Let’s rip the bandaid off: Some men have affairs. Some of those men are fathers. And while fantasizing about infidelity is far more commonplace than actual cheating, it does happen — recent studies suggest that roughly 20 percent of married men have sex outside their marriage. So why do men cheat? Usually, it’s because opportunities present themselves. Drunken evenings with an old friend evolve into a one-night stand; a late night with a coworker turns into something more; a lonely guy on a business trip seeks companionship. Are these clichés? Sure. But clichés exist because each one bears truth.
Another truth: Men have varying levels of remorse and guilt of cheating, whether their partners know anything about their affairs or not. Sometimes, when a man feels guilty for cheating, he is being eaten away. He feels deep remorse and regret. Other times, however, there is no guilt, and he sees his decision as a necessary catalyst for change or something that, well, just happened. Multitudes, man.
To get a better idea about the complex feelings that occur around the guilt of cheating, we spoke to various dads who have cheated on their wives. Some of the men here felt fleeting remorse for their infractions; others were more anxious about their partners finding out than truly feeling guilty for cheating. And, well, some had no regrets at all. All helped illustrate the variety of emotions that take place when one decides to be unfaithful.
How I Felt After I Cheated: “I Felt Conflicted”
“I didn’t have any intention of starting the affair or leaving my wife. I felt conflicted. I had someone that I could talk to who was outside of my relationship, without causing any problems to my partner,” says Sean, who had an affair with his coworker that began after he started to confide in her about job stress. Then, it morphed into something deeper, something he didn’t expect. “In the beginning, it was a relief to feel that there was someone I could talk to. But I didn’t know how to end it.”
“I was worried on a daily basis that my partner would find out, or that the girl that I was seeing would find out,” Sean continues. “I could tell the girl that I was having the affair with that it was over and continue with my long-term relationship on one side, but the biggest worry that I had is that if I did that, she would find out about my long-term relationship and tell my ex-wife what I had been doing and then I’d wind up alone.”
How I Felt After I Cheated: “I Had Regrets, But Only After I Got Caught”
David told us he had never been faithful in a single relationship in his life. He even cheated on his wife before they got married. It wasn’t until he got caught a second time that his wife pointed out that he had a problem. He immediately checked into a halfway house and has since made serious steps to achieve sex addiction sobriety, which includes weekly therapy and 12-step-style models.
“Of course there is regret there,” he says. “I spent so long trying to cover up and not experience uncomfortable emotions, that I don’t really remember spending time in regret and remorse. It wasn’t clear to me at the time, but the reason I went out and sought an affair partner was because I was fundamentally unhappy and unable to express that. As soon as I got done getting high, so to speak, sure, there was guilt and shame and remorse, but also, I really just felt like I needed to get high again. I’m certain that I was feeling guilty, but if you’d asked me at the time? I would have told you no. I wasn’t in touch with most of what I was feeling.”
Although he didn’t feel guilty for cheating then, David does feel it now. “The first step toward getting over that guilt and shame was putting it out there. Giving my wife an opportunity to react to it. As bad as the guilt is that I feel now and the shame I feel now about what I did, it was a lot bigger in my mind before I told her.”
How I Felt After I Cheated: “I Don’t Know That I Could’ve Done It Any Other Way”
“Honestly, I want my marriage to work. I love my wife. She’s a good person. She’s a good partner. If we were having sex, then there wouldn’t be a problem,” says Jeremy. But there was a problem. He and his wife had been living a routine, nearly sexless marriage as she sorted through her mental health issues; in the meantime, Jeremy had two affairs.
“The once-a-month duty sex had become so uncomfortable that it was difficult to perform,” he tells us. “I began thinking maybe I needed to see a doctor. Once I had an affair, I realized I was completely fine. I realized how much I missed that part of life. That’s how my wife and I got to couple’s therapy. I wish I made it to the realization I’m at now without having to have gone through all that, but I don’t know that I could have done that any other way.”
How I Felt After I Cheated: “I Felt Dirty Afterward”
“It was always, ‘This is the last one, this is the last one. I won’t do it again,’ says Tyler, who cheated on his wife for 20 years. “And that didn’t really happen”. Tyler says that in recent years it’s become clear to him that he has a problem and that he’s been going to therapy for sex addicts. “I never considered confessing to the affair because I wasn’t sure how it would be taken, and I would have felt a lot of guilt. And I feared it. But after every time I cheated, I just felt dirty afterward. But I kept doing it. It’s not like that feeling of guilt happened just once. That happened multiple times. But like any addict, you stop and you go through a period of — for lack of a better word — sobriety. But the call is there.”
How I Felt After I Cheated: “I Don’t Actually Regret My Affair”
Jack and his wife cheated on each other throughout the course of their 13-year marriage. Although he has regrets about the way their relationship played out, Jack says he was also so deeply angry about the way his wife cheated — and the lengths she went to keep it concealed and lie about it — that he doesn’t really feel anything for her.
“I don’t regret anything, or staying through the affairs. Because, if I didn’t stay, I wouldn’t have had my daughter, she is my world. No regrets. But it could have been a smoother ride.”