If you are a cheating husband, here’s how to forgive yourself and heal your marriage
Do you need to forgive yourself for being a cheating husband? Feeling guilty because you stepped out on your wife or girlfriend? Were you involved in an extramarital affair at work?
If the answer is yes, you’ve come to the right place. As a therapist who specializes in men’s issues, I can’t tell you how many times a male client has walked into my office and shared a personal story of infidelity.
In almost all these cases, the men have felt horribly guilty about their actions. I’ve watched them cry. I’ve seen the effects of their guilt – and I’ve seen how they’ve let their mistakes eat them alive.
It’s not a pretty sight.
Why Husbands Cheat
Sometimes it was a random thing where the guy gave into poor impulse control. Other times, the situation was more insidious and part of a larger emotional affair at the workplace.
Finally, there are the guys who can be classified as serial cheaters; men who step out on their wives compulsively because of deep psychological issues.
Regardless of which scenario applies to your situation or the specific causal reasons, we know that approximately 20% of husbands cheat, according to the U.S. General Social Survey (Wang, 2018).
But this post isn’t about the “why” of cheating. Goodness knows there are plenty of blog posts about that on the web.
Cheating Husbands and Self-Forgiveness
Instead, I’m going to focus on how to forgive yourself for being a cheating husband. And let me be clear before diving too deep. The purpose of this post isn’t designed to act as a “get out of jail free card” or a permission slip for infidelity.
Instead, my intent is to help you move about the business of healing so that you when you work on your marriage problems, you have a clear head.
I’ll tell you what I say to my clients – you cannot give what you do not possess. In other words, you need to look inward to find the answers about what happened.
To help you with the process, I’ve talked to several relationship experts for guidance.
My hope in passing along their thoughts, along with my experience as a counselor, is to provide you a basis to begin the path of healing.
1. Own Your Cheating
Earlier, I mentioned that you cannot give what you do not possess. In this context, this means being honest with yourself about the act (or acts) of infidelity that took place.
This doesn’t mean beating yourself up and telling yourself you are the worst SOB on the planet. You aren’t. But it does mean that you shouldn’t whitewash all that happened to minimize the truth.
Owning your cheating suggestions
- Be brutally honest with yourself about your actions.
- Don’t blame someone else for your shit.
- Avoid focusing on why you cheated and simply acknowledge to yourself that it happened (more on this point later).
2. Avoid Graphic Details
At some point, your spouse may want to know about the specifics of what happened. Melody Li, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Austin, Texas I spoke to suggests the following:
“Avoid sharing highly sensitive, graphic details that can stick in the injured partner’s mind. It’s normal for the injured partner to want to know the details and the extent of the betrayal.
However, going too far into the specifics can cause the injured partner to experience PTSD-like symptoms later on,” says Li.
Tips for talking about infidelity
- Stick to the details about what happened from point one.
- You don’t have to get into the minutia. Instead, focus on the big picture.
- Realize that you are human and not Superman, meaning that all of us are vulnerable to infidelity at some point in life.
3. Stop Calling Yourself Names
If you are beating yourself up for cheating, you need to stop doing this right now. Here is why – the more you engage in negative self-talk, the less likely you are to forgive yourself.
When you think about it, doesn’t this make sense? How can you exercise self-forgiveness if you keep telling yourself that you aren’t worthy of it?
How to stop playing the negative tape
- When you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “What would it be like if I forgave myself?”
- Realize that other people have cheated, including folks who report being in happy relationships. See this post on cheating and dating apps to learn more.
- Consider talking to a trusted friend about your feelings. Not only will this help you heal, but it’ll also encourage a powerful phenomenon known as catharsis.
4. Listen With Intent
Coming clean to your spouse about cheating is a difficult task. But if you are ever to forgive yourself, it eventually needs to happen.
When the time arrives, it is critical that you “listen with intent,” according to marriage and family therapist, Jacob Kountz in California.
“Allow your partner to express what’s going on through their head. For example, they may say: ‘I can’t believe you did that, how could you do that to us!’ It’s very easy to become frustrated with yourself when hearing this, but the goal here isn’t to focus on what’s going on in your head.
[Instead] the focus needs to be letting your partner express they’ve been hurt,” suggests Kountz.
Suggestions for listing with intent
- Use active listening skills, meaning you occasionally reflect back what your partner is saying.
- Use “I” statements to help reinforce ownership of your actions (but avoid putting yourself down).
- Validate what your spouse is feeling and don’t minimize anything. Otherwise, you’ll make matters worse by playing the blame game.
5. Focus On Self-Compassion
One of the most helpful things you can do in the wake of cheating is to practice self-compassion. While the term may sound “touchy-feely”, it’s different than what you might think.
Self-compassion is your ability to look inward and outward and recognize others have gone through a similar experience. Translation: You aren’t the only man who has cheated on their wife.
By developing a more balanced thought process about your actions, you encourage healing by making healthier choices in the future.
Suggestions for practicing self-compassion
- Don’t confuse self-compassion with self-pity.
- Study situations where others have cheated and worked through the process to become stronger.
- Be open to receiving spiritual guidance as a pathway to personal insight.
6. Skip Self-Punishment
One of the things I’ve seen a lot of men do is punish themselves in the immediate aftermath of cheating.
In fact, I had a client once who felt so bad about cheating on his wife that he was seriously considering taking a butcher knife to his penis.
Thankfully, he didn’t.
But my point in sharing this is to merely say that guilt and shame about infidelity can cause some men to do drastic things. Examples include swearing off sex entirely or avoiding masturbation.
If any of this describes your situation, please stop right now. Not only are you doing yourself great harm, but you’re also making your things worse.
Do you really want to be carrying all that pent-up energy?
Ask yourself what negative consequences might come about if you continue this behavior?
Suggestions for stopping self-punishment
- Permit yourself to enjoy the things in life that have typically brought you joy.
- Consider talking to a therapist as a way of sharing your feelings.
- Repeat affirmations to yourself that pull you out of the past and allow you to live in the present.
7. Lean Into Self-Care
An active, tangible, and meaningful way to forgive yourself of infidelity is to practice self-care.
Here’s what Dr. Matt Buckley told me. He’s a senior faculty member at Walden University and teaches courses in the school’s counseling and human services program: “Learning to be sensitive to our own needs will help us be sensitive to the needs of those who depend on us.”
One of the big reasons people cheat is because they feel the need to be validated either physically or emotionally. By practicing self-care, you not only heal your hurts but also nurture parts of yourself that may feel abandoned.
It also makes you more available to your spouse.
Suggestions for self-care
- Develop a routine that includes regular exercise or physical activity.
- Spend time outdoors and allow mother nature to lift your mood. See this post on the benefits of nature therapy to learn more.
- Create a personal skincare ritual. Check out this post on developing a men’s simple skincare routine for pointers.
8. Focus On What Questions
There’s no way to truly forgive yourself unless you are open to learning from your mistakes. As a cognitive therapist, I am not one to encourage people focusing on the “why” questions.
That’s because the “why” behind infidelity isn’t nearly as important as the “what”. Examples: What was I feeling at the time I cheated. What are some different ways can I get my needs met in the future? What role did alcohol play in impairing my judgment?
My friend – what questions are your friend. They’ll help you to see things as they are and avoid abstract thinking.
Suggestions for what questions
- Ask yourself what I have learned about myself in the context of cheating?
- Look inward and ask what have I learned about my marriage?
- Reflect on what can I control in the future, so I’m not tempted to cheat?
9. Ditch The Learned Helplessness
Because this post is aimed towards men (but applicable to anyone), I feel very comfortable being super direct in saying the following: Ditch learned helplessness.
Here’s a quick and dirty definition of what that means. Learned helplessness is when you use a mistake from the past as an excuse for not creating change.
An example is buying into the myth, “I’ve already cheated, so that means I’m always going to cheat. What’s the point in trying to save my marriage?”
See how that works? And let me tell you bud, that kind of shitty thinking is one of the top ten ways men kill their self-esteem.
If your goal is to forgive yourself, you’ve got to stop being a prisoner of your thoughts. Otherwise, you’ll become stuck in a morass of sadness, locking yourself into a never-ending cycle of personal disappointment.
Suggestions for stopping learned helplessness
- Repeat to yourself: “My mistakes do not define me”.
- Look in the mirror and say, “I am a good person and am not the man I was yesterday.”
- Meditate in silence and repeat the affirmation, “I forgive myself for my mistakes.”
10. Ask For Forgiveness Without Expectations
One of the questions we get a lot around the blog is “Should I tell my partner I cheated?”
Speaking only for myself and as a counselor, I personally think it is critical to be open and honest about acts of infidelity. Here’s what I know – eventually the truth comes out.
And let me tell you when “it” hits the fan, it’s almost always in an unplanned and ugly way.
Given that the focus of this post is on forgiving yourself for being a husband who cheated, all I can do is suggest that you confess and ask for forgiveness.
That said, recognize there is a distinct possibility your spouse might not forgive you – at least not right away. The key thing to keep in mind, however, is that you are asking for forgiveness to heal both of you.
Dr. Kia James, a licensed psychotherapist and a contributor to Relationship Boosters, shared the following with me. “When you share this information, make sure you take full responsibility for your behavior.”
That is the crucial part – taking responsibility. By doing this, you lessen the need to be forgiven and instead, replace it with your own ability to forgive yourself.
It would be great if your spouse instantly offers forgiveness. But let’s be real – when you admit to cheating, you become about as popular as a porcupine in a balloon factory.
In my experience, expect to be in the doghouse for a long time. You may hear something elsewhere and wish something different, but I’m just telling you like it is. You came here for the real deal, right?
In the final analysis, however, asking for forgiveness is part of the healing process. Not only is it essential for your marriage to survive, but it’s also gravely important to your mental health.
And if you are thinking of drinking your guilt away, think again. Read this post on how alcohol makes depression worse.
Suggestions when asking for forgiveness
- If you say you are sorry, mean it. Don’t reach for words that you think your wife wants to hear. Instead, speak about your remorse from the heart.
- Be open to marriage counseling. Don’t fool yourself into thinking “I can handle my relationship issues on my own.” That’s BS talk. Your spouse may need deeper insight than you might be able to offer. Your presence in that counseling office is critical to moving past what happened.
- Remember that forgiveness is a journey and not something that happens instantaneously. The best way to gain forgiveness isn’t by what you say but instead, what you do.
Bringing It All Together
I recognize that right now, you are probably going through one of the most painful things in your life. You’ve deeply hurt someone you love deeply and fear losing everything you hold dear.
You need to know that I get it.
That you came here looking for answers says a lot about you as a man. Honestly, I wish more guys would do this type of thing because it would help them increase their self-esteem.
Hopefully, the suggestions and insight I’ve shared here will help you move about the business of forgiving yourself and healing your marriage.
Thanks for stopping by.
Wang, W. (2018, January 10). Who cheats more? The demographics of cheating in America. Retrieved from Institute for Family Studies: https://ifstudies.org/blog/who-cheats-more-the-demographics-of-cheating-in-america
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