Should You Stay Or Go When Your Partner Cheats? We Asked An Expert & Here's What They Said

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Chances are that you and I both know someone who’s been cheated on, or who did the cheating or perhaps it happened to you. When it occurs, it often takes a toll on everybody involved. Maybe your partner did it and didn’t plan to tell you, but then they accidentally out themselves. For instance, they leave an email open on their computer and don’t realize it, and they’d just told you that you can check your emails on it. Or their phone is sitting near you both and you see a stream of heart emojis texted to them — and you know they’re not from their mom. Whether your significant other confesses to you or not, should you stay or go when someone cheats?

“Because you feel betrayed, your first impulse is usually anger, and wanting to leave — fight or flight,” Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. (aka “Dr. Romance”), psychotherapist and author of How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free: Fourth Edition, tells Bustle. “But, after you calm down, you may realize there’s a lot you’ll lose, and you may also have children to consider. Don’t make an instant decision you may regret later, after the damage is done. It is possible to find an extraordinary love after breaking up or divorcing late in life, but most of my clients report that the potential partners out there are no better than the ones they left.”

That said, there are different definitions of cheating, and technology adds another aspect to cheating, too. For instance, there are terms like “micro-cheating,” aka little actions you’d hide from your partner. The bottom line is: If you and your partner have different definitions of cheating, you should have a conversation about it. And then, if someone in the relationship cheats, it’s time to decide what to do about it. Of course, cheating may be an automatic deal-breaker for you. However, you may be conflicted as to what you should do. Here’s how to tell if you should stay or go when someone cheats.


Assess Your Partner’s Attitude Regarding The Cheating

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Some people who cheat do it as a one-time thing while others have entire secret relationships with someone on the side. In any case, when you find out about the cheating, you and your partner need to have a heart-to-heart conversation. Then, you need to pay attention to their attitude toward their behavior, according to Dr. Tessina. “See if your partner is in denial, makes excuses, and/or blames you,” Dr. Tessina says. “This means he or she is invested in the cheating behavior and not ready to change. However, it’s a good sign if your partner truly recognizes he or she has a problem, is willing to get help to fix it, and will be accountable for rebuilding trust.”


Speak To A Couples Therapist

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As much as you may speak to your own therapist about your partner straying, going to one with your partner can also help determine if you two can take the steps to work things out. Not to mention, you may wonder how you’ll ever be able to trust your significant other again, and an objective party could help you figure it out. “Admitting and correcting bad behavior, rebuilding trust, and forgiveness are the main issues you need to face,” Dr. Tessina says. “Most of the time, affairs occur because the communication and intimacy in the relationship have broken down. Both parties must approach the problem with a sincere wish to discover what went wrong and fix it. Forgiveness is an important part of the healing process, whether the couple stays together or not. While I don’t think you should stay together and suffer if nothing’s working, in my practice, I see many couples who do the work and wind up happier than before.”


Look At The Underlying Problems In Your Relationship

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A big question is: Can you and your partner fix the underlying problems you have, especially whatever made them cheat? Therapists are amazing, but if you cannot let go of the cheating, or at least try, it may be difficult to continue the relationship. Dr. Tessina recommends exploring the root causes of problems you and your partner have and determining if they can be remedied. “The affair may have happened after long-standing problems in the partnership, which can actually be corrected to the satisfaction of both partners,” Dr. Tessina says. “Often, dissatisfaction grows from resentment, and the root causes can be fixed with the help of counseling. See if there is a sincere change in behavior and if the problems that led to the infidelity are addressed and corrected. If both partners are willing to change what’s not working, a relationship can be improved.”


Think About How Your Life Would Be Without Your Partner

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Perhaps you and your partner have not faced many relationship hurdles. But then their long-term ex was in town for a night and a “talk” between them turned into more. Yes, cheating is a big deal, but maybe it’s not a deal-breaker to you like you thought it would be. Dr. Tessina suggests thinking about life with your partner versus life without them. “I see a fair number of couples who get back together after a separation or divorce, because they had a chance to calm down and to see what it’s like to be alone. Unfortunately, now [they have a lot less brainstorming] because of the costs of the breakup or divorce, dividing up property, and so on. If you have a long, shared history, joint finances, and family ties, it may be worth keeping the relationship or marriage together.”


Ask Yourself If You Can Forgive Them

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Forgiving someone after they cheat is *not* easy, but it’s a necessary part of continuing a relationship with them, Dr. Tessina says. “Forgiving each other doesn’t mean condoning what happened, or that it would be OK if it happened again,” she says. “What it does mean is that you’re willing to close that chapter and move on. Your therapist can help you understand and create mutual forgiveness. Otherwise, as long as you’re stuck in blaming each other and defending yourself, you won’t be able to move forward.”


Figure Out If You Still Love Each Other

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Sometimes, love trumps everything, but other times, it’s not enough. “Do you still love each other, and is it clearly mutual?” Dr. Tessina says. Sometimes, love trumps everything, but other times, it’s not enough. “Do you still love each other, and is it clearly mutual?” she says. “Love is a lot more like partnership than romance. Loving each other means not only focusing on what you want from your partner, but also being concerned with their happiness, too. Discussing how you give and receive love will improve your relationship, and help you understand what makes each of you feel loved, and how to express love effectively. The foundation of lasting love is the ability to work through things together.”

As you can see, there are various factors to consider regarding whether you stay or go if your partner cheats. However, at the end of the day, you are the only one who can decide if you can move past the cheating and move on with the relationship.