Cheater-Speak: Cannot forgive oneself but cannot stop cheating either


Michael wrote,

Hi Rev David. My ex-wife said she didn’t know how to forgive herself but at the same time would not stop her adultery. What is your take on this?

Dear Michael,

Two possible options come to mind as to what is happening here with your ex-wife:

1) She is lying for image or damage control.

A cheater lies. You cannot commit adultery and avoid lying. These sins come in packages. That is to say that a lot of sin comes with adultery. It is more than “just” one act.

To say she does not know how she can forgive herself might be a nod towards saying she is not that bad of a person. A really bad person would not even care is the thinking. See? She does. She cannot forgive herself.

It is a way to distance herself from shame–i.e. an unwanted identity. She knows adultery is bad. So, it looks better for her to acknowledge that badness herself. That’s what saying she cannot forgive herself does. But this “sorry” is skin deep, obviously.

2) She is telling the truth but is enthralled or addicted to the sin.

She might be addicted to the thrill of cheating. The sin may have taken over for her. That said, this does not excuse her sinful behavior. She still has choices even if they are limited by an addiction. With the knowledge that she cannot forgive herself, she ought to reach out to people who will help her detox and deal with her addiction. That is one choice within her reach even if she is addicted.

The fact that she does not make the choice to get help suggests to me that she is not really sorry. She prefers living in her addiction than dealing with the mess she has created. That tells us spiritually her expression is not godly sorrow leading to repentance (see 2 Corinthians 7:10). No life exists in this sorrow, only death, for we know that sin–e.g. adultery–leads to death according to Scripture (see James 1:15).

That’s my take on her expression that she cannot forgive herself but keeps on committing adultery. A truly repentant adulteress would seek help under such circumstances, which comes with helping her cut off the supply to such sinfully destructive behavior. Barring that, I see more lies or worldly sorrow at work. A truly sad state to see.


Rev. David


8 thoughts on “Cheater-Speak: Cannot forgive oneself but cannot stop cheating either”

  1. Thanks Rev David. It is truly sad. And to boot she rejected Christ at the same time. We were a Christian family or so I thought. At the end of our marriage she told me that she never truly believed. I was deceived for 2 years. But she met the biblical conditions for divorce. She committed adultery and was also a mom-believer who left a believer. So God gave me a way out and my conscience is clean. I did all I could to be a sound biblical husband.

  2. Michael- I read her comment as “I can’t forgive myself and I won’t stop cheating either.” Is that an accurate reading? Under my reading of it, I wouldn’t spend too much time pondering her comment, it’s just the usual mindf**** ploy to mess with you. Shows just enough to trigger pity “I can’t forgive myself!” to mess with you and get you to bite at the “poor me” card, which keeps you in her trap and keeps her in supply of kibbles, at your expense. If it were anything close to legit her comment would be more like “I don’t know how to stop and get off the path I’m on. I need help,” In which case she’d seek help and offer full disclosure as to her affairs. It sounds like the typical, illogical cheater speak to try and throw you off the scent b/c it then makes you want to try and figure out what it means rather than just taking it at it’s BS face value.

    1. Mrs DM, you read it correctly. She played the “poor me” card time and again. She told me every time she cheated, she would then go home and cry about it. I think she was trying to draw sympathy, as ridiculous as that sounds, and like you said throw me off her scent. She would say, “I did it again,” with her best cry face. Once I asked her why she doesn’t stop and her replay was “I don’t know how.” So it’s funny that you should mention that.

      She consistently tried to make it sound like something she couldn’t help doing and for a couple of weeks I bit. But then I woke up and saw her for who she is. God was trying to show me from the get go but I had a hard time accepting that my considerate and loving wife could turn into a cold and callous stranger seemingly overnight. God told me to leave her from the beginning but my church counselors confused me, sighting verses from Malachi and Hosea and some other verses.

      1. What is it about evangelical’s that cannot see the difference between a biblical story that is meant to be an instructive metaphor and one that is prescriptive? The story in Hosea is about God and unfaithful Israel, not marital counseling. I got the Hosea bit laid on me and was not mature enough in my understanding of scripture to properly decipher it. This lead to a lot of grief and avoidable heartache.
        I do not refer people to “biblical counselors” for this reason.

        1. Yeah, I spend a lot of time debunking that awful misapplication from Hosea. It is funny how that is what is picked up from the Old Testament along with Malach 2:16–God hates divorce–whereas all the numerous verses condemning adultery are virtually ignored or minimized.

          1. I’m just guessing but I think in my church the policy is that they do not recommended divorce which I find un-biblical because they have now moved away from God’s word and towards church doctrine. My counselor, in private, told me that he thought I did the right thing by choosing divorce but I don’t think he could have said that to me in front of his peers.

            Correct me if I’m wrong, but shouldn’t the church have educated me on God’s view of adultery and divorce then have me seek His answer instead of theirs? (By His grace He ended up making it really clear to me that He wanted divorce but it was really hard to hear Him through the initial shock and disbelief)

          2. Agreed, the church leaders ought to have done a better job in educating you on what IS said on such matters. Sadly, few church leaders–even well-meaning ones–are equipped to that task. It is easier just to flow with the sub-culture, and that sub-culture teaches against divorce even when it is Biblical–e.g. like with adultery.

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