By Marina Pearson
"I feel so guilty I had the affair. I don't even know why I did it. What was I thinking?"
This is a very typical line from women who are living with the guilt of an affair. If you are a woman who has cheated on her husband or boyfriend and you are now dealing with the destructive aftermath and feeling extremely guilty, I empathize. I, like you, have been where you are and it's a difficult place to escape -- if you don't know how.
Having worked with many women who have had affairs, and having been there myself, the reasons for cheating vary -- feeling dead inside, boredom, a feeling of neglect and communication breakdown are among the most popular. Regardless of the reason for the infidelity, the feelings of guilt eat women up inside, affecting their health, their mental well-being and their children. As a result of their guilt, women bow down to all of their partner's requests to make things right with him. This, of course, is not a healthy solution for anyone.
So, what can you do to get over your guilt and move on with your life?
Below are the steps I took to get over my affair guilt:
1. Forgive yourself. Beating yourself up will be the death of you. It will literally suck all the living force out of you. I remember running into a church to beg God for forgiveness. I could not forgive myself for what I had done to my ex and those around me. Every day I had to live with the consequences of my own actions.
However, one day I realized that if I didn't forgive myself, I wouldn’t be able to live in peace or bring proper happiness to anyone else around me. Because I was too consumed with beating myself up, there was no room for me to give back to others. When I realized this, I knew it was time to change and give back.
Ask yourself, "What kind of person would do something like this?" Once you have the answer, ask, "What beautiful gifts does this sort of person give me?" Keep going until you have a long list and you feel grateful for having this part of you.
2. Practice acceptance. I had to accept that what was done was done. I had to accept that I'd had an affair and I had caused a lot of suffering. The practice of acceptance got me to face up to what I had done and how many people had been hurt. I realized I had no other choice other than to accept where I was.
Acceptance is a very important part to being able to move on. The word comes from the Latin word "acquiescence", which means, "to find rest in." Acceptance will also stop your internal struggle -- the one where you keep wishing the affair had not happened the way it did or hurt as many people. Once you stop struggling with your own reality, calmness will start to take its place.
3. Surrender your feelings to a higher power. Offer up your feelings to a higher power. I know this may sound shaky, but it really works! We are part of a bigger plan. We are not necessarily in charge of the outcome. By doing this, you will be getting out of your own way and accept and have faith that all will be well.
The minute you do this, miracles start to happen; situations and opportunities start to open up that you didn't even think were possible. At least this is what I have experienced and have also seen in my clients.
4. See the balance. This is a very powerful element to getting over your affair guilt. We live in a world of complimentary opposites. There are no pluses without minuses and no going up with out coming down. There is no night without day and you cannot create a dark shadow without light. As there are benefits and drawbacks to every situation, you will need to look at what the benefits are to all parties involved.
Now, this goes beyond justification, beyond wanting to be right -- this is about being able to see that just as you may have caused pain to those around you, you will have also caused them pleasure too. This is a universal law.
Ask yourself, what are the benefits of you doing what you did to whom you did it to? They will have benefited from what you did, they always do. For example, my ex-husband is now happily married and with someone that is far better suited for him than me. Not only that, he got to stand on his own two feet and end the relationship, which gave him the opportunity to reclaim his power back.
5. Learn from it. Finally, take the positive learnings from the experience and move on. Once I had learned what my patterns were, what beliefs and parts of myself I needed to work on, I was able to let go of the anger at myself and know the next relationship would be really different because I would have changed.
This way, I wouldn't fall into the same patterns again and not always be a cheater. It is definitely not true when people say, "Once a cheater, always and a cheater" -- at least not if you work on yourself and get the support you need to shift what has not been working for you thus far.
I personally had to change what I thought of myself. Once I had done this, I knew I would choose a different behavior next time. Believing you have to suffer for what you have done does not help anyone. So forgive, accept, surrender, see and learn and watch the guilt dissolve.