Your cheating spouse may not be acting the way you think someone should who is burdened by immense feelings of guilt. Either through action or inaction, your spouse may not be giving you any cues that he or she is remorseful. It may anger and frustrate you, and lead to greater feelings of hurt.
When you observe your cheating spouse going about daily business like nothing has happened, it can be easy to conclude that he or she really isn’t feeling any guilt-and may be incapable of it. But, it could be a misunderstanding of what your guilty spouse is working through at the moment. You may have an expectation in mind. Unfortunately your spouse may not be living up to it, and as a result you have not yet been able to take the steps necessary to repair your relationship.
In this blog, I am going to help you understand why a cheating spouse appears to feel no guilt-it has to do with some potential roadblocks he or she may be facing, and until these are worked through and remorse is felt, the repair of your relationship may be stalled. Read on.
Understand the Cheater Has Feelings, Too
Many injured spouses have expressed what they imagine is the best way to gauge the depth of a cheating spouse’s guilt. Those expectations can include:
1. The cheating spouse repeatedly tells you how sorry he or she feels about the suffering he or she inflicted on you.
2. A noticeable improvement in how he or she treats you, showing devotion to you by treating you better than your imagination tells you the “other” person was treated-showering you with treats and accommodating your desires.
3. An expectation that the cheating spouse will look, sound, and act remorseful when affair-like issues arise, such as when a movie plot includes the beginnings of infidelity, or other things arise that remind either one of you of adultery.
When your spouse isn’t showing any outward displays of guilt such as these, it may be particularly upsetting because it seems to show a lack of sympathy, caring, or remorse, and has you thinking he or she is likely to repeat the experience once you calm down and some time has elapsed. You may wonder how you can fix a relationship where the cheating spouse doesn’t appear to be dialed in to the wrong he or she has perpetrated.
As the injured spouse, you have negative thoughts and feelings you need to work through about your partner because he or she chose to have an affair. Your cheating spouse also has thoughts and feelings regarding the affair.
Unfortunately, some of your spouse’s feelings might be positive or caring toward the paramour. Your spouse may still long for the extramarital relationship. Hopefully, he or she will also feel guilty and remorseful for the affair and experience a growing sense of relief now that he or she has told you the truth, though there may be no overt signs of these feelings. Some cheaters just try to avoid thinking about the other person and fight having any feelings about the other person or the situation.
In reality, you simply can’t know what is in someone else’s head or heart, or hear someone else’s inner dialogue. Your partner may be suffering immensely on the inside, or may be in a state of denial regarding his or her actions.
It’s common for the cheater to have many reasons or justifications for how the affair happened, without owning that it was a self-serving choice based on a fundamental character flaw.
In order for your marriage to heal, the cheater must own his or her active part in the wrong-doing before he or she can have feelings of guilt. Then the cheating spouse needs to work through these negative thoughts and feelings-not avoid them. But in feeling and working through guilt, there are additional potential stumbling blocks for your spouse.
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The Cheater’s Roadblocks to Feeling Guilt
When your husband or wife is analyzing what transpired during the infidelity, chances are that the story will be slanted to put your spouse in a more favorable position than actually occurred. Important components that should be a part of the story include accepting full responsibility for independently making bad and destructive decisions, violating the vow made to you, putting you and your relationship (and possibly your family) at risk, and a realization of the suffering this has caused. The effects of these actions and what they mean to you as the injured partner are realities that should be fully understood and acknowledged.
In order to understand your spouse’s behavior when it comes to feeling or not feeling guilt, first familiarize yourself with the potential roadblocks he or she may be facing:
Roadblock 1: The Cheater Has No Clear Definition of Cheating
Many cheaters will say, “I didn’t cheat, because I never touched him/her.” However, your husband or wife may have carried on torrid conversations over the phone, text messaging and email. You may feel that the energy put into the relationship with the “someone else”-regardless of the level of intimacy-was energy that should have been kept within your marriage.
Webster’s Dictionary defines infidelity as “marital unfaithfulness.” The action that your cheating spouse took involved clandestine behavior, covering up his or her actions, probably outright lying, and certainly lying by omission. If the actions that the cheater took were not of a nature that could be shared comfortably with you during dinner conversation, it is cheating.
Until the cheater has a clear definition of what constitutes cheating, this becomes a roadblock to progress in repairing your relationship.
Roadblock 2: The Cheater Doesn’t Understand He or She Did Wrong
The cheater may know covertly that the relationship and associated conversations or actions were wrong, but has managed to rationalize his or her actions based on technicalities as described in step 1 above. Until the cheater stops evading the true nature of these actions and accepts that what he or she did was wrong, deliberate, and conscious, it will prove difficult to move forward and deal with the guilt.
One self-test I encourage is to think about everything said and done with the paramour (or would-be paramour) and then consider, “Would I have said and done those same things in the same way with a buddy of the same sex?”
Roadblock 3: The Cheater Blocks Out the Emotions Caused by the Affair
Accepting the fact that we have done wrong is difficult for most of us. It’s understandable, then, that the cheater may be blocking out the guilt and related emotions because it is too painful to feel them.
This is why you may think your cheating spouse isn’t suffering any guilt: your husband or wife may be having a hard time actually working through those guilty feelings, the suffering you are experiencing, and the other damage caused to you, to your relationship and possibly to your family.
In my program How to Survive an Affair, I extensively examine the seven most common emotions that every cheater faces, with guilt being just one. All of these emotions need to be processed by your cheating spouse, and I offer healthy ways for him or her to do so.
In order for your relationship to heal, the cheater has to do the work necessary to heal, just as you have your own emotions and thoughts to work on as you try to move forward beyond the affair.
If your cheating spouse does not appear to feel any guilt over the affair, assess if any of the roadblocks discussed above may be the cause. Your spouse may be searching for ways around dealing directly with the guilt, or may truly not have a clear understanding of what constitutes cheating, or, just may be trying to get away with his or her misbehavior without having consequences.
My best wishes for you as you work through your own negative thoughts and emotions, while also working to understand possible ways your husband or wife may be dealing with guilt over the affair.
Wishing you hope and healing for your marriage,
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