Saying “You’re Sorry” After Infidelity

I have always been interested by infidelity and how it influences relationships in the United States, compared to other countries. European ones, for instance, are much more relaxed about infidelity. If you’re interested in reading more about infidelity around the world, pick up the book “Lust in Translation” by Pamela Druckerman. It reaffirms that people do not hold themselves to one standard morality and that each person weighs their emotional decisions differently.

This new article from the NYT on Infidelity and Remorse was an interesting read. The article focuses on the idea that couples face a long road back to a sustainable relationship after infidelity and that it is necessary that they show remorse for their actions over and over again. I thought this was an interesting way to view healing from infidelity, as it seems to put a lot of focus on the actual acts of the infidelity and not the crack in the relationship or the two people that contributed to the infidelity.

I am unsure if this is a healthy way to target healing from infidelity. I do think it’s important to confront issues head on and be 100% honest about how you feel. That is not always possible. It is definitely easy to get worked up in the “this is what you did” or “this is what you didn’t do” rather than the “all of these things happened and this is what we have now” of the situation. In infidelity I believe that often times something cracks within the relationship. It could be related to one or both partners or outside factors weighing in heavily as well. I believe that feeling remorse for the actions that hurt your partner are important but I do not feel that the remorse is necessarily the most important thing in healing the relationship either.

I think that it is easy to let it become emotionally ensnared because it is an emotional situation. I think it could be too easy to let remorse act as a band-aid for the very serious acts against a relationship that some people choose to do in moments of poor judgement, fear, anger, resentment, or excitement.

The article focuses on remorse as a constant, something that will never leave the relationship, shown through “forgiving but not forgetting.” I think that, personally, I would encourage couples to use the infidelity to seek out where their relationship had begun to experience troubles (or where one partner had begun to experience troubles) and focus on rebuilding the foundation of their relationship together. I feel that often times in this remorse situation one partner is expected to give or show more than the partner who was scored, to “give back” what they had taken. Again, to the band-aid idea, I think that it’s important to remember to balance remorse with real hard work and dedication towards making sure this isn’t something that happens again.

I agree with the Dan Savage mentality. Monogamy is hard. If you cheat once, you’re still doing pretty good at monogamy. I don’t think this is excusing infidelity or saying that everyone is going to cheat or get cheated on. Realistically we would work with the concept of monogamous relationships and make them more functional from the base up. We would be able to express our fears and desires more openly and honestly without feeling like bad partners. People cheat for all kinds of reasons, though, so it would require much more than this. Remorse is important and I think it is necessary coming from the partner who cheated, particularly in respect to validating the emotions of the person who was cheated on. I think it is important that each partner recognizes how the other person was feeling even if it does not make sense to them at the time.

There is a lot of hard work that goes into healing a relationship that has been broken by infidelity and I am concerned that we put too much emphasis on the “say you’re sorry” bit. But I’m curious, what do you think? Is remorse an important factor? Is it the most important factor? Should any rekindling start with an outpouring of remorse? How do you feel about the idea of forgiving but not forgiving? Does infidelity give us a thicker skin, does it change how we act as a couple? Everyone will think of these things and answer these questions differently, and I want to hear what you think.

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after your infidelity: what next?

I got a submission from someone asking what they should do after having cheated on their partner, so I thought I would do a little writeup of my own personal feelings on the subject. There are obviously many different ways that this can go, and I think that the most important thing to realize is that there is very little control in scenarios like this. With emotions flying, all you can do is the best you can do. It’s imperative that you realize that all you have control over is yourself. You cannot control or predict how someone will react when you tell them that you cheated on them. It’s important to understand that no matter how well you plan this conversation that its still going to take on a life of its own once you let it out. Coming to some sense of calm about this will help, I think.

In my earlier post about why people cheat, I pointed out that a lot of people who cheat have serious guilt and shame about what they’ve done. I don’t believe that people who cheat are bad people, spare a few exceptions. I think that people who cheat have made a mistake, typically because something in their relationship has become flawed with or without their notice. From that point we realize that our relationship requires some sort of fix me up, break it down and rebuild it, or we realize that our relationship is beyond repair and we end it.

The problem is that most people follow the script of “You cheated on me, this is over” instead of looking at infidelity as a reason for strengthening their relationship, looking at the issues that plagued it, and coming back together. This is reasonable. This is understandable. Trust is the foundation of any relationship and it makes sense that once you’ve lost that trust you may not want to work to rebuild it – you may not think that you can. And you may be right. That said, I think that many wonderful relationships are broken down and tossed away because of a horrible turn of events that could have had a more positive ending. Not every relationship that experiences infidelity needs to end.

But, again, as the cheater, you only have so much control now that this has played out.

So you have to come clean, what do you say? How much do you say?

I think you should tell your partner everything but I think it should be as tactful as possible. The difference between “I slept with someone else, twice, in the past couple of months” and “I slept with these two guys from my gym class, they had giant cocks, we fucked right here, and here, and there…” Your partner will likely want to know more, and may ask questions. I’m inclined to say that answering any question that your partner has is probably better than withholding information. The most important thing about this step is not telling any more lies. Don’t pretend something didn’t happen if it did because this is the moment of truth, of clearing your conscience, of coming clean. This is the moment to get it all out if you want to have even the slightest chance of rebuilding a relationship based on truth and trust.

It would be helpful, I think, to get the basics out. Then to take a break. Leave and let your partner think about what happened and what you said. It’s possible that they may have more questions following your first conversation.

I think it’s important to express your regret for the mistake that you made. I think it’s important to state your intentions. I think it’s important to never tell your partner that they have to forgive you or that they have to make it work with you. Your partner is going to feel horrified as is – and they’re not going to want to be told what to do. Tell them what happened, tell them that you are regretful, tell them that you want to find some way to rebuild what was broken.

It would also be helpful if you expressed some desire to fix the issue that led to the infidelity. Whether it be temptations, dissatisfaction, a friction in the relationship, your own personal depression, your own personal needs, or whatever else you feel led you to that place. I would also consider (before even having this conversation) that you may have cheated because you were done with the relationship. Do you really want the relationship back, or do you just feel as though you still love this person and are upset that you hurt them? Consider that point strongly before expressing a desire to fix the relationship.

Lastly, talk to them immediately. No one wants to hear “So I’ve been trying to think of how to tell you this for a few months now…” It’s better to come to your partner immediately after you’ve cheated to tell them how you’ve wronged them and express your regret.

This post is disjointed, and it gives me the same feelings that these serious and unfortunate conversations usually have. It will likely be messy. It will likely not come out in the order you want it to. Have the conversation, be honest, tell your partner what happened, tell them what you want to fix and how you attempt to fix it (counseling? taking a step back to rebuild? defining new rules and boundaries?) and then let them take some time to think about what they want. It might not be the same thing.

But first figure out if this is a relationship that you truly want to save, or if you just want your partner back because you still care about them and feel badly for hurting them. What did your infidelity tell you about you and your relationship? Why did it happen, and how can you make it not happen again? It’s going to hurt for the both of you no matter what you do, no matter what you BOTH decide. Take the time while he is thinking about what he wants to do things for yourself. Focus on yourself, your friends, your own life. Focus on learning the lesson from the mistakes that were made. Whether or not you get back together, this is going to be an important step. Good luck.

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Infidelity / Age

Do married senior citizens cheat on their spouses with the same frequency as younger couples?

There is some interesting new studies being done on infidelity. I would suggest that you read this article that came out in 2008. Here is a clip with some relevant information. I would note that this seems to refer specifically to sexual infidelity, not emotional infidelity. I imagine emotional infidelity may appear more steady than sexual infidelity – maybe depending on gender as a variable.

University of Washington researchers have found that the lifetime rate of infidelity for men over 60 increased to 28 percent in 2006, up from 20 percent in 1991. For women over 60, the increase is more striking: to 15 percent, up from 5 percent in 1991.

Theories vary about why more people appear to be cheating. Among older people, a host of newer drugs and treatments are making it easier to be sexual, and in some cases unfaithful — Viagra and other remedies for erectile dysfunctionestrogen and testosteronesupplements to maintain women’s sex drive and vaginal health, even advances like better hip replacements.

“They’ve got the physical health to express their sexuality into old age,” said Helen E. Fisher, research professor of anthropology at Rutgers and the author of several books on the biological and evolutionary basis of love and sex.


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Infidelity: Why Do People Cheat and How Does It Feel?

Infidelity is one of those taboo subjects that fascinates me, especially around this time of year as the seasons change and there seems to be noticeable spike in utter dispair. What has always frustrated me, personally, is our reaction to cheating. Using one of my favorite terms, what is the script for cheating? How do we deal with a broken heart? And why?

Obviously no one situation is the same, but it makes sense to feel hurt and betrayed when someone you care about hurts you. For the purpose of this post, lets define infidelity as when a partner in a relationship is physically or emotionally intimite with another person in such a way that they know is not appropriate for having a significant other. They lie, hide, and effectively “cheat” the relationship in order to obtain the outside satisfaction.

This definition excludes one possibility. What if you cheat, but you didn’t know you were cheating? This is an interesting one because most people enter into a relationship assuming that they have the same needs and desires. Much of “relationship politics” goes undiscussed because of the scripts already in place for a traditional relationship. For instance: When you start to date someone there is a nonverbal code for most people that says you will not sleep with someone else. The problem with this is that not everyone abides by the same rules and codes, and even if they do, it is not always apparent when you are switches from “friends” to “going on dates” and “dating” or “monogamous” – sometimes it needs to be verbalized.

The benefit that alternative couples have is that they must design the rules of their relationship. I believe that every couple should do this, even if they are wanting to be a “traditional” couple. What does a relationship mean to you? What does cheating look like to you? What is comfortable and what is not? What are your boundaries? What do you want and what don’t you want? It might sound silly, but I think it’s an important step in having your needs clearly communicated. You should only need to do this once as you become monogamous, perhaps again later on if your relationships shifts, or changes.

But lets stick with this model of pain and heartbreak, because that’s what really pisses people off. I would never condone cheating, and I agree with most people. Just don’t cheat. Don’t do it. There isn’t any reason to. If you’re unhappy, if you want something more, leave your partner and have that thing. But unfortunately for anyone who has ever had their heart broken (or has ever cheated) life isn’t simple. It’s sticky, messy, and decisions are made in the heat of confusion. I don’t think people who cheat are assholes. I don’t think cheating makes you an asshole. I think people who cheat made a bad decision and I think the factors that led up to that point are far more interesting than the actual physical or emotional act of infidelity. I also think that the act of cheating tears up the people who did it almost as much as the people who were cheated on. You know, spare the small percentage of people who just don’t give a shit. But lets not talk about them.

So, I decided to ask some people who cheated why they did it and how it felt. Mostly in an attempt to understand, but also in an attempt to humanize. We all say it could never happen to us until it does. No one gets into a relationship with the expectation that their partner might be unfaithful to them. We have hope, and we trust, and we’re blind to the faults in ourselves and our relationships. So lets look closer.

I decided the easiest way, without sharing too much, would be to bullet the key points that I grabbed. I’m doing this right now without having really thought about them, so I can look back at the bullet points afterwards to see if there are any themes.

  • I was at the end of a very long relationship that was heading south
  • I was looking for excuses to not be around my partner anymore
  • When I was cheating, I had a moment of clarity, it was wrong
  • I felt guilty after doing it, I knew it wouldn’t happen again
  • It made me realize how bad the sex in my relationship was
  • I had my heart broken and I dated many women at once
  • All of the women I’ve been with have taught me something important
  • I knew we were going to break up, but I wanted to make it work
  • I felt bad afterwards, I still loved him
  • It made me wonder why my partner wasn’t that physical with me
  • I found out I was being cheated on, so I decided to do what I wanted
  • The physical and emotional chemistry between us was so intense
  • I continued to emotionally cheat on my partner and my relationship felt toxic
  • I wanted to be with someone while I waited for someone else
  • I was very afraid of getting caught, very afraid of of regretting it
  • In the moment I was excited because it felt taboo and naughty
  • I felt bad for cheating, just because my partner did, didn’t mean I had to
  • I like how it reaffirms my masculinity to flirt with women
  • My sexual drive is stronger than my partners
  • I like discovering what buttons to push with new partners
  • I started to tell myself the relationship was over
  • I didn’t cheat until I knew the relationship was already over
  • I started to cheat to help me move on from my relationships
  • It made me feel unloved and used
  • Doing it once made it easier to do again
  • It was drunken stupidness
  • Cheating was not a good way to start a new relationship, I felt guilty

Alright, so there are some themes I’m picking out from these stories. First and foremost, almost everyone who messaged me cheated when they felt that their relationship was already over, which I thought was really interesting. I’m guessing that this is a case of being afraid to leave something or someone because you’ve been in it for so long. Getting caught up in a long term relationship – it can be hard to imagine how you’ll live or function without your partner, even if you’re unhappy. It can be too easy to get what out need outside of the relationship, rationalizing that you’re no longer in love and so it doesn’t even matter. For some, it can be an excuse to be a better partner. You’re getting your needs met outside of the relationship, so you can be a better husband or wife (or boyfriend/girlfriend) to your partner.

Second, almost every single person expressed guilt in what they’d done, whether or not they had enjoyed the experience. There were a lot of negative emotions and remorse associated to cheating. They did not enjoy the fact that they had hurt their partner, and they noted that the physical or emotional act of cheating hurt themselves, as well.

Lastly, the cheating helped people realize things about themselves and their relationships. For those who hadn’t already realized that their relationship was over prior to cheating, cheating helped them: end their relationship, move into new relationships, help them feel loved or cared for. It also made them feel poorly about themselves, created a cycle of need/dependency, or showed them just how poor their current sex lives were.

It’s obvious to me that cheating is a double sided coin. People are unhappy in their relationships and so they step out of their relationships either

1) As a way to end their relationship

2) As a way to find exactly what they are missing in their relationship

So how do we prevent cheating if it hurts ourselves and our partners? What are the alternatives? How do we make the alternatives more appealing, since people know there are other options? Endorse communication. This means talking to your partner about what makes you unhappy, about what your needs are. That means saying painful things like “I don’t like the sex, but I like you” or “I don’t feel anything with you anymore, I’m not sure if this relationship is going to survive.” And, of course, being your own advocate. Do you want to stay in the relationship? If not, how can you get out of it without making decisions that hurt you, and your partner?

And, as the person who was cheated on,  understand the reasons that your partner cheated on you. As you can see from above, infidelity doesn’t automatically mean that your partner doesn’t love you. Sometimes infidelity just means that your partner loves you, but isn’t happy in the relationship, and needs something. What does your partner need? Can you two make it work? Can you rebuild the trust that was lost as they were looking for what they needed?

I thought that the submissions were very interesting. Thank you very much to everyone who shared your stories with me and everyone else. If you did not get your submission in to me on time, I would be more than happy to publish your story anonymously on my blog if it’s something you want to share with other people. Email me at

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