Most people who cheat are sorry they hurt their spouse. But they don’t regret the affair. They don’t regret cheating. They regret that they got caught. They regret that other people got caught up in the web of lies, or that they wasted so much of their lives hiding, or that the press found out, or that they were exposed on the internet, or that they were followed by a detective and someone took photos of them, or that their kids or their constituents or their parish found out. But they don’t regret their affair, and they aren’t sorry for cheating.
Most people enjoy cheating. They revel in their affairs. They have fun. They have intense feelings of belonging and desire, and they have exciting se’xual encounters.
According to Ashley Madison, 47 percent of cheaters who registered as members on the company’s website said they wouldn’t do anything differently about their affairs, while 93 percent said they’re very happy with the outcome of their infidelity.
This doesn’t mean you aren’t sorry for hurting your loved ones. But if you are the type of cheater who doesn’t regret anything except the hurt, don’t pretend that you regret the affair.
If you have been caught or disclosed your affair, stop saying “I’m sorry” over and over again—if it’s meaningless. If you don’t regret the outside relationship, those words barely penetrate the surface when you apologize.Article continues below
How many times have you said it? Until you really know what you are apologizing for, it helps to change your strategy.
The goal here is not to say, “I’m sorry,” but to find empathy for what your partner is going through.
Remember, the story we make up is our own take on reality and is going to be different from our partner’s.
Evan and Anna came to my office after Evan’s affair. Anna was devastated by Evan’s long-term infidelity with a co-worker, someone he’d been seeing for more than two years. Complicating matters, he’d developed feelings for the much younger woman and had helped pay for her college degree while he continued to see her have s3’x. Angered when she discovered the ongoing affair, Anna demanded he
“Evan has probably said, ‘I’m sorry’ to me, like, one hundred times, and every time he says it, it means less. Each time he says it, I feel like he is just trying to placate me.” Anna cried in the couple’s therapy session.
“I always thought actions meant more than words anyway,” Evan said. But he kept saying he was sorry because he thought Anna needed to hear it, and he had no idea what else to do to make it up to her.
“Actions don’t mean more than words in this case,” I explained. “You can do lots of great things, but it doesn’t change what you did, right, Evan?”
“Yes,” Anna responded, “and your ‘I’m sorry’ still means nothing. How will I ever trust you again?”
Evan was truly sorry but not for the affair. He was sorry for hurting Anna, his wife. I asked him, “If Anna didn’t mind, or if she didn’t know, would you continue to see this girl?”
He looked around the office, shyly. The hair around his bald spot gleamed in the soft afternoon light of my office. “I guess, if it really didn’t hurt her, if she didn’t know, I would. The girl, well, she helped me a lot, with the, you know, she made me feel stuff. I know she was a lot younger than me, but she helped with the erectile issues; she helped, you know?”
Anna almost jumped off the couch as if to physically confront Evan. I stopped her.
“Anna, does it make sense that Evan isn’t sorry for the affair because it helped him, and, in a way, it helped you. Until you hear what he has to say, I don’t think you understand what it meant to Evan. How can either of you actually have empathy for each other’s feelings if you don’t really talk about it and try to understand? Let’s focus on what you feel in the present moment about what happened.”
I asked Evan to share with Anna the story he made up about what the affair meant to him and about Anna, and about their relationship. “Remember,” I said, “the story we make up is our own take on reality and is going to be different from our partners.” To Evan, the affair meant “that I was not really a cheater because I never would have left Anna for this girl; she wasn’t the marrying kind, not for me.”
I stopped him. “So, you had an implicit monogamy assumption that this wasn’t really a threat to your marriage?”