Recently I touched on the difference between real remorse and fake remorse. Actually, what I recommended was that you go read Chump Lady’s excellent post on the same topic. But I realize some of you won’t do that so I thought I would demonstrate what real remorse looks like.
As many of my longtime readers know I am dating an amazing guy, aka, The Mobster. He’s a pretty funny guy. He’s sweet and kind, makes me laugh, takes care of me, does romantic things for me, and goes on epic adventures with me. The only negative to our relationship is the distance. We live 10.5 hours apart.
In the beginning we saw each other approximately every 2-3 weeks. We (mainly I) got by on very little sleep while talking late into the night/early into the morning. We had one weekend where we were so eager to see each other we both got up at 4 am (this was on one of my few days off from Target where I regularly got up at 3:30 in the morning), drove to a destination that was a midpoint for both of us, spent the day together, and then drove home. I think I got home around 11 pm and had to go into work at 4 am the next day.
Then September rolled around. Taxes were looming for him. He owns his own business and had filed for an extension. School was in session. Kids made demands on our time. We saw each other Labor Day and the very last weekend in September. October was more of the same, with the added little twist that we would make plans to meet up and then those plans would be scrapped for one reason or another.
Finally there came a time when we were going to get together and he had to cancel on me again. I was so disappointed. Instead of talking it through with him I turned inward and I let all my fears and disappointment rule me. I asked myself if this was a relationship that was ever going to last. I wondered if we really had what it took. Were we no different from people in affairs? We met up on weekends. We had no responsibilities when we were together. Most of the time we didn’t even have our kids with us so we weren’t playing mom and dad. It was all about us. I started convincing myself that our relationship wasn’t real and we were just fooling ourselves. He was never going to move up here. Or if he did he may be very disappointed considering he would have spent something like a grand total of 30 days with me before selling his home and his business and moving 600 miles to be with my crazy ass. I was spiraling quickly and by the morning I sent him a text that basically asked what we were doing. Eventually we talked on the phone and I was thisclose to ending things with him. I still remember him saying to me, “This isn’t going to work, is it? Dammit, I really wanted this to work.”
At that moment I snapped out of it. What the fuck was I doing? I shifted gears immediately. I apologized. I promised I would call at lunch and we would talk. When I had a chance I texted him and I apologized again, profusely. I told him how wrong I was. I asked for forgiveness. Several times since that incident I have apologized. He has told me repeatedly that there is no reason to do so. I, however, won’t let myself off that easily.
I hurt him. I will spend the rest of my life apologizing for that, if I must. I don’t ever want to be a source of pain for that incredible man. He spent years with a wife who caused him immense pain. I don’t want to do that. He doesn’t deserve it.
We talked about this again when we were together over the New Year’s Eve holiday. I told him, as I’ve told him before, that I was incredibly wrong for doing that. I was petulant and bratty and insensitive. I was throwing a tantrum. I apologized again. His response was that I was a woman who knew what I was willing to deal with. I had boundaries and deal breakers and he was glad. My response was that I was an idiot. I was stupid to be willing to throw away what we have just because we went six weeks without seeing each other.
I’ve since told him that I would rather see him once a year than see anyone else every single day.
I told him about Todd that weekend together. How I met this fantastic guy back when I was 17 years old and I fell madly in love, and then he died. I told him how I sometimes wondered if I had met the love of my life when I was 17 and only had him for a few months, and that was it for me. Until he came along. He made me smile all the time just like I did when I first began dating Todd. I told him that he had made me happier than anyone else I had ever dated (or married) in the last 30 years. I would never leave him and I was a complete idiot for even considering leaving him for such a stupid reason.
That’s a lovely story, Sam, although truthfully you sound a bit psychotic, but how is that any different from cheating spouses who swear up and down that they are sorry and they’ll never do it again? The ones that swear on a stack of Bibles and their children’s lives that their spouse is the love of their life and they were an idiot to throw it all away?
Aside from me saying I’m remorseful I act remorseful. Perhaps, “behave in a remorseful manner” would be a better phrase. I begged for forgiveness, even though he was more than willing to forgive me without the begging. I told him weeks later how sorry I was and how wrong I was. But even more important than that were the things I didn’t do.
I didn’t blame him. I didn’t tell him that if he hadn’t done x, y, or z that I wouldn’t have been a crazy loon.
What did you think was going to happen when you canceled plans on me yet again? If you had just stuck with our original plans I never would have gone all batshit crazy on you! This is ultimately your fault.
No, I took responsibility for my behavior. I owned every bit of it.
Similarly I didn’t tell him that if he had done a, b, or c, then I wouldn’t have done it either.
I also didn’t stop with merely saying the words, “I’m sorry.” I’ve demonstrated it. I’ve done better. We’ve had our share of hiccups along the way. Try being the sane parent to abandoned kids. It’s full of unique pit falls. We’re each single handedly raising our kids with no help from the other parent. We’ve had to plan a lot of things around kids’ activities. Recently he was going to come up here for the first time in almost 6 months but things with work got crazy and he wasn’t going to be able to make the trip.
Instead of getting upset about it I told him I would meet him halfway. I would even go further than halfway if he needed to work later on Saturday. We would miss out on Friday evening together but we’d have most of Saturday and half of Sunday. It would be better than nothing.
He actually thanked me for that. He told me that this time around he was the one falling apart and ready to call off the whole weekend and then I offered to drive and meet him halfway. I was the one that pointed out spending half the weekend together was better than spending none of the weekend together. “I’ve come a long way since October, haven’t I? Aren’t you proud of me?” i joked with him.
While he never holds it over my head I can tell you that if he brought it up 9 months later and told me that he felt hurt by my behavior, or something I did recently triggered that memory and upset him, I wouldn’t tell him to get over it. I wouldn’t call him names. I wouldn’t say mean things to him or use his insecurities against him. People who are truly remorseful don’t do that. I would apologize yet again. As I said, I will apologize for the rest of my life if that’s what he needs. Because I love him and I want him to know how truly sorry I am that I behaved like that. I’m sorry because I hurt him and I don’t ever want him associating me with hurtful memories. I strive every day to do better and to show him how much I love him and appreciate him.
I want to address this notion that people act like assholes because they’re ashamed of their behavior. I am very ashamed of the way I behaved. I do not act like an asshole. That is probably the stupidest thing I have ever heard of.
I’m so ashamed of the fact that I went off and fucked a whore for three years; I lied and cheated and I am so ashamed of that behavior that I’m going to call you names, degrade you, refuse to tell you the truth, make you beg me for answers, and in general, act like a fucking asshole. I only do it because I love you.
Quick question. If your “ashamed” spouse punched you in the face would you still be telling yourself he or she loved you and was just acting out from a place of humiliation?
People who are truly remorseful and not simply trying to avoid consequences behave remorsefully. They are humble. They look to change their behavior and their responses. They apologize. They are understanding. They don’t put time limits on your anger or grieving. They realize that you are in charge and it doesn’t matter what they need; it matters what you need. They own their actions instead of putting them off onto you. They tell you what you want to know; they don’t make you beg for answers. They don’t keep secrets. They realize “trickle truth” isn’t any kind of truth at all; it’s lying by omission and trying to keep control over the narrative. They don’t try to keep you off-balance. They support you. They have your back. They realize they are not owed forgiveness or reconciliation. They focus on you; they put whatever injustices they feel they have experienced that led them to fuck someone else, on the back burner and concentrate on your feelings of betrayal. They keep the focus on what they have done; they don’t hand out false equivalencies or attempt to point out all your faults. They don’t act like an asshole and then try to justify it by saying they feel shame. They don’t rage at you or tell you to get over it already. They don’t call you names or say mean things. They don’t act like they’re the victim, or like whatever faults you may have are equal to them cheating. Above all, they want to make it right. They take ownership. They show humility.
Folks, here is the ugly truth. Cheaters don’t like consequences. Many times they will avoid them at all costs. They also love the idea of people fighting over them. It keeps everyone off balance and gives them centrality; they love the so-called “pick me dance”. As painful as the truth may be you need to figure out if the person who betrayed you is showing real remorse or if they’re simply trying to avoid consequences. Once you figure that out you may realize that while your unfaithful spouse is more than willing to stay in your marriage, they are not at all willing to do the work to reconcile.