If you want to save your relationship, you’ve got to accept accountability for the magnitude of what you’ve done.
Researcher Shere Hite made headlines in 1991 when she published the results of a study revealing that 72 percent of married men – and 70 percent of married women – have cheated on their partners.
Other researchers come up with other numbers, but no one disputes the fact that infidelity is extremely common. And those numbers apply to married couples. Cheating is even more common among couples who are not married.
So. Suppose you’re the one who has been cheating. And suppose you’ve been caught. What’s next?
1. DON’T AUTOMATICALLY FIX IT
It’s tempting to do everything you can to reassure your partner that you succumbed to a momentary weakness, that your love is pure, and that it will never happen again.
Maybe all those things are true.
But maybe you cheated because there’s something wrong in your relationship. Rushing too quickly back into your partner’s arms doesn’t solve that problem. You could find yourself locked into a relationship that is unsatisfying, that doesn’t meet your needs.
You may be able to go back to your relationship. But you’ve got to fix it so you aren’t tempted to stray again.
2. DON’T DENY IT
It’s natural for a guilty cheater to deny everything. Just say it didn’t happen and hope for the best.
In the best case, that leaves you vulnerable, waiting for the other shoe to drop. A little bit of evidence could appear years later, exposing your lie.
And what about the person you’re cheating with? Will you break it off? Or keep cheating?
Cheating is extremely disrespectful to your partner. Lying about it is worse. Own up to your transgression.
3. DON’T MINIMIZE IT
You’re committed to your partner in a way you’re not committed to your fling. Reminding your partner of this is known as the “it was just sex” defense. The idea is that you make the infidelity seem trivial – wrong, yes, but fundamentally equivalent to watching porn, say – and casting your partner’s response as an overreaction.
Partners are entitled to their feelings. They feel betrayed. They feel sad. They feel angry. Pretending your infidelity was no big deal has the effect of minimizing their emotions, challenging your partner’s right to feel what they feel. Saying “it was just a fling” may be true, but it feels like you’re trying to invalidate your partner’s emotions. That’s not right and it’s not going to make things better between you.
4. DON’T JUSTIFY IT
Maybe you strayed because you aren’t getting what you need in your relationship – some sort of intimacy or quality time together. Maybe you and your partner are in a sexual slump or the demands of daily life have sapped your relationship of the romance you crave.
That doesn’t make it okay to cheat. If your relationship is broken and not giving you what you need, then the honorable thing to do is break up and move on to a new relationship with someone who is a better match.
It’s not okay to cheat just because you’re unhappy in your relationship. Fix the relationship or get out of it. Those are your options.
5. DON’T GO SILENT
Of course you don’t want to talk about it. After you’ve confessed, after you’ve expressed remorse, you are understandably eager to move on.
But it’s not that simple. Your partner has received an emotional shock. You’ll need to talk about it. To answer uncomfortable questions. To listen to what your partner is thinking and feeling.
You can have your say in a few seconds: “I did it, I’m sorry, I won’t do it again.” But that’s not the end of it. If you’re really committed to making things better, you’ll have to engage in a lot more painful, embarrassing conversations. Your partner gets to decide when you’re done talking, not you.
6. DON’T KEEP CHEATING
A surprising number of cheaters make remorseful amends with their partners, then cheat again – with the same cheating partner or someone new.
Follow this strategy and you risk plunging you and your partner into this same painful quagmire again. If you can’t refrain from cheating, do the right thing and make a clean break from your partner. Become single so you’re free to play the field.
7. DON’T MAKE A NEW RELATIONSHIP
Getting caught changes your home into a place you feel little but pain and guilt. It’s tempting to make a fresh start with your cheating partner.
Jumping right into another relationship is a bad move. You’re not doing your best emotional thinking just now. You surely have unresolved issues to work through with the partner you care considering making your ex. And think about this: Your cheating partner is someone who has a demonstrated willingness to participate in infidelity – and who might well cheat on you in the future. Is that really what you want?
WALK THE LINE
Avoiding these traps can be difficult, but any one of them could derail your efforts to rebuild your damaged relationship.