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 bring yourself to 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. What your partner doesn’t know is that your colleague Mark stayed back 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 wandered.

Cheating stirs up a complex mixture of emotions that can be extremely overwhelming and confusing. When anger, guilt, fear, shame, hate, and love all arise at the same time, you may lose the sense of who you are, feel out of control, and let your self-esteem plummet. Dwelling on the cheating guilt and self-loathing thoughts, however, does not help but only pulls you further away from the clarity and emotional balance.

You are not a bad person because you cheated. But it is important to understand what drove you to cheat and how you can avoid feeling the need to cheat again. Then it will be easier to forgive yourself as you know what you need to do not to get tangled up in life again.

The process of understanding does not have to involve your partner unless you want to. Regardless of whether they forgive you, the only kind of forgiveness that counts is to yourself.

Here are six tips to help you make sense of what happened and learn how to forgive yourself for cheating.

1. Don’t panic

One of the most intense emotions that come with cheating is fear. Although part of the thrill comes from the possibility of getting caught, each time you ‘get away with it’ again, you feel both triumphant and terrible at the same time. You are always fearful that you won’t be so lucky the next time, and part of you thinks that you deserve to be caught and condemned.

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 know what I did?

The thought of being scorned and abandoned can trigger some deep-seated fears and drive you to keep your ‘secret’ safe obsessively. In doing that, you are likely to suffer from extreme anxiety and loneliness as every little hint could trigger your fear of being caught, and it is as if you are living in a bubble all by yourself. The fear takes up your mental capacity and distorts your view and understanding of what happened.

The first step toward forgiveness is to take a deep breath and calm down. Sit with your fears for a moment without trying to do anything about it. Often, the sorts of reactions and hostility you are afraid of receiving from others are those you perceive as ‘deserved’ and justified. They are what you are directing towards 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 have the power to shift how you feel. You cannot control how others might view your actions, but you can change your perception of them. It is not always easy, but certainly possible.

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

2. Understand what was missing in your relationship

The reason you fell for someone new is that 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.

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Human beings don’t do anything for no reason, and certainly not something with significant implications like cheating. You would have been seeking to fulfill specific needs that were not met by your relationship. What those needs are is not always immediately apparent, but they will become clearer if you allow yourself to take a break from the guilty feeling and to sympathize with yourself for a moment. You are then more likely to recognize your needs by letting them surface onto a more conscious level.

Anger, loneliness, insecurity. These are some examples of emotions that typically drive someone to cheat. Maybe there are things that you wish your partner is doing but can’t bring yourself to raise an issue with him or her. That could make you angry and build up resentment over time. 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.

Maybe you 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. It is a typical scenario when you suppress anger by the feeling that you should be grateful for having a beautiful house and a country life that many people wish for. Although not explicitly, this seems to be the scenario depicted in the film Unfaithful.

Or maybe your partner doesn’t make you feel smart and attractive, while those qualities are vital parts of your identity. It could drive you to seek the attention you crave elsewhere.

These are common reasons that drive people to cheat, especially when presented with an opportunity. Temptations that are usually easy to resist can suddenly lure you in because an essential element is missing from your relationship. You haven’t been able to talk about it with your partner.

You may find yourself resisting understanding why you cheated because it feels like looking for excuses. You may think that nothing is missing that is significant enough to justify cheating. You are right in the sense that it is always better to choose a less hurtful alternative to cheating, but that is unlikely to have been possible under your circumstances and given your emotional vulnerability. You are not trying to justify the act of infidelity here, but 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 the significance of it. Don’t dismiss your needs and conclude that you simply are a ‘bad person.’ If you put everyone else’s needs before your own, it may be beneficial to involve someone who can help you understand what is important to you.

3. Admit your partner’s responsibility

It is common that people who have cheated become very defensive and reluctant to acknowledge any responsibility for 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 you can forgive yourself, allowing yourself to acknowledge what was outside your control 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. When things go wrong in a relationship, it takes two people to make that shift. Let’s take one of the examples given above that you cheated because your partner does not make you feel smart and attractive anymore. In this scenario, you could have talked to your partner about how you feel, worked on your self-esteem so you wouldn’t need your partner’s validation or sought a different environment where your qualities are well recognized and praised.

However, this does mean that your relationship would have carried on sailing smoothly should you have done everything’ right’. No matter how you had decided to address your feeling of inadequacy, you could not have controlled how your partner responds. And his or her reaction is also a determining factor as to where your relationship would head. So, your partner is likely to be responsible for communicating with you about your feelings and theirs, for paying you compliments in a heartfelt way, being sensitive to your needs, and asking how they could help you feel smart and attractive again. If they had done these things, you might never have felt the need to cheat.

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Acknowledging your partner’s responsibilities can be a difficult step to take, because whenever you begin to do that, the guilty feeling may start accusing you of escaping your duties. Remind yourself that it is not the case. Just because another person played a part does not mean that you are refusing to take the responsibility yourself. You are merely trying to reveal the reality, which is that a relationship takes two people to maintain.

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 to your partner. Although the common assumption is that it is best to tell the truth, 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 telling your partner will 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 there are psychological benefits to being truthful, honesty can also be more self-serving than virtuous. It can be incredibly liberating to tell the truth, despite the pain and turbulence it causes the other person.

People often decide to come clean about cheating because they believe that lying is shameful, and they can’t live with the guilt any longer. If you hold this belief firmly, then telling your partner may help you forgive yourself as it gives you a sense of doing the ‘right thing’ despite its difficulty and detriment. It feels moral. If this is what you decide to do, then pick a time when you and your partner can have each other’s undivided attention and be prepared for the additional pressure and emotional intensity that will inevitably come your way.

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 that you are reasonably at peace with yourself already before letting your partner know.

Telling your partner that you cheated on them may not be the right thing to do. It can immediately throw them into a blaming mode, in which they will find it hard to look at their 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.

Cheating is often not the cause but the symptom of relationship problems, but when one of you feels the right to push all the responsibilities onto the other, the real underlying issues get buried, and it is unlikely that your relationship will get better.

No matter what you decide to do, the more aware you are of the consequences, the less likely you will feel out of control afterward.

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

5. Let go of guilt after cheating

Although guilt is an uncomfortable emotion, and consciously you are trying to reduce it as much as possible, on an unconscious level, you could be holding onto it tight because it helps you feel more moral and worthy of forgiveness. You often hear harsh remarks made against those who ‘show no signs of remorse.’ The feeling of guilt signals to you and perhaps others that you are not someone who takes joy in hurting your partner, but you do recognize the damage that can be caused by your actions.

Although it is natural to feel guilty after cheating, holding onto unwarranted guilt prevents you from forgiving yourself. It pushes you onto an endless road of trying to compensate your partner for things you are not entirely responsible for. If you want to move forward with your life, you need to let go of the guilt.

Guilty feelings often become excessive and persistent when you confuse what you do with who you are. It is essential to differentiate between your actions and your identity. While regretting that you cheated on your partner can drive you to face your action and prevent it from happening again, labeling yourself and feeling guilty for being a cheater will not. The former is part of a reflective and corrective process, whereas the latter is a self-loathing act that could lead to more destructive behaviors because that is what ‘bad people’ do, and you believe you are one of them.

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The truth is, holding onto the guilt of cheating alone will not get you forgiveness. It is what you do about the sin. Ultimately, you want to release the guilt altogether because it is not a useful feeling. You can process it, let go of it, and take action to prevent it. 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. Which way do you want more?

6. Empathize with yourself

No one would deliberately wreck a perfectly happy relationship. When someone cheats, it is because they are usually already hurting. Often, cheating is a way of crying for help and claiming back control. It is a clear indication that you are in pain and need a lot of care and empathy. As mentioned earlier, anger, loneliness, and insecurity could all drive people to cheat. And they are all emotions suggesting that the person is suffering inside. Regardless of whether the suffering is justified in another person’s eyes, it is real and painful for the person experiencing it.

Your situation is more difficult because society is harsher on cheating than on other forms of failure to maintain a healthy relationship. Even though both partners are responsible, cheating disproportionately tilts the scale towards you as the guilty party because your partner’s failure is often less visible and disguised as ‘mere’ carelessness or insensitivity even though they can be just as hurtful.

It is not an easy position to be in. Therefore, on your path towards forgiveness, be very kind to yourself. We are all human beings trying to do our best. Life is a journey full of unexpected lessons and discoveries. It is how we grow. You don’t make mistakes on this life journey. Instead, you make the best choices that you can, based on where you are in life, what you know, and how you feel.

If possible, talk to someone you can trust. When you experience unconditional acceptance that you have denied yourself, you are more likely to believe that you are worthy of forgiveness. It is a time when you need a lot of support, a time full of opportunities for transformation and growth. Be relentless in your search and seek the kind of help you need.

Often, cheating is a way of crying for help and claiming back control. Click To Tweet

Forgiveness is the best outcome

If you are reading this article to learn how to forgive yourself for cheating, you are unlikely to be someone driven purely by their carnal desires or taking their actions lightly. You understand that your actions can cause pain to others and are actively seeking ways not to feel the need for such actions again. Your effort in doing so is both honorable and a step in the right direction.

Ultimately, forgiveness comes from a deep appreciation of your human-ness. Being human means that you often make choices based on your emotions. It means that you cannot always avoid hurting others, especially if you were in pain. It also means that you are continually learning and evolving, which makes each experience a lesson. There are no such things as mistakes in life. Only lessons. A life full of lessons is much more inspiring than one filled with mistakes.

Forgiveness is the best outcome after cheating, both for you and your partner. It allows you to let go of negative emotions 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. In that case, allow yourself to vent. After all, you cannot move forward to being positive if the negative feelings were never expressed, either to your partner or to yourself. All emotions are natural. It is always better to let them flow rather than suppress them because suppressed emotions don’t disappear. They stay in your unconscious mind and throw you off balance when you least expect it. In itself, cheating is a perfect example of suppressed emotions getting expressed destructively.

Finally, it can be a long and intense process to forgive yourself for cheating. Don’t be too hard on yourself, take your time, and seek help and support from others if you are struggling. 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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