We've all read articles about how heartbreaking it is if a partner cheats, and why you should never do it, and why no one should ever even think about it. But on a more practical tack, what should you do if you catch your partner cheating? In a perfect world, no one would do such a thing, and we'd all be happy and healthy and full of love and light and miracles. But unfortunately people cheat all the time, and if it happens to you, you're faced with an immediate decision: What can you do right now?
"Cheating and it's consequences are one of the most devastating moments in a relationship," relationship coach and psychic medium Melinda Carver tells Bustle. "It turns your whole world upside-down when you find out your partner is cheating, [and] you begin to look at everything in your relationship as a lie, and your self-esteem plummets." But you don't have to remain in that place of feeling like a victim.
I spoke with 15 relationship experts to explore the possibilities. Basically, it's not a cut-and-dried situation: If someone cheats on you, and you're committed to the relationship, you might not necessarily want to just get up and leave. And it might be a deeper and more intricate situation than that, anyway. If you want to consider all of your options and think about what to do next, here are 15 possible things you can do if you catch your partner cheating on you. And keep in mind that you don't have to make any serious decisions just yet — if you found out recently, you can give it some time and let things unfold before you make a concrete choice about what to do next.
1. Stay Calm
"Stay calm and call a trusted friend to give you support," psychologist, image consultant and dating expert Dr. Jennifer Rhodes tells Bustle. "Do not react impulsively. Given the circumstances of your relationship, you may need to respond in a thoughtful manner." Reaching out to a best friend is the most helpful thing you can do first. And then you can consider what to do next.
"If you are married or there are kids involved, seeking professional help for yourself first will help you build the support team necessary to deal with a confrontation and to ask for what you want," Rhodes says. "Too many people act out of impulsivity and anger often leading to more consequences down the road. Do not post comments on social media like celebrities — all of this can be used against you in your breakup or divorce."
2. Be Direct
"Don’t set a truth trap, trying to get him or her to confess," relationship coach and therapist Anita Chlipala tells Bustle. "Be direct about what evidence you found of their cheating." Don't try to dance around the thing — just come and and tell them what you know.
"You will also need to know that the affair will be stopped and that your questions will be answered," she says. "I also recommend not telling anyone — yet. When people first find out they have been cheated on, they want to tell everyone in their family and friends circle. This can potentially backfire if you decide to stay together and work on your relationship." Be direct with your partner and choosy with the people you talk to — at least at first.
3. Have An Honest Look At The Relationship
"Cheating in a relationship requires an honest assessment of the relationship in order to figure out a next move," New York–based relationship expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. "If the cheating happens within the first couple of months of dating, it’s not really cheating — it’s playing the field." That may be true, but if you are with someone new and you discussed being monogamous and you find out they're seeing other people, it's probably best to walk away.
"[If] it happens in year 10 of a 10-year marriage with children," she says, or just in a long-term, committed relationship in general, "there’s a lot at stake and walking away should be a last resort — unless this isn’t the first time that the cheating has occurred. Cheating doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it’s crucial to be honest about your part in the relationship," Masini says. "It’s easy to play victim, but more often than not, the cheating happened because the cheater felt neglected or mistreated or not valued. That doesn’t excuse that person’s behavior, but it explains it, and it shows that the cheating was a symptom, not the main problem." From there, you can decide what to do next.
4. Go Inward
"Although I feel cheating can be rectified and strengthen a marriage, I would insist, and I mean insist, on six months of individual and couple therapy for both people," zen psychotherapist and neuromarketing strategist Michele Paiva tells Bustle." Though the disrespect is real, it's possible to come back from it if real work is done within the relationship.
"Most couples in betrayal are there because of a lack of communication, respect, or attention," Paiva says. "Both people contribute to that and the affair is a result of that fracture." Although your partner cheating on you is never your fault, cheating may be a symptom of a greater problem. "You need to own your part as much as they need to own their part," she says. From there, healing can happen.
5. Understand That It's Not About You
"It can scar you emotionally for a very long time and interfere with future relationships," dating expert Noah Van Hochman tells Bustle. "You have a very big decision to make. Do not make excuses for this person or believe in any way that it’s your fault. The person cheating make a conscious decision to do this. They could have told you that things are not going well in the relationship and made it clear that continuing it may not be the best thing."
Since your partner didn't do this first, it's up to you what you decide to do. Van Hochman believes that if your partner was really in it for the long run, they wouldn't cheat in the first place. "If you are a forgiving soul, you may consider finding out what caused the aberration in behavior and if there was a significant reason for a severe lapse in judgement or if it is habitual," he says. But that's completely up to you. If you feel as though it's worth working it out, go for it — but be sure you do so only because you want to and you feel as though it was a temporary blip.
6. Find Out Why It Happened
"Leaving is a strong, optional choice — but is dependent upon so many factors," relationship trainer Daniel Amis, author of Unbreakable Love: Proven Methods For Developing a Stronger, More Satisfying Relationship In Just 30 Days , tells Bustle. "If the couple is married, what may have caused the cheating, if they have children," and many others.
Though it may not be a straightforward thing, if you can talk it out, you might benefit from the conversation. "There may be something that you can learn from, that will allow you to become wiser should you get in another relationship — or even stay in that one," he says. "If the cheater acted on impulse, was just caught up in the moment, acted on their attraction to someone else, etc., then there's no doubt that you should definitely consider leaving. Because the thing about cheating is you have a choice. No one falls into bed with another person. So if they made the choice to cheat, then they should also accept the consequences."
If you decide to stay, consider Paiva's suggestion of couple's and individual counseling.
7. Identify What You Need From Your Partner
And what your partner needs from you. "If possible, try not to make cheating a moral issue, but one of needs being met in the relationship," Janet Zinn, a New York City–based couples therapist, tells Bustle. "When lines get drawn about good and bad, nothing is learned." Though it can be difficult — or seemingly impossible — to discuss needs in such a painful time, it will help clarify how to move forward. And it can lead to healing.
"When the cheating can be discussed in terms of how it hurts, why it may have happened, and what both partners need from each other, healing can take place," she says.
8. Don't Make A Split-Second Decision
"Because you feel betrayed, your first impulse is usually anger, and wanting to leave — fight or flight," Tina B. Tessina, aka Dr. Romance, psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working it out Together, tells Bustle. But if you're in a relationship that you want to stay in, you might want to give yourself some time. "Don’t make an instant decision you may regret later, after the damage is done." Though you may ultimately decide to leave, it's best to make such a choice once you've had some time to find clarity.
"While I don't think you should stay and suffer if nothing’s working, in my practice I see many couples who do the work and wind up happier than before," she says. "The affair may have happened after long-standing problems in the marriage [or LTR], which can actually be corrected to the satisfaction of both partners." Though cheating is never the answer, if it happens, you can still move on from it.
"Often dissatisfaction grows from resentment, and the root causes can be fixed with the help of counseling," Tessina says. "If both partners are willing to change what’s not working, a marriage [or relationship] can be improved." Though it is hard to see cheating as an opportunity, it can be just that — with a lot of work.
9. Decide If It's Really A Deal-Breaker
"If cheating is a deal-breaker, you are likely to leave the relationship," psychologist Nicole Martinez tells Bustle. If you cannot live with a partner who cheated on you, it'll be hard to bounce back from this one, obvs. All the same, it's best to talk it out, at very least.
"You do want to talk about why they cheated, as cheating does not happen in a vacuum — it is usually a symbol of what is wrong with the relationship," Martinez says. "If you both decide that you love each other and that this relationship is something worth saving, get to work. Get in therapy, and start repairing what brought you to this point." In other words, your relationship can be salvaged — if you want it to be.
10. Decide If You Want To Save Your Relationship
"You need to ask yourself if this is a relationship worth saving, or whether the cheating is symptomatic of another problem," Stefanie Safran, Chicago's "Introductionista" and founder of Stef and the City, tells Bustle. If you decide that the relationship is something that has everything you want, and the cheating is something you can work through, enlist a professional.
"When you want to save this relationship, it's a good idea to get a professional therapist involved to get the relationship back on track — if it can be saved." From there, you and your partner have a better chance at getting back on track.
11. Get Help
"Infidelity is one area that needs a third party to help you both navigate the rocky waters of emotional upheaval," clinical hypnotherapist, author and educator Rachel Astarte, who offers transformational coaching for individuals and couples at Healing Arts New York, tells Bustle. "Of course, some people may consider cheating a deal-breaker. My suggestion is to make that condition very clear as early in the relationship as possible."
That being said, cheating can be a weird and very backwards blessing in disguise. "[Some] find that their relationship becomes stronger after healing from infidelity," she says. "A trained couples therapist … will best be able to assist you in healing, regardless of which choice you make. Even if you break up, get therapy either individually or as a team; it's a great way to create a respectful departure that leaves you both with as few psychological scars as possible." I believe Gwyneth Paltrow calls that "conscious uncoupling."
12. Figure Out What You Want
"If cheating is a nonnegotiable for you, then get out immediately," life coach Kali Rogers tells Bustle. Deal-breakers can include cheating, and if you can't live with a cheater, you can't live with a cheater. "Non-negotiables do not require explanations, excuses, or any other justification. It's over. They violated your boundary and the relationship must end," she says.
"If cheating is not a non-negotiable, be honest with yourself about if you can trust this person again," Rogers says. "Ask only the necessary questions," she says, "[and] don't punish yourself by wanting all the gory details. Accept the fact that your relationship will never be the same, and if both parties are open to it, you two will build a new relationship together." All you need to know is that it won't happen again and they'll work toward the relationship. If both of those conditions are in place and you want to stay together, namaste. Just go slow.
13. Allow Healing To Happen
"Begin the healing," Shlomo Slatkin, who founded the Marriage Restoration Project with his wife, Rivka, tells Bustle. "The healing will start once the affair is stopped." It may sound obvious, but be sure that your partner has fully ended things with the other person before you begin to try to move on.
"It’s hard to rebuild trust after the affair if the affair is still going on," he says. "If [they are] still busy with someone elsewhere, then he or she will not be as invested in staying in the relationship." Once the affair is over and the bleeding is stanched, you can begin to move on, if you so desire. And then you can start talking to each other. "After the affair is stopped and that exit is sealed, you both need to talk about what happened," he says.
14. Look At It Like Something You Have To Figure Out Together
"If you decide that you do want to try to repair things, then you need to approach the conversation as 'What did we do wrong? How did we get here?' as opposed to accusing your partner of doing everything wrong and not taking the blame for any part of it," Samantha Daniels, professional matchmaker and founder of The Dating Lounge dating app, tells Bustle. It's not your fault, but the cheating is something you will have to look at together if you're going to get anywhere.
"If someone cheats, it’s usually because of a deep-rooted problem, and these types of problems manifest from both people in the relationship doing something wrong," Daniels says. "You need to be willing to accept your part in the problem and commit to helping to fix it." From there, real growth can happen.
15. Take A Deep Breath And Talk It Out
"In order to make this decision, it is important to take a deep breath and then discuss your options with a trusted family member or friend," Carver says. Though it may be tempting to talk it out with your partner, it's best to go to a friend or family member first.
"Reacting emotionally and choosing a final decision when you are emotionally devastated is not always the best option," she says. "When you can calm yourself and make a list of the whys and the why-nots of staying, you will be able to empower yourself to make the best decision for you." Don't let your partner get in the way of this process.
"Your spouse or partner may ramp up the begging and promising, but you need to tune that out while you figure out what it is you want, not what they want," she says. "They already chose what they wanted. So now you get into the driver's seat to choose where you want to go, how you want to heal, and if this spouse or partner will be with you for that ride to healing and rebuilding." This decision is up to you. Don't rush it — figure out what you need slowly.
Images: Fotolia; Giphy (15)