Cheating can spell the end for even the longest and most serious relationships. However, as many as 1 in 5 adults in monogamous relationships report having cheated at some point in their current or past relationships. If you’ve cheated on your partner, then looking to repair your relationship after cheating is the first step.
Cheating or infidelity involves breaking your partner’s trust to seek out another romantic or sexual relationship. Different people have different definitions of what specific kinds of relationships and interactions count as cheating, and for some people, it can include online dating or emotionally close relationships that don’t involve sex. The main feature of any kind of cheating is going behind your partner’s back, lying to them or keeping secrets, and violating their trust. This loss of trust or sense of betrayal is the most important impact on a relationship, and also the hardest to repair.
End Outside Relationship
The first step to rebuilding your relationship after you’ve cheated is to completely end your involvement with whomever you cheated with. Cut off contact entirely and stop seeing them so you can focus on your primary relationship. Not breaking your affair off completely can lead you to slip back into seeing them and it leaves your partner uncertain of whether the affair is really over.
Tell Your Partner
The next step is to come clean to your partner. Although the idea of upsetting your partner or making them angry at you is intimidating, you need to be honest about what you did so you, your partner, and your relationship together can recover. Cheating hurts your partner and your relationship even before you tell them, or if you plan on never telling them. When your partner doesn’t know that you’re involved with someone else, they live their lives and make decisions based on ideas about your relationship that aren’t true.
They can’t have all of the information they need about your relationship — and since it’s their relationship, they need and deserve to be informed. Keeping your partner in the dark about cheating can put their sexual health at risk. More importantly, it has lasting emotional consequences for them and damages and weakens your relationship. In the case of cheating, what your partner doesn’t know really can and will hurt them.
Let your partner be the one to decide when you can start to talk about it less or stop talking about it regularly because they likely have more emotional heavy lifting to go through in accepting being betrayed and forgiving you. In general, give your partner space and time they need to recover emotionally.
Be Honest with Your Partner
When you tell your partner that you’ve cheated, you will start to reopen full communication in your relationship and start a messy and complicated healing process. It’s important that you be upfront and straightforward with your partner, and to be very aware of their feelings and how this news can affect them. Expect your partner to be hurt and angry — someone they love has just betrayed their trust.
When they get angry, it’s natural for you to feel defensive and want to react to being criticized. You might want to shut down and say “I told you, now we’re done with this.” Especially at first, these impulses won’t help you move the conversation further because they’ll prevent you from really acknowledging your partner’s feelings of hurt and make them feel like their concerns are being minimized. Letting your partner start to work through their pain, shock, or frustration now will help you both work through this.
It’s also a mistake to expect your partner to forgive you immediately. You may feel like now that you’ve been honest with them and ended the affair, everything can go back to normal. In fact, research shows that it could take a year or more of hard work for your partner to fully trust you again.
Make sure to talk about what happened when you cheated, the contributing factors, and how it has affected your relationship, and take time to share and work through your emotions. It’s important to be honest about exactly what you did, but it may be best to avoid going into too much specific detail, as that will likely hurt your partner even more. One psychologist recommends spending about 15 minutes every day to talk about the infidelity and then putting it aside for the next day to avoid rehashing, fighting, and getting overwhelmed.
After you come clean, you can begin working to restore your partner’s trust in you. It’s important to be open and accountable. If you promise to do something or be somewhere at a certain time, do it. Holding yourself to your promises shows your partner that they can trust and rely on you. You may end up sharing more information about your life and your daily activities than you’re used to help show your partner that you’re not hiding anything anymore. Keeping each other updated about your daily plans, activities, and whereabouts is a good start. Beyond just not lying or telling the truth when asked, offering up information yourself shows that you’re committed to telling your partner the truth. It also prevents your partner from feeling like they’re always “nagging” you or like they have to pry things out of you.
Be Honest with Yourself
Surprisingly, this is especially important when it comes to telling them that you’ve lied or slipped up. You may want to hide problems or bad behavior from your partner as a way of convincing them that your cheating is behind you, but this is counterintuitive. If your partner thinks you’re keeping something from them, or catches you making a white lie, they may think that if you lied about something small, you must also be hiding bigger problems. This can also bring back feelings of insecurity and betrayal for your partner and make it harder for you to build their trust.
As you try to make your relationship stronger and avoid cheating again, both you and your partner need to look honestly at yourselves and your behavior. What feelings and situations motivated you to cheat? Were there any problems on either end of your relationship that made you feel ignored like you had lost affection and caring for each other, or otherwise hurt, frustrated, or unsatisfied? Chances are those issues go beyond the specific instance of you cheating, and if both of your behaviors and attitudes don’t change, they will continue to affect your relationship.
Trying to fix these underlying relationship issues will help you recover from infidelity and help you grow and move forward as a couple. Approach any issues by remembering that you’re on the same team, working to improve yourselves and your relationship together. Some marriage counselors recommend trying “the three A’s” or affection, attention, and appreciation. Making an effort every day to show each other that you care about and appreciate each other can help address the problems of feeling a lack of affection and feeling underappreciated and will help remind you about the positive aspects of your life together. Focus on spending time together and maintaining open and honest communication.