How to forgive yourself for cheating and not telling: 15 helpful steps

Cheating is painful for everyone involved— yes,even to the cheater!

Not only is it agonizing to know that you’re hurting the person you love (or used to love), the realization that you’re possibly incapable of real commitment can be a tough thing to swallow.

You might kick yourself and say “Why do I destroy everything in my life?”

There, there. Enough of the self-hatred.

You have to be gentle with yourself during this time, even if you don’t feel you deserve it.

If you’re being eaten up with guilt, here are 15 steps on how you can forgive yourself for cheating:

1) Own your mistake

Don’t blame your partner’s flaws for pushing you to do something. Yes, they may be a pain to live with or you may have simply fallen out of love but hey, you did the deed.

Don’t blame your childhood, your genes, your cheating ex, or alcohol either.

Those things did not put a gun to your head and force you to cheat. It’s all you. You could have run away at any moment, but you didn’t… so here you are.

I’m so sorry to be blunt, but you have to look at what you’ve done in the eye.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Wait a minute, I thought this article is supposed to comfort me.” and yes it will. But before that, let’s do this painful first step because it’s crucial for your recovery.

Facing what you did and accepting the fact that you actually committed them is the first step to healing. It’s always better to be honest to oneself even if—or especially if— it’s something we don’t want to accept about ourselves.

2) Set some alone time to truly reflect

You cannot think clearly if you’re still seeing or living with either of them.

Distance yourself from them so you can be completely alone with your thoughts. Give yourself this space to just breathe and reflect. It’s very important that you’re alone with your thoughts so you can truly reflect and come up with a plan on how to make things right.

You may want to visit your parents so your partner won’t get suspicious, but make sure you won’t get too distracted. A better idea would be to go somewhere you can truly be alone.

You see, it’s not enough to just reflect about everything while you’re taking a shower or while you’re on the train, you have to remove yourself from your routine and habits.

Think of how Cheryl Strayed went on a solo hike just to process her feelings. You need to get to that state where you’re removed from your life.

Aside from distance, give yourself all the time you need to heal. Some people only need an hour to go deep within themselves, some take a week or even a month. Take your time.

Try not to go back unless you’re truly ready. Don’t feel even more guilty about it. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It is your right to be left alone while you sort out your feelings.

3) Figure out the real reasons why you cheated

Once you’re already in a place where you can be alone with your thoughts, it’s time to ask yourself some hard questions to figure out why you did what you did.

If you’re in a loveless relationship that’s been dead for years, then your reason is very obvious. Some things you can ask yourself are:

  • Why did I stay for so long?
  • Why don’t I love them anymore?
  • Is it time to finally break up for good?

However, if your relationship is okay, or you’ve always been a loyal partner until now, or you’re NOT really in love with the other person, then it can be quite difficult to know the exact reason why.

It could help if you ask yourself the following questions:

  • Was I unhappy with my relationship?
  • Did I cheat so there’s a good reason to break up?
  • Am I really in love with this new person?
  • Am I still in love with my partner even if we’re not perfect?
  • Am I going through a life crisis?
  • Was I pressured to cheat?
  • Am I mirroring my parents?
  • Did I feel suffocated in my relationship?

Of course, the answer might be more than one, and even then, they may not even point you to a clear answer. But keep digging until you can figure out the reasons that truly resonate with you.

Finding out the “why” is very important not only for you to forgive yourself, but to prevent you from committing the same thing again in the future.

4) Confide in someone you trust

Guilt is one of the most difficult things to experience alone. Guilt isn’t just one emotional state, it comes with a set of equally agonizing feelings—shame, anger, regret, and self-doubt.

You have to share your crisis with someone or you might burst.

Choose someone who you find is sensible and understanding. Try not to make the mistake of confiding in someone who’s judgmental just because you want to be “punished” and lectured for your mistakes. You’re already tough on yourself, you don’t need more of that!

This is where therapists are very useful. They won’t share your problems to anyone (you can sue them if you do), and they’re trained to guide you.

You’ll heal much better and probably much faster too.

Some alternatives if you can’t find someone:

  • Write in a journal
  • Talk to yourself out loud
  • Read self-help books
  • Join and vent in anonymous forums
  • Chat with someone anonymously

5) Set a plan to confess everything

IMPORTANT NOTE: This step is only necessary if you want to remain in a relationship with your current partner. If you prefer to break up with them, you’re not obligated to confess that you cheated. It will only give them unnecessary pain.

You are actually dealing with two things right now. One is “cheater’s guilt”, and one is your guilt for not telling the truth to your partner.

You’re like Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. You’re suffering the burden of not getting caught yet, which can sometimes be more excruciating especially if you’re a highly sensitive person.

So what do you do? You confess!

Surely, keeping this a secret will keep the peace with you and your other half but it will torment you daily. You cannot live an authentic life if you’re always waiting for the ball to drop.

Imagine if you walk down the aisle on your wedding day then someone from the guest announces to everyone that you’re cheating. The scenario is a bit over the top but it’s not impossible. You’re chained to your sins because you keep it a secret.

Besides, living with them day-to-day and seeing them happy with you when you know that you did them wrong is just painful.

You don’t want to be living a double life forever. Set yourself free, even if it comes with a price.

Here are the things you have to prepare:

  • What you will tell them exactly (what details you think are necessary, and which ones you’d rather not tell for their sake)
  • How you plan to make up for all your mistakes
  • How you can help them trust you again
  • Where you will tell them and how

That’s a lot! But the most important thing to prepare is your emotions. Make sure you’re willing to face their anger and be with them while they grieve.

Make sure you’re also ready to move on if they decide they can’t be with you anymore. It’s tough but it’s the only way to move forward in a healthy way.

6) Fully embrace who you are or decide to change

If during your self-reflection you realize that you really can’t be in a monogamous relationship or that you’re really not ready for a long-term committed relationship, then stop forcing yourself to change.

That’s who you are and what you want (at least for now), so you have to respect that. However, you should respect your partner too.

Tell them about this and suggest an open relationship or break up. You will only be hurting each other if you continue.

Another example is if you realized that you can’t be with someone you’re not in love with anymore, then embrace that fact about you.

Sure, you should feel bad for not breaking up with them before falling in love with someone else but obviously, it wasn’t easy for you. Now that you know this about yourself, break it off with them.

If you decide to change—whether to save your relationship or just for yourself—then be committed to it fully.

7) Remind yourself that you’re just human

Look, I know it’s a little bit overused. A lot of people use “I’m only human” as an excuse when they do something awful, but hey, it’s the plain truth!

We are humans with our own set of tendencies and flaws and yet, we’re expected to act like saints. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at everything else, if you’ve committed one mistake, we’re considered evil, irresponsible, immoral—someone who’s good for nothing.

If you zoom out for a little bit, you’ll see that romantic love and relationships are just social constructs and humans as a species aren’t really built to maintain monogamous relationships. If you think about it, we’re living our lives that’s against our nature.

You’ve been trying your best to be a good human being and you will continue trying again and again. And you know what, it’s what matters.

You cheated but you’ll try your darn best to be better, the same way you keep crawling back to making things better in other areas of your life.

8) Remind yourself that you’re constantly growing and evolving

Although a voice in your head is yelling at you that you’re evil and that you’ll never be happy in any relationship ever, it’s simply not true.You can get your life back on track, you can repair your relationship after cheating and be happy again.

You’re capable of improving yourself even if everything sucks right now.

Maybe this is a phase in your life where you’re supposed to experience these things so you can learn from them.

We’re all beginners in life and love here. No one gets it right all the time.

Refrain from giving yourself false and limiting beliefs about yourself just because you committed a mistake.

Of course, do not use this as an excuse for what you did. But for the love of all things holy, cut yourself some slack!

You can’t self-hate your way to improvement.

9) Remind yourself that you’re not all that bad

There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re someone who’s not capable of love—that you’re irresponsible, untrustworthy, and just downright selfish.

These feelings will discourage you from becoming better because after all, you’ve failed as a person.

Don’t do this to yourself! Silence that voice in your head that says you’re an awful human being who’s not worthy of love.

Look, you cheated (and are now dying of guilt for it), but you didn’t kill six million people or destroyed forests. You didn’t deliberately hurt someone because you enjoy seeing them hurt. Not at all!

You’re a good person to the core and you know it. Just think of the many good things you’ve done in your life.

You’re very flawed but you probably are these things too:

  • You’re a loving child, friend, and partner.
  • You pay your taxes and haven’t stolen a single dime.
  • You’re kind to pets and people who can’t give you anything in return.
  • You’re a good student, employee, and neighbor.
  • You care about the people in your life even if you feel rotten right now.

And a million other things!

Here’s what you should do. Make a list of your good traits and the people you cheered up since you’re born.

It might be selfish and self-indulgent to do this, but you need to be reminded that you’re not all that bad. So go ahead, remind yourself of your good side.

Of course, you’re not using this as an excuse for cheating. You’re simply reminding yourself that cheating and “being bad” is not all you are…and that you are indeed capable of love.

10) The fact that you’re guilty is a good thing

The very fact that you’re reading this means that you feel guilty for cheating…that you know what you did was bad and unforgivable if you’re in a committed relationship.

While simply acknowledging your mistakes doesn’t fix anything, it’s one of the very first steps to working on your problems.

And most importantly, it’s a sign that you still have a conscience—that you know what’s right from wrong in a monogamous relationship.

Some people really don’t have it anymore. They think that it’s normal to pursue other love interests while they’re still in a relationship, and that’s not who you are.

It’s a sign that you still have it in you to do the right thing the next time you get tempted to cheat. You’re not yet indifferent and numb, and that’s something to be thankful for.

11) Cut ties with the other girl/ guy if you decide to stay in your relationship

Choosing not to see someone ever again is tough, especially if they’ve become special to you.

But if you’ve decided to stay in your current relationship, then you have no choice but to let the other person go—completely!

You have to be gentle and you have to end things as peacefully as possible. You can be friends later but for now, you have to stay away from them. Otherwise, you might be tempted to be with them again. It’s also the best way to show your partner that you’re willing to change.

It will be painful for both of you but you know it’s the only way to make things right.

Take note that it’s also good for them. Don’t keep them on standby in case your current S.O. breaks up with you after you confess cheating on them.

That’s just unfair to both of them, and it’s not the best way to start a relationship!

Leaving them hanging will have them frustrated at you, and if they realize what’s going on, they might even sabotage your relationship out of spite.

Here’s how to do it right:

  • Set a time to talk to them in person.
  • Let them know that although you care for them so much, you’ve decided to stop cheating.
  • Set clear boundaries.
  • Tell them you will cut all contact for now.
  • Delete them from your contacts
  • Unfollow them on social media

12) Focus on the future

Whatever you did is all in the past and there’s nothing else you can do that can change that.

Don’t obsess over the “what ifs”, and don’t beat yourself up so much that you can’t function. What’s done is done, and you can’t change the past!

Instead of dwelling on your mistakes, you should instead try to focus on what you can do now to build a better future for yourself and your partner. If you’ve decided to break up with your current partner, then build a future alone with your ideal partner in mind.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What kind of relationship do I really want in the future?
  • How can I prevent this from happening again?
  • How can I be a better partner?
  • Can I really be in a monogamous relationship?
  • Should I be in an open-relationship?
  • Should I try polyamory?
  • What are the traits that I should develop?
  • What are the traits that I should look for in a partner?

And, of course, it’s always good to be ambitious with all aspects of your life, especially when you’re feeling low about yourself. Think about where you plan to settle down, what career you’re willing to pursue, the hobbies you’re going to do.

Consider this as your clean slate. Restart your life, bounce back better.

13) Be ready to do the work

All the resolutions in the world won’t do you anything if you aren’t willing to put the work needed into mending your relationship.

If you’ve decided to stay in your relationship and win back the trust of your partner, you gotta do the work—and boy, there’s a lot of work to do!

It’s not going to be easy, and you might find yourself somewhat stifled by some of the measures you’ll have to implement, but good things just don’t happen without sacrifice.

Here are some of the things that you can do to win back their trust:

  • Give them access to your phone (you cheated so you would want to show them that you’re willing to change).
  • If you cheated with a colleague, be willing to find another job.
  • If you cheated with a neighbor, be willing to move apartments.
  • Resolve to hang out more often, and to be more open with each other.
  • Renew your commitment for each other.
  • Don’t try to justify your cheating ever.
  • Be ready to help them grieve no matter how long it takes.
  • Suggest that you visit a counselor to help the two of you heal.

These are just some of the big sacrifices that you can make to improve your relationship. Of course it would be wonderful if they can forgive you without imposing any of these things on you. But if your partner finds it hard to trust you again, you have to regain their trust by making sacrifices.

14) Think of role models

Think of a person who you know had once been accused of or had been caught cheating on their partner, and is now doing well.

It might be a family member, a friend, or even a celebrity.

Sometimes all we need to push ourselves to be better is to have hope. And what better symbol of hope for you to see someone who had once made the same mistake and still managed to turn things around and live a fulfilling life?

Everytime you find yourself being too harsh on yourself for having cheated, think of that person and tell yourself that if they could manage it, then so could you.

It would also help if you could talk to them about getting over cheating—maybe ask them directly if they’re someone in reach, or read their memoirs if they’re a celebrity.

15) Get rid of the notion that “once a cheater, always a cheater”

The last thing you should do is to get yourself stuck on the notion that once a cheater, you’re always going to be a cheater.

It’s probably a phrase that people say when they get cheated on so that they won’t hurt so much.

It’s easy to go “oh, I saw that coming because once a cheater, always a cheater” but it’s just not true. People can —and do— stop cheating!

Sure some people might take a while to recover from serial cheating, but if you’re a regular folk who’s always trying their best to be faithful, then no, it’s not a guarantee that you will cheat again and again and again.

Telling yourself over and over that you’ll ‘always be a cheater’ from now on because you cheated once or twice, however, is just going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You would be so convinced that you’re always going to be a cheater that you would think “meh, why bother?”

So get that idea out of your head right now.

You cheated, but that only means you can learn how to avoid the temptation moving forward.

Last words

It’s so easy to cheat but the consequences are too hard to deal with.

But what’s done is done.

You can beat yourself up for it for a while, but at some point, you have to stop because not only is it harmful for you, it doesn’t fix anything.

Right now, give yourself all the compassion and love you need. You need a gentle hand to guide you out of your misery, and that better be yours.

Forgive yourself, love yourself fully—flaws and all.

Trust me, you’re on your way to a better you.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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