It can be confusing to know that you have betrayed your partner’s trust, to see him or her so devastated, and yet be unable to feel true remorse. This lack of remorse can be the final nail in the coffin of a marriage. You can see that it leaves your partner feeling more betrayed, enraged, disgusted, and/or withdrawn. You can see their panic and feel the tenuous threads holding you together fraying. What you might not know or want to think about is how your lack of sincere apology leaves your partner feeling as if they now mean nothing to you and the lover, everything. However, sometimes that is not the case at all, yet you still don’t want to apologize. Here are some common reasons:
Deep down, you had the affair to get out of your marriage. This is commonly referred to as an “exit affair.” But sometimes this motive is not experienced on a conscious level. In my experience, it can take someone a long time to come to grips with the desire to leave a marriage and the familiarity and/or safety that it represents. Acting out the wish by having an affair can be the first step towards this realization. Ironically, acting out feelings can keep us from being in touch with them.
You’re too angry. You haven’t been able to get through to your partner all of these years, either because you didn’t know how, didn’t feel entitled to be heard, or they wouldn’t listen. It can be surprising to discover just how angry you have become in the midst of the trauma of the discovery of an affair. Realizing the affair happened out of revenge can put you in touch with an immense amount of rage that has been bottled up for a long time. It can be frightening for both you and your partner and you may find yourself withdrawing in order to try and bottle it up again, or becoming destructive in other ways.
You generally have a difficult time saying you’re sorry about anything. For you, admitting that you have done something wrong is too much of an assault on your self-esteem. Sometimes people who have trouble feeling remorse also have trouble saying “thank you” and experiencing true gratitude. Both remorse and gratitude humble us. But some people experience humility as humiliation. a feeling that is so crushing that it is avoided at all costs. A common way to avoid this experience is to turn the tables and try to put the blame for the affair on your partner, so they’re the ones who will feel inadequate, not you.
You’re still in the euphoric stage of your affair. Many speak of being in a kind of trance in this stage. Trances carry a logic of their own. One is that nothing matters except how one feels, i.e., “I feel so incredibly wonderful, so this can’t be wrong.” Another is that actions can be severed from their consequences. There is no thought of what harm is being caused, there is only the euphoria. Your partner may later ask, “what were you thinking?” and all you may be able to say is, “I wasn’t.” Perhaps this is true, or perhaps, in the light of day what you were thinking doesn’t make sense. This is bewildering to everyone concerned, including yourself once you are past this stage. Infatuation is intoxicating; and it actually changes the way our brain functions to enhance pleasure and make us obsessively tied to the lover so that all other considerations seem like faint background noise.
You hold certain assumptions about affairs that may be related to your culture, religion or childhood. I will discuss some of these in Part II.