True Remorse and the Cheater’s Self-Forgiveness Struggle

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern,what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. – II Corinthians 7:10-11, NIV


A marriage restored after a spouse raped the other’s soul is a miracle. And it is an example of extravagant generosity on the part of the faithful spouse to even offer this possibility to the cheater. The opportunity is not owed to an unfaithful spouse (see Deut. 22:22, Jer. 3:8, Mt 1:19, Mt 5:32, etc). It is an undeserved mercy and gift.

Since I view such restorations as miracles–on the level of someone being raised from the dead, I feel it is important to do some work making sure you are not buying a sham-restoration. What evidence do we expect in the genuine article?

To this ends, I suggest you look at the response of a cheater. What they say and do will go a long ways to reading whether or not true remorse and repentance is happening.

When it comes to someone who has done a serious wrong (like cheating and abusing you), the primary internal struggle I hope to see in a truly remorseful sinner is a struggle over forgiving himself/herself.

This might seem counter-intuitive.

Look for the Cheater’s Self-Forgiveness Struggle.

Didn’t they cheat because they were too focused on themselves in the first place?  Isn’t this just feeding into their self-indulgent and self-centered nature?

No. I argue not.

Detecting a struggle for self-forgiveness reveals two very important things:

1) When we really blow it with someone we deeply love (and really understand that we blew it), the struggle I see is not so much over getting that person’s forgiveness but forgiving ourselves.

How could I have done that to them?! What was I thinking?! How could I have been so selfish and uncaring?!

Such are the thoughts that go through the head of a person who is struggling over forgiving himself/herself in deeply hurting those he/she really loves. It is an empathetic response. The horror of what they did to their beloveds registers on their own heart. They feel the pain. And that is a weighty burden.

They struggle with self-forgiveness.

2) Struggling with self-forgiveness says the violation is a violation of their own internally held values. This struggle says to me that they do not want to be the type of person who does these things. They betrayed themselves when they acted in this harmful way.

It is like the classic struggle between the Old “Man” and the New “Man” that the Apostle Paul describes in Romans 7:14ff. They realize they did wrong and genuinely want to do better in the future. They want to live as their true self–i.e. someone made new by Christ’s work on the Cross. They do not want to live in bondage to the old sin nature.

This is vital. The struggle for self-forgiveness reveals the sinner is recognizing the cause of their sin. They realize it started from within and did not come from without. They are no longer blaming the rules or outside circumstances. The sinner is owning their sin. And by struggling with self-forgiveness, they are saying that this sin violates their own integrity or life values.

It is no longer a matter of grudgingly admitting they broke someone else’s rules. Nor is it a matter of trying to get off the hook and “game” the system pointing the figure at someone else. Rather, the truly remorseful and repentant sinner recognizes that they cannot run from what is within or get off in violating their own values. As such, the sinner coming into alignment with the spiritual reality taught by Jesus–namely, our sins flow from the wicked desires within our own hearts alone (e.g. Mark 7:20-23). 

While I consider this struggle with self-forgiveness ought to be a task along the journey to healing–forgiving ourselves like forgiving someone else is a process after all–I do think it is important not to skip this task.

Skipping it suggests to me the person has not truly registered the horror of what they did to their spouse, family, and friends.

Skipping it suggests to me that they view not cheating and lying as rules taught to them from the outside as opposed to violations of their new beings in Christ who calls us to fidelity, holiness, and righteousness.

This is why I suggest looking for the cheater’s self-forgiveness struggle. It reveals a lot.

5 thoughts on “True Remorse and the Cheater’s Self-Forgiveness Struggle”

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been struggling with whether I was right to completely throw him out and go no communication. This allows me to understand that he doesn’t have true remorse and I know that he hasn’t accepted that he has anything to be forgiven for. Thank you for easing the burden on my heart.

  2. Very helpful DM. Being married to a serial cheater, liar, manipulator (especially of the Word) grace abuser, soul rapist, for 31 yrs who told me over and over of forgiveness from God. He minimized whatever it was he did to not make it so bad, and that God forgives ALL, as many times as you blow it. Problem was he NEVER changed the sinful behaviors. Not sure he truly knows God by his life! Family is now destroyed by him, but somehow its my fault. He definatley is “skipping” what he has done and did to us!

    His parents (still alive at 85) were ministers his entire life. They offered -0- help to me and have caudled him from me, now the enemy, who has been angry, unforgiving, and God forbid ….Divorcing their son!

  3. 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?

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