how to forgive yourself for cheating

Saturday morning. You are sitting at the kitchen table and stirring coffee while silently gazing at your cup. Last night’s episodes are running through your head.

It was so electrifying and so intense. You cannot raise your eyes and look at your partner. You told him that you had to stay late at work last night and finish those spreadsheets.

You did stay at work. Your significant other doesn’t know that your colleague Mark stayed with you, and those spreadsheets were the last thing you cared about.

The night with Mark was so thrilling but so wrong. As guilt takes over your mind, you can’t think about anything else but whether you can ever learn how to forgive yourself for cheating.

Why did I cheat?

It hurts to be called a cheater. As you live in a world full of condemnation and harsh judgment against cheating, it is hard to forgive yourself if you are the one who wanders.

Cheating stirs up a complex mixture of emotions that can be extremely overwhelming and confusing. Fury, remorse, fear, shame, hate, and love arise simultaneously. You may lose the sense of who you are, feel lost, and let your self-esteem plummet.

Dwelling on your self-loathing thoughts does not help you fix your current relationship. It only pulls you further away from clarity and emotional balance.

You are not a bad person because you cheated. Everyone makes mistakes. However, it is important to realize what drove you to cheat, as that will help you avoid making the same mistake in the future. This insight will make forgiving yourself after cheating easier.

The process of understanding does not have to involve your boyfriend or husband unless you want to. Regardless of whether he forgives you, your worst guilty feelings will likely come from your struggle to forgive yourself.

Here are the tips to help you understand what happened and learn how to forgive yourself for cheating.

stressed woman leaning lagainst wall

1. Don’t panic

One of the most intense feelings that come with cheating is fear. Perhaps part of the thrill comes from the possibility of getting caught cheating. However, each time you get away with it again, you feel triumphant and terrible at the same time.

You fear you won’t be so lucky the next time. Part of you thinks you deserve to be caught and condemned, especially if you’ve crossed the line into physical cheating.

You are probably preoccupied with these thoughts:

What if my partner finds out?

What if the neighbors or people at work saw me?

What if my friends and family knew what I did?

The prospect of being scorned and abandoned can trigger deep-seated fears and drive you to keep your secret safe obsessively. In doing that, you will likely suffer from extreme anxiety and loneliness.

One of the most intense emotions that come with cheating is fear. Click To Tweet

Every little hint could trigger your fear of being caught, and you feel you are living in a bubble all by yourself. The fear consumes your mental capacity and distorts your view and understanding of what happened.

The first step is to take a deep breath and calm down. Sit with your fears without trying to do anything about them.

Often, the reactions and hostility you are afraid of receiving from others are those you perceive as deserved and justified. They are what you are directing toward yourself. When you are panicking about others’ scornfulness, it is because you are feeling contemptuous of yourself.

It is essential to recognize this because it is the start of knowing that you can shift how you feel. You cannot change how others view your actions, but you can change your perception of them. It is not always easy, but certainly possible.

stressed young woman covering her ears

2. Understand what was missing in your relationship

You fall for someone new because it reveals a lot about the state of your mind and your relationship. What is it about this new person that caught your attention?

When you answer this question, focus on how they made you feel rather than their personal qualities or actions. Because the former is more likely to help you understand your emotional drive for cheating.

Human beings don’t do anything for no reason. Even a grave mistake like cheating usually has a certain logic behind it. Typically, you’re seeking to fulfill specific needs not met by your marriage or committed relationship.

What those needs are is not always immediately apparent. However, they will become clearer if you take a break from your shame and self-hate to sympathize with yourself for a moment. You are then more likely to recognize your needs by letting them surface on a more conscious level.

Bitterness, loneliness, insecurity. These are some examples of emotions that typically drive someone to cheat.

If you have been holding onto anger that you haven’t been able to express, cheating could be your way of seeking revenge on your partner.

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Maybe you have always longed for a modern city lifestyle but had to compromise for your partner’s desire to live in the countryside with a large garden that requires laborious maintenance. All couples fight sometimes, but the fights that don’t happen out loud can really drive a wedge between partners.

Perhaps you deeply deny your wrath, feeling that you should be grateful for having a beautiful house and the life that many people wish for. Although not explicitly, this seems to be the scenario depicted in the film Unfaithful.

Or maybe your significant other doesn’t make you feel smart and attractive, while those qualities are vital parts of your identity. Your unmet emotional needs could drive you to seek the attention you crave elsewhere.

Another big one: if your partner cheated on you, you might feel entitled to have an affair of your own!

These common reasons drive people to cheat, especially when an opportunity arises. Temptations that are usually easy to resist can suddenly lure you in because an essential element is missing from your relationship. If you can’t talk about what’s bothering you with your current partner, eventually, you’ll find someone you can talk to.

You may resist understanding why you cheated because it feels like looking for excuses. You may think that nothing your significant other could have done is valid enough to justify cheating.

You are right that choosing a less hurtful alternative to cheating is always better. Maybe you couldn’t make a better choice under challenging circumstances, though.

You are not trying to justify the act of infidelity here. The aim is to understand what made you vulnerable to temptation so that you can prevent it in the future by making your choices more consciously.

Try to identify what is that missing element in your relationship and admit its significance of it. Don’t dismiss your needs and conclude that you are a bad person.

If you regularly put everyone else’s needs before yours, it may be beneficial to involve someone who can help you understand what is important to you. Professional help, like talking to a counselor, could guide your soul-searching process in a constructive direction.

young woman consoling stressed female friend

3. Admit your partner’s responsibility

People who have cheated often become very defensive and reluctant to acknowledge any responsibility on their partner’s part — as if giving their partner the complete moral high ground will make the guilt go away. It certainly could help you do that temporarily.

However, if you want to understand what went wrong in your relationship and get to a place where self-forgiveness is possible, allowing yourself to acknowledge what was outside your power is essential.

Again, you are not trying to assign blame here. It is all about looking at things objectively so that you do not overburden yourself with guilt for parts you did not play.

Each relationship is formed by two unique individuals who shape and change the dynamic within it. And it takes two people to make that shift when things go wrong.

Let’s take one of the examples given above: you cheated because your partner does not make you feel smart and attractive anymore. In this scenario, you could have talked to your significant other about how you feel, worked on your self-esteem so you wouldn’t need his validation, or sought a different environment where your qualities are recognized and praised.

However, this does not mean that your relationship would have sailed smoothly if you had done everything right. No matter how you address your inadequacy, you cannot control how your partner decides to respond. His reaction also determines the future of the relationship.

Your partner is likely responsible for communicating with you about his feelings, paying you compliments in a heartfelt way, being sensitive to your needs, and asking how he could help you feel smart and attractive again. If he had done these things, you might never have felt the need to cheat.

Acknowledging your partner’s responsibilities can be difficult. When you begin to do that, the guilt may start nagging you for escaping your duties.

Remind yourself that it is not the case. Just because another person was involved does not mean you refuse to admit you also played your part. You are merely trying to reveal the reality that a relationship takes two people to maintain.

couple arguing with each other

4. Decide whether you want to tell your partner

If you haven’t already done so, it is worth carefully considering the benefits and damage of confessing infidelity to your partner. Although the common assumption is that telling the truth is best, it’s not the only possible path to moving forward.

I would like you to pause for a moment and examine the merits behind the policy of blanket honesty in the context of your unique situation.

How will confessing that you cheated on your partner benefit you?

How will it benefit your partner if they know that you cheated?

How will it benefit your relationship if you wish for it to continue?

While truthfulness has psychological benefits, honesty can also be more self-serving than virtuous. It can be incredibly liberating for the cheater to confess, but their significant other is left with pain and turbulent emotions.

People often decide to come clean about cheating because they believe lying is shameful and can no longer live with the guilt. If you hold this belief firmly, then telling your partner may help to forgive yourself for cheating. It will give you a sense of doing the right thing despite its difficulty and detriment. It feels moral.

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If you decide to tell your partner that you cheated, pick a time when you and your partner can have each other’s undivided attention. Be prepared for the pressure and emotional intensity that will inevitably come your way.

Cheating is often not the cause but the symptom of relationship problems. Click To Tweet

On the other hand, confessing about cheating to your partner could intensify your guilt as your partner’s judgment piles onto your own, especially if you are still struggling to forgive yourself. Make sure you are at peace with yourself before letting your partner know.

Telling your partner that you cheated on him may not be the right thing to do. It can immediately throw him into a blaming and punishing mode, in which he will find it hard to look at his responsibilities for the failure of your relationship. It will distort reality and make it even harder for you to repair your relationship if that is what you want to do.

As you decide whether to tell your partner that you cheated, consider the extent of your mistake. An ongoing affair could have created complications your partner should know about.

If it was just a one-night stand or a one-time thing on a business trip, the simplest answer might be to stop cheating. In this case, how to forgive yourself for cheating and not telling is to move forward.

If you choose to discuss your infidelity with your spouse or partner, you may feel pressured to apologize. While apologizing can be important to repair your relationship, be realistic about whether you’re truly ready to do so. Pushing to make amends before you’ve done the necessary introspection, or making a promise you’re not prepared to keep, can drive your troubles deeper underground.

However, if you think you could have contracted a disease while having sex outside your committed relationship, it’s crucial to tell your partner at that point. Though this conversation will certainly not feel good, keeping quiet can worsen things.

If the person you cheated with is also married, figuring out whether the cheated-on spouses are likely to compare notes with each other could also be an important consideration. If you imagine your spouse will hear about the affair from someone else first, you may want him to hear it from you.

The final decision is yours, but think through the consequences first.

If you choose to discuss your infidelity with your spouse or partner, you may feel pressured to apologize. While apologizing can be important to repair your relationship, be realistic about whether you’re truly ready to do so. Pushing to make amends before you’ve done the necessary introspection, or making a promise you’re not prepared to keep, can drive your troubles deeper underground.

However, if you think you could have contracted a disease while having sex outside your committed relationship, it’s crucial to tell your partner at that point. Though this conversation will certainly not feel good, keeping quiet can worsen things.

If the person you cheated with is also married, figuring out whether the cheated-on spouses are likely to compare notes with each other could also be an important consideration. If you imagine your spouse will hear about the affair from someone else first, you may want him to hear it from you.

The final decision is yours, but think through the consequences first.

woman tries to embrace her partner after confessing about cheating

5. Let go of guilt after cheating

Guilt is an uncomfortable emotion. However, you could hold onto it tight unconsciously because it helps you feel more moral and worthy of forgiveness.

You often hear harsh remarks against those who show no remorse. The guilt signals that you do not take joy in hurting your partner. Recognizing the damage your actions caused is important.

Although it is natural to feel guilty after cheating, holding onto your guilt and regret prevents you from forgiving yourself. Accountability does not have to be an endless road of trying to compensate your partner for things you are not entirely responsible for in the first place.

It is essential to differentiate between your actions and your identity. While feeling remorseful that you cheated on your partner can drive you to take personal responsibility for your action and prevent it from happening again, labeling yourself as a bad person and feeling guilty for being a cheater will not.

The former is part of a reflective and corrective process. The latter is a self-loathing act that could lead to more destructive behavior because that is what bad people do, and you believe you are one of them.

The truth is, holding onto the remorse of cheating alone will not get you forgiveness. It is what you do about the sin. Ultimately, you want to release the guilt because it is not beneficial for you or those around you.

You can process guilt, let go of it, and make sure the mistake won’t happen again. You can also allow it to creep into your mind, convince you that you are bad, and let your life be consumed and controlled by it. What makes more sense?

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depressed woman lying on the floor

6. Empathize with yourself

No one would deliberately wreck a perfect relationship. When someone cheats, it is usually because they already feel rotten.

Often, cheating is a way of crying for help. It indicates that you are in pain and need a lot of care and empathy.

Anger, loneliness, depression, and insecurity can drive people to cheat. These are real and painful feelings, whether or not anyone else thinks you’re justified in having them.

Often, cheating is a way of crying for help. It indicates that you are in pain and need a lot of care and empathy. Click To Tweet

It’s hard to stop feeling guilty for infidelity because society is harsher on cheating than other forms of failure to maintain a healthy relationship. Even though both parties are responsible, the person cheated on is often seen positively, no matter what led up to it.

Your partner’s failure is often less visible, disguised as mere carelessness or insensitivity, but it can hurt you just as much as an affair. A French study found that their partner’s lack of attention, affection, or tenderness was the number one reason women cheated.

The things that can destroy relationship satisfaction can be those that aren’t done. Even if you’re pretty sure there’s no side chick involved. It’s hurtful when you feel like your mate isn’t fully present with you.

Be kind to yourself. Talk to someone you can trust, like a therapist or close friend. When you experience unconditional acceptance that you have denied yourself, you are more likely to believe that you are worthy of forgiveness.

Now you need a lot of support, and it is a time full of opportunities for transformation and positive changes. Be relentless in your search for the kind of help you need, whether that’s a marriage counselor or a type of therapy more focused on healing your own issues. You’ll find forgiving yourself for infidelity easier if you become a more aware person in the aftermath.

young woman discussing talking with psychologist

7. Accept responsibility for what you want

No faithfulness, relationship advice, or couple’s counseling can fix a relationship you don’t want to be in. Sometimes a person might have an affair if they don’t want to be in the relationship anymore but don’t want to be the one to initiate a breakup. However, putting that burden on the other partner is unfair!

Whether you fall out of love after infidelity or realize your feelings for a while, trying to hide behind an affair is the wrong way to get the space you seek. Being honest and taking responsibility for your desire to end the relationship can prevent you from ruining anyone’s life further.

While it’s never fun to cut ties, a breakup might be the healthy choice in the long run if you are truly unhappy with your partner.

Consider a new perspective: it would probably make your partner feel bad to know you are only staying with him out of fear of a breakup. Set him free to find a better relationship with someone who can happily give him the commitment and connection he’s interested in!

young unhappy woman contemplating breakup

Forgiveness is the best outcome

If you are reading this article to learn how to forgive yourself after cheating, you probably aren’t driven purely by your carnal desires or taking your actions lightly.

You understand that your actions can cause pain to others, and you are actively seeking ways not to feel the need for such actions again. Your effort is honorable and a step in the right direction. Even if you can’t entirely see yourself as a good person, realizing that you’re doing your best can help you forgive yourself.

Learning to live with yourself after cheating requires a deep appreciation of your human nature. Being human means that you often make choices based on how you feel. You cannot always avoid hurting others in your relationships.

It also means that you are continually learning and evolving, which makes each experience a lesson. A life full of lessons is much more inspiring than one filled with mistakes.

Forgiveness is the best outcome for you and your partner after cheating. It helps to let go of negative feelings and be at peace with yourself. Whether you decide to stay in a relationship or not, forgiving yourself means that you can move on with more maturity and self-respect.

It may be that you need to vent first before you can forgive yourself for cheating. After all, you cannot move forward to being positive if the negative feelings were never expressed to your partner or yourself. If you don’t think you can talk about this with your husband or boyfriend, you may want to have it with a mental health professional instead.

It is always better to let the emotions flow because when they are suppressed, they don’t disappear. They stay in your unconscious mind and throw you off balance when least expect it. Cheating is a perfect example of suppressed emotions manifesting destructively.

Forgiving yourself for cheating can be a long and intense process. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Take your time, and seek help and support from others if you struggle. Most importantly, allow yourself to heal.

Ellen is the founder of Ellen Tang Coaching, a practice dedicated to empowering deep thinkers around the world in relationships, work, and play through one-on-one life coaching. She believes that peace and actualization are the natural results of unconditional self-acceptance. Drawing from ten years of training in coaching and a lifetime of experience in personal development, Ellen’s mission is to form strong partnerships with those on the path towards self-discovery, growth, and fulfillment so that they can find their authentic power and voice. Ellen is an ICF-certified Life and Mindset Coach based in London, UK.

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