I’ve cheated on them

Whether it was a drunken one-night-stand, or a long-standing affair – you’ve cheated on your partner and you really wish you hadn’t. So what now? Do you tell them? Why did you cheat? And how the heck do you handle the guilt?

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I've cheated on them

I’ve cheated – what do I do?

You might be panicking, but it’s important to give yourself time to work out what happened and why. It’s likely your emotions are running high. Rather than have a kneejerk reaction and blurt everything out – take time out to sort through your feelings.

So, why did you cheat?

You may think it’s just a slip – but it’s unlikely you cheated for no reason at all. Whether it was to do with how you feel about your relationship, or if you have trust issues from your past – you need to work out why this happened. Brushing it under the carpet is unlikely to help anyone, especially you. Counselling can help you do this.

Trusting relationships are laid down early on in your life. If you’ve cheated, reflect on who you’ve been able to trust in your life – do you feel betrayed by anyone in any way? Did your parents let you down? Or did something happen at school?

“Sometimes why you’ve cheated is nothing to do with your present situation or relationship, but some other issue or memory you’ve long forgotten or are unaware of,” says Relate counsellor Christine Northam. “When you’ve cheated, you’ve not only betrayed someone else – but you’ve betrayed yourself too. It’s important to try and understand why you cheated – what were you feeling that led to this happening?”

Cheating can also be a reaction to stress, so it’s worth asking yourself is there anything else going on in your life right now? Grief? Stress from work, or exams? By starting to understand your motivations, you can start working out what’s best to do next.

Do I tell them that I cheated?

There seems to be no cut-and-dried answer for this out there. In fact, the two Relate counsellors we talked to had differing opinions.

“Honesty really is the best policy,” says Christine. “It may seem crude to be so black and white, but it’s always best to tell them. Imagine how much worse it will be if they found out from someone other than you.”

However, Denise Knowles, says: “It’s an individual choice whether or not to tell them. It’s important to ask yourself, what are you telling them for?”

Do you now know why you cheated? Is the reason something you can work on? Do you think your relationship is strong enough to get through telling them? Would you want to know if it was the other way around? Are you telling them just to ease your conscience? Are you prepared for this ending the relationship?

“More questions are needed than answers,” says Denise. “An enormous amount of self-exploration needs to be done if you cheat on someone you love.”

I feel so guilty!

This may sound strange, but feeling guilty is a good sign. “If you don’t feel any guilt after cheating on someone, then we’re in a whole different ballpark of problems,” says Denise. But, if you’re here reading this article, we’re assuming it’s because you feel remorse and regret over what you did.

Again, understanding why you did what you did is the key to working through your guilt. Self-forgiveness is something you may be able to find in time. But only if you’ve worked through the issues that led you to cheat in the first place.

Will my partner ever forgive me?

This depends entirely on them, your relationship, the nature of your cheating, and whether they feel they can ever trust you again. Unfortunately, only they can make this decision. If you want to keep them, all you can do it make it as easy as possible to rebuild the trust.

If you do try to work things out, prepare for a lot of hurt and questions from your partner. And know that – really – there’s not much you can do to defend yourself here. They’re going to need reassurance and to ask lots of questions and to want to get their anger out. Rather than feeling like a whipping boy, tell yourself, “This is something I need to give them in order for us to move forward.”

Also be aware that just because they forgive you, they may not always forget what happened. “Most cheating leaves an indelible mark on a relationship,” says Denise. All you can do is try and put the past behind you – but it may come up in arguments for years to come.

Next Steps


cheating| trust


Updated on 29-Sep-2015

Photo by Hernán Piñera