How to Forgive Yourself for Cheating and Not Telling: 11 Ways to Move On

It's happened.

You cheated on your partner, and you feel like garbage about it.

Your pain is real, and you wake up every day wondering, “Will I ever forgive myself for cheating?” 

You might think you should confess to your spouse and hope for forgiveness.

But wait.

This could be a bad move.

Dumping this information on the person who loves you could be cruel.

Your best bet could be forgiving yourself for cheating while leaving your partner out of it.

Is It OK to Cheat and Not Tell?

First of all, it's not OK to cheat. The not-telling part, however, is another matter. Relationship experts tend to recommend not telling when the infidelity was a fling instead of an ongoing affair.

Marriage therapist Michele Weiner-Davis, M.S.W., told Men's Health that telling your partner you cheated could serve your emotional needs at the expense of your partner. You want to unburden yourself, apologize, and hope for forgiveness. Your spouse, however, will be thrown into a crisis if you do this.

When the Independent reported on the topic of confessing infidelity, experts largely agreed that keeping the secret when the cheating was a one-time thing may be the most humane choice. 

Megan Fleming, Ph.D., a marriage counselor and sex therapist, said that informing a partner about your cheating would only double the pain. Generally, the best move is to fix what went wrong with you and be faithful to your partner moving forward.

Don't confess that you cheated when:

  • The extramarital sexual relationship has not been long-term.
  • You succumbed to a moment of temptation.
  • You want to be a loyal partner.
  • Your partner has not ASKED you about cheating.
couple sitting back to back how to forgive yourself for cheating and not telling

Long-term affairs or serial one-night stands are another matter. This behavior signals that you may not be ready for a committed relationship or not with your current spouse.

How to Forgive Yourself for Cheating and Not Telling: 11 Ways to Absolve Yourself

You're craving forgiveness so that you can feel better. You know that you have to fix your emotional turmoil before your guilt ruins the relationship that you want to save. 

Rather than breaking your spouse's heart in a quest to absolve your shame, learn how to forgive yourself for cheating.

1. Accept that you want to feel better.

Guilt and shame are powerful forces. These feelings can gut your self-esteem. Languishing in a constant state of self-hate could make you less able to be a good person. 

The temptation to cheat might strike again because you see yourself as unworthy of your spouse. To avoid this trap, decide to work through your feelings and reach a better place.

2. Break the daily guilt habit.

Bad feelings and stress have bothered you since your sexual indiscretion. Waking up every day knowing what you've done becomes a mental habit. 

You have to change the script from “I cheated and can't live with myself” to “I made a bad mistake and need to forgive myself.”

3. Think about yourself in a positive light.

The fact that you feel guilty for cheating shows that you know right from wrong. You know that sharing this information would really hurt your spouse. 

Caring about that person's feelings is actually a good trait. Use your desire to protect your partner from pain to motivate yourself to be loyal and trustworthy.

4. Talk to a therapist.

The urge to tell your partner that you cheated is probably rooted in your deep need to talk to someone about your mistake. One or two sessions with a therapist could help you gain a new perspective along with advice for improving your ability to commit to your spouse. 

A therapist is a better choice than confiding in a friend or relative. A therapist is professionally bound to confidentiality. A friend or relative must grapple with the question of whether to tell your spouse about what you did.

5. Don't let the mistake define your life.

Everyone makes mistakes. You made a big one, but do you really deserve perpetual punishment? 

Cheating is a mistake that could educate you about the importance of being faithful to a partner. You already knew that abstractly, but now you understand the concrete value of faithfulness. 

woman walking away from man on porch how to forgive yourself for cheating

Learn this lesson and work hard never to cheat again.

6. Don't make excuses for yourself.

You might find yourself blaming your partner for your cheating. Maybe you were mad about something or feeling neglected, but this is not the right line of thought. 

No one really deserves to be cheated on. You made a choice to do it because it was pleasurable and exciting in the moment. 

Accept that you were weak and now need to learn how to be strong in the face of temptation.

7. Do not allow yourself to contact the person you cheated with.

Whether you were close friends or passing acquaintances doesn't matter now. You will not have contact with that person anymore. 

Contact would remind you of what you did and interfere with the process of self-forgiveness.

8. Decide to improve yourself.

Take time to think about what caused you to cheat. If you're honest with yourself, you'll identify some areas where you can work on making yourself a better person

Maybe you were looking for a way to sabotage your relationship because you're scared of commitment. 

Perhaps you longed to feel free, but you didn't realize how bad you'd feel about the affair. Whatever the reason, commit to holding yourself to a higher standard.

9. Tell yourself that you CAN live with yourself.

The realization that you've betrayed your partner can make moving forward in life feel impossible. You currently see yourself as a fraud. 

As a result, you think you don't deserve future happiness because of cheating. Guilt is an emotional mechanism for punishing you for shabby conduct, but you can take the next step. 

woman on phone while man in other room how to forgive yourself for cheating

Your life is not over. Consider this your second chance to get things right with your spouse.

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10. Think about how much you hate your emotional turmoil.

You would not feel so bad if you did not cheat in the first place. The misery and uncertainty that you feel now outweigh the excitement that you got from biting the forbidden fruit of a one-night stand or affair. 

Use this knowledge to keep yourself strong in the future should temptation strike again. Compared to your current unhappiness, consider how much more pleasurable it would be to nurture a positive and honest relationship with your partner.

11. Be grateful for your partner.

As you work toward forgiving yourself, be good to your spouse. Your choice to not reveal cheating means that you care about that person's feelings. 

Use that empathy to build a better relationship that will insulate you from temptation. Reconnect by doing fun things together and direct your sexual desire toward your partner instead of others.

How Do I Fix Myself After Cheating?

Your soul searching should educate you about why you cheated. Now that you know the triggers, you can make yourself a better person and partner with these tips:

  • Recognize when you feel the urge to flirt and direct that behavior toward your partner.
  • Remind yourself that you don't want to hurt someone you love.
  • Foster growth in the areas of your relationship that you thought were lacking.
  • Give yourself permission to have and enjoy a strong relationship with your spouse.
  • Focus on the benefits of being in a committed and trusting relationship.

Does the Guilt of Cheating Ever Go Away?

When you cheat on someone, the immediate aftermath is often a whirlwind of guilt and regret. You're left wondering, “Will this heavy feeling ever lift?” The answer isn't straightforward, but here's a breakdown:

  • Immediate Aftermath: Initially, the guilt is intense, consuming your thoughts and dictating your emotions. It feels like a shadow you can't shake off.
  • Seeking Forgiveness: You might seek and even receive forgiveness from the person you hurt. This can alleviate some of the guilt, but often, it's not a complete eraser.
  • Long-Term Process: Over time, the intensity of the guilt can diminish. It might never disappear entirely, but it can become more manageable. This often involves a personal journey of understanding, self-reflection, and genuine remorse.
  • Transformative Guilt: For some, guilt transforms into a lesson learned, shaping future behavior and relationships. It becomes less about the pain you carry and more about the growth it spurred.

So, does the guilt ever go away completely? For most, it softens but remains a part of their emotional fabric, serving as a reminder and a catalyst for personal growth and better choices in the future.

Forgiving Yourself Gives You a Chance to Improve

A spouse who doesn't know that you cheated will be immensely hurt if you confess it out of the blue. 

Although relationship advice almost always promotes total honesty, telling your partner about cheating is not the easy road to forgiveness. 

The partner might never forgive you, which leaves you still searching for a way to forgive yourself and rebuild your life. The responsible choice very well could be that you protect your partner from harm and never cheat again.