Without any doubt, I firmly believe that if someone surveyed wives with cheating husbands and asked them what behavior they were most looking for, the answer would be remorse.
This makes sense. Because most of us believe that if someone feels true sorrow for their actions then they will be much less likely to repeat those actions. It is why we scold children who have done something wrong. We believe that if they understand why their behavior was wrong, we are less likely to have to revisit the issue.
Along those same lines, wives who don’t see remorse often feel that they will never be able to trust their husband. They believe that since he doesn’t see why he is wrong, he is much more likely to repeat the behavior, which by definition, makes him untrustworthy. It can be very difficult to rebuild your marriage when you think that you can not (and will never be able to) trust your husband.
A wife may describe the issue this way: “when pressed, my husband will mumble a short and insincere apology for cheating on me, but he so clearly does not mean it. And he is so clearly angry at even having to explain himself or to have to answer for his actions. And when we talk about the reasons that he cheated, he is so full of justifications — as though he truly believes that he had legitimate reasons to cheat on me. He says that he wants to make our marriage work. And deep down, I want that too. But I just do not know how this will ever be possible. I do not see how I will ever be able to trust him. Especially when he doesn’t seem to feel that he did anything wrong and he seemingly feels no remorse.”
I am sorry that you are going through this. It may help (just a little bit) to know that what you are feeling is almost universal. Very few of us see or get the remorse that we were hoping for and feel that we absolutely need and must have (especially at first.)
Why He May Be Keeping His Remorse Under Wraps: Very often, our husband feels that it is in his best interest to keep his remorse very tightly under lock and key. The fear is that if we sense his sorrow and his guilt, we will pounce on that in order to make him feel even worse. In short, he is posturing because he is trying to make things easier on himself. But what he doesn’t get is that if he would just allow himself a little vulnerability and allow you to see the remorse, you could both move on more quickly without needing to dwell on this.
Why It’s Not In Your Best Interest To Try To Force Remorse: We all tend to dwell and then, when we don’t see the behavior that we are looking for, we try to exhibit force. If he’s not sorry, then by golly, we are going to force that sorrow out of him. We are going to tell him just how much he has wronged us. But although we are justified in this, frankly most of the time, this only makes him more defensive and this only makes him feel more justified.
Getting The Right Kind Of Help To Nudge Him Forward: I would like to share with you a story I was recently told about a couple’s counseling session. I’m going to paraphrase and I’m not going to identify those involved. But I hope that very shortly, you will see how this story relates to the topic at hand.
A couple were struggling with this exact same issue – the husband was denying guilt and the wife felt that, because of this, she could not trust him. They had several sessions under their belts so they both respected and listened to their counselor. The wife said that she did not feel that she could trust her husband because of his lack of remorse and the counselor said: ‘you are absolutely right. You can not trust him. It is too soon and he is going to have to earn your trust over time. But not being able to completely trust him does not mean that you can’t move forward and hope for the best anyway. Of course, you will keep your eyes open, but you will hopefully move forward cautiously anyway.’
Then the husband piped in with the fact that although he did feel some remorse, he also felt plenty of justification. The counselor let the husband go on and on. The wife got frustrated and felt that the counselor was almost siding with the husband. Until the counselor blurted out: ‘you can say whatever you want, but in the end, people cheat because they have made a decision to do what feels good at the time, regardless of their commitments or who it might hurt. When you cheat, you are basically saying that you value what feels good to you over what is best for your family. And that is very selfish and immature regardless of your excuses. We can fix this with a lot of effort. But we can not fix it until you admit to your wrongdoing.’
At that point, the husband started to cry and all of the remorse came pouring out like a river. I tell this story because I want for you to see that sometimes, it takes someone else to bring the remorse out of your husband. Your husband is much less likely to respond to your requests for remorse because he knows that you have a vested interest in wanting it. But, if someone he respects requests it, he is much more likely to respond.
It’s Common To Expect Trust Too Early: I also tell you this story because I want to stress that I feel that often, people expect the trust too early. In the weeks following the discovery of the affair, many wives are already saying they don’t feel or foresee the trust.
Of course you don’t. You can’t possibly. I can tell you first hand that you don’t begin to feel that trust until time has passed and you can see that your husband did not cheat again and that he carried out his promises. I don’t think there is any way to skip over this. Because there is no way to see if he’s going to do what he says until time passes.