your infidelity, there is no telling whether they will ever truly forgive you. What’s more, you never quite know whether someone has forgiven you even if they say they have. So work on your self-forgiveness independently of the forgiveness you may or may not receive from your partner.
Along with guilt, you may also feel shame at what you did. Shame is another feeling that can eat away at your self-esteem so it is something you will have to address. This is another reason why speaking to a professional will help you get over your infidelity.
Finally, you’ll find it a lot easier to forgive yourself if you work on being a better partner – either in your current relationship if that’s still going, or in a new relationship when that comes about. This means you have learned from your mistake and accept that you didn’t quite live up to the expectations we can rightly have of a partner.
How do I show remorse after cheating?
Showing remorse is more than simply saying sorry. That is the first step you should take, not the only step!
Remorse is based more around your actions than your words. You have to do the things that show how bad you feel and that you understand how bad you made your partner feel.
You have to take full responsibility for what you did. Whilst your infidelity might have been made more likely because of some trouble in your relationship, that trouble is not a justification for your actions. No matter how bad things got between you and your partner, betraying them with another person is not okay. Never try to justify your cheating or seek to place any blame whatsoever on them. It’s not their fault that you cheated.
You can take some initiative in trying to make the relationship work. You can make more effort in all respects – to be more affectionate, to show more love, to do your share around the house and with the kids. And you can be the one to suggest counseling and arrange that first appointment.
You should try to be an open book from now on. That not only means never lying or concealing the truth from your partner but also being more honest about how you feel about their actions or when the relationship hits more bumpy ground. Good communication is especially important if your relationship up until this point has been tainted by poor communication.
In essence, showing remorse is showing that you value your partner and your relationship and that you are willing to do what it takes to save that relationship.
Why did I cheat?
There are many reasons why people cheat. Why you cheated is likely to be a combination of the following:
You might have developed feelings for someone else. Emotions are natural things that cannot always be controlled. You might have met someone at work, whilst participating in a hobby, or through a friend of yours. Over time, as you saw them more, you realized that you really liked this person and that you had become emotionally and physically attracted to them. It happens.
If you cheated just the one time, it might have had something to do with poor impulse control. Perhaps you were drunk or in a situation where an opportunity that seemed to good to be true presented itself. You gave in to temptation rather than fight it.
As strange as it may seem, you may have cheated on your partner because things were getting more serious with them. You might have issues with commitment and saw infidelity as a way to sabotage your relationship even though, deep down, you don’t want it to end.
Maybe you and your partner were going through some really challenging times with lots of conflict and tension. You allowed your temporary ill-feelings toward your partner to cloud your judgment, only to regret it afterwards.
You might have cheated because you have low self-esteem and the attention you received from the other person and the boost it gave your ego made you feel desirable.
There are plenty more potential reasons why you cheated. You need to reflect carefully on the situation to identify what led up to the betrayal and what the wider circumstances were that might have contributed to it.
How can I stop myself from ever cheating again?
If you don’t think the guilt you feel now is enough to stop you from cheating again, there are some things you can do to minimize the chances of it happening.
The first of those is to ensure that you communicate with your partner when issues arise. Don’t ignore little things that might turn into big things – deal with them and overcome them. A happy and healthy relationship means you have no great reason to cheat, so spend lots of quality time with your partner and ensure that you both feel loved and appreciated.
If your infidelity was in the shape of an affair, don’t let your feelings reach the point where you’d even consider such a thing. Recognize when you are starting to like someone else and put steps in place to nip those feelings in the bud. Try not to spend time alone with that person. Spend less time with them in general if possible. Focus on all their bad points to counter your positive feelings. Keep the relationship professional if it’s a work colleague you are attracted to.
If your cheating was a one night stand or you kissed someone whilst drunk, avoid places and situations where you might be tempted. Don’t go to bars or clubs – at least not without your partner. Or if you do, don’t drink. If you feel more tempted to cheat when you are out with single friends who are all looking to score, don’t go out with them anymore – see them in other situations to maintain the friendship, but avoid nights out with them.
And always keep in mind what you might lose if you cheat. If a recent relationship ended because you cheated, you’ll know how much damage can be done if you cheat on your new partner. If your relationship managed to survive, don’t think it will survive if you cheat again – it probably won’t. Are you willing to risk that?
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- 7 Things To Do When You Get Caught Cheating
- What Is Considered Cheating In A Relationship?
- How To Tell If He/She Will Cheat Again: 10 Signs To Watch For
- 10 Subtle Signs Your Partner Might Be Cheating On You
- 17 Steps To Forgive A Cheating Partner And Get Over Infidelity
- 10 Tests Someone Must Pass Before Giving Second Chances In A Relationship
- 14 Signs Of An Emotional Affair (+ 11 Reasons People Have Them)