- ,You didn’t plan it.
- They fulfilled something your spouse can’t or won’t.
- You needed to know you still got it.
- Martinis were had…in copious amounts.
- Your rut was killing you and you needed to feel alive.
There are a myriad of reasons you cheated on your spouse … hell, one of those may be that there was no reason at all.
Regardless of why it happened you find yourself looking at the face of a cheater every time you look in the mirror.
As if that weren’t bad enough every conversation with your spouse feels shallow. Every shared goal hollow. And every compliment devoid of merit.
The knowledge of your indiscretion haunts you. It taints everything you ever saw of value within yourself until you begin to wonder…”can you forgive yourself for cheating on your spouse?!”
Not only is it possible that you can forgive yourself for cheating, it is imperative.
Believe it or not, your self-forgiveness is even more important than the forgiveness of your partner. And, it’s the only forgiveness you even have a modicum of control over.
Where do you even begin when it feels like you simply can’t forgive yourself?
Follow these practices. Please remember they are practices to be repeated as needed until you can, in your heart of hearts, Love yourself once again.
1. Release Emotional Attachments to Outcomes
Outside of your own healing process, you have zero control. Nil. Nada. Zilch.
Can you forgive yourself for cheating? Absolutely, over time and with practice. You cannot, however, make anyone else forgive you.
If you need others’ forgiveness in order to move forward you will get stuck. Their inability to give it won’t be the problem; your inability to receive it will be.
2. Come clean
Whether you’ve told your significant other or not you will want to make a continuing habit of communicating your new insights, fears and hopes.
Again, this isn’t about making them understand you. This is about you working hard and changing habits that will help you understand yourself.
If you need to come clean to a trusted friend or a coach like me because your partner isn’t ready or isn’t engaged in their own healing process then do it.
Make the commitment to yourself, right now, stop internalizing all the pain (yours and others). You must lay it all on the table if you’re going to get through this.
3. Understand none of your decisions (or outcomes) define you
You are not made up of just your failures, or your successes for that matter. Understanding this is one of the most important steps to forgiving yourself and others!
Within you exists a wealth of experience and an entire spectrum of qualities. To further complicate your self-understanding some of your characteristics can be viewed as either positive or negative depending on the situation and the person who perceives them.
Yeah, you fucked up. AND (not but) there have been lots of times you’ve gotten it right. If you could actually keep track of all of the problems you’ve solved in your partnership plus the issues prevented by smart decisions you’d find that you’ve done far more “good” than you have “bad.”
Be careful how you define yourself. You’re neither 100% your successes nor your mistakes. Love your perfectly imperfect self so you can move out of your own way and forward in life and love.
4. There’s no “good” or “bad”
You learn from failure, yours and through the consequences of others’. Without failure you would not grow into and value success. So why do we consider our mistakes “bad?”
The consequences of hurtful decisions are painful to us and others. Pain, however, is not inherently “bad.”
How many “mistakes” have you looked back on and realized that going through them made you a better person? The mistake was painful, sure. Can you see that it was also helpful?
If you want to keep pain from turning into suffering you must rid yourself of dichotomous judgements like “good” and “bad.”
5. The affair was the symptom, not the problem.
The problem wasn’t 100% you. Something else was going wrong long before you were even tempted to cheat.
Rather than beat yourself up for the affair, learn something from the build up to it. Look beneath the surface of broader issues like “poor communication.” The Toddler Game in F.A.I.L.* to Win: 4 Simple Principles to Get You Out of Your Own Way is a fantastic tool for diving deep into your motivations. It’s useless to look at your partner’s communication habits because you have no power to change them or really understand them. Look from your own perspective and keep probing with curiosity and without judgement (like a toddler).
- Problem: I didn’t communicate well.
- Why not?
- Because when I felt badly about something I didn’t bring it up
- Why not?
- Because I thought it was easier than having a fight.
- Does expressing your feelings always result in a fight?
- Well, … sometimes. If I’m not prepared for their honest reaction and it’s defensive.
NOW you have something you can work with. If you don’t make space for (and prepare yourself for) their honest reaction, you will allow your vulnerability to turn into a fight. What might that look like in the future? How can you prepare your significant other for a new level of honesty? How can you prepare yourself for more unsavory reactions when they forget you’re trying to share more?
You can do this with any blanket problem you have. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.
6. Forgiveness doesn’t let you off the hook.
If you treat your guilt like a penance you’ll never be able to move forward because there’s no “making up” for cheating. You need to understand that forgiveness is not permission or dismissal of mistreatment. Forgiveness is about reclaiming all of the energy you are giving to a past event that cannot be changed. You need that energy and attention to commit to your new communication style or your new personal goals or whatever you identified in Step 5.
You need the time and attention you’re spending on your past grievances to build a healthier future. Without it you’re doomed to repeat your mistakes simply because that’s what you’re focusing on.
When you find yourself stuck in lamentations just notice the pattern, visualize reclaiming that energy and pick a goal to use that energy toward. That’s it.
It’s an ongoing practice that shows results over time. One day you’ll just wake up and realize you have stopped beating yourself up. You’ll be pleased to notice how much progress you’ve made toward your commitments as well!!
You can be a better person for this experience if you’ll let yourself.
Regardless of the how you got to your mistake you can always use your experience toward your growth and improvement. It’s a small but impactive shift in perspective that makes room for your strengths and fallibility and puts you back in the driver seat of your actions. You can see, now, why forgiving yourself is important. Without self-forgiveness you get stuck in old patterns and repeat the same mistakes.
Get comfortable with being perfectly imperfect. Perfectly perfect is unattainable and would be painfully boring anyway.
It’s amazing how a few steps in a list can actually feel like a lot. Download The Squeeze right now to help you manage any anxiety that crops up. It’s my favorite go-to practice when my head spins and my first recommendation if you can’t shut your brain off at night. Lemme know what you think!
Triffany is a certified professional life coach who helps strong women tame their inner hot mess. Start with the book F.A.I.L.* to Win: 4 Simple Principles to Get You Out of Your Own Way and follow up with a class. Everything you touch will get easier as you go.