After infidelity is discovered, we usually think that the partner being cheated on is the only one hurt. Don’t be surprised if we tell you, cheating hurts the cheater too. Yes, you heard it right, the cheater/unfaithful spouse might seem all normal and carry on with the cheating until it is discovered. But once it is discovered, that’s when they go through different stages of guilt after cheating, which can prove to be quite a roller coaster ride of emotions.
Regardless of how an affair is discovered, the revelation lends a huge blow to a couple’s relationship. In the case of married couples, the ripples can be felt in the family dynamics as well. It affects the spouse who was betrayed, children, parents, in-laws, and everyone around them. The post-affair-discovery is when the metamorphosis begins.
While the devastation brought on by an incident of infidelity remains in focus, the state of mind of the cheating partner is often pushed to the sidelines. But that doesn’t mean that a cheater remains unfazed in the aftermath of their transgression coming to light. Let’s shine the spotlight on the different stages of guilt after cheating, with insight from consultant psychologist Jaseena Backer (MS Psychology), who is a gender and relationship management expert.
Stages Of Guilt After Cheating – What A Cheater Goes Through
While the initial thrill of an extramarital affair gives a certain high to the cheater, the post-affair-discovery prompts the cheater to go through stages of guilt after cheating. These cheating guilt signs are filled with a series of emotions like shame, worry, regret, confusion, embarrassment, and self-loathing, anxiety and guilt after cheating.
When an affair is discovered, the enormity of the impact of their actions truly hits the cheater and they feel anguish and sting of their bad decisions. These swirling thoughts and a rollercoaster of emotions can take a toll on the cheater’s mental health.
However, one must remember that a cheater is always aware of the potential hurt and damage their actions can cause. But since the repercussions are not imminent, they may carry on with the infidelity without feeling remorse after cheating at the initial stage because it fulfills certain needs, conscious or subconscious.
However, the discovery of an affair subverts this dynamic. The thrill, excitement or whatever other need was driving the infidelity take a backseat and the guilt takes over. Let’s look at the different stages of guilt after cheating derived from the personal experiences of the people we’ve spoken to. These are the phases you can expect a cheater to go through post-discovery of the affair:
Related Reading: Infidelity Recovery Stages To Heal From An Affair
One of the first stages of guilt after cheating is denial. When the unfaithful spouse is busted, they respond with denial. As the guilt of cheating without telling creeps in, they start practicing the ‘art of deception.’ They try to cover up the truth by showing cheating guilt signs because they want to stick to denial after cheating, they will try and attempt deception in different and many dubious forms.
Yulia, 28, dancer, says, “I confronted my husband after learning about the affair he was having with his old flame, and he denied. I showed him all the evidence, but he denied it again. I took him out for coffee the next day and invited the other woman too but he still didn’t admit to having cheated. He tried deceiving me over and over again, that’s when I realized that he is just a coward who only thinks about himself.”
Jaseena says, “During the denial stages of guilt, the cheater does everything to show that he/she didn’t do anything wrong. The cheater tries to mask it and tries to act like an innocent loving partner. When the guilt of cheating without telling builds up, they try to cover up even minor things.
“They camouflage their mistakes and use retorts like ‘No, it wasn’t how it looks’ ‘You’re probably assuming things’ ‘How could you even think I’d do such a thing?’. A cheater goes into denial after cheating hence dismissing any action of that manner.”
Anger is a pretty obvious cheating guilt sign. Let’s be honest, no one wants to get caught in the wrong, especially not a cheater who has so much at stake. This particular stage of guilt after cheating is also referred to as ‘the withdrawal stage’. In this stage of guilt after cheating, the cheater is in a funk.
They are now deprived of the ‘high’ their affair partner was providing, they feel they have been cut off from the other person. They go through anxiety and guilt after cheating, a lot of relapses occur. The anger after cheating and the resentment makes them snappy every time you try to have a conversation about their cheating episode.
Jaseena says, “The anger after cheating is equal and ancillary to the denial after cheating. Because by showing honesty and sincerity, the other spouse still stands ground, the cheating person goes into anger mode. Anger is an outburst because so many things have gone wrong on this side.
The foremost is that the comfortable relationship that the cheater had outside cannot be continued. Anger can also arise from the fact that the affair partner is probably left on the fence, not knowing what is happening in the family that discovered cheating. Add to that, their spouse or primary partner may want to know details of the affair, which can make a cheater feel pushed to a corner, resulting in angry retorts.
The cheater has to put up with other kinds of emotions that may come from their partner. The partner may bring up a lot of things from the past, point out how they have been completely faithful, or highlight the many other consequences of infidelity. This creates a whirl of anxiety and guilt after cheating, which results in anger because this is also the stage of helplessness, and often anger is an emotion that stems from helplessness.”
Related Reading: 6 Cheaters Tell Us How They Feel About Themselves
Bargaining after cheating is one of the most important stages of guilt after cheating. This is the phase when one decides either to make the relationship work after infidelity or let it fall apart completely. During this particular stage of guilt after cheating, the relationship is stagnant. The anxiety and the guilt after cheating and the intensifying of grief after cheating result in no progress in the relationship. The cheater isn’t doing anything to make the relationship work nor is he willing to talk about anything about the affair.
“It’s been a month since the confrontation, my husband and I rarely speak. I don’t see the point of being in this marriage. I would have thought of giving it a try but then he isn’t making any efforts. He doesn’t want to speak about the affair, nor does he want to talk about where our relationship is at. So I guess, we are on the brink of falling apart and it seems like a better option,” says Erica, 38, housewife.
Jaseena says, “Bargaining after cheating occurs when the cheater knows that now the game is up and that they need to sustain the marriage. When bargaining after cheating starts, the cheater will probably go on their knees or make promises of mending ways, asking for one last chance.
They may say things like, “I will never do that again, I don’t know what happened to me, I slipped.” Or they could go to the other extreme, and say, “You didn’t have time for me” or “I cheated because you were not loving enough” “You didn’t respect me” “There was not enough sex in the marriage, so I turned to someone else for my needs. It was purely sexual and nothing else.” They come up with some sort of bargaining after cheating to fit back into the relationship.”
“When this kind of bargaining after cheating doesn’t work out, they may say, “I am done with this relationship”, which serves as an ultimatum to the partner. They do this so that the partner changes their stand and gives them one more chance.”
This stage of guilt is also referred to as ‘the mourning phase’. This stage of guilt after cheating is triggered when the cheater starts realizing that they have lost the trust and respect of their loved ones. They start feeling guilt, shame, anger and resentment, all at the same time, and it reflects in their behavior after being caught cheating. Hence causing depression and remorse after cheating.
Jaseena says, “Depression could happen in two situations: one, where the cheater has lost the other partner who they probably genuinely loved, and second, since they can no longer be with them because of the bargaining. When the bargaining after cheating happened, their primary partner would’ve asked them to completely cut off ties with their affair partner.
This negotiation might cause grief after cheating. The depression could come in because there was some kind of genuine love interest in the affair. Besides, depression could also stem from having been caught in the wrong. The future of the relationship after cheating most commonly rests with the partner who has been cheated on.
This leads to grief after cheating, putting the cheater in a hopeless helpless situation after the negotiation. The cheater might have had to accept certain conditions during the negotiations, which may not be acceptable to them, but have to agree to them to sustain the relationship. So when the cheater ends up in a space of helplessness, it could lead to a depressive state.”
Related Reading: A True Account of Infidelity in a Marriage
After a long haul of denying and blaming and all the emotional turmoil the cheater goes through, they finally come to terms with all that has transpired, in other words coming to acceptance after cheating. This stage of guilt after cheating is experienced by the cheater after they realize that they cannot control the consequences of their actions.
Jaseena says, “The acceptance after cheating can come in during depression. When the cheater realizes that they have fought their battles and cannot control how the situation plays out, that’s when they start accepting. They understand nothing is going to be the same because of the one step they took. After all the struggle and grief after cheating, they finally accept the fact that they were responsible for everything.
“Until they reach the stage of acceptance after cheating or just before the stage of depression, quite often the cheater blames their spouse/partner, giving several excuses and justifications for having cheated. It’s when nothing is working in their favor and nothing is in their control that they finally accept the underlying truth.”
An affair shakes up everything for the hurt partner and the cheater. Infidelity is never easy to deal with. It is a destructive force that changes the perception of the hurt partner and the cheater about their understanding of themselves and the world. How cheating affects the cheater is complicated and painful.
If you’re considering betraying your spouse or have already begun, we hope this article will give you the courage to begin thinking about the cost of your affair. In either of the scenarios, your marriage or relationship is in trouble. No matter how you look at it, the bottom line is that cheating affects the cheater and all the important people in his or her life.