7 Things Relationship Experts Want You To Know If You've Cheated On A Partner

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In any romantic relationship, one the most common fears is a partner being unfaithful. But if you've cheated on your partner, it can be hard to know what to do next. Do you tell them? Do you tell future partners that you have a history of being unfaithful? How can you prevent this from happening again? According to experts, there are some surprising things you should know about cheating.

If you've cheated on your partner, you might think that the relationship is over. But this isn't necessarily the case. "While an affair may be a deal breaker for some relationships, others can work through the crisis and use it as an inflection point where changes can be made," Dr. Dana Dorfman, PhD, a psychotherapist and co-host of the podcast 2 Moms on the Couch, tells Bustle. "With a lot of emotional work, examination, self-reflection (individually and as a couple) a relationship may withstand this betrayal." Surprisingly, though, whether you and your partner decide to part ways after infidelity or not, both of you may want to get counseling. "I strongly encourage each member of the dyad to seek individual therapy," Dorfman says.

Here are some things you should know if you've cheated, according to experts.

1. They Probably Suspected It

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If you've cheated on a partner and haven't told them yet, you might assume that they're totally in the dark. But shockingly enough, they probably already suspect something. "In my experience as a counselor, most often the faithful party suspects that something has happened due to a change in their partner's behavior and eventually figures it out on their own," Rachel Ann Dine, a licensed professional counselor and owner of Humanitas Counseling and Consulting, which caters to couples, tells Bustle. Whether you decide to come clean or you choose not to say anything is up to you. Just know that they may already be thinking about this.

2. You Might Be Insecure

There are a number of different reasons that people cheat. But they don't necessarily have anything to do with their partner. In fact, one major cause is not feeling totally confident in yourself. "To not cheat in the future, you must be secure in who you are first," Dine says. "Realize that reaching out to another person may be a short-term solution for a deeper problem." Having respect for your commitment with your partner and a dedication to stay faithful to them requires you to understand which situations or emotions might be triggers for you — something that a mental health professional can help you with.

3. You Won't Necessarily Do It Again

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Some people believe that once someone cheats on a partner, they'll cheat in the future too. But "once a cheater, always a cheater" isn't always the case, Dorfman says. The key to preventing this behavior again in the future is to address the emotional state that led you to be unfaithful in the first place. By having an affair, you were acting out or expressing feelings, she says. "If the individual doesn’t seek help to understand the deeper feelings, it is likely that cheating will recur." In order for your infidelity to truly be a one-time thing, make sure that you understand why you made that choice in the past, so that next time you feel those same emotions, you can know how to deal with them in a healthier way.

4. You Don't Necessarily Need To Tell Them

If your partner didn't catch you cheating on them, you have a choice to make: to confess that you were unfaithful, or to just move on and keep it to yourself. You might assume that to have a healthy relationship, you have to be totally honest with your partner, especially about something as serious as cheating. But that isn't always true, depending on the situation. "There may be instances that telling a partner about an affair is not advisable," Dorfman says. "If there is a risk of the individual causing physical harm to themself or others, this may be better left unreported," she says. Also, if you cheated a long time ago and have since sought therapy and worked through the personal issues that led you to make that choice, then it may not be necessary to inform your partner, Dorfman says.

5. You Might Become Extra Jealous

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It makes sense that someone who's been cheated on would be extra suspicious in future relationships. But what might seem more surprising is that you can actually become more jealous after cheating. "History of cheating can manifest in many different ways," Dorfman says. "Often, people who have cheated tend to be more jealous and mistrustful of their partner," she says, "projecting their past feelings and behaviors onto a partner." In fact, some of the most jealous and suspicious partners have themselves been unfaithful in the past. If you start to notice that you have a hard time trusting the person you're in a relationship with, you might still have some unresolved issues related to your history of cheating, so seeing a therapist could be helpful.

6. There Is Definitely A Reason Why You Cheated

Even if you don't realize it, there's a reason why you were unfaithful to your partner. "Whether it be childhood trauma, self-exploration, or transgression, there is always an explanation for infidelity," Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist, relationship expert, and faculty member at Columbia University, tells Bustle. While this doesn't excuse the choice you made, knowing why you made this choice can be a great motivation for addressing some unresolved issues you might be facing. "You may have a fear of abandonment that is triggering you to find a new partner before your current one leaves you," Hafeez says. "This sets you up for a repetitive toxic cycle of infidelity, having not addressed the problem to begin with."

7. Sex May Become Complicated

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If you cheated on your current partner and they decided to forgive you and stay in the relationship, you might expect that everything will go back to normal between you fairly soon. But it may take a while for your sex life to get back to what it was before the infidelity happened. "Moving forward, your partner [may] want to take it slow in the bedroom, if at all, in the beginning," Hafeez says. "They may feel triggered or get emotional when the two of you become intimate. Expect this, and be sensitive about it." One useful way to rebuild trust with them is to be present when you are together, and focus on showing them affection in other ways if physical intimacy with you is still difficult for them.

If you've cheated in the past, there are definitely ways to grow and change. Just make sure you loop in a mental health professional for guidance.