How to Communicate your Remorse after Cheating
Humans make meaning in the world and communicate with others through language. The language following the discovery or disclosure of an affair is very important to the healing process. The meaning that infidelity takes on for people varies. Difficult emotions and decisions lie ahead as you begin a new phase of your relationship post-affair.
This tip is to help people who have been unfaithful rebuild after betrayal using thoughtful language. Similar to other couple’s dynamics, the way you say something and what you say are both essential in your relationship’s recovery.
Regret and remorse are usually thought of as synonyms. Remorse is defined as compassion for a painful and deep wrongdoing. In contrast, regret is to feel sorrow for disappointment or to think of loss. The terms regret and remorse are strikingly similar. It can be difficult to differentiate the words. However, this small difference can greatly impact the feeling between partners.
When someone shows true remorse, they hold themselves accountable and actively convey this accountability through the language they use. Remorse is conveyed through active sentences with yourself as the actor. Regret is a more passive version of accountability. These messages may start with I statements, but sound very different in that they convey that the action was done to them. Passive voice is very common in everyday language. You may get caught speaking this way to your partner and it will likely cause a negative reaction. Your partner is grasping for the identity they saw themselves and your relationship as they were just challenged by your actions. They do not want to hear that cheating just happened. They need to hear how you are holding yourself responsible for your actions and going to create change in the relationship.
Channel the empathy you have for what you put your partner through and imagine what you would feel if roles were reversed. How would you want to hear their remorse?
Below is a table to help you better understand how the language you use communicates different versions of remorse/regret while healing from your affair.
ACTIVE remorse Passive regret
|I apologize for putting my needs ahead of the hurt I caused you||I hate that this happened to us|
|Before, I betrayed you with infidelity||Before the infidelity…|
|I made a huge mistake by cheating||I didn’t mean for this affair to happen|
|I know it will take us a while to recover from my infidelity||I think you need to get over the affair and focus on moving forward|
|Please tell me what I can do to show you trust again||I have no control over that person reaching out to me again.|
|I am sorry I broke your heart||I am sorry you feel that way|
|I apologize for changing the way you see our relationship and yourself||This is not that big of a deal, affairs happen all the time
|In the affair, I chose myself over you and our relationship||My sexual needs were not being met for some time, we are lucky it was just sexting|
|I was missing what we had in the beginning and did not know how to communicate that I wanted and needed more connection with you. I selfishly only took care of my needs without regard to you.||The attention felt good for a change|
|I recognize where my actions became inappropriate and will do my best to hold myself to higher standards in the future. If I am upset about our intimate connection, I will work on being direct with you and reacting in a passive manner||You never put out anymore, I felt like I needed to cheat|
|I got caught up in feeling desired and the novelty of something new||Sex with you has become a chore|
|My affair is the worst thing I have done to you||The affair is not that big of a deal, everyone has them in some form|
|I regret my actions that have caused you so much pain||I regret how you found out that I cheated
|I will make sure to never work with the other person ever again regardless of what it does to my career. I want this relationship to work out. I will do whatever it takes||You should be thankful I am willing to put my career at risk and work on us|
A good couple’s therapist will tell you both partners often hold fault for their dynamic that allowed a breach of trust/infidelity to happen. They will also tell you immediately upon discovery or disclosure is not the moment for the betrayed partner to really hear your side of the story out. Your partner needs to hear and feel ownership on your part and true remorse. The more accountable you hold yourself through language that is active and empathetic the better.
Your partner will go through a range of emotions that will feel like whiplash. One minute, your partner might express anger, then sadness and even joy. You may be in the middle of a routine errand, feeling content like before the affair came out, then out of the blue they whip an insult at you and do not let you forget that you screwed up. The more you let them have their raw reactions and express the emotions, the more healing it will be.
Common reactions back to the real feelings that are unhelpful:
- Minimizing the impact it has had on them Validating their real experience
- Rushing to have them get over it vs. accepting the recovery will take time
- Calling their reactions/requests irrational vs. seriously considering their experience and understanding how your behavior will help rebuild the relationship
If they hear your ownership of it as passive or blaming them for turning away, they have a much harder time trusting that you feel remorse and will NOT do it again. You are putting out the initial fire and need to buckle down to repeat and own phrases like the left hand. The statements on the left put you as the actor to continually reassure your partner that you feel responsible for their pain and are willing to be active in recovering from what the affair did to their view of themselves and former ideal they used to view the relationship as.
The step toward showing your partner active remorse is not the only step towards healing from an affair.
You need to stick with showing remorse regardless of how angry your partner may get with you. This phase will not last forever. The betrayed partner’s wide range of emotions are valid. If you find your partner’s anger looking like constant insults, name calling, any physicality despite your attempts to stay calm and remorseful. More intervention may be necessary. Tell them you want help resolving this with a skilled couple’s therapist.
Many couples need active guidance to overcome infidelity from a couple’s therapist. The goal of using your language to reflect this remorse is essential in not just surviving cheating, but learning how to grow together as a couple and thrive in a new phase of your relationship.