By: Katie Lersch: I sometimes hear from people who assume that they know what has actually happened during a marital affair, but who are severely mistaken. People tend to make assumptions that are not true. People tend to assume that things are their business when in reality, they are not. Some of these people are confused about the reaction that they are seeing from either the husband or the wife.
One emotion that seems to cause a lot of confusion is guilt. Sometimes, the spouse who cheated can feel intense guilt that he does not try to hide. This can be very noticeable to people who know him well. And not everyone understands this.
Someone might ask a question like this one: “my best friend at work cheated on his wife. I am not going to tell you that this is an admirable thing to do. But it’s not like he killed someone or anything. Now, this guy refuses to go out and get drinks after work. He preaches to the rest of us. He is so guilt ridden that he immediately goes home after work and basically does whatever his wife says. It’s clear he’s eaten up by the guilt. I feel like this guy is beating himself up needlessly. Overall, he is good person. Yes, he cheated on his wife. But it didn’t mean anything and most of us at this job have cheated on our wife at one time or another. But we move on. This guy won’t move on. Why does he have an overinflated guilty conscience when everyone’s doing it?”
Here’s another example. The ‘other woman’ might ask: “the guy I’ve been having a relationship with told me that he was going to leave his wife and kids for me. I told my friends. I started looking for a bigger place for the both of us. Well all of a sudden, he changed his mind. His story is that when he went to tell his wife, he realized how horrible his actions truly were. He says he can’t see me anymore because of the guilt. He is very firm on this. No matter what I do or say, he won’t change his mind. I don’t get it. He didn’t do anything that a million other guys haven’t done. Why the intense guilt?”
I can’t answer this question from the view point of a cheating man. I’m a woman who has been on the other side of this. However, I get a lot of correspondence from cheating men and I think I have some decent theories on the guilt.
It’s not all that complicated, really. It’s a reaction to the knowledge that you have done something that you know in your heart is wrong. And you also know that this mistake that you put in motion has deeply hurt the people that you care about.
Here’s another way to look at it. If you’re a parent, there has probably been a time when you’ve let your child down, even when you didn’t mean to. Perhaps you told your child you would take them somewhere special but, as it turned out, you had an emergency at work and you had to back out. Imagine how you felt when you faced your child and told them that you had to let them down. Remember how it felt to see your child cry and know that you were the cause of this pain. You felt horrible about this because you knew that you made a choice that caused pain to the one you valued the most.
That’s sort of how I imagine a man feels when he sees his wife crying because of his horrible decision to cheat. He may have fantasized that no one was going to be hurt. But this almost never turns out to be true. Someone is usually extremely hurt. And knowing that you had a hand in this understandably invokes guilt.
Because you know that you did this of your own free will. And you know that no once forced you. In my observation, knowing all of this can make you feel lacking in integrity, weak, and ashamed.
Again, I’m not a man. But from all I’ve read and heard, I think I have a pretty good idea of how many of them feel. And we all know the feeling of guilt when we have when we hurt someone that we love. And when we can’t take it back.
Sure, many people may cheat. (Although statistically speaking, not every one does. Plenty don’t.) But everyone knows that this doesn’t make it right. And when we got married, this wasn’t our intention. We truly intended to love our spouse and to be faithful and to treat our spouse in the way that we would want to be treated.
When we fall short of this, we feel badly because we are human beings who want to do right by those we love. When we don’t, we are disappointed in ourselves and we feel guilty for not being the person that we wanted to be.
If you’re a friend or a family member of someone who feels this guilt, I don’t think you’re doing them a favor by telling them not to feel it. It’s better to admit you’re wrong, experience the guilt, and then be proactive to do whatever is necessary to make it right again. You can’t take back the cheating, but you can try to fix the damage that has been done.
My husband had a lot of guilt. And at the time, I believed that he deserved to feel every bit of it. But over time, the guilt diminished because he worked tirelessly to maintain our marriage and to restore the trust. I don’t think he’ll ever be proud of the cheating, but I think he’s proud of how he handled himself through recovery. There’s more of that at http://surviving-the-affair.com
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