I Cheated. Now What?
What To Do When You've Had An Affair.
No one likes to think of themselves as a cheater, yet conservative estimates suggest cheating happens in approximately 25% of marriages, with numbers being potentially greater in dating relationships. With those figures, it’s likely that you, your partner, or someone you know has been affected by cheating. And even though our collective exacerbation at cheating remains strong, it’s common enough that we could consider it part of the human erotic experience.
Never the less, cheating can really hurt and cause irreversible damage to our lives and relationships, not to mention the fall out on our self-esteem, family dynamics and finances.
So – what gives? If you were the cheater, and you’ve been found out, and you’re reading this, you possibly have a lot of questions, including WTF happens next? The truth is, if your partner decides to end your relationship, there’s really not much you can do, but if they are willing to work with you and you both want to stay together, there is work ahead for both of you.
Doing the long haul of repair is never easy, but it is possible to repair a relationship after an infidelity. Here are some suggestions.
Take A Look At Yourself
Ask yourself if you really want to stay in the relationship. Is it worth saving? Only you will have the answer to that extremely difficult and confronting question. Knowing you have caused harm to someone you love or used to love is hard to live with and sometimes the impulse to run to avoid feeling the shame of the hurt you’ve caused is great – which could cause further harm. Instead of running – ask yourself – do I want to be in this relationship or not? What happens next follows on from there.
Check in with yourself about your motivations for cheating. While the old beliefs about infidelity used to insist that cheating happened only when couples fell out of love, we now recognize lovers cheat for many reasons, many of which have nothing to do with the partner but rather with the cheater themselves. Lack of personal satisfaction, longing for freedoms of bygone days, wanting to feel more spirited and hopeful, wanting to experience new routines and pleasures are all reasons people cheat and none have anything to do with no longer loving their partner. Sometimes the person/s they cheat with are people they have real feelings for, other times the feelings the lover evokes are more about instant gratification rather than long term intimacy. If you cheated, ask yourself why you think you did it. Perhaps you thought the relationship was hopeless? Perhaps you’re sexually frustrated and need to talk about your sex life? Do you really have feelings for the person you cheated with? Getting clear about these questions can reduce the chances of further harm being caused by avoiding these questions within yourself.
End The Affair (If you’re serious about repair)
This is a no-brainer but it needs to be said. To save your relationship from further harm - end the affair. If this person was a friend, a co-worker, a friend of your partner or someone more than a one-night-stand / sex worker, it may be tricky, especially if they have feelings for you. But part of doing the work of repair, is doing the work of being uncomfortable.
Reduce the temptation to cheat more by cutting your losses and removing them from your life – especially if boundaries are hard for you to manage. Do not leave anyone hanging. If you have made a decision to remain in your relationship you need to be clear, succinct and honest about it with your ‘lover’ if they were emotionally invested. Write out what you’re going to say, making it clear you have made your decision to end it, and rehearse it a few times. Deliver the news by phone or email to reduce the temptation of getting side-tracked. Respect what transpired between you and recognize the person you cheated with may be hurt too, especially if you lied to them about your true relationship status. As hard as it might be, remain firm in your decision to prioritize what matters by saying NO to what you don’t want and YES to what you do want. Be sure to let your partner know the steps you have taken to end the affair and re-calibrate the original relationship.
You may be tempted to omit pieces of information about the affair, but the truth is, the more you omit, the more your partner will likely demand answers. Take full responsibility for your actions and recognize the impact of what’s happened, even if you didn’t mean it. Regardless of how your partner found out, you owe it to them to admit the state of affairs and be an adult about it. Continuing to perpetuate lies will only cause more harm later and could completely jeopardize any chance of repair. Exceptions are personal, intimate information about the person you cheated with when they didn’t consent to it being shared. Similarly with descriptive details of your sexual play together. Such information can create further havoc for your partner, especially if they don’t have a plan for how they will manage hearing something they can’t unhear! Even if they demand to know, the sordid intimate details are best to remain private.
You Screwed Up But You’re Not a Doormat
Causing harm to those you love has real and ongoing consequences. They likely won’t just ‘get over it’ because you’ve said it’s over. There’s going to be ongoing emotions, plus potentially physical and sexual fallout. For example, your partner may get reactive over otherwise mundane things, and you’re going to need to show empathy and support them no matter how much pain they’re in. You’ll have to ride it out together for a while at least. Show them you understand that they’re hurting and remind them you still love them. Remain calm and steady and assure them you have made your decision to stay in the relationship.
Sometimes, a betrayed partner’s anger can be explosive and seemingly never ending. Your cheating is not permission for your partner to become abusive toward you, not should you be expected to become like a child or allow them to invade all of your privacy including access to all your emails, social media accounts and phone. If they don’t trust you despite you being trustworthy and ceasing your affair, you have a different and potentially greater problem on your hands than just an infidelity. You may likely have a power struggle going on which if left unattended can become toxic, volatile and manipulative. If your partner demands you turn over your life to them, you may need to stand your ground and say something to the effect of “I am happy for us to rebuild trust, but asking me to give up my autonomy is not going to help foster love and trust between us” (because it’s actually not) Rebuilding trust takes time, but being bullied into it never helps.
Have clear limits on the kind of questions you will not answer. Intimate information about the person you cheated with or their family, explicit, descriptive sexual details and other things too private or potentially exploitative are off limits. Similarly, check together that if your partner hears something they don’t like, they have a plan on how they will process it and with whom, without making you their punching bag. You can only answer questions to the degree they support healing and not create more problems.
And It Affects Sex
Sex with your partner can either be a disaster after an affair – or it may be hotter than it’s ever been. Sometimes an affair supercharges the erotic energy between you and makes you want each other more than ever. Sometimes it’s barely a birthday candle in a hurricane. There is no way to predict. Be ready to expect this. Your partner may not want sex for a period of time and when you do start again, they may become emotional right in the middle of it. If this happens, be kind, don’t blame and allow room for repair to occur. Remind them what you find attractive about them, how you feel about them and how much you love being their partner.
Growth Is Painful
There are many reasons people cheat some of which are reasonable, some are perplexing. People cheat in good relationships and bad relationship but no matter what, once the dust has settled in the affair, take some time to talk about the relationship and check in with each other about what factors lead up to the affair and feeling like you couldn’t talk about them earlier. If you’re serious about repairing your relationship, it’s highly likely you’ll need professional support with this. If you’re the one who cheated and you want to take steps to make things right again, take the initiative to seek out counseling and find people whose style you like. These days online options are abundant so you needn’t just limit yourself to someone in your town, search further afield to find someone right for you. If your partner isn’t open to couples’ work, definitely find someone for yourself, who is supportive of you and is able to help you make sense of the experience.
Acceptance and Moving Forward
Accept that you made a mistake. Now your job is to take a long hard look at yourself and consider what led you to this, what you could have done differently, what needs to change in the relationship and how you will take better care of yourself and the relationship in the future.
You’ll also have to learn that you are not perfect, and everyone makes mistakes and on some level you will find peace in forgiving yourself and having a little self-compassion. No one is all good or all bad and finding that balance within yourself is crucial to moving forward with an open heart and a spring in your step No matter how you slice it, you have work to do. Sometimes you have to have a breakdown to have a breakthrough. Now it’s up to you to roll up your sleeves and get on with the repair to bring your relationship, yourself and your life forward.