Surviving infidelity often involves the need for both people in a relationship to work through guilt before healing can take place. After all, virtually everyone’s greatest fear in a committed relationship is hearing the words, “I cheated,” or “I had an affair.”
The suffering of someone whose partner cheats on them is well-documented. Many powerful emotions can be present including disbelief, anger, revenge, jealousy and strong feelings of low self-esteem to name a few.
What isn’t given as much attention, however, is that cheaters can have real struggles of their own of which guilt can be an especially heavy burden. How does someone who’s cheated get over their feelings of guilt and move on with the process of affair recovery? Let’s consider a few ways to do that.
Let Go of Destructive Guilt and Forgive Yourself
How do cheaters feel about themselves? Seemingly unbearable guilt is a common experience. Guilt can be a terrible feeling, constantly gnawing at your mind and weakening your body. Depending on how you approach guilt, it can either be destructive or constructive.
A destructive approach to guilt is where you wallow in your shortcomings and failures. The problem of constantly rehashing your regrets over the long haul is that it’ll only break you down. This approach to guilt is where you regularly beat yourself up because of your affair. You become your greatest tormenter. And the more you do this to yourself, the easier it becomes to do it again…and again.
The problem with this approach to guilt is that it’s not healthy for you or those around you in the long run. Your loved ones, co-workers and friends need the best version of yourself (a healed you). And that’s where you can take a different path down the guilt trail.
Embrace a Healthy Approach to Guilt
No matter what you do, nothing will change your past relationship choices. Agonizing over your shortcomings will only cause further pain. Taking a healthy approach to guilt means you stop beating yourself up about your past decisions. At the same, it doesn’t mean you trivialize the fact you cheated either.
Instead, you accept that, although you can’t change the past, you can change yourself. The saying of, “once a cheater, always a cheater,” is only true of those who continue cheating. You don’t have to let your past decisions define who you are today.
Yes, you still feel the pain of guilt with this option. But it’s less severe than wallowing in your guilt. That’s because you let the pain of your failures make you into someone better than you were before your affair. You choose to become a stronger person rather than diminish your human dignity.
This is a choice you can learn to make regardless of the consequences of your affair. You could be dealing with the loss of your significant-other relationship, less time with your children or a number of other painful possibilities. Despite the potential damage caused by cheating, you can still choose a healthy approach to guilt.
In his Psychology Today article entitled, “Guilt After Betrayal,” Steven Stosny, Ph.D. shares the following related advice:
“As with all emotions, guilt loses its motivational power when we focus too much on how it feels and not enough on what it tells us to do, i.e., get right with our deeper values.”
Feeling Guilty After Cheating? Avoid the Urge to Isolate Yourself
If you’re wondering what to do if you cheated, one thing you don’t want to do is isolate yourself from others. Doing so will only increase the likelihood that you’ll struggle to overcome guilt.
Especially during this time, you need other people who care about you. This could mean reaching out to a trusted friend or finding an online support group to interact with others dealing with guilt because of an affair. You also may want to consider reaching out to a trusted religious advisor if you value such influences.
Surviving Infidelity Guilt May Mean Seeing a Counselor
Counseling can often help to work through “cheater’s remorse”. You may be thinking, “I cheated. Now what?” Although significant pain is involved in the healing process, that doesn’t mean your life is over. A trusted counselor will help you process your feelings and other concerns in a safe, non-judgmental and professional manner.
Through counseling with the OC Relationship Center, you can learn how to deal with guilt in healthy ways. We offer counseling in Newport Beach and Mission Viejo, California. You can schedule an appointment with us and begin getting the help you need to conquer your guilt.