How to tell your partner that you cheated

Being cheated on can be one of the most crushing, god-awful things you experience. But what about when you’re the cheater — how do you tell your romantic partner that you’ve betrayed his or her trust? Some people’s reaction to this question may run along the lines of “Why would you ever want to do that? That’s a stupid thing to do; telling that person will only cause pain!” Maybe some of those who feel this way have cheated and are trying to justify not confessing — based on the idea that they’re “protecting” the partner. And sure, there are situations when telling probably isn’t the best idea. But assuming that you’ve cheated and decided to confess, here’s your game plan.

First step: Ask yourself a few questions.

Question 1: What do you want to get out of this?
Before you approach your partner with this devastating news, understand your own motivations. Are you confessing because you are tired of feeling guilty? Do you want out of the relationship and hope this will be your exit? Do you want your partner to understand why you’ve been so closed-off lately? Do you hope you can work through it and stay together? There is no right answer to this question, but being aware of your goal makes it more likely to become a reality.

Question 2: What are you willing to do in order to rebuild trust?
If you’re going to confess, you are going to be in the doghouse (yes, that’s the clinical term). You will not be trusted to not cheat again, and that’s a shitty feeling — for both parties. Every second you are out of your partner’s sight, he or she may assume that you are getting acquainted with someone else’s genitals — even if in your mind, it was a one-time thing and will never happen again. Your partner will not be able to be inside your head to see how you actually felt about the cheating; he or she will just think that you had the best time of your life. Are you willing to start over in your relationship, finding new ways to connect and rebuilding trust and intimacy? Are you willing to court your partner again and to have deep, honest, painful talks? All of this may be necessary to get back what you lost.

Question 3: Could this happen again?
And don’t give me one of those “I don’t know; who knows what mysteries life can bring?” answers, because that’s bullshit. Have you addressed the issues within yourself and within your relationship that led you to stray? No partner ever “makes” a lover stray — it’s always solely the responsibility of the cheater. But sometimes, cheating is about one person working through personal stuff, and other times, cheating is a symptom of something awry within the relationship. Why won’t you cheat again? What have you changed within yourself? What can you change within your relationship? Some of these might be questions for both of you to discuss together, but it’s best to have some answers (that don’t involve blaming your partner for your actions) before going into that conversation.

Try not to confess to something major spontaneously, in the heat of an intense conversation. Maybe that kind of volcanic push has been necessary for you to spew the lava of truth in the past, but today, for this situation, you’ve thought through the questions above and realize that this needs to be a conversation rather than a shouted “That’s right! I slept with Rory!” in the middle of an argument about laundry. Find a calm, neutral day when there isn’t a ton of stuff going on; do not confess to cheating 20 minutes before your houseguests arrive, for example. (Of course, sometimes your partner finds out you cheated before you tell him or her, and you don’t have a choice about when the conversation happens, in which case you’ll have to skip directly to this step.)

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