Finding out that you've been cheated on feels like a punch to the stomach. It erases all of the trust that you thought you and your partner built, and sometimes the damage caused can't be repaired. However, if the relationship is strong enough and both partners and willing to work towards rebuilding the trust that was lost, it is possible to forgive and move forward. The key is to be sure that your significant other truly feels remorse rather than guilt for cheating. For a relationship to survive an affair, there must be a show of genuine remorse on the part of the cheater.
So how do you show remorse after cheating? What does that look like and how do you know if it's genuine? This is the crux of the problem when it comes to forgiving an affair and rebuilding a relationship. The lies told during the affair can cause you to question your ability to judge what is real and what isn’t real, and that frame of mind isn’t conducive to accepting displays of remorse.
How to Tell the Difference Between Guilt and Remorse
Guilt tends to be all about the person feeling the emotion. For example, someone who cheats in a relationship may feel guilty because they're being judged for what they did. They feel bad for doing something bad. Although this is a valid emotion, it's probably not enough to rebuild a relationship.
However, remorse is a deeper emotion. "Remorse comes from true empathy for the pain the other person is feeling because of your actions," says Margalis Fjelstad, Ph.D in Psychology Today. Someone who feels remorse probably understands and regrets what they did due to the pain it may have caused someone else. It comes with a self-awareness that what they did was wrong, which can help deter them from doing that bad thing again.
Examples of remorseful statements include, "I’m sorry that I hurt you. What can I do to help?" and "I see the pain this is causing you. I was wrong."
To put it simply, remorse says, “Forgive me for hurting you," while guilt or regret says, “Stop making me feel guilty for hurting you.” "Regret often seems flat, emotionless, and is more focused on moving on and getting the “punishment” over with," Fjelstad says. For a relationship to survive an affair, you must be persuaded that your partner's sorrow, confessions, and emotional pain are authentic—that they're based on remorse, not guilt or regret.
Signs Your S.O. Is Truly Remorseful
Look for these telltale signs to determine true remorse:
- Not only do they apologize, and often, but they also openly express what they're apologizing for. They don't make vague statements or blanket apologies.
- They show their remorse by doing things that they feel will lessen your pain. It’s about both words and actions.
- They hold themselves accountable, rather than relying on you to do so. They are more concerned with your feelings than their own.
- They are willing to do whatever they need to do to move forward. Whether that's seeking couple’s therapy or honestly answering any questions you might have for them. They are onboard with any action you need them to take.
- They take full responsibility for their actions. There may have been problems in the relationship, but even if your S.O. felt unloved and unwanted, they're the one who chose to cheat. Despite this, you'll know they're remorseful if they don't make excuses or place blame on anyone except for themselves. Their cheating won’t be about something you did, it will be about a bad choice they made.
Moving Forward After an Affair
If your partner attempts to shut you down, blame you, or asks you to simply "let it go,” they likely aren't yet ready to feel remorse for their actions. And, until then, you probably will want to think twice about trusting them and their commitment to you.
When attempting to restore a relationship after an affair, you might consider counseling as a good first step. An affair is a shocking betrayal that can cause you to doubt your own reality, your role in the affair, and what steps to take next. Seeking counseling allows you to have an expert guide to help you navigate the emotionally charged process of rebuilding trust.