I sometimes hear from people who really were trying to do the right and honorable thing when they told their spouse they cheated. They usually felt a lot of guilt, didn’t want the lie hanging between them and their spouse, and cared enough about their marriage to bring the cheating out there so that they could heal and move on. Unfortunately, many look back on this disclosure with regret because it has made things so much worse and because they can not take it back.
I recently heard from a wife who said: “I cheated on my husband with one of his friends. I am so sorry that I did that and I made a one time mistake that I would never ever repeat. There was drinking involved, but I am not going to use that as an excuse. It was my mistake and I struggled with whether I should own up to it. I didn’t want to lie to my husband or have something this huge between us. At the same time, my husband had always made it clear that cheating was not something he would tolerate. He broke up with the girl he was dating before me because she cheated on him so I knew how he was going to react. Cheating is bad enough, but cheating with his friend was going to be inexcusable. Still, the guilt was nearly killing me so I went ahead and came clean. I regret it because at this point, my husband says that our marriage is over. He says he can not look at me without thinking about what I did. The sad thing is, before I told my husband about the cheating, we were reasonably happy. We would have stayed married and I would’ve felt guilty but my husband would’ve remained blissfully unaware and then I had to go and open my big mouth. I know there’s no going back now but is there anything that you can do to fix it when you regret telling your spouse that you cheated?”
The wife in this scenario was right. There was no going back. It’s not realistic to expect your spouse to forget about the cheating or pretend that you never told him. Once you admit to cheating, this admission is there for good. With that said, you can make the best of the situation and use time to your advantage. And quite frankly, even though confessing to the cheating may well feel like the wrong thing to do right now, that’s something which you may never know for sure.
Although You Regret Admitting To Cheating, Your Regret Doesn’t Mean That It Was The Wrong Call: Like the wife in this situation, most people regret disclosing the infidelity when the response to the same is worse than they expected. So, it’s not that they necessarily regret having done the right thing. What they regret is that their spouse may well be done with them or the marriage, or at least it may feel that way at the time.
However, your sorrow and regret towards their reaction doesn’t negate your knowing that being honest is the right thing. And if you could turn back time and undo your confession, who is to know if things would’ve turned out any better? This lie would always be between you. And you would continue to feel guilty. Living under this kind of stress may well have negatively affected your marriage also. So there is often not any perfect outcome.
Coping With The Fallout Of Your Confession As Best As You Can: I know that it may be very tempting right now to throw up your hands and proclaim that you give up. This is especially true when it feels as if your spouse is never going to forgive you and you can’t even look at yourself in the mirror. But as best as you can, give yourself credit for trying to do what is right. Someone who didn’t care about right or wrong as much as you do or who didn’t care about setting their marriage on the right tract would have remained quiet and continued lying. But you did not. This says something about you. Eventually, your spouse may come to realize this as well. Understand that their reaction and feelings today may evolve into something different (and more positive) tomorrow. They might just need some time to process this and evaluate their feelings and wishes.
When my husband first told me everything about his affair, my initial reaction was one of explosive anger. I couldn’t even stand to be in his presence. But eventually, I came to appreciate that he did tell me absolutely everything without being forced to and we did eventually save our marriage.
Making The Best Out Of A Regretful Situation: I know that it may feel as if your hands are tied right now, but understand that your situation may change. So try to handle this with as much integrity and grace as you can muster. In this wife’s situation, she might just offer her husband some time and then every time he expresses his outrage about the affair, she could tell him that she understood his feelings and will support him with whatever he needs. Now, he may not jump on this immediately. He will likely need some time. But, down the road he will remember his wife’s integrity, and patience, and the way that she put what was right instead of just hiding the truth even though it may well have benefited her to do so. And the wife will always know that she did what was right instead of what was easy and deceitful.
I have to tell you that many spouses who have been cheated on who contact me on my blog indicate that they may have reacted more favorably to the affair if the cheating spouse had come clean. Sometimes when you have to find out about the affair from someone else (or even worse, the person who has been cheating with your spouse) your reaction is far worse than when your spouse had the decency to tell you themselves.