Before You Cheat, Consider One Factor

Infidelity is a serious wound to you and your relationship.

Contemplating cheating on spouse or partner F01 PHOTO | Shutterstock

If cheating spouses knew all that goes into surviving the guilt of infidelity, they would probably reconsider their straying. Cheaters' remorse follows most infidelities. Betrayal is undeniably devastating to the unsuspecting spouse, but it also wounds and scars the one who cheats.

Infidelity means different things to different people. There’s the obvious, of course. But there are also various shades of gray in between. What matters is how you and your spouse define infidelity — and you and your spouse must define it and be on the same page, in the context of your marriage.


RELATED: The Harsh Reality Of Cheating On The Person You Love

Before you cheat, consider cheaters’ remorse & surviving the guilt

1. Define infidelity for your marriage to avoid cheaters' remorse

Whether the topic is emotional intimacy with someone outside the marriage or "doing business" at a strip club, infidelity isn’t self-defined. It’s defined within the marriage. And if you want to avoid the painful work of surviving the guilt of infidelity, you will define it early. After all, faithfulness is rooted in trust — and unfaithfulness is the destruction of trust.

@youngdmbandinlove How does infidelity start in marriage? It starts with a moment. There could be a DM you received. A compliment at work. A look from across the room. Most of the time a spouse doesn’t wake up and say, “I’m going to cheat on my spouse today”. It’s many small moments and decisions that lead to this.How do we keep ourselves from falling into infidelity?We set up boundaries and guardrails to protect us from veering off track.Some would say it’s controlling but we believe it’s setting your marriage up for success. We’ve sat with many couples that have said, “I wish we would have set up these boundaries in our marriage a long time ago because it would have saved us a lot of heartache”.If you value your marriage and the commitment you made to one another you will take time to discover what boundaries and guardrails are for you. Live by these and don’t allow yourself to go off track. This will set you up for a long vibrant marriage.• #marriageadvice #marriage #marriagetips #relationshipadvice ♬ original sound - YOUNG DUMB & in LOVE podcast

It’s easy enough to expect that your spouse isn't physically intimate with anyone but you. But true intimacy involves trust in the tiniest nuances of a relationship. It’s about the secrets only the two of you share. It’s about what you know, deep in your own heart, about your spouse’s heart. What moves them, inspires them, frightens them, and wounds them? What elevates them, validates them, and deflates them?


2. When you violate your marriage’s definition of fidelity, you can’t undo the trespass.

The foundational trust of your relationship is damaged if not completely shattered. If your spouse doesn’t discover the affair and you haven’t disclosed it, the destruction of trust will begin within yourself.

By the very nature of cheating, you'll know you've crossed a line that can’t be uncrossed. You'll have taken something sacred to the intimacy of your marriage and shared it with someone else. And, even if your spouse doesn’t know right away, you will always know. You'll consciously cover your tracks while guilt and shame unconsciously deconstruct your sense of self.

You may even begin distrusting or blaming your spouse. After all, you can’t trust yourself, even though your spouse still trusts you. So maybe they can’t be trusted, either. But that will change as soon as your infidelity is exposed.

You will instantly lose your spouse’s trust and realize the fragility of this cornerstone of your relationship. And you will see your past and future flash before your eyes as you wonder if you can ever regain what has been lost. And this floundering without the anchor of trust and the quest to reclaim it will be the crux of surviving the guilt of infidelity.


If you knew before cheating that your most transparent, trustworthy efforts afterward would fall on a dismissive heart, would you think twice?

RELATED: How To Save Your Marriage When You’re The One Who Cheated

3. If you knew that the road to healing your marriage would be lonely and deeply painful, would you reconsider cheating?

These are important questions to ask when you’re feeling tempted to stray. There are just some things that can’t be undone, swept under a rug, or forgotten.

What you need to know about surviving the guilt of infidelity is rooted in the quest and commitment to regain trust. Not the trust you gained on a positive curve during your dating years and pre-affair marriage. It's the kind of trust that has plummeted below the threshold — trust that now makes everything done on its watch seem foolish, unreal, untrue.


She looks in mirror to reflect on cheaters remorse Ilona Kozhevnikova via Shutterstock

If you have hopes of saving your marriage, your life will have to become completely and transparently honest. And that starts with ending the affair. Completely. No phone calls. No texts. No "being friends." Only then can the work of rebuilding trust — within yourself and your marriage — begin.

You will have to become more forthcoming, accountable, and rigorously honest than you have ever been. You will have to offer information you don’t think is necessary to share, let alone offer. You will forfeit your privacy, adult freedoms, and expectation of timely forgiveness. And you will most likely need the help of marriage counselors to safely guide you through the answering of painful, exposing questions.


Before you think that rigorous honesty will be a natural derivative of self-flagellating guilt, think again. From passive truth-telling to partial disclosure to minimizing your betrayed spouse’s responses, there are several ways to sabotage your commitment to rigorous honesty. But rigorous honesty is imperative, and it starts with yourself.

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4. Honesty with your spouse will be impossible if you don’t do reflective work to understand why you cheated

Remorse will be impossible, too, as you will lack the empathy to step into your spouse’s devastation and feel their pain. Guilt and remorse may seem synonymous when it comes to how a cheating spouse should feel. But surviving the guilt of infidelity depends, in large part, on your capacity for and the depth and expression of remorse.

The difference may seem subtle, but to a betrayed spouse whose world has been shattered, it’s everything. Feeling guilty keeps the focus on you. You got caught. You confessed. You went against your moral compass and now feel a healthy dose of warranted shame.


You’re sorry. You want to be forgiven. And you want things back the way they were so you can stop feeling this horrible guilt. But the twist of the knife comes when your shattered spouse is indifferent to — even angered by — your guilt.

"Oh, you feel guilty?" Of course, you feel guilty! And you should! But what your spouse wants and desperately needs is your remorse. When you shift your focus from how you feel to how your spouse feels, healing can begin.

She is considering cheaters remorse Ground Picture via Shutterstock


Genuine sorrow for the pain you caused will cultivate a yearning and effort to assuage it. And that commitment to understanding and healing a pain outside your own will sustain you through the grueling work of saving your marriage.

It will also help you survive — and rise above — the guilt of infidelity.

RELATED: How To Forgive Yourself For Cheating

Mary Ellen Goggin and Dr. Jerry Duberstein offer relationship coaching for individuals, and offer private couples retreats and couples counseling. They are co-authors of the book "Relationship Transformation: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too."