How To Cope With Guilt When You Hurt Someone In A Relationship

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated April 27, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

Everyone makes mistakes in life, but it isn't always easy to live with yourself when you know that you hurt someone deeply. You might have hurt someone that you were in a relationship with due to making some bad choices. Maybe you cheated on your partner and need to know how to apologize to your boyfriend or girlfriend. You might have even mistreated your significant other in some way, dealing with shame in return. Feeling guilty about what you have done means that you want to be able to make amends.

Whether or not you can reconcile with your partner after having hurt them remains to be seen. That decision is going to be theirs to make. All you can truly do is try to show them that your remorse is genuine. In the meantime, you might be concerned about how to cope with the guilt that is eating away at you. Look at the following ways to handle the guilty feelings that you have.

Guilt Can Weigh Heavily On Us

Sincerely Apologize

If you know that you have hurt someone that you love, then you need to apologize. This might seem obvious, but some people don't take the time to apologize for their actions in a sincere way. Depending on what you did to hurt your partner, he or she might not be speaking to you. It might take some time to be able to apologize to your partner properly, but you should attempt to do so when they're ready to listen to what you have to say.

When you have made a big mistake in a relationship, it can take time for your partner to come around. If they have been truly hurt by something that you did, then your guilty feelings are justified. You know that you did something that was wrong and you want to make amends. It just isn't always as easy as saying that you're sorry and having things go back to normal.

Understand that you need to be truly sorry for what has occurred. An insincere apology is something that your partner is likely to see right through. The goal of your apology shouldn't be to try to make yourself feel better. You should want to show that you're remorseful because you truly do regret your actions. No one likes feeling guilty, and hopefully, your partner will be able to forgive you.

Even people who have cheated on their partners are sometimes able to find forgiveness. What will happen in your situation depends on what your partner decides to do. Just accept responsibility for the things that you have done and do your best to show your significant other that you do feel remorse. This is the first big step toward coping with the guilt that you're dealing with.

Recognize That You Can't Change What Has Already Happened

It's also true that you can't go back in time to change what has already happened. You likely regret having hurt someone in a relationship. No one wants to make someone that they care about feel sad or wounded in any way. There's a good chance that you would take back what has happened if you could. This isn't a possibility, so you must move forward.

Since you can't change what has occurred, you simply have to commit to doing better in the future. Being able to recognize your flaws and your mistakes is an important part of growing as a person. Everyone screws up sometimes, and it's important to own your actions. Your caused someone that you care about emotional pain and you want to keep that from happening again. If you do your best to reflect on what went wrong, then you might be able to do things differently next time.

Being able to avoid the same pitfalls that you fell into before is crucial. Try to think about what happened even if it does make you feel more guilty. Coping with your guilt is important, but so is avoiding making the same mistake twice. You can do better as a person, and you will be able to hold your head high once more.

Remember That Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Your apology to your partner might mean a great deal to them. However, it's still important to understand that actions will always speak louder than words. You can apologize as many times as you want to, but it won't mean anything if your actions aren't backing up what you have been saying. If you want to save your relationship and truly overcome your guilty feelings, then you must make sure that you do the right things moving forward.

If you hurt your significant other due to treating them poorly, then you must make an effort to start treating them with respect. Your actions can make a difference, and working on your issues will allow you to cope with the guilt that you're feeling, too. There are many steps that you can take to show that you're improving yourself.

Work on Improving Yourself

Working on improving yourself is another positive way to deal with the guilt that you're feeling. You can't take back your actions, but you can try to do better. Working on improving certain aspects of your character will go a long way toward redeeming yourself. If you're trying to save your relationship after having hurt your partner, then you'll want to work on things to make it up to them.

For some people, this will involve working on big problems such as anger issues. If you have an anger problem and wound up hurting your significant other due to an angry outburst, then you need to work on anger management techniques. Going to anger management therapy might be a necessary step for you to develop into a healthier person. Many different therapy offices will offer anger management help, and you can also get help online.

Guilt Can Weigh Heavily On Us

Other ways that you can focus on improving yourself include working on your communication skills, learning to be more empathetic toward others, and coming to terms with the fact that people are imperfect. You're going to make mistakes, and you might even have to stumble a bit before you're able to make amends with your partner truly. What matters is to have a sincere desire to change. If you want to do better and be a better person, then you'll be able to make progress.

Don't Focus Entirely on the Negative

Feeling guilty is a normal response when you know that you have done something wrong. Even so, you shouldn't spend the entirety of the rest of your life feeling bad. It's important to be able to forgive yourself for hurting someone and be able to move on. As mentioned above, you should do what you can to make amends to show your partner that you care. Even if you aren't dating this person any longer, it can be therapeutic for both of you to have some closure.

Once you have apologized and committed to recognizing your mistakes, you're going to need to stop focusing on the negative aspects of what happened so much and stop feeling guilty. If you continue to dwell on the bad thing that you did, then you're just going to get depressed. Feeling depressed or anxious over what has happened won't help you to grow from this experience. Being able to face what has happened while still being able to move forward is going to take strength.

Try your best to focus on other aspects of your life. Talk about what happened with other people in your life if you need to vent or get advice. After you've said what you need to say, you should try to focus your attention elsewhere. Pour energy into succeeding at work and spend more time working on the hobbies that you're passionate about. Life is too short to let guilt consume you, so do your best to move on while still owning your actions.

Consider Couples Therapy

Online couples therapy is a fantastic way for people to get the help that they need. Even couples who have gone through significant struggles have been able to receive the proper help when turning to the most dedicated online therapists. These licensed professionals understand how to help you work on your issues so that you can move forward together. If you can commit to working with the right therapists, then your relationship will be able to improve.

The guilt that you're feeling inside is a sign that you want to be able to make amends. If your partner is willing to take your hand and work toward a future together, then the online therapists would be happy to help you make that happen. It will take some time, but you will be able to learn how to communicate more effectively. This will allow you to avoid having the same problems in the future. You'll be able to have a much healthier relationship, and the online counselors will be there to guide you every step of the way.

Signing up for online therapy is very simple, and you will even be able to get help whenever you want to. You don't have to worry about adhering to strict office hours. It's the convenient therapy solution that will work for any couple that needs assistance. Take the time to contact an online counselor now if you want to work on your relationship issues.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What to do when you hurt the person you love?

When you’ve hurt someone you love, it might be hard to know what to do next. The person you’ve hurt might not want to speak to you, or they might be angry or be processing painful emotions that lead them to distance themselves. It’s easy to get frustrated or retaliate with emotion of your own, but this will likely lead to further conflict that only worsens the situation.

An important thing to do when you’ve hurt someone you love is to listen to them. Listen to not just their feelings and responses to your actions, but also to what they need or want you to do to make things better. Someone who feels hurt may need space or time. They may want to start by acknowledging the problem and working through the issues that led to it.

You may think that this person feels hurt for one reason, then later it turns out they were truly hurt for a different reason that you had not considered. You cannot truly apologize to someone until you really understand their position. Start the conversation by asking questions and listening without judgement. If you start the conversation by simply apologizing and explaining yourself then it may seem like you are trying to justify your actions instead of asking for forgiveness. Use questions, not statements. Try to understand how this person really feels. No matter how well you know them, you can always learn more. It’s always possible that you are making assumptions. 

There isn’t really one single path to take to start the healing process; it’s likely best to work with the person you’ve hurt and listen to how that person feels. You may follow these steps and others outlined in this guide and still struggle when fixing the problem; if that’s the case, you may want to seek professional help. You may speak with a marriage counselor, a relationship coach, a counselor online, or another professional who can help outline the best approach to fix the issue.

Can you love someone and hurt them?

It’s definitely possible to hurt someone you love. Just because you’ve hurt them doesn’t mean your love for them has disappeared. You might say some things you don’t mean in the heat of an argument, for example, or do something that otherwise damages someone’s trust in you. You will probably feel a lot of guilt, remorse, and regret when you hurt someone you love.

When love hurts: it is during our worst fight with the someone we love most. This may be because the stakes are high. A certain quality or habit that would not bother you in a friend may start to bother you in someone who you spend all your time with, someone who is helping you raise your kids, or someone who is publicly associated with you. Suddenly, things that you might otherwise let slide become big problems. The fights may also affect you more if you truly love this person. You may find yourself very upset after fights with someone whom you really love. A disagreement at work does not affect us in the same way as a disagreement at home.

There are some examples of unacceptable behavior that aren’t normal and are not excusable, even if you or someone else feel(s) that they love the victim of their actions. Abusive relationships, for example, can often feel hard to escape because the person who’s hurt still feels attached. If you’ve hurt someone you love, you should want to make it better and accept responsibility for your actions.

Why do people hurt the ones they love?

A lot of times we do things that we don’t realize are hurting other people, or we say or do things without stopping to consider their real consequences. It’s easy to get caught up in the heat of an argument or say or do things we don’t mean. A more serious example of how you might hurt someone you love is infidelity or cheating. Cheating is a big betrayal of trust, and it can often be extremely difficult to work through without ending the relationship.

Some of the things people might do to the ones they love stem from other, deeper issues. This can be the case when you hurt someone you love too. People who don’t talk to their partners about things that upset them may be set up for more intense, pent-up, and emotional disagreements, for example. Trust and communication issues might lead to feelings of jealousy and paranoia, leading to inappropriate actions or decisions. Maybe someone didn’t show their feelings until they grew into an intense outburst.

It is important to remember that if you love someone who is hurting you, it is not your fault. But their poor behavior reflects on them, not you. Try not to take it to heart, if possible.

A lot of times you’ll find that you (or anyone else who hurts someone they love) weren’t acting of out malice; people are human, and humans make mistakes.

How do you apologize for hurting someone you love?

One of the most important things to remember when apologizing after you’ve hurt someone you love is that you need to be sincere. As we discussed earlier, apologizing in a way that fully accepts responsibility and shows genuine remorse for your wrongdoings is key. Simply apologizing once usually isn’t enough. You’ll probably need to show you’re sorry in other ways too.

Pay attention to what the person you’ve hurt says. Listen to them. Understand where they’re coming from; remember that they’re likely struggling with a lot of painful emotions. When a person feels hurt, they might be hard to reach out to. Try and be patient. Offer ways to help if you can and remember that it may take some time for things to go back to normal.

The best apologies start with questions. You may be assuming that this person is angry for one reason, when in reality it is because of a different situation entirely. Listen very closely to everything your loved one has to say and do so without any judgement.

Listening in and of itself is an act of sincere love.

How do you not hurt someone you love?

If you’re worried about hurting someone because you’ve already done something that you know will cause them pain – like cheating on a partner – the best thing to do is likely to be honest about your mistake. Trying to hide or cover things up will probably lead to a much worse situation down the road if the other person finds out in another way.

If nothing has happened and you’re simply trying to be mindful of how you treat others, a good place to start is to promote active and healthy communication. Signs of healthy communication can include honesty, openness, a willingness to say what one means, and more. Friends family and partners are all examples of important people in our lives. Regardless of who it is, you want to make them feel valued, heard, and respected. Pay attention to what they say and do. Try and be there for them as often as you can.

How do you apologize to someone you hurt deeply?

When we’ve hurt someone badly, we often struggle to know how to begin making things right again. This is especially true when you hurt someone you love deeply or care about a lot.

Apologizing and admitting that you did something wrong is oftentimes only the first step to healing the wound. This is especially true when the action was severe. Someone who feels hurt might not accept your apology right off the bat, but it’s important to still offer it. See “how do you apologize for hurting someone you love?” for more details, or consider the tips outlined earlier in our guide to work on a thoughtful apology.

What to say to someone who hurt you badly?

When you feel hurt, your first instinct might be to lash out at whoever is causing you pain. You might want to say or do things that will cause them pain in return. You might feel upset and refuse to speak to or spend time with them – you might not even know what to say.

It’s okay to be honest with someone who has caused you pain. Be truthful about the fact that they have hurt you and that their actions were not okay. Your goal is not to guilt trip anyone, but instead to communicate how you feel so that the other person understands that they have done something wrong. You might also suggest ways that they could help, like apologizing, giving you some space, looking into marriage counseling, or something else.

If you need time and space from someone, that’s okay too. Be sure to communicate this fact so it’s clear that you aren’t trying to ignore or silence anyone. It’s alright to feel upset when someone has hurt you. Give yourself the time you need to process things and heal.

How do you apologize to someone who doesn't want to talk to you?

When someone we’ve hurt refuses to talk to us, it may feel impossible to fix a broken friendship, relationship, etc., which can be very frustrating. A good step to take might just be to give the person who you’ve hurt time to process their emotions. Sometimes talking in a time of high emotion and pain can lead to negative communication.

If someone still refuses to talk to you even after the dust has settled, or if you’re having trouble having meaningful conversations with them, you might want to seek professional assistance. If you’re working with a romantic partner, you may reach out to a marriage counselor or a relationship coach. Marriage counseling can be a good way to breach a barrier in communication. 

How do you get someone to forgive you for hurting them?

When you hurt someone you love, you probably want things to go back to normal as quickly as possible, especially if you’re dealing with feelings of guilt and remorse. But it’s important to remember that when you hurt someone you love, they are not obligated to forgive you. You can be thoughtful and sincere in your apologies and attempts to make it up to them, but trying to force someone who doesn’t want to forgive you to do so will only end in further conflict.

It may take a long time for forgiveness when you hurt someone you love. It may feel like it will never happen or that things will never be exactly the same again. But, after accepting responsibility for what you’ve done, you should try to remember that the person you’ve hurt needs the ability to process and react to things in their own way.

What are the physical signs of guilt?

Guilt is an uncomfortable and downright painful emotion. When someone feels this way, they may have emotional and physical symptoms to go along with their feelings. Understanding guilt isn’t just mental; it can show up in your body. It’s causing you pain, and you’re not sure what to do about it. A person who feels guilty may experience stomach pain, headaches, or insomnia. You may have heard the expression, “worried sick.” That applies to when you feel guilty. An individual who regrets hurting someone else may not be able to sleep. That’s because they feel guilty. The person doesn’t feel good about their choices, and it’s affecting them physically. It’s difficult to sleep when you’re racked with guilt. You could ruminate on the decisions you’ve made, and regret hurting those you love. It’s natural to worry about how your behavior impacts others. That shows that you deeply care about your relationships. One way to alleviate guilt is by taking action. When you feel guilty for hurting someone you love, holding in those feelings makes it worse. It’s not worth the headaches, nausea, acid reflux, stomach pain, or insomnia you may be experiencing. Take action instead of ruminating in guilt. Express your true feelings and show that you regret hurting your loved one. That will help alleviate physical feelings of guilt. 

What does it feel like to be guilty?

When you’re guilt ridden, you may feel anxious or depressed. A guilty individual regrets hurting their loved ones. If you’ve done something that causes you to feel guilt, you may feel paralyzed to make it right. You’re worried about what you did and how it impacted other people. You feel guilty for hurting those people, and you’re anxious about how to resolve the situation. Depression may kick in if you can’t figure out a way to solve the problems. Guilt and regret go together. When you take an action that hurts another person, for example, cheating on your partner, you feel remorse. If you were cheated on, there are signs that your partner feels guilty for hurting you. 

Their true feelings may come out when you confront them about what they did. There are signs they regret hurting you, and they could manifest in their body. They might feel sick to their stomach, or be afraid you’re going to abandon them. One sign they regret hurting you is if they show overt emotion. When your partner cries in front of you because of what they did, that means they could feel bad for hurting you. But feeling guilty isn’t enough to save a relationship. Pay attention to the signs that they regret hurting you and call them out on their feelings. One marker could be that they are over-apologizing for their behavior. Another one of the signs they regret hurting you is they are reassurance-seeking from you. They ask if you’re okay, if there’s anything wrong, or if you still love them. This reassurance-seeking behavior is one of the sure signs they regret hurting you. But, it’s not enough to have remorse for their feelings. The person who feels guilt needs to change their behavior. They not only feel guilty for hurting their partner but that they want to do better.

How can you tell when someone lies to you?

Relationships are built on trust. Some people lie to their partners and get away with it. There isn’t a definite way to tell if your significant other is lying to you. You might see signs in their behavior. Maybe their words don’t match up with their actions. Perhaps they regret hurting you, but they’re not telling the truth. They’re only telling you that so you don’t break up with them. In that case, the only way to know if they’re lying is to wait and see how they act. There are ways to tell if someone is lying in their body language. Maybe they avoid eye contact or become defensive when you ask them questions. If something in their story doesn’t add up, you ask for more details, and the tale changes; they’re probably lying. If you catch your partner in a lie, it’s crucial to determine if the person feels guilty about not telling the truth. Sometimes people lie because they’re afraid of hurting someone with the truth. If someone feels guilty for hurting you with their lies, that’s a good sign. It’s a chance to open up a dialogue about the importance of honesty and trust in a relationship.

What are the side effects of guilt?

The side effects of guilt are anxiety, depression, panic attacks, or low self-esteem. If your partner regrets hurting you but can’t overcome the guilt, it could lead to them feeling bad about themselves. It’s good to face up to your behavior and apologize. However, if you’ve done all you can, you told the truth and tried to make amends, feeling guilty is only hurting you. They don’t have to continue to feel guilty. Tell them that you understand they regret hurting you, but they’ve already done everything he can to make it right. The best thing you can do is work through these issues with time. Another place to talk about guilt is in couple’s counseling.

Is getting angry a sign of guilt?

Sometimes when people feel guilty, they lash out in anger. The person may not want to come to terms with their actions and how they affected others. For example, if your partner is angry when you accuse them of cheating, that might mean they feel guilty. If you suspect they have been unfaithful, follow your intuition. They may feel guilty for causing you distress and lash out in anger. Maybe you’re looking for signs they regret hurting you. You want to feel validated in your pain. That’s understandable, and there are many things to look out for when it comes to hurt feelings. Anger could be included as one of the signs they regret hurting you. One of the signs they regret hurting you is if they become defensive. If they had nothing to hide, why would they be angry? These are concerns you can discuss together as a couple. On the other hand, maybe they’re upset because they are loyal and faithful, and feel hurt that you’re accusing them of something they aren’t doing. 

What type of emotion is guilt?

Guilt means that you feel remorse for your actions. You have regrets about what you have done. If you and your boyfriend had an argument, and he yelled at you, he may feel guilty. One of the signs he regrets hurting you is if he apologizes. That shows that he has remorse for what he did. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s about what you do after those errors that matter. Guilt is a messenger that you feel bad for what you did. 

How do you get over hurting someone?

It’s crucial to take actions to show that you feel bad for hurting them, and demonstrate that you want to act differently next time. When your boyfriend tells you that he wants to “be a better man,” that’s another one of the signs he regrets hurting you. He wants to treat you well. Anyone can get over hurting their partner if they make efforts to be kind to them in the future. You may have heard the expression “time heals all wounds.” Sometimes it takes time to get over hurt feelings. Be patient with yourself and talk about these guilty feelings in therapy.

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