When Does The Remorse Begin After An Affair?

By: Katie Lersch: I often hear from wives who are extremely frustrated because they are not seeing a lot of remorse in the days following the discovery of an affair.  They often expect for their husbands to immediately express remorse, but this doesn’t always happen.  And this lack of immediate remorse can leave them wondering if they are going to see any sorrow at all, and, if so, when.

I heard from a wife who said: “two days ago, my husband admitted to an affair.  He told me this news in a very matter of fact way and in a somewhat cold tone.   He pretty much just made the announcement and waited for my response.  He didn’t offer any explanations or apologies.  This is weird to me because a year ago, our best friends went through infidelity and my husband was completely outraged at the unfaithful husband’s behavior.  He expressed disappointment that the husband would act with such a lack of integrity or sincerity.  But now, here my husband is acting in the same way and he is not showing any remorse at all.  My friend said that if I give him some time, I will probably begin to get some apologies from him.  Is she right?  When should I expect to see his sorrow?  When does the remorse begin?”  I will try to address these concerns in the following article.

Remorse Follows A Varying Timeline:  Unfortunately, it is very difficult to give a definitive answer about remorse.  Because when you see it often depends upon the personality of the person being unfaithful, their reasons for cheating, and where they are in the other relationship.  For example, if the affair is still intense and current, then you may not see a lot of remorse until the relationship begins to cool down.  Because people often need to understand that the affair is a horrible mistake so that they can feel remorse for it.

But if they think that the relationship is a positive in their life that makes them happier, then they will typically attempt to justify it or refuse to be sorry about it.  As unfortunate as this is, the good news is that often, with time as the affair cools down or the true nature of the other person and the relationship becomes apparent, they will often gain a new perspective on the affair.  As a result, they eventually come to regret it.  And when they do, this is when the remorse often begins.

Sometimes, People Don’t Let Their Spouses See Their Remorse Because They Think It Is A Sign Or Weakness Or They Assume That It Weakens Their Position:  Sometimes, you will see spouses who are sort of indignant after an affair.  They seem to have a cold and uncaring attitude as was the case of this husband.   Many times, the faithful spouse will see this attitude and assume that the cheating spouse isn’t sorry or just doesn’t care about the marriage anymore.  This isn’t always the case.  Sometimes, the cheating spouse is posturing to a degree.  They figure that if they get all emotional and fall over themselves showing remorse, then the faithful spouse will pile on the guilt and will expect to see more of the same type of subservient behavior.

Their thought process is that if they make it clear that they are not going to show weakness early on, then the faithful spouse’s expectations and demands will be lower so that recovery will be much easier for them.  Very few people welcome knowing that they are going to have to express sorrow regularly or grovel for their spouse’s forgiveness.  They would rather try to see if they can set the tone early.

What Are You Options When You Are Not Seeing Remorse Quickly Enough:  It’s my experience that most faithful spouses (including myself) want and demand to see remorse sooner rather than later.  When you see it will sometimes depend upon how the affair is progressing or if it is truly over to the point where the unfaithful spouse can truly understand what a mistake that they have made and can therefore begin to feel sorrow.  If you don’t think your spouse is at this point yet, you may have to wait a bit.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t make it clear that you expect to see it at some point in the very near future.

For example, the wife in this scenario might look for a time to say something like: “I can’t help but notice that I’m not seeing and hearing a lot of remorse from you about the affair.  I realize that the emotions are still fresh and you may be as confused as I am.  But you need to understand that I’m going to need to see some remorse from you before I can begin to move forward toward recovery.  I need to truly believe that you are genuinely and completely sorry before I can even think about trust you again.   When you have progressed enough where you’re more comfortable expressing that remorse, then let me know.”

You may have noticed that I tried to keep the tone matter of fact, mirroring the husband’s tone.  I didn’t berate or try to shame him (since this was likely to make him feel defensive.)  Instead, I told him what I expected and how to reach out once he got to that point.  It’s my experience that you will have more success with this approach than with trying to shame, guilt, or force him into claiming emotions that he is not yet ready to express.

So to answer the question posed, remorse can begin even before the affair is over, but sometimes it takes a good deal longer.  A lot of this depends upon the situation and the people involved.  And sometimes the faithful spouse will need to make it clear that remorse is not only expected, it is necessary.

I didn’t always see the kind of remorse that I wanted throughout our recovery.  Once I made it clear that this was nonnegotiable, things began to chance.  I also learned to use positive reinforcement instead or relying on guilt and shame, and this helped a good deal.  If it helps, you can read about our recovery on my blog at http://surviving-the-affair.com/

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