Remorse Vs. Guilt: How The Emotions Differ (& Change Everything) Post-Cheating

Relationships are based on trust, and once cheating enters the picture, the solid foundations of your partnership seem to crumble as the heartbreak sets in. Of course, partner betrayals exist out of cheating, but admittedly, infidelity is very hard to bounce back from. If you have found yourself in this unwelcoming situation, you know that a wave of emotions rush over you as you realize your partner is having sex with someone else. Cheating impacts your life tremendously, from deep sorrow to shame, self-blame, and anger, and sometimes causes physical changes in your brain.

If you love your partner, you will desperately seek validation in their expressions of apology and regret. Seeing them experience the same unhappiness as you must surely be a testament to their love, right? But is their unhappiness stemming from remorse or guilt? Is there a real difference between the two? And if there is, does it really matter?

While guilt and remorse are closely related, they are not the same. Guilt associates with the negative perception derived from partaking in specific events or behavior, while remorse depicts negative self-judgment. In other words, a partner feeling remorse will want to make amends because they genuinely regret the pain they have caused. On the other hand, guilt may not always involve this desire to fix what is wrong but rather to eliminate the unpleasant consequences they brought upon themselves.


While guilt and remorse seem the same, they are very different. Partners that cheat experience guilt after being caught and wish they could turn back the clock — not so much to erase the affair per se, but to rid themselves of the unpleasant circumstances they are now in. Instead of empathizing with your sorrow, they ruminate on the harmful predicament they are now surrounded by and feel guilty that they lightheartedly risked losing everything because of it.

Even though a partner that has cheated may indeed be sorry about it, their actions will have you questioning what they are really sorry for. Are they sorry for the pain they have caused you, or are they sorry that their life will radically change (especially when marriage and children are involved)? Or, to be blunter, are they simply sorry that the affair came out in the open?

A cheating partner will try to convince you that they feel devastated, but they will quickly try to move past it. They are more focused on themselves than they are on you. They will be unwilling to answer your questions and might even get exacerbated or angry when pushed to divulge details of the affair. People who experience guilt will also try to put some of the blame on their partner. If your partner is more focused on how your anger makes them feel instead of how their cheating affects you, they are expressing guilt, not remorse.


Dr. Margalis Fjelstad, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist, describes remorse as coming "from true empathy for the pain the other person is feeling because of your actions," via Psychology Today. In this respect, remorse is fundamentally different from guilt.

A remorseful partner feels terrible for the pain they have caused their significant other and genuinely regrets the affair, not because it puts them in a difficult situation now that the affair is discovered, but because they genuinely empathize with their partner's distress. When cheaters feel remorse, they care more about their partner than themselves and will not try to avoid the consequences. Instead, they will be willing to hear their partner, show patience and understanding, and assume full responsibility for their actions.

Expressing remorse is crucial to repairing the damage caused by infidelity and rebuilding trust in a relationship. It requires a willingness to acknowledge the hurtful impact of one's actions and take ownership of them.

Does it really matter?

A person feeling guilt will ask for your forgiveness in clear terms. To save the relationship, a partner who has cheated and experiences guilt will be willing to do anything to make amends. A person that feels remorse will also try to make you feel better by stating how sorry they are for causing you so much pain and asking what needs to be done to fix what they have done wrong.

So, if guilt and remorse lead to similar actions, does it really matter which one your partner is experiencing? Yes, it does. And it matters because a person who experiences guilt will likely repeat the cheating but will try extra hard to hide their tracks and keep you from finding out. In the words of Dr. Fjelstad, Ph.D., guilt and regret "can lead a person to feel sorrow, grief, hurt, and anger—but these can be for the pain he or she feels for the self, not necessarily for the other person who was hurt by the behavior," per Psychology Today. When the opportunity presents itself, they will likely cheat again. However, this time they will avoid retributions by not getting caught. This is because the guilt they feel is about themselves, not you.

On the other hand, a person that experiences remorse genuinely regrets the pain they have caused you and will not likely repeat the same behavior. But can you tell the signs of genuine remorse?

Signs of remorse

A genuinely remorseful partner will hold themselves accountable for their actions, not try to shift the blame on you and be passive-aggressive. Even if your relationship had problems before the cheating, and your partner had felt unwanted or alienated, they understand that this is not an excuse for their affair and that the decision to cheat is on them. So comments like "You led me to cheat; you are just as much to blame as me" have no place in a remorseful person's vocabulary.

Consequently, while apologizing (there are, in fact, five apology languages!), they will not simply say, "I am sorry," and expect you to "get over with it already." Instead, they are more concerned with your feelings. As a result, they will be willing to do whatever it takes — for as long as it takes — to help you navigate the heartbreak, be it couples therapy or openly answering any of your questions.

A remorseful partner will be patient and will not shut down when you try to discuss the affair — even if it makes them uncomfortable or shameful. They will be honest with you and not shy away from giving you explanations by saying, "I don't know" or "I don't have the answers." Instead, they will try hard to find the explanations and show humility and willingness to improve by hiding nothing from you, even if it means bringing passwords to phones, social media accounts, etc., out into the open.

How to show remorse if you are on the wrong end

What happens if you are on the wrong end of the infidelity spectrum? If you truly want to save the relationship and hate the thought of losing your partner, you must do your best to show remorse and start by telling your partner that you were unfaithful. You need to understand that being the one who cheated means you have the complete picture of what happened. Even though the uncertainty of how your partner will react might be devastating, your discomfort is nowhere near what your partner is experiencing.

From disbelief to feelings of inadequacy, rage and deep sorrow, humiliation, and hopelessness, your partner may not be willing to accept your apology so easily. If your words seem to fall on deaf ears, you must prioritize actions to show your remorse when "sorry" won't suffice. Relationship Experts suggest that both quantity and quality of remorseful action are necessary to salvage a relationship post-cheating.

Accordingly, you will need to apologize as often as your partner needs to hear it, and your apologies should not be brief, matter-of-factly sorries. Instead, you should engage in meaningful communication where your body language and facial expressions demonstrate genuine remorse. Explain what you are sorry about and why. Acknowledge the deep hurt that you've caused and validate their emotions by taking responsibility. Then, instead of being defensive and looking for excuses, offer to work things together and perhaps seek help from a relationship counselor.

Why does the cheating partner show no remorse?

No matter how much you want your partner to see the hurt they have caused and how much you threaten to break up the relationship, the cheating partner might still not experience any remorse. Why is that?

There are several reasons why a cheater may show no remorse. The obvious answer is that they don't care about you. Or that they don't feel that what they were doing counts as cheating. Perhaps your partner feels that the two of you were drifting apart and that the affair resulted from it. Of course, it could be possible that the cheating partner has cheated before without getting caught and feels safe to do it again. Yet others may see nothing wrong with casual sex or even believe that to stay in a relationship, they need to let off steam occasionally. And lastly, certain personality traits of cheaters come into play.

CSU Professor of Psychology Dr. Kelly Campbell, Ph.D., says that people cheat for many reasons, from having narcissistic personality traits to seeing their differences as flaws, believing that their lives are not intertwined, and experiencing dissatisfaction and unfulfilling sex. Whatever the reasons, "We don't know if humans are even meant to be monogamous. It's just that some people are naturally more in-line with those views and others are not," via Brides. And those that are not are less likely to show remorse, and perhaps it's time to dump the partner who cheated on you.

How can you get past it?

Navigating your emotions and finding your way toward a meaningful connection with your partner will be difficult, but it is not impossible. Infidelity does not have to be the end of the relationship unless you want it to be. Many couples have stepped out of the infidelity drama stronger and more connected, and some even argue that cheating may reignite a spark in your relationship.

Adultery or infidelity is a game-changer in your relationship. However, signs of genuine remorse can be the first step towards starting fresh on more solid foundations. Seeking couples counseling can be beneficial in helping you navigate your emotions as you begin your healing process. It is hard, but the old mantra fake it till you make it may be the key to fixing your damaged relationship.

Invest time in your relationship and take a vacation together, away from everything that keeps bringing the infidelity back to your attention. Then, if everything else fails, you can always try a relationship reset until you feel emotionally ready to work on it again.