Dealing With The Shame Of Cheating
I sometimes hear from spouses who are overcome with emotion after they realize what a huge mistake they made by cheating on their spouse. They are often struggling with overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame.
I recently heard from a wife who said: “Last week, I had a one night stand with a guy from my work. There was alcohol involved and I didn’t mean for it to happen. I have been happily married for ten years. I’ve never cheated on anyone in my life until last week. And I never intended to cheat on my husband. But I did. I told the other guy that it would never happen again. And it won’t. Because I will never drink at work again. But in the meantime, I can’t even look at myself in the mirror. I find it hard to act normally around my husband. I can’t look at my kids without being overwhelmed with shame at the way I’ve risked their family. How do people live with the shame after they cheat? I’m really struggling. I will tell my husband about my cheating one day. But right now, I can’t even face myself. I’ve never hated myself so much. I can’t believe I was so very stupid. I am just so ashamed of myself.”
I really felt for this wife because it was obvious that she was truly sorry for what she had done. And she was all too happy to beat herself up and to not give herself enough credit. Because, prior to the cheating, she’d contributed to a happy and faithful marriage and she was raising two beautiful children. Of course, cheating is a huge mistake. But this wife suddenly saw herself as an awful person when this was just not the case. So in the following article, I will share some of the tips I gave her about moving past the shame after an affair.
As Much As It Probably Doesn’t Feel Like It, Feeling Ashamed After Cheating Or Having An Affair Is A Positive Sign: There was no question that the wife in this situation felt awful. She knew that she had made a grave, potentially life to change the mistake. Because this behaviour was so atypical of the type of person that she was, the shame was intensified.
This actually says something positive rather than negative about her. I dialogue with a lot of people who are struggling with the aftermath of an affair. And an alarming number of spouses who cheated seem almost defensive about their cheating and about their behaviour. Many feel that they were justified in betraying their spouse or they think that it’s just not possible to remain faithful and magnanimous forever. And frankly, when people tell me these things, I have doubts about their marriage.
Neither of these things was the case with this wife. She was incredibly remorseful and she was adamant that her husband did absolutely nothing to deserve this type of betrayal. This said an awful lot about her and her marriage. In fact, shame and guilt can be a positive thing as long as you use them as a motivator to move forward and make things better rather than using them a crutch to keep you stuck and in pain.
You Can Not Change Your Past Actions, But You Alone Determine Your Future Actions: The wife needed to understand that, despite her guilt, shame, and sorrow, there was nothing that she could do to change her actions. The cheating was in the past, but there was no way to take it back. Dwelling on the cheating wasn’t going to change it nor was dwelling going to make the future any better.
In fact, the more you focus on your guilt and shame and the awful thing you’ve done, the more you are paralyzed in moving forward. Yes, cheating on your spouse is a huge mistake which you may well regret for the rest of your life. But you can not change it. Continuing to dwell on just might keep you from focusing on what is important right now – which is your marriage, your healing, moving forward, and making certain that you never again make the same mistake.
So my best advice is to focus on changing what you can. Unfortunately, you can’t change the cheating or the past. But you can change how you are dealing with both. You can place your focus on making the future as positive as you can. You can focus on making this right rather than belabouring what has already gone wrong. You can be the best wife and mother that you can possibly be.
Don’t Allow Your Shame To Shut You Down: There’s a real danger in allowing your shame to shut you down. Some people suffer a real domino effect of negativity in their lives. Because you can’t stand to look at your husband, your marriage begins to change for the worse. Because you no longer think you’re a good mother, you withdraw from your kids and your family. And do you know what happens then? You allow one wrong to turn into months or even years worth of wrongs. Please don’t fall into this trap.
If the shame and the resulting pain is too much for you, please get some help to move past this. As someone who has been cheated on, I would never defend cheating. However, a person who makes one mistake should not believe that they’ve suddenly turned into an awful person who no longer deserves love or the love of their own family. His wife’s family would likely not be better off if she became so ashamed that she withdrew. Yes, she made a mistake. But the bigger mistake would be to allow the affair to contribute to her losing those things that mattered most to her. Or losing those things to which, except for a brief moment in time, she had always been true.
Related Article: He Loves You, But He’s Cheating? Find Out Why