According to Arnold Schwarzenegger's autobiography, Total Recall, after he committed adultery with his housekeeper, he denied to his wife Maria Shriver that the child was his — because he "didn't know" he was the father. Having both lied and cheated, there's little room for doubt that Arnold had wronged his wife.
When, years later, Maria confronted him in the therapist's office with concerns that the governess's child looked an awful lot like him, his tactic was to finally reveal the truth. Then he offered an apology: "I told her how sorry I felt about it, how wrong it was, and that it was my fault. I just unloaded everything."
Arnold's case, while headline grabbing, is not unique. When couples struggle with the complications of infidelity, there's a lot of work to be done; part of that work involves owning up to an affair and offering an apology. And an apology isn't easy; it is a complex form of communication. I explore the details of apology and forgiveness in my new book, The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity.
In order for an apology to be an effective means of communication, it must include five steps. These steps don't apply just to affairs or infidelity. They are necessary to mend any kind of perceived wrongdoing.
Step 1: Understand what you are apologizing for.
A genuine apology sounds easy. You probably know by now that it's not. If you've had an affair, I'll bet that on many occasions you've already tried to say "I'm sorry." Or, having had your first apology rejected, you may have tried, "I've already said I'm sorry. What else would you like me to say?"
If you have already apologized, your mate may have failed to accept it because it does not feel genuine. Even if, in your heart of hearts, you swear you mean it, it may not be perceived that way. For your message of remorse to get across, you've got to do a fair amount of introspection to figure out what you are apologizing for — even before you say the words. You are apologizing for much more than "having an affair." There is a lot more that you have done, or not done, that surrounded the affair: things like causing embarrassment to the family, giving up family time, or even bringing home STDs. Your partner wants you to take responsibility for all of it. You should.
When you do tell your partner that you hurt them with your actions, you should give a full account of all the wrongs you have committed. Don't be surprised if your partner chimes in with a few you didn't think of. Keep reading...
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