10 steps to forgive yourself after infidelity

If you’ve cheated on a partner that you love, it can feel like a horrible place to be.

Regret and wishing you can turn back time will eat you up. I say that as someone who’s been there…

Instead, learn how to forgive yourself and move forward in a healthy way with these 10 steps.

1) Accept the situation

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First things first, it’s a waste of energy running around in circles in your mind and thinking ‘why did I do it?’

But it’s a natural response.

Whether you kissed someone else or ended up in bed with them, this thought can plague you.

I know what it’s like wishing you could reverse the clocks and have never done it, but once it’s done, it’s done. It literally does you no good at all thinking like this.

In fact, it’s the least unhelpful action you could take.

I remember when it happened to me and the pit I felt in my stomach.

I felt so sick for days. I was in an absolute state of panic, where things didn’t feel real.

It sounds really dramatic, but it’s true. I was just wishing I could press reverse and not have let it happen.

But it had, so I needed to move to a state of acceptance.

By staying in a place of denial, I was just causing myself to stay in pain and not move forward.

A process needs to happen to come to terms with the event.

Now, when it comes to navigating any change or dealing with a difficult challenge – whether it’s grief or an unexpected event – we go through the same five stages.

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Thinking ‘it’s not possible this has happened’ is going to keep you stuck, as is feeling anger towards yourself and trying to kid yourself into thinking it didn’t happen.

If you do end up feeling low and even depressed about the event, allow yourself to go through these motions and breathe through it. Don’t suppress these emotions as they’ll just get stuck otherwise.

Allow them to pass through you.

But I get it, sitting with the emotions can be hard, especially if you’ve been in a place of denial.

If that’s the case, I highly recommend watching this free breathwork video, created by the shaman, Rudá Iandê.

Rudá isn’t another self-professed life coach. Through shamanism and his own life journey, he’s created a modern-day twist to ancient healing techniques.

The exercises in his invigorating video combine years of breathwork experience and ancient shamanic beliefs, designed to help you relax and check in with your body and soul.

After many years of suppressing my emotions, Rudá’s dynamic breathwork flow quite literally revived that connection.

And that’s what you need:

A spark to reconnect you with your feelings so that you can begin focusing on the most important relationship of all – the one you have with yourself.

So if you’re ready to say goodbye to anxiety and stress, check out his genuine advice below.

Click here to watch the free video.

As if that’s not enough, as you hold space for the emotions and let them pass through, you’ll be able to move into a state of acceptance.

2) Figure out why you cheated in the first place

Now, I’ve not discussed what happened with this guy all those years ago. Only my best friend knows… but here goes.

I had been with my partner for many years, and we were perfectly happy and going steady. A friend and I went on holiday to Europe, and we were enjoying some girl time. One night, we were out dancing and a guy caught my eye. He was exactly the type of guy I had gone for in the past.

I was dancing while keeping an eye on him, and he was doing the same.

It was one of those moments.

I kept knocking the drinks back and we ended up dancing a little closer.

Then we ended up at the bar together and got talking.

I remember really flirting with him and my friend cottoned on to what was happening.

She pulled me to one side and reminded me that I had a boyfriend. In my drunken state, I brushed off her comment and said a classic line: ‘I’m just having fun’.

The night drew on and my friend got tired. She told me she was ready to leave… but I wasn’t.

I had my eyes on the prize and I knew what I wanted.

In all honesty, I don’t know what was going through my mind. It was like I’d completely forgotten about my relationship back home, while I was in this holiday state-of-mind.

I was in an unfamiliar place and with people I didn’t know. It took me back to summer holidays when I was in my mid-teens, snogging boys left, right and center.

I felt as though I was single and a teenager again. My mind got confused in my haze and I was fixated on getting what I wanted.

It got to about 3am and the club closed, and he offered to walk me back to the apartment I was staying in.

The flirting continued and we ended up walking arm-in-arm, swaying through the streets and laughing a lot.

We got to the apartment and I ran inside to get another bottle of wine. Sitting in the courtyard, we kept drinking and flirting. We knew what was coming next.

He leaned in to kiss me and I was all for it: we really wanted each other at that moment.

It was fun and exciting.

After about 10 minutes, we crept inside. By this point, we were rolling around on top of eachother… just like my boyfriend and I had done in the early days.

We didn’t take it any further, but he spent the night and I woke up snuggled into him. Peeling open my eyes, I felt instant panic. I sat up with the world’s worst headache and went to the bathroom to splash my face with water.

As my head swirled from the hangover, I tried to think about what to do next. All of the thinking actually made me feel sick… and then I actually was.

It felt like the worst morning in history. I sat on the toilet with my head in my hands and tried to figure out a plan, but I couldn’t think.

He greeted me with ‘morning gorgeous’ as I stumbled back into the room and I turned to him and asked him if he could leave before my friend woke up. We exchanged numbers and I said thanks for a fun evening, seeing him off with a smile.

But when the door closed, I broke down.

Suddenly, I was left to face the reality by myself while feeling awful.

I looked at my phone to see a text from my boyfriend, saying he hoped I was having a good time.

I started panicking even more and wondering what I would do next. Would this be the end of us?

I decided to try and flip what had happened on its head – thinking about what I could learn from the situation.

I intuitively knew that I had to figure out why I cheated in the first place.

What does this mean for you?

If you’ve found yourself in this position, look closely at how your relationship is lacking.

For example, although my boyfriend and I were perfectly happy, we lacked intimacy and the flirtatious energy we used to have.

Meanwhile, this mysterious man in the club showed an interest in me and was up for a good flirt.

Once I was able to identify what gap this guy was plugging, I was able to think about the ways I could actually improve my relationship. I didn’t want to end it, so I needed to figure out why I cheated.

Just as the relationship experts as Marriage.com explain:

“To forgive yourself after cheating, you need to know why it happened in the first place. For example, did you lack emotional support and intimacy from your partner? Was there strained communication in the relationship which made you and your partner start drawing apart?”

These are important questions to ask yourself so you can figure out why it happened. That way, you can work to create a stronger relationship, if you want to stay with this person.

3) Be honest with your partner

Now, there are divisive opinions about whether you should tell your partner you’ve cheated.

For example, the experts at Marriage.com say it’s crucial that you let your partner know everything that happened, and you’re totally sincere and open.

They suggest you should do this so you can feel better and relieve a huge burden – allowing you to move forward.

However, many experts think the opposite. The Independent rounded-up opinions from across the web, including one from marriage counselor and therapist Megan Fleming, PhD, who said:

“You’re the one sitting with the guilt, and if [the affair] is over and done, you absolutely don’t want to then put that on your partner.”

Relationship expert Susan Winter also says:

“The truth is that relieving one’s guilt comes at the direct expense of their mate,” Winter told us. “While honesty is indeed the hallmark of true intimacy, there are times when unburdening yourself results in cruel and unnecessary information that then burdens your mate.”

The article explains that Winter suggests that if it was a “one-off” with alcohol involved, then you should refrain from telling your partner. She explains it will just hurt them otherwise.

So, you might be wondering what I did?

I did a similar thing to you and searched the internet for answers, plus I turned to my best friend.

She gave me the same advice as experts Fleming and Winter, which was to keep it to myself and figure it out internally. She said otherwise I’d just be clearing my conscience and badly burning him.

It meant coming to terms with the guilt I was carrying and learning to deal with it myself.

However, I’ll be honest… I do still wonder whether I should have told him as I think he should have had a right to know, so he could decide whether he wanted to stay with me.

Each relationship is different and it’s up to you to do what you intuitively feel is right for yours.

4) See yourself in a positive light

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Much like I said about not wasting energy wishing you could change the situation, don’t waste your energy thinking you’re a waste of space.

You’re not.

You’re human and we all make mistakes.

I’m going to tell you another story. It’s about my mum.

She left my dad for another man when I was growing up, and she was made to feel like an evil, wicked witch by so many people.

By leaving my dad, she broke up a family. And the man she left my dad for was also married, meaning a second family split up.

Essentially, there was a lot of collateral damage and upset for these two people who wanted to be together.

Now, she didn’t want to get back with my dad at any point. She was happy with her decision because the marriage wasn’t working.

But she felt a lot of guilt about the infidelity and how it had affected his mental health.

He spiraled for many years and turned to drinking.

My mum had to deal with grief from so many people about what she had done, and how her actions had negatively affected him and impacted the family.

These people included family members, including her mother, but also friends of her new partner’s ex-wife who made a point of making her feel terrible.

She says no one cared about what her relationship with my dad looked like and how crap he was as a husband, but, instead, she was judged on the actions she took.

Simply put: she was made to feel like a really, really bad person.

So, she had to do a lot of work to see herself through a positive lens.

You shouldn’t be made to feel like a bad person if you have cheated; there’s always a reason why you cheated and holding on to negative feelings about yourself isn’t going to help you at all.

It’s just like Marie Murphy, PhD, says:

“Cheating does not make you a terrible person. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Even if you’ve done something you don’t feel great about, you can take responsibility for your actions without relinquishing your self-worth.”

If you think you struggle with self-worth, as it is, I recommend journaling to help you affirm all of the wonderful things about yourself.

Why not start by writing a list of 10 things you love about yourself?

For example:

  • Your charisma
  • Your humor
  • How kind you are
  • How inquisitive you are
  • How you have an amazing ability to attract great people to you

I already know there are so many things! Enjoy this process and keep your self-worth up.

This leads me to my next point…

5) Journal like there’s no tomorrow

If your thoughts are endlessly swirling around your mind and you’re in a state of beating yourself up, one of the best things you can do is get them out.

Enter journaling.

If you don’t already journal, this is going to be life-changing.

Think about it, if you’re not getting your thoughts out – one way or another – they’re just going to remain stuck. They’ll be running around your head, like a tape that’s stuck.

Only, this isn’t an uplifting tape of positive affirmations, but one that’s keeping you feeling low and worthless.

You can change this through harnessing the power of journaling.

If you think it sounds really simple and too good to be true, I challenge you to try it. In no time, you’ll start to feel the benefits.

You’ll start getting clearer in your mind and be able to move to that state of forgiveness and acceptance we spoke about.

If you need more convincing of the power of journaling, the experts at Bonobology say:

“If you can’t forgive yourself for ruining your marriage, write it down. When you’re in despair, and can’t forgive yourself for drunk cheating and not telling your spouse, write it down. Seeing your feelings down on paper could make things a little clearer and give you perspective. Things always seem worse when they’re in your head. Once they’re out, you can actually start tackling them rather than hiding from the truth.”

I would also encourage you to journal some more affirmations – specifically around forgiveness.

Some of my favorites include:

  • I forgive myself for being human
  • I forgive myself for decisions that hurt others
  • I accept my decisions
  • I accept the person I am

Try writing these down every morning and night and see how they shift your feelings towards yourself.

6) Seek out professional support

I also think speaking is a powerful tool.

As I say, it’s just important to give your thoughts a voice and get them out.

If you’ve got a great support network already with your friends and family, that’s great.

I would suggest confiding in one or two people close to you, who genuinely have your back and will be able to give you solid advice. They’ll know how your relationship is based on what you’ve told them, and be able to help you decide whether you should tell your partner or not, or what the next steps you should take are.

Confiding and friends and family is invaluable to help you feel supported.

I definitely found this when I cheated.

I had the support of my best friend, who helped me decide how to best navigate my circumstances. She knew I wanted to stay in the relationship, so she helped me come to terms with realizing that saying anything would jeopardize it.

What happened that night with the mysterious guy was a massive mistake and something I had to deal with. It weighed on my conscience and continued until the end of my relationship… but I learned to live with it. I felt like it was my problem and not his.

Anyway, while I had her support, I also turned to professional help. And I couldn’t recommend it enough.

Counseling in any form can be so supportive.

While you might go there because you’re navigating the feelings towards yourself following infidelity and wondering what it means for the relationship, you might uncover so many other parts of yourself that need your love and attention.

Simply put: seeking out professional help is never a bad idea.

7) Apologize to your partner

If you decide that you want to tell your partner what happened and work through it with them, I advise you to apologize to them.

First of all, you want to make sure you do it in the right kind of environment.

If you live together, do it at home. If you don’t live together, go somewhere quiet where you two won’t be distrubed.

Before you begin the conversation, just remember that you don’t have control over how your partner is going to respond.

They might get really angry and storm off, they might break down, they might shut down…

And the good news?

These are all normal responses.

Now, I know in an ideal world you and your partner would have a calm conversation and they would be understanding. But let’s be real.

It’s likely a lot of emotion is going to be stirred up.

There’s a number of reasons for this, including:

  • You’re triggering past wounds of theirs if they’ve been cheated on before
  • They thought you were The One and they can’t understand why you’ve done this
  • They found stability and security in you, and this is ripping it away

And there are so many other reasons their emotions could be flying high.

You also might have rehearsed the scene in your head for how you’d like to relay the message, but this might not go to plan when it comes to it.

In my experience in other areas of my life, this is always the case.

It’s true, there are many unexpected outcomes in life – so all you can do is to try and do your best in that very moment.

Remember what it is you want to say and how you’d like to say it, and be true to yourself.

Apologize to your partner for your actions and, if they remain calm and able to talk to you, use it as an opportunity to start addressing why this might have come about.

Perhaps it was a lack of intimacy and romance; maybe you didn’t feel heard and like your partner makes any time for you; you might even have felt like you two have simply drifted apart.

But that raises the question:

Why does love so often start out great, only to become a nightmare?

And what’s the solution to having a successful long-term relationship?

The answer is contained in the relationship you have with yourself.

I learnt about this from the renowned shaman Rudá Iandê. He taught me to see through the lies we tell ourselves about love, and become truly empowered.

As Rudá explains in this mind blowing free video, love is not what many of us think it is. In fact, many of us are actually self-sabotaging our love lives without realizing it!

We need to face the facts about what relationships actually look like.

Far too often we chase an idealized image of someone and build up expectations that are guaranteed to be let down.

Far too often we fall into codependent roles of savior and victim to try to “fix” our partner, only to end up in a miserable, bitter routine.

Far too often, we are on shaky ground with our own selves and this carries over into toxic relationships that become hell on earth.

Rudá’s teachings showed me a whole new perspective.

While watching, I felt like someone understood my struggles to find love for the first time – and finally offered an actual, practical solution building a sustainable, healthy long-term relationship with a partner.

If you’re done with unsatisfying dating, empty hookups, frustrating relationships and having your hopes dashed over and over, then this is a message you need to hear.

Click here to watch the free video.

8) Take responsibility for your own actions

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Whether you choose to have the difficult conversation with your partner and to be honest with them about what happened, or you choose to work through the situation in your head and to make peace internally, you’re going to need to take responsibility for your own actions.

This is even if you feel like your partner wasn’t fulfilling all of your needs and treating you as well as they could have been.

A relationship takes work from both people.

In a relationship, you’re responsible for communicating what you need and what is lacking, so you can find ways to work together.

It’s not their fault that you cheater – because you thought they weren’t a good enough partner. It’s not fair that you think like this if you haven’t highlighted what you feel is up.

The worst thing you can do is assume your partner is a mind-reader and find yourself feeling frustrated that they’re not picking up on things.

Truth is, this is something I’m still working through.

For example, I often find myself annoyed that my boyfriend doesn’t respond to my ‘good morning’ texts, but instead responds later in the day. But, guess what… I’ve not told him this! I just find myself feeling upset and looking at my phone, but I’ve not said anything so he has no idea.

Really, I should communicate with him so he learns it’s important to me. Until I do that, he’s none the wiser.

What does this mean for you?

Unless you tell your partner the issues you have with them and the relationship, they’re not going to know.

You need to take responsibility for how you’re feeling and commit to communicating effectively if you want to make the relationship work.

Why not try a monthly check-in where you two can be honest about what’s going on for you both, and you can raise the things you would like to improve or see more of?

9) Don’t let the mistake define you

You’re more than your actions.

Just like I said earlier, remember you’re a human and humans make mistakes.

If you’ve cheated on your partner, don’t move through life thinking you’re someone who cheats and that there’s no hope for you.

Accept it was a one-time thing and commit to leaving it in the past.

You don’t have a sign above your head saying you’re a cheater.

Let it go and don’t let this mistake get you down forever more.

When it comes to learning to let go, I love using the power of breathwork.

When I was struggling the most in life, I was introduced to an incredible free breathwork video created by the shaman, Rudá Iandê.

With a focus on dissolving stress and boosting inner peace, it was hard to resist giving it a go.

What made this breathwork video so effective?

Well, it comes down to the man behind it all. Rudá created these unique flows using a combination of ancient shamanic techniques and healing breathwork sequences.

He’s spent years developing them to help people find their inner peace.

So, if you feel a disconnect with yourself due to your actions, I’d recommend checking out Rudá’s free breathwork video.

He’ll give you the tools to start injecting peace and confidence back into your life, from the very first breathwork exercise.

Here’s a link to the free video again.

 10) Focus on self development

Finally, while still accepting yourself as the person you are, see the ways in which you can make positive improvements in your life.

From any event, we can find growth. This is called a growth mindset.

Focus on adopting one to help you find the positives in this situation.

It might sound strange talking about finding the positives in cheating – but an event like this can shed so much light on what’s going on internally for you and where your relationship is at.

Rather than focusing on the negatives, try and flip the situation to draw out what is positive about it.

If you look hard enough, you’ll find it.

In my experience, journaling is the best tool for unpicking thoughts. So why not make a list of all the things you’ve learned from this experience and keep looking forward?

Simply put: see this as just another one of life’s little tests.

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Picture of Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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