Saying “You’re Sorry” After Infidelity

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I have always been interested by infidelity and how it influences relationships in the United States, compared to other countries. European ones, for instance, are much more relaxed about infidelity. If you’re interested in reading more about infidelity around the world, pick up the book “Lust in Translation” by Pamela Druckerman. It reaffirms that people do not hold themselves to one standard morality and that each person weighs their emotional decisions differently.

This new article from the NYT on Infidelity and Remorse was an interesting read. The article focuses on the idea that couples face a long road back to a sustainable relationship after infidelity and that it is necessary that they show remorse for their actions over and over again. I thought this was an interesting way to view healing from infidelity, as it seems to put a lot of focus on the actual acts of the infidelity and not the crack in the relationship or the two people that contributed to the infidelity.

I am unsure if this is a healthy way to target healing from infidelity. I do think it’s important to confront issues head on and be 100% honest about how you feel. That is not always possible. It is definitely easy to get worked up in the “this is what you did” or “this is what you didn’t do” rather than the “all of these things happened and this is what we have now” of the situation. In infidelity I believe that often times something cracks within the relationship. It could be related to one or both partners or outside factors weighing in heavily as well. I believe that feeling remorse for the actions that hurt your partner are important but I do not feel that the remorse is necessarily the most important thing in healing the relationship either.

I think that it is easy to let it become emotionally ensnared because it is an emotional situation. I think it could be too easy to let remorse act as a band-aid for the very serious acts against a relationship that some people choose to do in moments of poor judgement, fear, anger, resentment, or excitement.

The article focuses on remorse as a constant, something that will never leave the relationship, shown through “forgiving but not forgetting.” I think that, personally, I would encourage couples to use the infidelity to seek out where their relationship had begun to experience troubles (or where one partner had begun to experience troubles) and focus on rebuilding the foundation of their relationship together. I feel that often times in this remorse situation one partner is expected to give or show more than the partner who was scored, to “give back” what they had taken. Again, to the band-aid idea, I think that it’s important to remember to balance remorse with real hard work and dedication towards making sure this isn’t something that happens again.

I agree with the Dan Savage mentality. Monogamy is hard. If you cheat once, you’re still doing pretty good at monogamy. I don’t think this is excusing infidelity or saying that everyone is going to cheat or get cheated on. Realistically we would work with the concept of monogamous relationships and make them more functional from the base up. We would be able to express our fears and desires more openly and honestly without feeling like bad partners. People cheat for all kinds of reasons, though, so it would require much more than this. Remorse is important and I think it is necessary coming from the partner who cheated, particularly in respect to validating the emotions of the person who was cheated on. I think it is important that each partner recognizes how the other person was feeling even if it does not make sense to them at the time.

There is a lot of hard work that goes into healing a relationship that has been broken by infidelity and I am concerned that we put too much emphasis on the “say you’re sorry” bit. But I’m curious, what do you think? Is remorse an important factor? Is it the most important factor? Should any rekindling start with an outpouring of remorse? How do you feel about the idea of forgiving but not forgiving? Does infidelity give us a thicker skin, does it change how we act as a couple? Everyone will think of these things and answer these questions differently, and I want to hear what you think.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. I tried to post a comment earlier on my phone but I don’t think it went through so I’m trying this again (please delete this one if you post the other one! :).

    I really appreciate your exploration of infidelity in relationships. It’s been on my mind a lot following the Jeff Cogen scandal in the last couple weeks. I don’t think that “I’m sorry” really works when one is trying to work on the relationship following infidelity, and that even discussing things in terms of monogamy/nonmonogamy doesn’t work if there is not a deeper commitment and open discussion about trust. What is one sorry for? If saying “I’m sorry” isn’t followed by an invitation to discuss in partnership what happened to the trust and a mutual agreement on a plan to repair that trust, I’m not sure if such a statement could really be heard by someone who has been hurt. I don’t think remorse matters that much without a thorough exploration of what was lost in the context of trust (and the respect that grows out of a trusting relationship). I think this goes for family and children too, and in the case of elected officials, the constituents. Maybe the Europeans have a different take on trust and forgiveness; is it that they trust in one another that they’ll still be there (as partner, as elected official) even when they cheat? I like the idea of forgiving but not forgiving in concept, but what if we interchange forgiveness with trust? Can we seal the crack in a relationship damaged by infidelity without attention to trust? I tend to think not.

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  2. c says:

    I think remorse and being sorry are important. If you cheat on someone and you don’t feel bad about it and don’t apologize for it to start with, I can’t see why anyone would want to rekindle anything or try forgive them. How can you rebuild trust and rebuild a relationship if you don’t think what you did was wrong (i.e. you don’t feel remorseful or sorry that you hurt someone you’re supposed to care about)? And if you’re not sorry, how can your convince your partner it won’t happen again?

    I think the phrase “forgiving but not forgiving” to me is the same as forgiving but not forgetting. When people can’t forget about something, they relive the pain and hurt and possibly punish their significant other all over again and again and again. It doesn’t seem healthy. I know people do get through it and move on and have perfectly happy and healthy relationships and those people always amaze me. Breaking trust and being humiliated like that seems incredibly difficult to get over.

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