A woman curled up on the couch sadly staring off into the distance

You’ve Cheated. Now What?

by Eharmony Editorial Team - June 24, 2008

You've cheated. Will you keep it a secret, or fess up? Do you want to make your relationship work or end it and pursue the person you've cheated with? And what about forgiveness?

It’s a bad situation. You’ve cheated. You don’t want to be unfaithful anymore, but you don’t know how to move on. Whether it was a onetime thing or an ongoing affair, something has to change in your relationship and in your life. Will you keep your indiscretion(s) a secret, or fess up? Do you want to make your relationship work, or end it and pursue the person you’ve cheated with? And what about forgiveness—can you even ask for it? Before you make another move, review the following guidelines. They may save you from making a bad situation even worse.

Fess Up or Hush Up?

In almost every case, confessing your indiscretions—whether past or present—is the best option. Without disclosure, there’s no way for the two of you to move on.

If you do confess, get ready for a lot of pain on both sides. You will hurt your partner, of course, and the person may drop you right there. Your partner is likely to unload on you pretty heavily—and not just about your infidelity. The person may lash out at you about a whole range of issues and may just attack you so that you feel some of the pain that he or she is feeling. You should also be ready to hear about any affairs your partner may have had, as that could be the closest emotional weapon he or she has at hand. So don’t fess up thinking that it’ll be a quick and easy process; do it because you want to either end or repair your relationship on an honest footing.

Work It Out or End It?

Answering this question is difficult without considering the circumstances of your relationship. Are you married? Are children involved? Is your affair with someone you have serious feelings for? It’s impossible to render advice for every possible variation, but here are two important points to remember:

1. Consider the feelings of everyone who will be impacted by this decision. If you’ve been dating for three months, that list of people probably has two names on it. This generally makes a decision to leave less difficult. If you’ve been married for 10 years, the list may include many people whose lives could be impacted by your choice. Make sure you give time and thought to every single person who will have to deal with the consequences of your decision.

2. If you choose to work it out, you’ve got a lot to prove. The one who violates the trust in a relationship gives up a great deal of freedom and believability for a considerable time. That person also has to work to gain it back. That means giving your partner an extra degree of assurance that you are where you say you are, doing what you said, with an appropriate person. You’ve also probably raised the level of emotional communication that your partner will need in order to feel secure. This is hard work, but it’s the only way to rebuild the trust that is necessary for a relationship to grow and endure.


Identify What Went Wrong

Typically, cheating is not an isolated incident. It’s a reflection of your state of mind and, in some cases, a reaction to what’s missing in your current relationship or life in general. If you’ve cheated, now’s the perfect time to ask yourself what happened and what it’s going to take to fix it. That list of next steps may include individual therapy or couples counseling.

You owe it to your partner, as well as to yourself, to take responsibility for your actions and take the lead in an effort to heal the situation. If both partners are willing, the healing process may just bring you closer.

Don’t Expect Forgiveness

The consequences of your infidelity are unknown. However, you can’t expect your partner to forgive or control his or her ability to forgive. This may or may not happen in its own time. Your job is to give your partner the space and time he or she needs to heal, as well as to provide constant and easily verifiable evidence that you are living, speaking and acting the Truth.

Forgive Yourself

You made a mistake. Rather than beat yourself up for your actions and behavior, you should instead forgive yourself. That doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for your infidelity. It doesn’t mean you avoid taking concrete and immediate steps to change your behavior.

Rather, forgiving yourself frees up your mental and emotional energy. It allows you to work harder to heal your relationship and change your habits. Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness. It’s actually a show of strength, and in forgiving yourself, you give yourself permission to repair the relationship damage your infidelity inflicted.

Infidelity is one of the worst “events” a relationship can suffer. Yet couples have survived it and even watched their relationships grow as a result of the healing process. Remember, communication is key, as is your compassion while your partner recovers.

If you and your partner decide to part ways as a result of your indiscretion, remember that the truly tragic mistakes in life are the ones where we fail to learn the lesson.