#056: Guilt After Betrayal: Helpful or Damaging to Your Healing Process?
In most cases of betrayal, couples are not just dealing with the aftermath of infidelity. Subsequent guilt after betrayal is inevitable and very common.
Are you currently dealing with your own underlying feelings of guilt, shame, and self-blame?
You’re not alone. Such guilt can play two roles.
As you think about your life now, does guilt help you heal or does it do more harm than good?
It’s vital that you examine whether your guilt invokes a sense of remorse, motivates you to reflect on the betrayal, and inspires you to make changes. In that case, there is hope for recovery and lasting repair.
Your guilt keeps you stuck in denial or blame, unable to process the emotions and the fallout well, effectively suffocating your ability to connect with your values and repair your relationship. In this case, you are “stuck” in the pain, projecting onto your spouse, creating further alienation.
Shame/Blame/Guilt: What it Looks Like, Whether it is Helpful
Guilt after betrayal, is usually associated with the betraying or unfaithful partner. We’re used to thinking that this partner “should” feel guilty given that they created the relationship breach. A simple Google search online reveals the following types of titles:
Are You Wracked With Guilt Over Cheating?
The Mind of a Cheater – Ambivalence, Approach and Avoidance
3 Ways to Overcome Guilt After Cheating
I Cheated & It’s Killing Me
There are a myriad of articles and blogs that talk about feeling guilty after cheating. However, my work with couples in the healing stages following infidelity actually shows that guilt exists in both partners.
In other words, when you get into deep conversations with couples dealing with betrayal, you learn that both feel guilt/shame/blame, it is just different in nature.
Let’s see how:
What does guilt look like for the unfaithful partner?
- Sense of shame for deceiving and lying to partner
- Guilt for causing such excruciating pain to partner/family
- Guilt for putting the relationship at risk
- Shame for meeting their needs with another person
- Guilt for not being able to stop the infidelity, for not fixing things, and for not disclosing the infidelity
What does guilt look like for the hurt partner?
- Guilt for not seeing it sooner, following their instincts, and being the last to find out
- Guilt for misinterpreting the emotional distancing
- Shame for wanting to stay in the relationship after betrayal, for not leaving
Does Shame/Blame/Guilt help or destroy the healing process?
If we think about it, guilt is part of being an empath as opposed to a sociopath. An empath is a compassionate human being, someone who wants to avoid hurting others and feels regret doing so.
Thus, I actually identify guilt with the positive personality traits needed in the aftermath of infidelity. It’s important to be reflective as a result of your guilty feelings. Examine how your actions hurt others or how your inaction may have helped to create the “perfect storm.”
Guilt, shame, or blame that leads to reflective thoughts, recognition of mistakes, and change is helpful and necessary in the healing process. It is one of the first conditions I look for when a couple states they want to recover. I look for remorse.
Conversely, guilt that leads to “stuckness” without the ability to reflect and change can be damaging. The difference in recovery may be connected not only to whether they feel guilt but to how people respond to guilt.
Let me give you an example:
A husband who engaged in paid sex for a period of time was caught. His responses were defensive, denying, and blamed the wife. This man was stuck in his own shame/guilt and unable to reflect. Through therapy, we were able to help him to feel safe enough to allow for some reflection on his actions, what they did to his wife, as well as what they meant to him. He was able to reach a place of remorse but had to process his guilt differently.
Many betrayed partners experience guilt/ self-blame that stops them from being able to heal for the same reason.
They often feel stuck too, saying:
- “I could have noticed it,”
- “ I should have been more”
- “I didn’t listen to my own instincts”
- “I brought this on myself,” and so on.
Again, if this is how you feel, guilt is stopping you from being reflective and making some changes. It is hindering your ability to heal.
Guilt/Blame/Shame: What You Can Do About It
If there is a roadmap to healing after infidelity, guilt is one of the roadblocks you’ll face.
Go through these feelings to make changes rather than get stuck in them.
You’ll have to go through guilt in order to get to the rest of the road. You can’t ignore it, avoid it, or remain stuck in it if you want to get to the finish line.
Finally, I’m still at work recording and creating an online course for couples who want additional guidance through their journey to healing after infidelity. There, I decided to include a lesson about shame/blame/guilt to help participants make relationship progress. However, I still wanted to share my thoughts with you here, where you might find help and encouragement, too.
I do hope this information makes sense to you and helps you understand the positive and negative sides of guilt. Most partners deal with some level of guilt in the aftermath of infidelity. It is my goal to provide you with tools, skills, and the confidence to proceed through relationship roadblocks without getting stuck or avoiding them altogether.
I hope this discussion provided another outlook on your feelings and experience
Thank you so much for your time!