Getting Past the Guilt of Infidelity

Dear Robin:

Two years ago, I had a very brief affair with an old boyfriend from high school.  We found each other on Facebook and since we both still live in the same city, we began meeting for coffee, then drinks, then sex.  I am married but he is single.  Anyway, my husband found out about it when he got suspicious and looked at my phone where I had some texts that pretty much gave it away.  Honestly, the affair was 99% sex and I didn’t love the guy.  I’m not even sure I really liked him, but my marriage was in a rut and the timing was perfectly terrible.

My husband was very hurt and angry, obviously, but we decided to go to marriage counseling and see if we could get past the fact I cheated.  We have two kids and a generally happy life which seemed worth saving.  After almost a year of counseling, my husband announced he had forgiven me and wanted to move on with the marriage.

Since then, he hasn’t said anything about my affair, even when we get in a fight.  He is really loving and warm which he hadn’t been in the past.  We stopped seeing the marriage counselor a year ago and for all intents and purposes, the marriage is intact and working.  My problem is this: while my husband seems to have moved on, I can’t.

Robin, I am filled with guilt about what I did.  I think about it all the time and I hate myself for it.  I don’t understand why my husband doesn’t hate me too.  I’m also paranoid about my husband cheating.  I can’t help thinking that some day, he is going to want to get revenge on me for what I did by doing the same thing himself.

How do I get over this guilt and move on?  I love my husband very much and our family means everything to me, but I am having trouble imagining feeling like this forever.

-Guilty

Dear Guilty:

Fucking Facebook.  I swear to Xenu, Facebook is fast becoming the Number 1 marriage destroyer in history.  It’s so easy to reach out and connect with people, either strangers or old flames, and create an entire relationship based on idealized memories, instant gratification via messaging and “pokes” (ouch!) and heavy flirtation that can seem harmless at first, but which often morphs into something far more serious.  What is it about the computer or smart phone that makes us communicate things we would never say face-to-face?

broken marriage

I really can’t be too flip with this subject, and I thank you for your letter.  I am very happy for you and your family that your husband was willing to work on the marriage and move past the infidelity.  He sounds like quite a guy, so if you really still love him, you need to make this work.  In order to do that, you need to forgive yourself.  Easier said than done.

guilt

Forgiveness is a gift your husband gave to you, but it was his forgiveness, which is only half of the equation.  In order for your marriage to survive, you have to find a way to absolve yourself for your past behavior so that you, like your husband, can also move beyond what happened and focus on the present state of your relationship with your husband instead of the past.  The million dollar question is: how do you do that?

Renowned theologian Lewis Smedes wrote extensively about forgiveness, and a wonderful quote from him on this subject is especially fitting in your case: “It takes one person to forgive, it takes two to be reunited.”  He also noted that “to forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”  Your husband has already figured that out.  Now it’s your turn.

forgiveyourself

I think that in order for you to begin the process of forgiving yourself and shedding your guilt-ridden baggage, you need to understand why you did what you did in the first place and figure out what that means.  You said your marriage was “in a rut” which is not unusual, but you also noted that your husband’s demeanor towards you has changed to be more loving and affectionate.  Perhaps you sought out the extra-marital relationship because you weren’t getting what you needed from your spouse.  The good news is: he’s changed.  The bad news is: it may not last, so you need to either be OK with that or impress upon your husband how important this aspect of your relationship is to you.

marriage

Experts say that a large majority of the time, cheating motivations differ by gender, with men searching for more sex or attention and women looking to fill an emotional void.  Please see earlier blog regarding this issue:

Your job now is to figure out what the void was and address how you will deal with things should the problem reappear in your marriage.  That may be something you work on with a professional counselor, either with your husband or on your own, but I strongly advise you to examine your motivations and deal with them directly instead of simply ruminating on your guilt over your bad behavior.
You may discover that you cheated because of reasons entirely unrelated to your marriage.  For example, some men and women are more prone to infidelity when they are deeply unhappy in their job or profession.  If that’s the case, saving the marriage and moving past the pain of cheating may involve a career paradigm shift, which can of course cause all sorts of new problems.  Sorry, life is tough.
turtle
You also worry that your husband may cheat on you.  That reminds me of a really great George Bernard Shaw quote: “Beware of the man who does not return your blow: he neither forgives you nor allows you to forgive yourself.”
With all due respect to GBS, I’m not on board with this sentiment, but if you can relate to this quote I think it explains why you are worried about your husband remaining faithful to you.  After all, an eye for an eye and all that nonsense, right?  I have two thoughts here:
1. Your husband sounds like a great guy – I think you may be projecting your fears that you may cheat again onto your husband, which would be a good thing to examine with a counselor;
chickenhangover3
AND
2. Your fears may be well-founded based upon information you didn’t include in your letter, in which case I suggest you speak with your husband about what’s going on.  I also suggest you brace yourself for the possibility that at some point in your marriage, you may be on the other end of the heartbreak of adultery and think about how you would handle it.  Could you be as forgiving as your husband?
In summary, I suggest you continue with your counseling and figure out why you went outside your marriage with someone who you didn’t even like very well.  I think once you get to the bottom of that, you will be better equipped to find a path to your own forgiveness.
-Robin

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. echinachea

    Brilliant!

  2. John DesCamp

    What a hard subject. You have great insight and compassion. Imagine, if you will, a snarky Buddha……… But I digress. This is your best (not your funniest, but your best) piece yet.

  3. The Hedgehog

    I echo John’s thoughts. Not your most funny bit of advice, but your most heartfelt and best response yet. Keep up the hard work. With a few more article like this, you’ll be making a big difference for a lot of people.

  4. Pingback: Ugly Divorce! | Ask DesCamp

Comments are closed.