What's In This Article
So you’ve been unfaithful and didn’t get caught? Do you feel terrible about your actions, obsessing over your betrayal every moment of the day?
Cheating in committed relationships is not a rare occurrence in the United States.
YouGov surveyed thousands of Americans, asking whether they were cheaters and the findings showed that 19 percent of women and 21 percent of men confessed to cheating on their partners.
For most, cheating on a partner can lead to extreme guilt and shame, even if you get away with it. Those feelings are difficult to overcome at times, and the burden might also include feelings of self-doubt, anger, and regret.
While it can be an overwhelming experience, there are steps that you can take to start forgiving yourself and moving on with your life.
Though it takes a lot of introspection and hard work, you can escape from the agony of your guilt and start moving forward.
Read on to learn vital information about why people cheat, the consequences of infidelity, and how to forgive yourself for cheating and not telling.
Why We Cheat
That is a complicated question with lots of complex answers and variables. While most cases of cheating involve sexual acts, there is usually a lot more behind it than simple lust or physical desire.
People form platonic emotional attachments that turn into romantic or sexual attraction with time. That is especially true in cases where the cheater feels neglected or taken for granted in their primary relationship.
Some people seek out affairs because their sexual needs are unmet, though they still care for their partners and love them deeply. Other people might feel an overwhelming desire for variety or suffer from sex addiction.
In some instances, people cheat to get back at partners or cheat out of anger. Others have issues abusing drugs and alcohol and cannot seem to control their sexual urges when under the influence.
Whatever the reasoning, there is no question that cheating can take an emotional, physical, and mental toll on all parties involved.
The Consequences of Infidelity
Cheating affects more than just your partner. It can affect your children, friends, extended family, and even the person you see on the side. All in all, the damage infidelity causes is rarely worth any benefit the affair might offer.
If you do not want your partner and your loved ones to suffer, you might have decided to keep your infidelity a secret. Though many people might judge you for this choice, you only want to shield people in your life from lots of pain and suffering.
Read More: Is It Illegal To Cheat On Your Spouse?
Partners who are cheated on and find out often deal with:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Anger management issues
- Depression and anxiety
- Low self-esteem and self-image
- Problems trusting others
They might engage in high-risk behaviors to cope with overwhelming feelings. Behaviors like drug abuse, self-harm, over or under-eating, and unprotected sex.
Infidelity can cause serious physical consequences as well. You risk exposing yourself and your partner to STDs. STDs can have no symptoms and could irreparably damage reproductive health.
Most cheating gets exposed eventually, so if you have not gotten caught yet, it is safe to say you will be.
For those reading who want to change your behavior and salvage precious relationships, here are 10 steps that show you how to forgive yourself for cheating and not telling.
Step 1: Go No Contact
First and foremost, you have to end whatever affairs you are juggling. It does not matter if they are emotional, physical, or both.
Sometimes that is easy when you have not formed any bond or connection with the other person, but saying goodbye to someone you care for can be very hard.
Even so, if you have chosen to stop cheating and salvage your relationship, this is a step you have to take.
Otherwise, the rest of these steps are useless and won’t help you much.
You must let the other person (or people) go and fully commit yourself to your current relationship. It is a good idea to try and be gentle and kind when taking this step but set clear boundaries and follow them. Maybe you can be friends down the road, but that is a bad idea for now.
The temptation of remaining in contact with this person proved to be much for you in the past. Without some conscious self-work, it will continue to drag you back down.
So take that leap, end things cleanly, and delete them from your social media. Delete them from your contacts too. Now you can focus on yourself and your relationship without worrying about backtracking.
Step 2: Take Accountability
It's easy to find things to blame when we make the wrong choices.
Maybe you had a tough childhood or inherited some less than stellar genes from your parents. Perhaps you got cheated on before or have mental health issues or you substance abuse issues.
Though it might feel better to try and use these excuses for yourself, you need to understand something crucial.
None of these things force you to cheat. Many people go through these things and do not cheat on their partners.
Your actions are your own. You will not be able to move past them and forgive yourself without first being completely honest and owning the error of your ways.
It will do you no good to hide behind your past or the circumstances of your life.
You have to face the bitter truth.
Whatever the reasons behind your infidelity, you are still in the wrong, and you have still done something selfish and harmful. Taking accountability can hurt, but luckily practice makes perfect. The more you stop shifting blame, the easier it will get.
Step 3: Reflect on Your Mistakes
Once you have stopped making excuses for your behavior and trying to place blame on anything or anyone else, you should take some quiet time to examine your lifestyle and your mistakes.
Find a safe place to reflect and meditate long and hard about what you have done and what you want to change. Being truly alone with your thoughts without distractions can help you see the areas in your life where you keep repeating the same missteps.
You may learn that your infidelity has more to do with your insecurities, fears, and shortcomings than anything your partner could or couldn’t do for you. This is where you need to start asking yourself the hard questions so you can decide where to go from here.
- Do I want to continue this relationship?
- What might have triggered this sort of behavior?
- Am I unhappy with my life and/or my partner?
- Am I cut out for a monogamous relationship?
Sometimes you might think you want to salvage your relationship, but with a little thought, you might change your mind. That is natural and nothing to be ashamed of.
If you take this time to reflect and find that you still want your relationship to work, you still have quite a bit of work to do to set things right.
Step 5: Don’t Torture Yourself
It is important to take accountability and reflect on your mistakes, but be careful not to be overly hard on yourself. This will not help you in the long run and might even make things worse. Shame and guilt are powerful emotions that most humans are wired to avoid.
The fact that you feel any guilt at all proves that you are not heartless or evil. You are a human being who messed up, but that does not make you irredeemable or a bad person. Every human has flaws and every relationship has secrets and struggles, you are not a monster for messing up.
If you want to be a better person and are actively trying to do better, you have a lot to be proud of. There are plenty of people who give in to their temptations and easily shrug off any feelings of guilt or responsibility.
Your guilt does not make you a better person than those people, but it does mean that you do not lack empathy and that you strive to be a better person even in the face of your bad behaviors.
But don’t let that guilt swallow you whole. No matter how much that mean little voice in your head tries to convince you to hate yourself, remember that you can change your ways and feel happy again.
Step 6: Count Your Blessings
Chances are, your affair made you lose sight of what made you fall for your partner in the first place, even if only for a while.
If you find yourself wanting to continue a relationship with your significant other after you cheated, there must be many reasons you feel that way. There must be lots of reasons why you would hate to lose that person and your connection.
It can be easy to lose sight of these reasons when you have been in a relationship for an extended period. You get so used to what they offer that you cannot see how lucky you are to have them by your side.
Even when people don’t cheat, taking your partner for granted can quickly kill any relationship. If you are worried about how to forgive yourself for cheating and not telling, this can be a great step to take that eases some of the burdens.
Not only that, intentionally expressing more gratitude for your partner helps you recognize your blessings and builds a happier, stronger relationship. Tell your partner often how much they mean to you and how grateful you are for all the amazing things they do for you.
Step 7: Work on Your Relationship
It can be extremely difficult to foster a healthy relationship. It requires a lot of work by both parties and both people have to be willing to grow and evolve with each other as time goes on.
For your relationship to have a fighting chance, you have to be willing to work hard on keeping your partnership solid. This means having open and effective communication, which is a cornerstone of any good relationship.
You also need to have a deep understanding of your partner and their wants, needs, and expectations. You have to practice vulnerability, honesty, and patience every day. You have to choose that person over and over again.
A committed relationship is just that, a commitment. You have to be willing to constantly work on yourself and your relationship to keep it alive and healthy. This should be one of your top priorities on your journey going forward.
Step 8: Learn From Your Mistakes
It is one thing to reflect on your mistakes and another to truly learn from them.
When you fail to learn from your mistakes, you will continue to make them and complicate your life. You must integrate the lessons into your life and prove your commitment to changing bad behaviors from now on.
There is nothing you can do to change the past, but overcoming a similar situation and doing the right thing can help to ease the guilt you feel. Walking the walk is important, not just talking the talk.
Once you have done some serious inner work and worked on your relationship, you should notice your actions and thoughts have changed. You should be able to use your new habits to change situations you might not have been able to in the past.
It does no good to obsess over what-ifs and past mistakes, but it is a great feeling when you break a behavioral cycle and prove to yourself that you have truly learned your lesson.
Step 9: Establish Good Role Models (And Get Advice)
This might seem like strange advice, but it can help you to find someone in your life who has cheated and still salvaged their relationship in the end. This could be a friend, a co-worker, or even a family member.
Whoever this person is, they can represent a symbol of hope for your future and someone to look up to when the struggle gets hard to handle. It can help you understand that everything is not useless and that the future can still be a happy one.
When you are feeling down or frustrated with yourself, you can hold up the person as an example to help you get through tough times when the weight feels too heavy to bear.
If possible, you might even try to ask them for some advice on how to handle the situation. This might not work if you want to keep your infidelity a secret, but if it works out this is an invaluable resource for advice you desperately need.
These role models can motivate you to overcome your cheating ways and show you a path to building a better, more honest future with your partner.
Step 10: Choose Positivity
As we come to the end of the steps on how to forgive yourself for cheating and not telling, I want to encourage you to try and stay positive through your journey, no matter how hard that might seem.
By no means should you put your head in the sand and try to downplay your mistakes, but negativity can quickly ruin all the progress you make if you allow yourself to wallow in it all the time.
Life is hard, and tough lessons like this can rob you of your joy. Though you know that the mistake was yours alone, that doesn’t mean you should turn into a pessimist and see the worst in everything around you.
Shedding your guilt once in for all will involve embracing the good things you still have in life and looking on the bright side when you feel like giving up. Centering negativity and forming a derogatory opinion of yourself could even lead you to cheat again because you need an escape from your darkest thoughts.
Practice positive self-talk and don’t be afraid to look forward to the future because you feel guilty. Even a minuscule shift in how you perceive yourself can help you better regulate your behavior and feelings.
Populate your mind with positive, uplifting thoughts and you will soon find yourself moving into a better, brighter chapter in your life in no time.
The Big Picture
To forgive yourself for cheating and move on for good, you are going to have to invest a lot of time and energy. Not only in yourself, but in your relationship as well.
You will never be able to rewind time and undo what you did, but you can take these steps to take accountability, understand your motivations, and stop feeling so much guilt and anxiety.
Cheating involves a lot of complex factors and feelings that can confuse and overwhelm you. You have to decide to take charge and get your life back on track, no matter how hard that might seem right now.
With time and dedication, you can feel good about yourself again and make amends for your mistakes, even if you never confess your infidelity to your partner.
Lauren Cook-McKay is the Vice President of Marketing at DivorceAnswers.com. She holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) from the University of San Diego and applies her training in private practice to helping couples struggling in their marriage. She believes there is hope in all marriages and strives to provide therapy to couples that will lead them back towards a loving marriage, or an amicable divorce that brings peace and closure.