How to forgive myself after an affair

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    For 10 years I have been involved in a relationship I shouldn’t have had. It was the closest relationship I have ever had, fulfilling, mutual respect and I was deeply in love. However, the relationship should never have happened because it was outside my marriage and had the potential to cause untold damage. I betrayed a lot of people close to me in order to maintain it, even though those people never knew about it – the depth of the relationship and the duration of it.
    Now it has come to an end and I am devastated and still very much in love. It feels as if someone has died though I cannot publically grieve over it. My husband is a good person who I have been with for 24 years. Though our marriage was obviously not perfect (otherwise this would never have happened), he didn’t deserve to have such a betrayal. I don’t believe I am a bad person, and I know I have gone against everything I believe in to be involved in such an affair for such a long time. I feel that to explain to my husband the full extent of the situation would tear him apart, cause unnecessary pain to my children and I am sure he would choose to leave. Why wouldn’t he?
    How can I ever forgive myself for what has happened? How can I find peace again, and begin to move forward?


    Annette, you are grieving now over the loss of something that gave you undescribeable joy and your mind is clouded. In this state, it is best to do nothing and allow time to heal you first. For 10 years, you held this secret in your heart. During this time have you ever wanted to reveal it? If you did not, why would you do this now? For 10 years, you lived this life. Was your conscience naging at you during this time? If not, why would it now?

    I cannot either condemn nor condone an affair (or in this case a second relationship) but I can understand that humans possess an infinite spectrum of emotions that are expressed in various ways. You expressed yours in your way. To express it for such a long time is a choice you made, not merely a whim. It IS your life. You do not have to forgive yourself for your life and your experiences. Ask yourself this though: can you stay in your current marriage? For 10 years you had something else that gave you joy, what will give you joy now?

    Another thing that resonates with me is this: society has established certain “norms” for behaviors that we are all supposed to follow regardeless of our natural inclinations. This cookie cutter approach is damaging to psyches of those who are not cookie cut. Some people are gay, and society is just now starting to accept them, some people are polyamorous, and society still frowns upon that. Have you considered that you may just be polyamorous? Perhaps a road to healing would be to accept yourself as you truly are, regardeless of society’s accepted “norms.” Look deep within yourself, listen to your heart, and see if you can feel why you choose this life. Within that answer will be the answer of what to do next.

    Your husband. This is another matter entirely. This is a man who was “with” you for 24 years but does he really know the true you? It’s not a matter of what you reveal to him now, or how much it will hurt him, it is more of a matter if you can stay with someone who does not know the true you. Ask yourself, what do you want in your heart, what do you want your life to be. When you feel this, and it resonates with peace and relief with you, then take appropriate action, whatever that action may be for you.

    What saddens me is that you have to hide your sorrow from those that love you. What saddens me is that you cannot be yourself because you had to hide for so long. What saddens me is that you are still hiding. What saddens me most is that you are not alone in your predicament, there are so many others is this world that are in very similar situations to yours, so many that cannot accept themselves as they are and have to resort of hiding in the shadows instead of shining their light. You cannot change the past, only step into the present and future embracing you as you are.


    Hello Helen
    Thankyou for your reply and your compassion. Yes, you are right that I need to allow myself time to heal in order to look at my marriage objectively and to be able to decide what to do, but your comment about whether my husband knows the true me resonates with me because obviously for years I have been aware that my friend is the only person who knows the true me – not just because of the affair but because I was able to express my feelings to him in a way that I was unable to do with my husband.
    You asked if I ever wanted to reveal the friendship to my husband. The answer is I did at times but chose not to. Though I had my selfish reasons for doing this (I had the best of both worlds – security and a great person to confide in and who was understanding in a way that my husband wasn’t), I also was fearful of the shock waves and damage revealing it could cause as this friend is within my immediate community and at the time it would have been impossible to avoid him and his family. I misguidedly believed I could deal with my emotions and keep everything under control.
    Yes my conscience nagged me continuously and both of us were continually fearful of being found out. So why would we continue? The answer is that we both felt inexplicably drawn to the the relationship. I have always been very idealistic about marriage for life and to experience such a strong attraction was almost shocking to me. I completely felt at ease with this man and at times felt my reactions to him were difficult to understand but also felt almost out of my control. I have supported him through his daughter’s serious illness, he has supported me through my husband’s life changing illness and many aspects of our lives. I am not a particularly spiritual person but I had an overwhelming feeling that we had met for a reason (I still feel this way) and I guess rightly or wrongly this justified my actions. I don’t know if some people might think of this as naive. He referred to me as the best friend he didn’t know he had never had and said that he didn’t feel the level of guilt I did because he felt we were meant to be together and he had just met me at the wrong time. We have brought emotions out in each other that we have never experienced before (some good and some bad).
    My question now is this. Can you met someone at the age of 20 and that person be perfect for you at that time but not be the right person 25 years down the line? My husband was exactly the person I needed when I was young – he was calm, stable, confident and he has always been a good father to my children. By contrast my friend is passionate about life, has energy and enthusiasm and is not afraid to show emotion. I am a different person to the one I was at 20 and I want to get out and enjoy life with a confidence I didn’t have when I was younger. We talked about how we would share and enjoy life in a way that I cannot imagine doing with my husband. Sure, there is some common ground in interests that I have with my husband but over the years we have grown apart and enjoy doing different things. Though my relationship with my friend has finished it seems that we have both acknowledged that there may be an opportunity in the future to be together. I am finding myself holding on to this idea a little too tightly, and am concerned that it is going to prevent my healing process and therefore my ability to properly evaluate whether my husband and I still have enough to work on to be able to stay together.


    Hi Annette,
    I am sorry for your pain. First I think it would be healing for you to acknowledge yourself on such lessons you have learned from this. Good for you for recognizing what you really value in your life.

    I would examine what is the purpose of revealing your affair to your husband. As you noted, it would probably give him and your children great pain. I’ve have heard from therapists that usually the underlying reason to reveal our affairs is to share the burden of our guilt with the partner and that is tremendously selfish. This makes a lot of sense to me.

    The other questions you have are how you can forgive yourself and move forward. I believe that until you commit to loving your husband then forgiveness is academic. This probably will take a while and a big internal shift within yourself. Love is a verb. I would think you really need to emotionally let your relationship go before being able to fully move on. You may need to really examine if you can love your husband and that you are able to bring your full self to the marriage. If not then you have some work to do on yourself first.



    ” I’ve have heard from therapists that usually the underlying reason to reveal our affairs is to share the burden of our guilt with the partner and that is tremendously selfish. This makes a lot of sense to me.”

    A therapist suggests that yes, but a marriage counselor would suggest the opposite. If a marriage is going to be fixed, then all the cards need to be on the table, and that includes the affair. Owning up to your choices, fixing what is broken inside of you as well so it doesn’t ever happen again.

    Your husband may forgive you if you are remorseful and confess and are ready to work with him to fix things. if he finds out on his own it’ll be way worse!


    I question the benefit in revealing the affair to the husband. I agree on owning up to one’s choices and addressing the underlying causes so the affair won’t occur again. I believe that affairs are the symptom of a problem but not the problem itself.

    Helen, you seem to be struggling with the larger issue of whether or not that your husband is the right partner for you. You may want to explore who you are right now, where you want to do with your life. This affair may be the wake up call for you to look hard at yourself. I believe this process would be more valuable for you do this on your own rather than counting on your friend or husband. This would be a good time for therapy, walkabout or Eat, Pray, Love or a Vision Quest or other explorations that would help you in uncovering who you are now.


    Thankyou Macintosh and Mark for your opinions which I value greatly. I think it would be very hard now to confess to my husband as to be honest I do not feel at the moment particularly remorseful because of the fact that I learnt so much about myself and got so much positivity from the affair – even though it is causing me such sadness now I cannot in all honesty say I regret it happening. My husband did have an idea that the relationship was possibly overstepping the mark but that’s just it. He is under the impression that I came to rely too greatly on my friend’s friendship but is unaware of the huge depth of my feelings or the duration of the relationship. Sad as it may seem the relationship obviously replaced what was missing at home even though at the start of it I can genuinely say I didn’t believe anything was missing!
    Interestingly for the first time today I feel angry to my friend for taking his friendship away whereas before I felt overwhelming sadness and grief. I can only hope that this might be the very beginnings of some kind of healing process though I know the road ahead is incredibly long and bumpy.
    Mark can you explain to me what you mean by “Eat, Pray, Love or a Vision Quest”? I suspect it might be useful for me in the future though perhaps too early now. I have started meditating to try and get a clearer picture of what direction I should be taking and all roads at the moment seem to lead to a future life with my friend. As I mentioned there has been talk of possibly getting together in the future when our family circumstances change but I suspect it would be unhealthy for me to try and hold on to this ideal as obviously there are no guarantees.


    I am sorry I was not clear when I referred to that popular book, “Eat, Pray, Love” where the author went off around the world (eat=Italy, pray=India, love=Bali) to find herself after her divorce. My point was that you may need to take off on your own to find yourself as well. Some go around the world, some go on a silent retreat, some go out to the middle of the desert on a Vision Quest, or some just get help from a therapist. Meditation is certainly a great way to do that as well. I do not think it is the only way and it can be combined with other things that will help you find out who you are, what you want, and where you want to go in your life.

    I hope that clarifies what I was trying to say.

    My “ah ha” experience in my marriage was that I went through a personal growth seminar series ( which woke me up to myself. I never laughed so much, cried so much or hugged so much in my entire life. I had the most intimacy in my life and it was with a bunch of strangers (men and women). I realized I wanted THAT in my marriage. It turned out that my wife did not and it took two years of counseling for us to come to that conclusion.

    It was a very hard decision to seek a divorce but I knew I could not fully live and become the person that I kept suppressed if I stayed married. I could not be the role model of how to take charge of my own happiness for my children.

    I still am seeking a life partner and in the meantime I have developed intimate friendships (spiritual, emotional) that I treasure and have enriched my life.

    I wish you well on your journey.




    I want to answer this question you posed: “Can you met someone at the age of 20 and that person be perfect for you at that time but not be the right person 25 years down the line?” Absolutely. We all grow and change with time and experiences and none of us is the same now as we were in the past or as we will be in the future. There are no guarantees in life, whether we are considering your husband or your friend. It seems to me your happiness is largely based on connection to a partner. Life has taught me that this is an impossible dream. The ony way we can be truly happy is if we are happy within ourselves. Other people come and go, change, but the only thing that remains constant is our own company.

    To expand on what others said to your post, I agree that a “self-discovery journey” is in order for you. When you learn to be at peace, and happy, with yourself, you will be able to have happiness with another. Will it be your husband, your friend, or even another person entirely, is yet to be seen. I would suggest not concentrating on that at all at this time, but on whether you can find that happiness within yourself. Everything else will follow when your heart is truly ready, which now it is not. Look within yourself, and see if this resonates true with you.

    It may be scary right now to think/feel this way, but it is necessary for complete healing. This destination you are holding on to is an illusion at this time, there are no guarantees, and it is holding you back. Let go, focus on the journey, and the future will be bright, no matter what it develops into.

    With love,

    David Bederman

    Wow Annette – what a powerful story! One of the problems i think we face in our society is the image that we were designed to be, well, perfect. We often strive for perfection in what we do in life and often end up getting down on ourselves when we fall short of acheiving it.
    In truth though, many spritual disciplines stress that perfection is not “the way of this world”. Rather, this world is a staging-ground for constant growth and discovery. The illusion of perfection is, well, it’s an illusion, and many people chase it, unfulfilled, their entire lives.

    You’ve learned some hard lessons and they’ve brought you face to face with the daylight between your values (honesty, commitment and truth) and your actions/behavior (totally opposite to your values). Psychologist say that when weact against ourown inner beleifs, it actually destroys our self-esteem, often causin us to engage in more unhelathy behaviour.
    But this is no reason to get down on yourself. You are here to learn and grow and it sounds to me like you’ve learned a lot about who want and who you don’t want to be. Now you have the gift of being able to work toward becoming that person and creating the marriage that you really want to have.
    Even greater, you are blessed that you still have a marriage to work on and you’re solucky that this is your struggle and that no one else got hurt! What a blessing!!

    It obvious won’t be easy for you Annette, but getting down on yourself won’t help. Be honest with yourself. Accept the pain and loneliness you felt that originally drove you to seek external comforts in the first place and practice being accepting of yourself for your mistakes.

    As i mentioned above, many say that this world was created as a staging ground for im-perfection ie. as a place to experience the endless joy of growth and discovery. In line with that tradition, in fact your perfection lies in your carrying out that mission – never giving up and always striving to become better and bring more love and goodness into the world.
    Good luck to you Annette – we are here for you and we support you! Your work is to practice self-love and acceptance. Only when you accept your mistakes will you be able to grow from them.
    “New Beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.” Lao Tzu


    David, Mark and Helen
    Thank you for your opinions which I have thought about over the last few days and it has helped me immensely. Thank you, Mark for sharing your past. It seems clear to me from what you said and from my experiences that when we find any relationship which provides us with new levels of intimacy it becomes a new benchmark for our other relationships which we then judge against this new one. That makes sense as for nine and a half years I told nobody about my relationship with my friend because of the guilt and shame I felt, but I finally opened up to two girl friends six months ago, and was overwhelmed by their compassion, concern and love for me. This has brought these two relationships to a new level and they will now remain significantly important in my life whatever happens in the future. Obviously where relationships don’t have the potential to measure up to the new levels of intimacy it causes disappointment and disillusionment.
    David, I have always been an idealist and a perfectionist (a pretty dangerous combination it seems!) and struggled continuously with feelings of guilt and shame without (most of the time) feeling remorse and this caused a lot of internal conflict. I can see truth in the fact that this can destroy our self esteem and I don’t think I realised how bad this had become. My friend was always incredibly good at encouraging me when I was feeling low or insecure which at the time was great, but I can see how this can then perpetuate a circle of low self esteem and reliance on someone else, and perhaps this happened to both of us.
    Helen, I agree with you that I need time and space to work on myself before I make any decisions and thank you for reminding me that people come, go and change but the only thing that remains constant is our own company. I used to live by that rule but without noticing I had forgotten it!
    I now know what I need to do, and feel I can look forward to the future with optimism again. Thank you! 🙂

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