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Can someone who cheated on their partner ever gain self-respect again as a person, whether they decide to stay or end the relationship?

Tagged as: Big Questions, Cheating, Marriage problems<< Previous question   Next question >>
Question - (30 March 2016) 7 Answers - (Newest, 30 March 2016)
A female United States age 30-35, anonymous writes:

My morals are the one thing I always prided myself in having. I rarely lied (even then I can't flat out lie, more like white lies or divert the answer), obedient to parents (never sneaked out etc.), I don't curse, and I have a strong faith in God, I am friendly by nature but i never blatantly crossed the line. So it came to me as a very big blow, that I had fallen in love with someone other than my husband (not sexually but more like an emotional affair). The most that we did physically was hold hands and hugged.

I dont want to talk about the affair in detail. I ended it before it got worse (3mos) and haven't spoken/seen him in almost 2 years. What I want to know is will a cheater ever going to gain that self-respect back again? I don't mean just forgiveness. I mean, feeling worthy again?

I separated from my husband to give us space and I decided to give my marriage another chance by moving back in but I feel everyday that I am here, I'm reminded of how unworthy I am. My mistakes are marrying someone I didn't love the same way as he did and falling in love with someone I can never have. I want to keep my marriage because I want to live honorably again. Just for that main reason and pray to God that I'll actually be happy. But I feel dirty and a fake because I cheated on my husband. And now my husband, doesnt seem to make an effort anymore. He has been there for me always in other ways. I am resigned to the fact that this will remain a marriage of convenience, should I continue to stay.

On the other hand, if I do leave him, because I am still unhappy with myself and my marriage, can self-respect grow over time because I chose a path that is truthful to me? Ending a marriage that should never have taken place and choosing not to pursue the other guy even if I still love him to this day, out of principle.

How can a cheater get back his/her self respect again whether he/she decides to stay/end in the marriage?

View related questions: affair, cheated on my husband

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A male reader, Code Warrior United States + , writes (30 March 2016):

Code Warrior agony auntI'm sure I sound like a broken record around here, but marriage isn't about love, it's about commitment. It's unrealistic and foolish to expect the "in love" feeling and associated romance to last a lifetime. To seek it out is a fool's errand.

You fell in love because that guy never had to spend more than a few hours at a time with you. He never had to put up with your particular brand of BS. You only gave him your best, you never laid any BS at his doorstep. He only gave you his best and he never laid his brand of BS at your doorstep. Of course it's great when all there is is giving and it's easy to be giving when you only have to do it a few hours at a time with someone you can't wait to see. What do you think would happen if one of you weren't in a giving mood during one of your encounters? The whole fantasy would unravel, that's what would happen.

Love is an act of giving and only in acts of giving can love be found. When you give freely without expecting anything in return, then love will live in your heart. When you demand something in return for giving, then love will avoid you because you're unworthy.

Forget what grievances you have against your husband. Those will only lead to resentment. Make the commitment to give freely to your husband without expecting anything in return and you will find love again. It starts with commitment, love comes after.

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A male reader, anonymous, writes (30 March 2016):

Watch the film Brief Encounter by Sofia Loren and Richard Burton. I think it is a brilliant treatment of this subject.

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A male reader, olderthandirt  +, writes (30 March 2016):

olderthandirt agony auntYou are able to park those feelings in an empty cubbyhole in your brain and move on with your life if you want or you can exorcise it all and live in torment. It's all up to your inner zen ability to use mind control.

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A male reader, Sageoldguy1465 United States +, writes (30 March 2016):

Sageoldguy1465 agony auntI asked my friend Bill Clinton about this, and he said that he didn't even consider morals anything more than a "speed bump" in his road to self-satisfaction......

Good luck...

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A male reader, no nonsense Aidan United Kingdom + , writes (30 March 2016):

My view is that you didn’t do anything wrong. Even friends hold hands and hug. You saw that you were developing an attraction to this man and you walked away. You didn’t cheat, you just felt tempted to. IT is human nature to find other people attractive. When we enter a monogamous relationship, that doesn’t change. We simply sacrifice any other temptations to be faithful to the partner we have chosen. This is exactly what you have done.

There could be many reasons why your marriage is so unhappy. Because you feel guilt and unworthiness, you are internalising all the blame. That makes no sense. You are not seeing things clearly because of your own guilt. I think you have to accept that you can’t change what happened, but you have to also accept that you ultimately did the right thing, where many others would not have done. You then have to ask yourself, if you didn’t feel so guilty, what do you think you would do about your marriage? Would you stay anyway, or would you leave? If you’re forcing yourself to try and make it work to punish yourself for cheating, and you can’t think of any other reason to stay, it’s time to end things. There are also plenty of other bad reasons to stay: the kids, financial security, or defying all the evidence in the belief that things are likely to change.

As for self-respect, of course it can come back. But it will come back when you forgive yourself. That means when you reach a point where you really understand that you don’t deserve to be punished anymore. Everyone makes mistakes. Some make bigger mistakes than others, but we don’t have to be defined for the rest of our lives by our mistakes. You will find your self-respect when you learn to judge yourself by the person you strive to be day in, day out, and not judge your worthiness by one bad decision you very nearly made. Whether it’s counselling, talking it through with friends or seeking forgiveness through religion, you need to find a way to start to deal with this.

I wish you all the very best.

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A male reader, BrownWolf Canada + , writes (30 March 2016):

BrownWolf agony auntHello anonymous,

First of all, if you do have strong faith in GOD, then you know you are beating yourself up for no reason. Do you know the part in the Bible where the woman who was caught committing adultery was brought before Jesus ?? What did he do ? He forgave her...not because of who he was, but because people can change to become better...even great...after falling.

Things like this happen to test us. One way is to keep going down that road until your mistakes kills you. The other is to learn from your mistakes and better yourself, so you can have a happy life.

Your affair does not define who you are for the rest of your life. It says...something happen to show your weakness, and now you can work to be stronger.

If you enjoyed the affair and cannot wait to have another one, that is where you would have lost yourself. However, you see your faults, and you want to change them for the better...win win.

As for your husband...you will have to start over. Start dating again, like you just met for the first time. Or liker dating your best friend. :))

Just as you worked to end the affair, and to move back in with your husband, so you will have to work to rekindle your marriage. Let go of the past. It has nothing in it to help you now or in the future. Because just as GOD wants your happiness, there is the other one who wants you to hold on to this misery, which will keep you from that happiness.

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A female reader, chigirl Norway + , writes (30 March 2016):

chigirl agony auntYes, you will feel worthy again. Give yourself some time to accept what happened and be able to move on. Forgiving yourself is something that happens through actions of loyalty. Self worth will come through knowing you do good.

And also, don't forget. Marriage is not supposed to make you happy. A husband is not there to make you happy. Being happy is YOUR OWN responsibility. A marriage and a husband is for support, and security in life. Convenience, as you put it. Anything else is romantic, unrealistic ideas that we get from watching Hollywood movies.

You were happier with this other man, perhaps, because you didn't expect anything from him, but enjoyed his company and you also gave of yourself and you brought the happiness into that relationship. Im not saying you should aim at falling in love with hubby again, but you should realize that whether you are happy or not has nothing to do with staying married or leaving. Happiness comes from within yourself and you bring it with you. If you are unhappy now, you will stay unhappy even if you choose to end the marriage.

Do the things you enjoy and make yourself happy. That is how you will bring happiness back into the marriage.

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