Over time, every self-help author learns that that the majority of his or her books will be purchased by women. So when I wrote my recently published tome on infidelity, Out of the Doghouse: A Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating, I was pretty certain that my primary readership would be cheated on women rather than their cheating male partners. In fact, while I was out doing promotion I suggested that if men did read the book, it would most likely be the result of their traumatized wife or girlfriend giving it to them, or more likely throwing at them, with a statement like, “Read this or else!” And based on stories I’m hearing from colleagues, this has at least occasionally happened.
Contrary to expectations, however, a lot of men have picked the book up on their own, with no prompting, because they know they’ve cheated and they feel awful about it (even when their significant other is unaware of what they’ve done). Moreover, many of these men have gone to my website and contacted me, sharing their stories and their feelings. And the almost universal theme of these missives is guilt, remorse, and shame. So it seems that some men do have a heart, and they regret it when they betray the women they love.
Below are excerpts from a few of these emails…
Hey Robert. I cheated on my first wife about fifteen years ago and I felt horrible about it. But I never let myself feel that. Instead, I decided to blame her for my actions. I convinced myself that my cheating was all her fault because we had started to grow apart, so I deserved to get some on the side. I didn’t even feel a lot of sadness when she divorced me, because we got married too young and we weren’t a great match. A couple of years later I got married again, this time to the right woman, and I promised her that I’d always be faithful. Well, a couple of years into the marriage I had another affair, which I broke off before she found out, but I’ve cheated off and on ever since. A few months ago she caught me, and now she’s filing for divorce. I wish I had never cheated on either of my wives. I’m glad that I’m not with my first wife, but I should have just told her I was unhappy instead of cheating, and I really don’t want to lose my current wife. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to matter how many times I say I’m sorry and promise to not do it again, she refuses to forgive me. A few days ago I bought your book and I’m doing the things you suggest, and I hope I can eventually regain her trust. But right now it seems like she’s intent on leaving me. I’m completely heartbroken.
Wow. I’ve been married for almost thirty years, and I’ve had a couple of affairs that my wife never knew about. And she still doesn’t know. I only read your book because my sister knows I’m in a pretty torrid affair right now, and she doesn’t approve, and I know on some level that she’s right. So I started reading, I really don’t totally know why, and once I got started I couldn’t stop. It’s like you got in my head and dug out all the BS I’ve been telling myself to justify my cheating. I never let myself feel bad about what I was doing before, but now I feel like a total scumbag because I understand that I was lying to myself as well as my wife, and undercutting the bond that we have. What the heck have I been doing all these years? Right now, I’m trying to break off the affair I’m in, but it’s hard because I definitely have strong feelings for this woman. At the same time, I know that my marriage is more important because we have a family. Eventually, I know that I’m going to have to tell my wife what I did. I don’t want to do that, but I think I have to. I don’t want to hurt her, but I know that she deserves the truth. Plus, I now realize how much I hate living a lie.
Mr. Weiss, I am writing to let you know that I never understood why my girlfriend was so pissed off about me using porn. I didn’t think it was cheating. She did. She said she felt like I thought porn was more important than she was. I told her she was crazy, that every guy looks at porn and it’s no different than playing a video game or grabbing a beer with my buds. But she didn’t understand how I looked at it, and that led to a lot of relationship problems. Finally I saw one of your blogs on porn and read your book. Since then we’ve had some really great conversations about what is and isn’t OK in our relationship. (Porn is out by the way.) If I want to stay with her, and I do, I’m going to have to stick with our new boundaries. And you know what, I’m actually not pissed off about this. I realize now that I love her more than I ever knew and making her happy is more important to me than a little in the moment pleasure. I probably should have figured all of this out on my own, or learned it when I was younger, but I didn’t. I’m glad I’m finally starting to listen to the woman who means so much to me instead of always putting what I want first.
Amazingly, these are just a few of the responses I’ve gotten from men who regret their cheating, wish they hadn’t done it, and often don’t even know why they did it. As a therapist, it’s comforting to know that so many men do feel badly about infidelity, and that they want to make things right if they can. Their regret doesn’t make their actions OK, of course, but it does provide hope for the long-term success of their relationships.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is a digital-age intimacy and relationships expert specializing in infidelity and addictions – in particular sex, porn, and love addiction. He is the author of several highly regarded books. Currently, he is Senior Vice President of National Clinical Development for Elements Behavioral Health, creating and overseeing addiction and mental health treatment programs for more than a dozen high-end treatment facilities. For more information please visit his website, robertweissmsw.com, or follow him on Twitter, @RobWeissMSW.