What Do You Do If You've Cheated? 7 Steps To Take, According To Experts
If you've cheated, it was probably not on your agenda when you got into a relationship. But somewhere along the way, it happened. Maybe you felt the opportunity was too good to pass up, or maybe you craved the adventure. But what do you do once you've cheated? What can be even worse than cheating is practicing bad etiquette after you cheat by either perpetuating the affair or making your partner suffer for your mistakes.
Sometimes, infidelity points toward underlying relationship issues, so identifying these problems and tackling them can both help something good come out of the cheating and help you avoid cheating again, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish tells Bustle. "If the person cheated only one time and demonstrates genuine remorse, regret, empathy, and apologizes... solemnly promising to never ever cheat again, a 'sex pass' can be allowed and the breach of trust can be repaired with two willing partners. [I have] seen a positive turnaround occur when the cheater demonstrates genuine remorse for hurting [their partner] and immerses [themselves] into psychotherapy treatment in a completely committed fashion."
If you've cheated on your partner, all hope is not lost. Here are some ways to repair the relationship and learn from the experience, according to experts.
1. Tell At Your Discretion
Some experts say not to tell your partner if you've cheated, because then you're causing them pain just to alleviate your own guilt. Telling is especially unproductive if you don't plan to do it again, psychotherapist Deborah Duley, MSW, LGSW tells Bustle. "Sharing indiscretions is extremely damaging to hear about and work through. There is no value to the relationship in sharing events that will no longer be happening," she says. "You've essentially passed the baton of pain to them when it's not fair to do so. It's very selfish, I feel, to burden your partner with this information, especially if you have no intention of continuing this behavior. It's your burden so it's up to you to work on it."
Others say that you should tell your partner because then they can make an educated decision about whether to stay in the relationship. Intimacy expert Miyoko Rifkin falls into this camp. "How honest do you want your partnership to be? That is the only determining factor for whether or not to tell them," she tells Bustle. "Telling them gives them the option to see your willingness to be vulnerable, to make mistakes, but also your commitment to being in a trusting and honest relationship." However, it's possible that they'll leave you after finding out.
So, telling is a personal decision that varies from situation to situation. Weigh the potential risk of telling against what you may gain from it, and proceed with caution.
2. If You Do Tell, Give A Sincere Apology
If you end up telling your partner you cheated, don't just say "I'm sorry." These words are meaningless without any real commitment to change.
"Understanding why you did what you did and explaining it to them is worth more than a basic 'sorry,'" says Rifkin. "If you don’t know what and why you acted, you’ll never be able to promise that it won’t happen again."
3. Forgive Yourself
Some people tell their partners they've cheated to be forgiven, but what's more important is that you have your own forgiveness.
"If you punish yourself for your choices, so will your partner," says Rifkin. "Neither of you will have the opportunity for growth, love, and self-acceptance. Neither of you should feel indebted to the other for your relationship. The goal of a successful partnership is to be two individual people who feel loved and supported by the other."
4. Figure Out Why You Cheated
If you want to avoid cheating again, you'll need to figure out what drove you to cheat. Often, cheating expresses needs that aren't being fulfilled in a relationship, so finding other ways to fulfill these needs can help you stop cheating.
"Most people don’t cheat because they’re no longer in love with their partners," says Rifkin. "They cheat for reasons within themselves. They may feel trapped, unloved, overworked, entitled, bored, lacking emotional connections, or need to feel wanted. Most of these aren’t solved in a one-night stand or fling, but there’s an escape, a comfort in them temporarily. What an affair truly does is illuminate a need. What is the need? It might be as simple as a quick release for anxiety and stress. It may be deeper, like a need to reclaim a certain part of themselves."
5. Assess Your Relationship
Ideally, it's good to talk early on about things like whether you'd each want to know if the other cheated and what counts as cheating in the relationship. However, if you haven't yet, cheating could provide the impetus to have these discussions. Maybe, for example, you don't want to be monogamous. Talk to your partner to see if there's a way you can both get your needs met.
"By putting our honest needs on the table from the beginning, we can still evolve as individuals within a relationship," says Rifkin. "We can share when certain needs come up and ask to have our needs met either by our partner or within our friendships or hobbies. This way, an affair doesn’t 'just happen.' You respectfully discuss how to care for others' needs within a partnership and the boundaries of each other's limits."
6. Cut Off Contact With The Person You Cheated With
If you want to stay in your current relationship and remain monogamous, it's important to minimize that chances that you'll cheat again. To do this, cut off all contact with the person you cheated with, if possible. Block their number and/or social media accounts if you feel like you'll be tempted if you hear from them.
7. Make It Up To Your Partner
Whether or not you tell your partner that you cheated, you can make it up to them simply by being especially kind to them going forward. "If you're no longer cheating nor plan to ever cheat again and your mate is highly unlikely to ever find out, then take it to your grave," Kevin Darné, author of My Cat Won't Bark! (A Relationship Epiphany), tells Bustle. "Make amends going forward by being the absolute best [partner] you possibly can be."
Your relationship probably won't be quite the same again after you've cheated, but if you learn from the experience, it could become even stronger and better than it was before.