April 2, 2021
How to Forgive Yourself After You’ve Cheated
A listener shares their story and feelings after having had cheated on their long-term partner. They ask for help managing the guilt and shame and Jess & Brandon weigh in on the topic with a discussion of:
- Whether or not to tell your partner about an affair
- Why talking about cheating can be helpful in all relationships
- How to talk about affairs in the hypothetical to improve understanding in relationships
- How the language of confession can feel burdensome
- How to manage feelings of guilt
- How to forgive yourself
- How to work through feelings of shame
- How to practice self-compassion
- How to learn from previous regrets
Please see here for a rough version of this transcript.
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How to Forgive Yourself After Youve Cheated
00:00:05 – 00:05:02
You’re listening to the sacs with dr jess podcast sacks and relationship advice you can use tonight Welcome to the sex with dr jasser. Podcast co host brandon. Wear here with my always. Lovely other half dr jess. Hey hey how’s it going and good today we’re gonna be we’re gonna be talking about something serious going to be talking about how to get over an affair. I look forward to your answers. I wanna know what you think. I think this is an important conversation for everyone in a relationship. But we’re actually going to be talking about it from the perspective of the cheater Interesting how to move through the guilt and the shame so before we get to the question that somebody sent in one a shout out our sponsor. Let’s get checked dot com. They offer all sorts of home wellness and health tests including s. t. is and. I was actually looking at some research out of canada this morning by going to try and get this right. The sex information and education council of canada came out with data showing that young people are reporting lower access to sexual health and reproductive health services since the onset of the pandemic make sense when you think about them perhaps not being on campus and having access to different sexual health counseling And free hall centers especially when we think about so. Many people may be living at home. And maybe they need their parents to drive them someplace. And don’t wanna ask so. This is an option for folks. Let’s get checked. You receive a box at kit and you take your sample by yourself. At home you mail it in and they provide your results securely online anna matter of days so folks please do check it out. Let’s get checked dot com and please please use code dr jess to save and also so that they know you heard about it here. All right so. I’m going to read out the question that i received about how to get over the guilt and shame and other associated feelings of cheating because this is a tough one. I wanted to actually spend some time on it with you. So this person writes in and says i’ve been in a serious relationship for almost twelve years. We’ve been cohabitating for eleven years during our ninth year together. I had an affair after sleeping with the other person for the second time i felt tremendous guilt and i cut off all ties. Haven’t told my partner. And at this point i don’t think it’s worth it. I have reached out to two of my closest friends who have been supportive and judgmental. But i can’t seem to shake the shame and guilt for hurting someone who has done nothing but be the best partner i could ask for. I think it is worth noting that we were at a very low point in our relationship. When i slept with the other person and since deciding that i needed to be a better partner and work at my relationship things have been better than ever before. I’m reaching out for advice on how i can move on and not feel like a horrible person who doesn’t deserve love for my partner while there’s a lot there’s a lot here. Yeah and you know. Thank you so much for sharing. I don’t think we often talk about how to take care of the person who has an affair in the context of getting over an affair because of course the first place we go to carrying for the partner. And obviously when you’re cheated on you need care and love and reassurance and space to feel and process and express your feelings. This is something we talk about often. You have written blogs and articles on how to get over. Someone who cheats on you done interviews on kind of how to recover from an affair as a couple and of course there are thousands and thousands of articles out there on how to recover after. You’ve been cheated on. But i do think. There’s far far less discussion about how to recover and move on. And he’ll after you’ve cheated. And i know this can be quite upsetting for some people triggering for some people like well. Why are you spending time on this but this is just a you know another human being struggling so i really am glad you sent this question because everyone with all of our imperfections and all of our mistakes and all of our regrets. Every single person deserves to heal and love and be loved and find happiness and peace and fulfillment. We’ve got it was think we have such a short time on this earth that it just makes sense that we have to make the most of it right. Don’t waste today. Don’t waste a jelly bean. We think about you know your life in days as jelly beans jar.
00:05:02 – 00:10:03
We’ve talked about that before. Yeah when you think about how quickly those jelly beans get eaten or consumed especially when you like jelly beans. Yes so so. First and foremost. I think we. We might want to address a question that i get often. Which is should. I confess to having had an affair or having had cheated. And obviously you already said that you have until department partner. You don’t plan on telling them so. This may not be directed at you but i. i think it’s an important question to consider for. Everyone and i don’t have an answer. I don’t have a universal answer. I think you have to decide. What’s appropriate in your circumstance in your relationship it. But i do want to talk about this kind of notion of confession because i this. This is something that comes up a lot Really wanna highlight that. In regard to confessing in some cases confessing is really about switching your own guilt and working through your own shame. Meaning that it’s not really about being honest with your partner or repairing or improving the relationship but in some cases for some people. I noticed that it’s really about getting it off your chest relieving a sense of tension you’re struggling with and so in some cases i’ve seen it do a lot of harm so i’ve seen couples in which one partner reveals that they’ve had an affair from the past oftentimes to assuage their own uncomfortable feelings and then the other partner sometimes okay. I want to be really clear human variation here. We’ll say i wish i never. I wish they never told me. So for folks who are thinking about this I think it’s just helpful to ask yourself and really dig deep as to. Why do you want confess confesses such a strong word to me right like i don’t know it’s tied to the catholic church. Yeah yeah like ingred too. I had my first confession. I’ve never had a formal confession. I not catholic. I am not religious. I’m not but they put me in the box on the box. I’m gonna reserve commentary right now. I’ve been yeah anyway. Please continue. Yeah we had to go and give our first confession. And i remember coming up with sins. Well of course. Because i mean you know in the eyes of the church and being human you’re screwing up every day but you come up with a list of things that you did wrong and it you know i remember. The language was forgive me. Father for i have send. Its and you’re supposed to say it’s been three weeks since my last confession. But in our case we had to say this is my first confession we rehearsed that over and over again the fact that i remember it decades and decades later okay not decades and decades to tell everybody how old well i’m trying to think how old how old are you agree to like seven. So i’m forty one now so it was a long time ago and you you had to say what you did wrong and how many times you did it. Well do you not know that. No i understand the principle of confession on the first time that you go. I just kind of wonder it must be cute. Maybe to hear the kids talk about things that they’ve done. They think that they’ve done wrong. Oh i didn’t details league. We were just told to say like. I lied to my parents for times. Unlike man alighted my parents like fifteen times. I’m literally lying right now. But yeah confesses just as such a strong word but i do. We should go back to this story. I think it’s really helpful for everyone to think about if you do want to share something with your partner. That borders on confession. Is it about as waging. You’re old own guilt at the expense of potentially causing further harm to your partner. Well the first thing. I think of as i think about my situation in this and i if it was you and i would want to tell you but i would be doing exactly that abuse waging my own guilt because i would just feel like i couldn’t live with it kind of hanging over my head but that’s not to make you feel better. That’s to make me feel better yet. And i i. I’m i want to say. I’m not being clear cut here. I’m not saying you shouldn’t tell. But the flip side is that after you cheat and you hold it in. You might cold back or withdraw or punish yourself or sabotage the relationship or add pressure related to perfectionism Or otherwise act out of character in ways that could damage the relationship anyway. Because you haven’t been honest and that to of course can cause harm and your partner doesn’t have any context to understand why this is going on. You know you’ll often hear people say that. Of course honesty is important to a relationship. And you’ll hear people say. Total honesty is essential after an affair but the reality is that there are many couples who go on and have happy fulfilling relationships without total honesty.
00:10:03 – 00:15:01
And i know this is scary to hear. But i can tell you that i’ve met many many many many couples i mean many in which there was an untold untold affair and my observation and this is just anecdote okay is that they’re not more or less dysfunctional than other couples. Who either haven’t had a secret affair who who had an affair in confessed to it and work through it. And i’ve heard some therapists say that you should tell them if you have an affair if it might happen again or if it was like a long-term than of them say oh but you shouldn’t tell if it was a one time thing and if it’ll never happen again and if there’s a chance they could find out or if they’re asking you you should lean toward telling them but the bottom line is i just don’t know that there are any universal truths when it comes to how to manage relationships and cheating and in an ideal world were honest with each other okay but in a realistic world. This doesn’t work for everyone. I think actually. I think this is an important discussion to have in the hypothetical and i may be moten. Maybe not everyone’s in a place in their relationship where they can do that. But i was thinking you know if i change the math of this relationship to kind of apply to ours and i say okay. We’ve been together twenty years if i cheated on you four years ago. Would you want me to tell you now. And this isn’t right or wrong for anyone else. this is for you brandon. Yeah i i think i would want to know. I also think that depending on the circumstances around it. I feel much more capable today of working through that in our in the context of our relationship whereas twenty years ago. When we got together. I think it would have been a lot harder like it was very much a hard. That’s like if you do this meaning cheating. In this example. This is wrong grounds for separation or grounds to terminate the relationship. Whereas now i feel like i need to under understand why what happened that caused it and can we work through it moving forward so while like it’s just it’s i think you hit the nail on the head. There’s no definitive answer like you should do this. I think it’s very based on very much based on the relationship and the individual. I mean tell me you know. People who have cheated and their partners don’t know yes. I definitely do and some of them have happy relationships and some of them have not so happy relationships i presume and it may not may not be contingent upon whether or not they’ve cheated It’s not for me to say you know. That’s the way i feel. It’s not for me to say. And i think they have to work through it. I also think if our relationship what what what were the underlying issues that existed before the cheating happened that we might want to address like. Is there something there that we can get at as well because there’s just anyway. There’s a lot well i think. That’s that’s the deficit model that i cheated because there was something lacking. But that’s not the reason. I mean that is the reason in many cases but it’s not always the reason You know some people. It has to do with impulse. It has to do with opportunity it has to do with you know using drugs or alcohol it has to do with. I don’t know just a drive to some people. Don’t care about being honest. Let’s be honest like there are people who just don’t care to be honest with themselves or with their partners you know. I don’t know if i’d want you to confess to me years later. I got to tell you that word confesses strong it for for for me. It is so. I don’t know if i’d want you to reveal it years later so on one hand i’ll be honest. I like the idea of control that comes from knowing and working through being like i know every card that could possibly be on the table and that comes from a sense of desiring control from me now on the other hand if things are going really really well now like. Let’s say we’re in this relationship right. Now that i feel so good in i wonder do. I want the burden of working through it like i. I gotta tell you. I’d be so devastated by the fact the cheating because you know i’m pretty open about certain things but above sorry not by the. I shouldn’t say that it’s not the cheating. It’s not the sex. It’s it’s the fact that you would keep something from me for so long. And i’ve said to you before that i don’t think cheating is in the top three or five in terms of the worst things you could do to this relationship or in this relationship you know i feel actually and maybe this is scary to say.
00:15:01 – 00:20:01
I feel confident. We could work through it. I don’t feel like that’s like a hall pass for you to be like. Oh just doesn’t really care. Go behind her back. But i suppose. I guess if it was a momentary blip part of me is selfish and wouldn’t really want to support you through it like if i had the choice and it was like i’m never going to know but one thing that’s scary for me to talk about. Is that if. I’m happy and i feel as loved as i do right now. I don’t know that i’d want that shaken. And at the same time. I be so blind so cited because i have a lot of trust in and face Just real trust in you. i feel like we’ve created. I didn’t have a dynamic in which. I hope you can tell me anything. And ask for anything and be open to making changes and moving boundaries. So if you were to want something. I feel like we’ve created a space where you could come. Tell me so. I would be really confused as to why you would do it behind my back. And i’d have so much difficulty understanding why i agree. I think that ultimately it would be the violation in our relationship of trust more so than necessarily the action I mean i do. I feel the same way. I think it would just be such a surprise number one and number two. I’d be so. I would feel very hurt that it happened and you didn’t. I mean i guess. I think the media they didn’t tell me right and it’s like i have i have i feel a great amount of trust and respect for you know i mean you travel the world six months of the year. You’re gone you’re out. I don’t know where you are most ripe travel. It’s gone now. Oh all right p. travel yes one day it will return but there are days where i have to check your calendar to know where you are and without find my friends i feel like sometimes i wouldn’t know so i think it would just be that i trust you so much that that trust would have been. I think violated that. That would be a really hard thing for me to kind of come to terms with again in the future if things were to revert back to you know this this type of work and the amount that you were gone all the time. You really demonstrate to me that you trust me and it makes me trust you You know so. It’s i’m thinking about some nights where i’ll do an event and then sometimes i’ll go out for drinks with the group and then sometimes those drinks lead to like a nightclub and i’m thinking about this night where i was in. I can’t even remember what city. But i was in india and they ended up back at one of the guys friends houses where he had like this insane the amazing personal bar and pool and it was like a small party. Maybe there were. I don’t know twelve of us. Or something. And i remember i was until basically sunset is like i was young again gene. Hold on sunrise. Got the sense that we stayed up til yes. I meant sunrise. i remember taking. I can’t remember who took me home back to the hotel. But i i remember telling you the story and telling you how cool it was and it sounded like an awesome story. This guy’s bar was so cool. He had all this. You know the type of liquor if anyone’s ever flown through like the super fancy airports like dubai. They have these. You know very very rare bottles of that you know i would never buy could never afford to buy but this guy had like this collection gamal. Fetter remember thinking that. I know that some people would have a problem with not being able to kind of really understand who you with. And what were you doing. And what would motivate you to stay out all night. But honestly i was just having good conversation. I’m pretty sure there was karaoke That’s how you understand it right. But no i really do in in when you tell me these stories i just inherently. The default to me is complete and total trust. So i think it’s that if that trust was violated in our relationship that i would just have such difficulty in the future with the same kind of environment and it would really eat at me and i think it would it would require a lot of reflection and probably a lot more therapy to get through the the the trust issue again if it was violated. The reason i bring up our situation and ask you how you feel in the hypothetical share. How i would feel in. The hypothetical is because i think it can be a useful conversation for folks some kind of using this question as a reminder that we can talk about how would you feel if what would you do if there are more questions you know what. What would you want me to do. If i was feeling a really strong attraction to someone else and we we’ve agreed to monogamy but i’m feeling this and so can i come to you. Can i talk about that. My hope is that we could. Yeah i mean. I i definitely feel that. Yes that is how i feel.
00:20:01 – 00:25:03
I mean there’s no question there even if it’s difficult i feel like for us keeping it in would be the harder piece if you felt something for somebody else. I feel like it would. It would actually impact the relationship if you didn’t tell me Do you know what i mean or. Maybe i’m just thinking not just attraction like attractions attraction that you mean if i felt like a i don’t know like pursuing something someone else. Yeah i mean. Let’s talk about my situation. I i think if i felt that way about somebody i think it would eat at me. As you had previously mentioned manifest itself in different ways in a relationship that would mean. I would start pulling away from you. I’m guessing maybe i would pull away. Maybe i wouldn’t be as warm. Maybe i wouldn’t touch you as much or maybe all of these things and ultimately for me not having this conversation would create discomfort in other aspects of our relationship so again i would want to disclose it because i feel like we could work through it and find solutions and i hope that if the roles were reversed in you felt that way that you could come to me and have that conversation as difficult as it might be for both of us if it was just depending. Yeah and i’ve always said to like. I want this relationship to be a space where you can have everything you want right like i hate the idea of holding you back so i know that’s a slightly different conversation and i brought it back to us but i just think that i don’t know maybe that’s a conversation you want to start with your partner to even say. Hey i was listening to this and just said this and it made no sense to me. Here’s how i feel right. You don’t have to agree with us. We’re just sharing our perspective. So i think we should go back to the question of the really important piece of this question which was how to move on and feel deserving of love and. I think it begins with forgiving yourself. So this doesn’t mean that you don’t take accountability for your actions but you can be accountable and sorry and offer yourself. Forgiveness and oud polarities are really intense this idea of good or bad or loving like a loving partner or toxic partner or a faithful partner or unfaithful partner. But i think it’s important to remember that. We all kind of embody all of these things along a continuum so you can be good. You know most of the time and sometimes you do something bad. And if and i’m trying to dismiss this and say oh it’s no big deal. That’s not what i’m suggesting. But in terms of practicing self compassion. I think it can be helpful to look at the course of your relationship and over the course of your relationship. You didn’t spend it cheating. You cheated on one or two one and a half of the four thousand as you’ve been together and again i’m not. I don’t wanna be dismissive or minimize cheating. But i just want to emphasize that you can forgive yourself. Because i think the polarization of behavior and identity can be really debilitating and we need to move past that and and forgiveness often starts with admitting what you’re feeling which you named in your question as shame and guilt and feeling undeserving of love and this is. This is a really good place to start. And it’s so important because your feelings are functional. Feeling guilty often means that your behavior doesn’t align with your values. This is so important. I feel badly. Because what i did doesn’t align with the person i want to be so you know your values and you probably want to align your with your values and you’re already doing that and i think some people get so stuck in their guilt that they get defensive or blame others or lash out. And you’re not doing that right like you’re taking responsibility. And so that’s what the guilt guilt can be. Maybe a more straightforward. No shame and feeling undeserving. I think those experiences can run a little deeper and they can be tied to feeling unworthy. But i’d say that the reminder that you know your values you want to be a good partner. You’re a better partner now than ever committed to the relationship. You’re willing to do the work. I think those are really great places to start to hopefully remind yourself that you are worthy of love. Now you don’t have to be perfect to be worthy and you’ll often. You’ll often hear that. Shame breeds in secrecy or that. The solution to shame is to disclose so. I’m really glad you’re talking to your friends. It can be really suffocating to with on your own. So i wonder if you can go a little deeper into these conversations share how you’re feeling you know with these friends. A little deeper or maybe another form with a therapist or counselor. Who can be supportive and help you work toward feeling more worthy. And you’ll probably find that the more you share the more the shame erodes away which goes back to why some people do tell their partners to kind of deal deal with their own.
00:25:03 – 00:30:02
Shame not actually repair the relationship You said that you don’t plan on telling your partner which is you know. Obviously your prerogative. So i’d really continue to explore outlets for opening up and sharing this. The shame like i said with friends or professional. Because i think that’s going to help to kind of alleviate some of that burden and you know another part of forgiving yourself might also involve focusing on the good in you you know. What makes you a good partner. Yes okay you’ve done something you deeply regret but what have you done. That makes you feel really proud as a partner or worthy or loving or just. I don’t know generally a good partner in so can you find some balance you know. I imagine you’ve done much more good than harm. And i’m not saying that a racist the harm but you probably spent proportionately much more time focus on focusing on the specific incidents of harm than the general. Good you bring to your partners life. I mean i’m listening to what you have to say. And i just shake nodding and agreeing with everything that you’re saying but i think we li- we. It’s such a short period that we’re here and not forgiving yourself and not and just beating yourself up can really wear it. You and i just think it’s important to you like you. Said take accountability for what you’ve done however that is really focusing in on a good. But i’m like just coming from that perspective of cutting yourself a little slack for just a moment. it’s not that you have to let it go forever but just just to move forward from there because i. I don’t think that it’s worth focusing on indefinitely and just keeping beating yourself down. Yeah i really feel feel for you and you’re not alone. Let me take a lot of people in this position. And you may want to also look at scripts that hinder you from practicing this self compassion. So i think so. Many of us grow up with scripts that require that we are one hundred percent perfect all of the time and we really focus on that in order to avoid negative consequences or we grew up with messages that we’re not worthy of love unless we fill and check every single box and we carry these messages right into our adult attachments and we have to do the work to rewrite the script. So if you don’t trust that you are worthy of love. Any misstep can further. Reinforce this belief so it can be helpful to kind of go back to you know. How do you feel in terms of attachment. What messages around perfectionism did you receive. What messages around being worthy and deserving of love did you receive and i was thinking of a client who who found that writing an apology letter to their partner and to themselves helped them to kind of work through what they were feeling. So everything you want to say to your partner that you’re not even going to say right you never have to send it or give it to them can be a little bit Cathartic and helped to elucidate what you’re feeling and allow you to sit in those feelings and not have to analyze them right. We don’t have to analyze every single feeling. We can just feel things sometimes. I also wanted to touch on one thing that i picked up from your message. That might have just been about providing me with context but also might have been part of a rationalization. I wanna be clear. I’m definitely accusing you of that. But i think it’s worth bringing up for everybody listening so you mentioned that you were at a really low point in your relationship when you slept with the other person and i totally hear you and also wanna bring up the concept of rationalization and how this can sometimes interfere with being accountable which interferes with. Assuaging the guilt so again. This may not be the case for you. But i think it’s a general general reminder that when we screw up we just. We have to admit i did this thing. I don’t have a good excuse. I may look at my motivation to help understand. But i’m also committed to not doing it again regardless of circumstances because it just doesn’t align with my values so i think this is a big part of working toward acceptance which of course is tied to self compassion and forgiveness. And if you do want to give you kind of lots of options things that are coming to mind for me. If if you wanna think about what you were feeling kind of reflect upon it you could also think about okay. What was i going through at the time. What was i feeling. And what would i do differently. Moving forward so if if we were to find ourselves in that same situation again do i remember what it felt like in my body. Do i remember my thoughts took me and how am i going to change my behavior. Accordingly and this is just a part of the learning process right. What did you learn about your needs. What did you learn about your insecurities.
00:30:02 – 00:34:44
What did you learn about your communication style your boundaries your relationship because some of these reflections might help you to focus on kind of the growth piece rather the rather than the guilt and shame so i know this is a lot and i hope this is helpful and i really hope you know that you can absolutely work through the guilt and the shame and feel more worthy of love because because you are worthy you know you need love. You’ve hurt someone you love. Listen we’ve all hurt people. We love and in different ways. I think this ties into the belief that sexual infidelity is the ultimate transgression. Right like the worst way you can possibly heard a partner when in fact this is not universally the case. I can speak for myself and say that it isn’t. I can speak for the hundreds and hundreds of couples. I’ve heard from who have been through cheating or infidelity. And he old and moved on so yes for some people. It can be devastating and catastrophic to the relationship. But it doesn’t have to be ended isn’t in all cases so a really just kind of wish you the best in your healing journey and i hope you will think about and let yourself feel those feelings in work in whatever process works for you. There’s so much great in everything and when you tell when you talk to me about the number of people that cheat in relationships percentage wise i mean. This conversation applies in some way shape or form to a lot of people. Yes so the data suggests that it’s in the range of twenty four percent who admit that they’ve cheated and i think it’s higher than that. I think i mean again. Cheating means different things to different people and we haven’t even talked about that but i’ve talked about it so many times that there is no way to define cheating so so cheating guesses about violating the terms to which you’ve agreed ryan so those terms could be totally different for you and me versus somebody else. But yeah you’re right this such a relevant topic so i hope that i hope that first of all that it’s helpful to to you to the person who wrote in and i hope that it motivates others to have conversations about you know. Here’s what i’m feeling. Here’s what i’d like to be able to talk about. How would you feel if like another conversation. We were having with friends the other day had to do with. Should you tell if you know or you think someone else’s partner is cheating. Don’t put me on the spot while my friend a very good friend of mine said i’d want you to tell me right. And you’ve seen come on everybody’s seen situations where you think you’re helping by telling somebody something and they kind of either. Didn’t wanna know or let’s be honest. They already knew and it’s the shame and embarrassment of others knowing that leads to the catastrophe. Not the affair itself. Yeah i mean. There’s a lot. I mean i was cheated on and i found it from a third party and glad i found glad i was told but i think it was eating at that person was eating at that friend that subsequently told me and You know obviously i i. In retrospect i mean i did. I appreciated that that person. Disclose to me. But that’s me. I mean different people in broken up already milk. Oh that point so you can laugh about it now. I laugh at that point. I was like what so. I think these are just conversations to have even in the hypothetical. Even though they’re hard. Like i feel you can probably hear in my voice. I feel uncomfortable a little bit talking about this because it’s it’s scary like i. Don’t wanna envision you cheating on me but every time you start a conversation especially in the hypothetical it For us i find. It strengthens the relationship. I find it always not not always the majority of the time. I walk away feeling better. Yeah i like having these conversations with you. i’m thankful. I’m actually thankful that the podcast in some way forces us to sit down and talk it inspires conversations outside of the podcast. I only talk to you on this. Well thank you so much for sending in your question. Thank you for sharing. I know it’s not an easy topic to discuss. Thank you to you for listening and a big thanks to. Let’s get checked dot com for their ongoing support. Please do check them out and use code doctor just to save folks happy to have hung with you for a little bit this week where we at have a great one. You’re listening to the sex with dr jasser. Podcast improve your sex life improve your life.