When you discover you've been cheated on you feel a range of emotions --shock, anger, hurt, just to name a few-- and often at their extremes. At some point everyone shifts from feeling to thinking and wants to know: how do cheaters feel about what they’ve done? How could they have hurt me this way? Is he or she feeling any pain like I am?
If you're a partner who's been cheated on you're going to have a lot of questions. One type of question is going to be 'how' -- How do cheaters do it? How do cheaters feel? How do cheaters live with themselves?
As a counselor who specializes in working with men, I've counseled a lot of men who've cheated. It's important to note that it's not always men who cheat, and so I've also helped many men who've been cheated on, too. Regardless of who cheated, my work gives me insight into learning what many cheaters feel.
Does A Cheater Regret Cheating?
Before I explain if cheaters have any regrets, let's look at something that has a big impact on how they feel. Below is a social media post I wrote about keeping promises. Read the full post and then I'll share how it's connected to cheaters and their feelings.
So, how do cheaters feel? The emotional response someone has after cheating on a spouse or partner can vary. Some feel really bad and truly regret it, others not as much. But no matter how much guilt or remorse a cheating person expresses outwardly, they all feel it inwardly to some extent.
Cheaters are often able to separate themselves from their feelings and consciousness. They may compartmentalize their behavior, telling themselves, “this has nothing to do with my marriage – it doesn’t change how I feel about my spouse.” Or they may justify things in order to continue to act in a way they know is wrong. Cheaters lie to themselves with thoughts like – "she deserves it, he doesn’t love me anymore anyway, I deserve to be happy" (true, but not in this way).
All of us have ways our minds can justify wrong behavior. In order to cheat you need to get pretty good at doing this. These are the cognitive tricks cheaters use, but we all can too.
Why Does Cheating Happen?
There are a variety of reasons people cheat on those they love. We explore many of those reasons in other articles on this website. Often, however, cheating is a symptom of other problems in a relationship. Whether they are sexual problems, communication problems, midlife crisis, or simply growing apart, those who cheat are generally looking to fill what they perceive as an unmet need. That certainly doesn’t make cheating the right solution, but emotionally empty people often make poor decisions. Cheating in fact will make any problem you're currently facing worse, so I often find that a cheater’s remorse is compounded by weight of the other problems they were trying to escape or fix.
The acceptance of broken promises seems to be a developing trend in our society today and that’s making it much easier to cheat. Promises just don’t seem to have the same importance any longer for many, and the shame and consequences associated with breaking promises is often nonexistent. As our society makes it more and more acceptable to break a promise, it makes it easier and easier for anyone to cheat with very little guilt or remorse.
I've found that most cheaters really do have a conscience. Many people who cheat didn't set out to do so. A lot of time cheating just develops out of one bad decision followed by another bad decision. Before the person knows it, they're cheating. Once they've crossed that line, it's easier to justify it, keep on cheating, and enjoy the ride while it lasts. That’s far more fun than it is to face the mistakes that led you to this point in the first place.
If you've been cheated on you are likely angry, hurt, and feeling incredibly betrayed. Those feelings are normal and understandable. It's important to recognize, however, that although your feelings may be different than your cheating partner's, it doesn't mean your partner doesn't have negative feelings about cheating -- they'll probably just not show them in the same way. Burying feelings or explaining away their behavior is how cheaters live with themselves.
The majority of men, and women, who cheat aren't bad people. They've just made a series of bad decisions. If you've been cheated on you might think I'm being too kind here. But the truth is the majority of cheaters do feel bad about cheating. If you have been cheated on, however, you now have to think about one of the toughest questions in a relationship, do you leave after an affair or do you find a way to work through it?
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Editor's Note: This post was originally published July 28, 2014. It has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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