Do cheating husbands feel guilty?
Cheating, unfaithful, infidelity, adultery, betrayal, disloyalty, playing away, lover, casual sex, extramarital affair, mistress ... so many words to describe being with someone you shouldn't. This lets us know that intimacy outside marriage is a big problem, and it won't go away any day soon.
Here at OSL, the most common question we are asked is,
Do unfaithful men feel guilty? Put another way,
Are cheating husbands aware of the hurt and damage they are causing to their loved ones?
There's no single, satisfying answer to that question. We are not asking whether cheating men and women should feel guilty -- of course they should. We want to know whether cheats are capable of genuine regret, whether they can ever understand another person's pain?
Instead of weighing you down with stats and percentages, we have interviewed a cheating husband, Steve, who battles daily with guilt but who cannot stop himself seeking physical intimacy outside marriage. We want to know how he lives with his guilt, and why he is not able to stop himself.
Question: Steve, to paint the picture, please tell us about your marriage and your affairs.
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Steve: I am 52. I've been married three times. The shortest marriage was my first, which lasted two years. My second lasted 10 years. I have been married to my third wife for 12 years.
My first two marriages ended because of my affairs. When my first two wives found out, they left me straight away. I was unfaithful once to my first wife, and three times to my second wife, but she only knew about one of the affairs.
In my current marriage, I have been unfaithful seven times. I have had two long-term affairs, one lasting five years and the other lasting six years. The short affairs were anything from a weekend to a month or so.
I was totally faithful to my present wife for about the first year of my marriage.
Question: Do you love your wife?
Steve: Yes, I do, very much. I do not want to leave her, and I do not want her to leave me. We have three children. It would devastate me if my marriage and family fell apart.
Question: Do you understand that your behavior is likely to make your family fall apart?
Steve: Yes, I do. But knowing it and following through are two different things. I want to be faithful, but I am unable to stop myself.
Question: Do you feel guilty about your affairs? And what does that guilt feel like to you?
Steve: I know my affairs are wrong. I cannot defend it, justify it, or explain it away. I have no excuses. My wife has done nothing to deserve my awful behavior.
When I think about my wife finding out, I feel sick to my stomach. I hate to see her upset. I hate knowing I am the one to cause her pain because I want to be a good man. On the whole, I think I am a good man, but I have this one serious flaw.
Question: What goes on in your mind, how do you feel when you are guilty? When does your guilt happen?
Steve: After I have been with my lover, I tell myself I am not going to do it again. I don't want to be there. I am terrified my wife will call and I'll sound guilty to her. I just want to leave. Once I have left my lover, I feel much better.
Question: So you feel guilty after intimacy, not before?
Steve: Yes, that's how it works for me. I know meeting my lover is wrong and I shouldn't do it, but I get very excited by our emailing and cell phone calls. I can't stop myself meeting her.
My lover dresses for me, which really excites me. I don't want a relationship that is ordinary. I love thrills.
Question: Do your lovers know you just want physical intimacy, not friendship or companionship?
Steve: Relationships are fun if you don't get deeply involved in each other's lives, don't meet too often, and don't place demands on each other.
I admit I've had to do a lot of lying because women usually want a relationship. Most women I have met want a deep relationship. They will give me what I want in the beginning because they hope to get more out of it. They want me to leave my wife. So I keep making promises I have no intention of keeping. And that hurts too.
Question: Have you ever met any women who were just like you, who only wanted a physical bond?
Steve: Yes, a few. And it was great. But I found that those women were interested in meeting once or twice, then they needed a new partner for a new fix.
I prefer being with the same woman over a long period of time. I like to get to know the woman; it's just I don't want a marriage-type relationship with her.
Question: Does your wife know about any of your affairs?
Steve: I'm with my present wife because I had an affair with her while I was married to my second wife.
My wife knows about my two long-term affairs, but not about the short, casual ones. She forgave me the first time. I promised not to do it again, and we were ok for a while. Shortly afterward, I started a long-term affair that lasted six years.
My wife found out by reading my emails. It really tipped her over the edge for a while. She lost it. She was sobbing and screaming for weeks. She met with a lawyer, drew up divorce papers, but I begged and pleaded with her not to leave me.
I agreed to counseling, I admitted I had a problem I could not control. I said I would do anything and everything to save our marriage. We went to couples therapy and to singles counseling.
Question: Did counseling help you?
Steve: In some ways it did, but I found it was very easy to seem more remorseful than you are. It felt like my role was to sit quietly, apologize, and listen to my wife's hurt. It did not feel as though we were ever getting to the heart of my behavior, why I do it, why I keep doing it, and what motivates me to do it. I don't think that ever got dealt with.
Question: Have you stopped seeing your lover?
Steve: More or less. We meet maybe once a month. Nothing more than that. I think our affair is fizzling out, but we have kept the door open to each other.
When my wife threatened to leave me, everything changed. I got scared, shameful, started to dislike myself. I retreated from relationships. I took less interest in the world. Now, I try to focus on being a good dad, a good husband. I want to be a decent, reliable guy around the house. I am not happy but I am trying hard.
Question: Why do you think your wife has stayed with you?
Steve: She takes marriage vows very seriously. She is a Christian. Marriage is for life. And I think she understands I have a problem I've been unable to control. It's something deep-seated. Also, it's just too much hassle for her to leave me and start over. There is so much stuff wrapped up in a marriage that you don't just end it, you solve problems, you try to forgive and move on.
Question: Your wife sounds a wonderful woman.
Steve: She is, she's fantastic. I know I do not deserve her. I love her. I just need to get my sexual drive under control.
Question: Do you think you will win your battle against infidelity?
Steve: I really don't know. If you were my therapist I would say,
Yes, I can overcome my need to have affairs. But to be brutally honest, I do not think I can. I think it is part of who I am.
Question: Where does that leave you and your marriage?
Steve: It leaves me walking a tightrope. I have no idea what the future holds, whether my marriage will last, whether there will be affairs in the future. I just don't know. Each day is a new challenge.
Question: We wish you well with those challenges.
Steve: Thank you.
By Athina Simonidou
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