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Question for Men about Guilt after an affair

by Eileen

I can't seem to find a post to my question so I'll go ahead and ask it here.

My husband of 26 years left me in July after a 1 month affair with a woman from his high school days. Shortly after he left, whenever we talked, he would say he was sorry but was strong about his desire to move on and start a new life. He was almost giddy that he had found someone that liked to do what he liked to do, was spontaneous and carefree, didn't mind spending money on him and told him how attractive, sexy and wonderful he was. I'm sure the sex was new, different and exciting and he fell fast and hard for her.

Fast forward 5 months. Whenever we talk or text now, he is wracked with guilt. He says it will kill him. He regrets his actions, misses his home, kids, routine, freedom, money, misses doing yard work with us, watching TV in front of the fireplace and the list goes on and on. He says home was not a bad place after all and I didn't deserve what he did to me.

He has to keep reminding himself that he left for a reason but didn't think through the consequences of his actions while he was cheating. Just assumed the grass was greener on the other side. His family says he is miserable. He has lost weight, is terribly confused (he has contemplated moving to 4 different states, moving in with her or moving back to our home town to be closer to the kids), has told his family that he really screwed up and doesn't know how to fix it. He has told me that he has found himself crying (he has never cried in his life, or at least not admitted it), he goes to work with a knot in his stomach and his actions are constantly in the back of his head every waking hour of the day. He can't get rid of them.

Our kids say he is different. He stares off into space, has lost his sense of humor and they have both seen him crying. Sometimes he talks in circles to the point where they both get headaches (they are 20 and 18). Other times, he is like their old Dad.

He says the damage he has caused at home is so horrific that he can't come home at this point. Neither of us knows how we'll make it through the holidays.

I would like to hear, from a man's point of view, if he wanted to leave and found someone that he really thought was his soul mate, why the guilt would be so bad. Both his sister and I have offered to get him help and even pay for it. He will have no part of it.

I still love my husband, I cannot turn of that emotion like a water faucet and I miss him terribly. I wish I could get inside his head to see what he is really thinking. By the way, I was totally blindsided by his affair. I thought we were happy and would grow old together. He has told me the same thing on more than one occasion. He used to look at cheaters as dirt. I must add, he is still with this woman.

Advice from a man's point of view would be most appreciated.

Thank you so much.

Noel's response

His sounds like a typical midlife affair, where as he has told you 'the grass looked greener'. I have known a number of men who have done this, only to regret it later. Some have been allowed to come back to their wives and families, and others have not (either they couldn't bring themselves to, because of the guilt, or their wives would not take them back).

You don't mention your husband's age, but I guess mid-to-late 40s. This is what Daniel Levinson, in his book The Seasons of a Man's Life calls the 'age 40 transition'. It is a major life transition, and many men enter 'midlife crisis' during this time. They fear their life is passing them by, and look outward for a sense of happiness and fulfillment rather than inside.

Because your husband views cheaters (and thus himself) as dirt it makes sense that he would feel tremendous guilt about what he did.

I suspect he is discovering that the relationship with the woman he is now with is not turning out as rosy as he anticipated, and the stars are starting to fall out of his eyes in regards to how he views her. When we first 'fall in love' (it is really infatuation rather than love) we project our ideal image of a woman (or a man in the case of a woman falling in love) onto the other person, and really don't see them for the person they truly are at all. When the 'honeymoon stage' ends, things often look dramatically different.

Both you and he might find my book "A Harley Or My Wife" useful. You might also find Crossing the Soul's River a valuable resource.

My suggestion is that you continue to talk and/or text with your husband, letting him know (if you are willing) that you are available to discuss getting back together if he wants to try it. It will of course mean him leaving the other woman, and the two of you going to marriage counseling in order to establish a new relationship, as the one you had is now gone. You will also need the marriage counseling to start building some trust, after his betrayal of you.

Comments for Question for Men about Guilt after an affair

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Jan 10, 2017
Why he feels guilty
by: Anonymous

My husband of 23 years is having an midlife crisis affair with a co-worker. He will not go to marriage counseling and has told me that he wants to see where this road leads. He can't even look at me, won't talk to me and only texts me if he needs something from me. He treats me like I am dead and like I the one who cheated on him. I finally figured out why he is doing all of these things. He feels guilty for what he has done but won't take ownership for all of the pain he has caused me and his kids. Since he won't own it, seeing me causes him pain and what he feels for me is anger - anger for showing him what he doesn't want to see (the consequences of his actions). In his mind, seeing me sends him a message -- stop making me feel bad for what I did. He worries more about how I make him appear in the eyes of others. He feels his self image is being attacked. He worries about others holding him accountable because he is shirking self accountability. He is a coward and a narcissist.

Dec 11, 2016
Cheaters Deserve to live in miserable guilt
by: Anonymous

They know it's wrong to cheat but they CHOOSE to do it anyways. They destroy their wives and children. They deserve to live in perpetual hell.

Apr 17, 2015
Dating Husband
by: Anonymous

4 months ago, I discovered that my husband has been dating women, from movies, to lunch dates, and strip clubs. When ever we would argue, he would leave ( at my request) to avoid the children watching us argue. At some times, I felt he would start arguments on purpose to leave the house for a while. He would call me trash and tell me " your not all that". I did not understand such behavior after 19 years of marriage. Well, upon opening credit card bills ( which I never opened before, I discovered dining bills all over the city. I confronted him, at first he denied it, and eventually admitted it. What do I do? I kicked him out, and now he wants to work on the marriage. I am distraught, do not trust him, and I am angry at myself for trusting someone so much, I never thought he would do this. What should I do, I feel that no one understands me.

Sep 11, 2012
Most of the Internet is filled with excuses for men's immaturity
by: Beleave Behavior

My spouse also had an affair at 40 with a girl closer to our daughters age than to his. Through many months of reading information about affairs, I have come to realize something. Most books and websites usually have the line "when your husband or boyfriend cheat.... His midlife crisis.... When he leaves. Let's be honest, the majority of these cheaters are men. Yes, women cheat too, but not nearly as often, an when they do, it is implied they have emotional issues. When a man cheats, he's in life transition, trying to figure out his life, unhappy with his marriage partner, under too much stress, etc. I am tired of our society giving men excuses to continue to be immature selfish pricks! Are all men the emotional equivalent of a 9 year old? I don't see thousands of books and websites dedicated to helping husbands heal the pain of infidelity and the reason for this is because women have enough maturity to understand that their behavior does affect other people. Men seem to think they can live their lives in compartments and one will never touch the other. Why are women expected to have compassion for someone who abuses them (yes, infidelity is abuse), making excuses that the poor man is confused, driven by his penis, this is just how men are made, He can't deal with aging, (insert excuse that tries to justify his cheating). What about a society that worships young flaunty women? where does that leave the woman who has wasted her youth on a peice of crap husband? Had I known in the beginning this is who he was, I would have ran the other way and never looked back. I am so tired of people pretending to be something they're not. Men are egotistical infants pounding their fists at life because they didn't get what they wanted (sounds like a 2 year olds temper tantrum if you ask me) and they are rebelling the thought that they are no longer desirable to the flaunty immature women, who have not yet become bitter because they just haven't realized that men are all juvenile self serving pricks! These men long for women who have not yet been broken, embittered, and resentful by the very thing that he is - an infantile narcissist determined to take and take and give nothing in return.

Jan 10, 2012
An exercise that helped me
by: Willow

My husband’s affair was exposed in the beginning of July, so this is all very new and raw for me as well. I have determined that the only way to survive this is to hold my head high, and have no regrets about how I behave. consoled that the statistics of this new relationship, which was built on betrayal, lies and pain, succeeding is very small. She is the “other woman” and will never be accepted by society, because of the cost to you and your marriage.

I did something cathartic on New Year’s Day, it might help you too. I wrote a “thank you” to “The Other Woman”. It started as a short note and it expanded to three pages!

It included:
Thank you for making me realize that my relationship with my husband had become harmful to me.
Thank you for making me understand that he is deep in a midlife crisis and that his dissatisfaction, anger and behavior are not my fault, and that there is nothing I can do to make it better or change it.
Thank you for bringing my children closer to me at a time when many begin to drift away.
Thank you for taking over having to deal with his pessimistic, angry, martyr complex attitude so that I don’t have to.
Thank you for making me see him more clearly.
Thank you or forcing me to recover my strength and re-discover who I am.
Thank you for helping me get by body back (I lost 35 pounds).
Thank you for letting me see how great and supportive my friends are.
Thanks for making me get out of the house more and socialize.
Thank you for helping me re-discover my interests & become determined to find new ones.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to make choices without having to worry about the opinion of another.
Thank you for making me look like a great mother in comparison to you.

Enjoy what you have won. He is all yours now because he has left almost everything behind to be with you, grasp at his youth and chase this new life. You can have this version of him, it is not the same one that I married and raised children with all those years ago. This is a lesser version, one lacking character and honesty, and perhaps only a temporary one.

I wrote this as way of looking at this situation in a corrective light. I don’t know if he is really aware that my behavior throughout this episode has been unusual.

Most in my position would have been vengeful and vindictive. However, I chose to not merely be reactive, but instead I took a methodical, logical, informed approach and will continue to do so. I have always put the children’s welfare first, and have tried to minimize the damage to everything and everyone as best I can. Knowing this, as difficult as it has been, I will emerge with a clear conscience. I know that you can find the strength to do the same.

Jan 10, 2012
breathed a sigh of relief
by: breeze

This is in response to Willow's comment. As I read your thoughts I felt as if you stated most of what I think but couldn't formulate with clarity the thoughts, that would form the words, that I wanted to hear myself say. It was an echo to my ear to read that the man I married is no longer and the relationship that I once new is over. To ponder if I would entertain the notion of having him back as he is, is simply painful to consider.

So many times I have heard people counsel me to take care of myself and the kids and move forward with life and I understand that in the literal sense. My problem remains that I am still stuck to his false promise that he " would never leave me, that I was stuck with him for life". For years that was his mantra. He behaves like a stand up, loyal, family man incapable of his current behavior. I still have to work for him and until I can find another position this separation feels like a slow hemorrhage. Willow if you have anymore words of wisdom please share them.


Jan 09, 2012
Truth be told.....
by: Eileen

Thank you for your insight. Truth be told, I miss my "old" husband. The one who laughed with me and shared coffee with me on the deck while watching the deer. The one who was there when I had my children. The one who was gentle and kind and would never hurt anyone's feelings. We treated each other with respect and dignity. We worked through thick, thin, good times, bad times, poverty, wealth and everything in between.

I do not feel like a weight has been lifted, I feel like a weight has been added. I feel foolish that I did not see this coming. How could it have happened under my nose and I didn't see it? I read an article that in part said "you can't build happiness on another person's misery". The two of them will never be truly happy. You cannot leave a life, family, home, children, friends and a wife who loves you unconditionally for a 6 week affair with a woman from your adolescence.

The blame is split 50/50. While he pursued her, she should have had the morals and class to say that she would not want to be the "other woman". When he was free to love, she would be more than happy to pursue a relationship with him - but not with a man who was married for 26 years - and was still married. She has no self esteem herself.

I will survive - somehow. The wound is still fresh and will be for quite some time. I had planned to retire and raise my grandchildren with this man. Unfortunately, he had other plans for his future that did not include me.

At least I have my appetite back - which could be a bad thing. I've lost 40 pounds through this horrific experience ;-)

Jan 09, 2012
Do you really want him back?
by: Willow

I too am dealing with a midlife crisis husband, who after 21 years of marriage has become virtually unrecognizable to me. A little background, he, like your husband, exhibited so many of the crisis indicators, growing his hair, change in clothing, bought a motorcycle and dissatisfaction in his job, me, his life in general. He then went on to begin an affair with a subordinate at work who had been pursuing him which quickly developed into a “soul mate” relationship. When I found out about the affair, he broke it off, but our marriage couldn’t recover because (and this is the important part) the affair is only a symptom of the midlife crisis that had destroyed our marriage.

We separated several months ago and he immediately went back to her. Now he is living in limbo, compartmentalized between three worlds; us, her, his brother’s home where he is staying.

He is still not “out” at work about us being separated, or about his relationship with his co-worker. However, I am sure that they all know and that he has even been passed over for a job promotion because of what this says about his character. The children hate him, and he is guilt-ridden, but entirely delusional about what others feel and think.

My best advice is to decide that your relationship as it was before is now over. The man that you knew and married will be very different during this time and when (and if) he comes out the other side mostly the same, he still will have changed. But so will you. You need to focus not on his needs but yours and your children’s. If he wants to be a part of you and your children’s life’s, let him. But don’t let him call the shots and don’t make decisions around him. Include him in major family events if you can manage it. Stay close to his family if they are supportive of you, if not, don’t. If he wants to help out, let him. Be kind but distant. It is hard, but you need to separate yourself from this toxic relationship. Would you even want back the man that he is now? Could you ever trust him again? Do you need to live in a house with a person who exudes such negative energy? When he moved out, as sad as you were, did you feel like a weight was lifted? Did you breathe deeply as though you had been holding your breath for a long time? Think about what you want.

Dec 20, 2011
Response to Anonymous
by: Eileen M.

Dear Anonymous -
I am dreadfully sorry about your husband's antics. No, my husband only has one harlot to worry about. We spoke last night and he told me that he has already left her twice. Not that it means anything. He's been gone 5 months. I wish I had a crystal ball to see whether he plans to come home and work on our marriage or he plans to stay out and work on his relationship with her. I believe he is trying to convince himself that he's happy but again, I can't get inside his head. I do the best I can to get through the day and with the holidays upon us, I'll have to work extra hard to muddle through. Yes, I would take him back. I'm sure I'll take flack for it but I believe he's lost himself somewhere along the line and needed to do this (although he regrets it) just to see what was on the other side. The grass may be appear greener, but it still needs to be watered, fertilized and trimmed to keep it looking good :-)
Happy holidays to you, Anonymous.

Dec 19, 2011
you are not the only one
by: Anonymous

Dear anonymous, my husband is also 48. He has no guilt about what he is doing, at least you have that working in your favor.
He stays out all night and pays hookers, gambles, and drinks. I don't have one girlfriend to worry about because he says he doesn't want 1 person, he want's ALL of them.

Dec 13, 2011
Q's for Men about guilt after an affair
by: NWF


It sounds to me like he wants you to make his decisions for him about coming home. He is not able to make tough decisions right now.

You are lucky in this situation. My husband has been gone for 17 months with no signs of anything changing about the affair or talking with me. It is his way or the highway still and has been for many years before he left. His GF is his GF from high school (first lover)from 34 years ago. He made a 10 minute phone call to her on Valentine's Day last year. That is all it took, 10 minutes of her emotional ego boosting and he was gone. He still wanted to sleep with me for the next 3 months until he walked out the door and left me and our 14 year old son in the doorway. She moved here from Fla. for him after he had only been gone from home for 2 months, they do not live together. He lets her run the show--including the divorce and making me lower the price on our home for sale every few months. He made me put the house up for sale 1 week after she arrived from Florida. So, they want someone else to make any big decisions for him. He has not felt this ton on guilt yet--as far as I know. He may be reaching Liminality though--I have seen a few changes lately but not in the legal department. You may want to check out for much info on a midlife crisis. It will help with some Q's you may have.

Hugs for you, NWF

Dec 13, 2011
Thank you for your advice
by: Anonymous

Thank you, Noel for your response. You are absolutely correct, my husband is 48 years old. I cannot determine how much damage has actually been done. I also cannot get inside his head. I spoke with his sister recently and she told me his is miserable. He admits he made a mistake, that he really "screwed up". He has lost weight but what I found interesting is that according to her his outward appearance is different. He is now sporting a goatee, wearing trendy clothes and going out dancing (my husband has always despised going dancing and would barely dance at weddings.) I am currently adhering to a "No contact" policy with him, as I have been told that if I act like I don't want him back, the better the chances are that he will want to come back. Reverse psychology I guess. Also, he is so confused every time I do talk to him by the end of the conversation I am more distraught than when the conversation started. He will throw bait into the conversation like "I don't know what I want to do," or "I have thought about coming home but just can't bring myself to do it".

Thank you so much again for your advice and insight. It made me feel just a bit better knowing that someone else seems to know exactly what is going on inside his head.

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