What To Do If Your Partner Cheats On You

Address it head-on

In cases of cheating, it can be tempting to sweep things under the carpet and let emotions simmer unresolved for a long time, in order to move on as quickly as possible. While it gives things a veneer of functionality short term, this strategy is guaranteed to hurt the health of your relationship long term, making it better to have a frank and painful discussion upfront.

Set clear boundaries

If you decide to remain in the relationship, it's crucial to set boundaries for conduct going forward. In order to avoid ambiguity, misunderstandings and even further mistakes, it's worth sitting down with your partner and discussing your comfort level around things like them attending parties alone, following exes on social media, and maintaining friendships that cause you concern.

Prioritise active listening

Although you don't have to accept any excuses from your partner as to why they were dishonest, it's still important to hear them out if you want to make the relationship work long-term. Understanding what motivated their actions and how they feel about them retrospectively will help you figure out how to nurture honesty and transparency going forward, as shame will only lead to more secrecy.

Know when to involve professionals

Not every case of dishonesty requires a relationship therapist, and even the best therapist in the world won't be able to bring some relationships back from the brink after cheating. With that said, it's worth asking whether involving a professional would be helpful, whether they help you build a path forward or just act as an impartial mediator when getting out ugly emotions and blame.

Schedule regular check-ins

While it can be tempting to try and work through pain and distrust spontaneously when those emotions bubble to the surface, this will only yield unproductive and circular arguments. Instead, try scheduling regular check-ins where you can be honest about what you're thinking and feeling in a less heightened and highly-strung environment.

Foster accountability

Just because you agree to move forward with a relationship after dishonesty occurs, doesn't mean that all the resentment and guilt will automatically evaporate. Setting goals oriented around behaviour change that your partner needs to meet will both assuage your nerves and allow them to deal with any guilt in a healthy way, provided the goals are productive, achievable and not motivated by spite.

Look towards the future

No relationship can survive if it's comprised primarily of longingly looking backwards into a dishonesty-free past, or constantly relitigating the same issues. If you want your relationship to thrive again, then you should also talk about your future goals and ambitions, both individually and as a partnership, and in the relationship as well as out of it. This will bring you closer together.

Work towards forgiveness

Healing cannot be rushed, and forgiveness after dishonestly is unlikely to happen overnight. With that said, if you really want to leave the offending events behind and move past them as a couple, then it's a crucial step. For things to work, it's necessary both for the cheated-on party to forgive their partner, and for the partner to forgive themselves, which is arguably harder.

Practise keeping promises

Obviously, agreeing not to cheat is a central promise in most relationships, and one that many people think should be easy to keep. However, in a relationship where trust has been eroded due to dishonesty, you can reinstall confidence in the partnership by showing up for each other in smaller ways and keeping fewer high-stakes promises and agreements.

Don't use dishonesty as ammunition

When someone has betrayed your trust by being dishonest, it can be difficult to resist the temptation to bring it up in fights for months or even years to come. With that said, this understandable but ultimately vindictive impulse can wreck both party's ability to move forward, and thus destroy the relationship even when healing is within reach.

Pick a friend to confide in

Finding out that your partner has cheated on you can be incredibly difficult, and it's normal to want to respond by screaming it from the rooftops in order to ruin their life. However, while this method only makes things messier in the long run, it is important to have one person in your life who you can vent to, free of judgment.

Consider setting phone rules

No amount of rules or surveillance will stop someone from being dishonest if they want to but, if your partner truly is contrite and wants to make you feel more comfortable and secure, then boundaries are sometimes a good way to do that. Maybe you ask that they don't use platforms like Snapchat, or that they have notifications turned on so you can see who they're messaging.

Write out your fears

Having someone cheat on you is an awful experience that can lead to feelings of instability, uncertainty and confusion. As a result, you may end up with a maelstrom of thoughts that you don't know what to do with. Journalling about your anger can help you process and understand those thoughts in a safe and private way before you decide how to tackle things in the real world.

Start seeing a solo therapist

Seeing a specific relationship therapist together after dishonesty is a strategy that works for a lot of couples. However, a couple's therapist's main priority will be the health of the relationship, not the effect of cheating on you specifically. Seeing a solo therapist in tandem will give you a healthy outlet for feelings you need to process but don't want to share with your partner unfiltered.

Try and put fantasies away

One of the hardest parts of being in a relationship where dishonesty has occurred is that it takes a long time to move past. You might find yourself haunted by visions or imaginings of your partner with somebody else, and those images might be exaggerated, persistent and upsetting. If you're dealing with such things, then processing your feelings with a therapist could be helpful.

Reconnect in platonic ways

If you decide you want to stay in a relationship after cheating has occurred, you have to find a way to reconnect with your partner. One of the least fraught ways to do this is to spend time together platonically, without physical or romantic intimacy. Cooking together, watching movies or playing games will build trust and normalcy back up in a steady and measured way.

Spend time with family

It's easy to respond to a partner's dishonesty by internalising feelings of inadequacy, low self-worth and mistrust. It's essential to combat these feelings in a safe and nourishing environment that can give you some perspective, ideally away from your partner. Spending time with family who will build you back up and help you make new happy memories is a great way to do that.

Set social media use boundaries

Rules around social media use won't stop somebody from cheating if they're committed to that course of action, but they can increase transparency and security if your partner is really committed to change. Asking your partner to refrain from following or commenting on exes' photos, or from chatting with people on private platforms like Snapchat, can go a long way.

Discuss the “next time” consequences

Nobody likes to believe that their partner would cheat on them, and it's even more upsetting to think that they might do it multiple times. With that said, if you know your partner has been unfaithful before, it's important to discuss what will happen if they cheat again. Is it a case of walking away from the relationship for good? Or is mandated couples' therapy the next step?

Have strategies for in-the-moment feelings

Cheating in the past can cause eruptions of emotions like shame, anger and indignation in the affected partner, weeks, months and even years after the dishonesty occurred. That's why it's important to have coping skills you can deploy when those feelings show up, whether that be excusing yourself for a walk, running your wrists under cold water, or doing breathing exercises.

Stop looking for patterns

One of the hardest parts about dishonesty in a relationship is that it can be incredibly hard to shake the paranoia, suspicion and unhappiness that comes with knowing about it. If your partner has been unfaithful, it may take some time and introspection to stop looking for patterns and signs that it is happening again.

Don’t change your own behaviour needlessly

If your partner has cheated on you, you might spend time wondering if something about yourself inspired them to stray, or if different behaviour could have resulted in a different outcome. It's important to remember that someone else's dishonesty is not a reflection on your own value or worth, and you shouldn't change yourself in an effort to prevent it from happening again.

Think hard before telling your family

The decision on who and when to tell about your partner's dishonesty is ultimately yours, but it's an important choice that requires some thought and delicacy. Once you share the information, you'll have no control over your family's perception of your partner, and they may attempt to give you advice and guidance or disapprove of your decision to stay.

Interrogate your future goals

It's a tough pill to swallow, but if your partner has broken your trust, you need to interrogate whether they're still the right person for you moving forward. No matter what you decide, you need to give serious consideration to whether they're still a person you would like to marry, have children with, or buy property with.

Avoid the instinct to escalate

One of the ugliest but most understandable impulses you may feel after your partner has cheated on you is a desire to escalate things further. You may want to scream and fight or cheat on them in return, but such courses of action will only provide temporary catharsis and will make things messier in the long run.

Stop looking for justifications

Humans are experts at pattern recognition, and so people struggle to understand any course of action that doesn't seem to have a solid justification behind it. With that said, cheating is often opportunistic or irrational, and so trying to come up with reasons why it might have happened is both frustrating and usually fruitless.

Don’t tell their family for them

Cheating is a major breach of trust, and you may want to get back at your partner in any way you can once you find out about it. With that said, even though telling their family as revenge might feel temporarily good, it's worth considering both your timing and your motivations. They might need to know, but you should tell them while calm and collected.

Trust your own instincts

Unfortunately, everybody who finds out about your partner's infidelity is likely to have an opinion on it that they want to share with you. While leaning on guidance from trusted friends and family members is often sensible in such a turbulent time, it's important to be able to tell the difference between well-meaning advice and bad-faith meddling.

Careful what you tweet

When your trust has been betrayed, the urge to air all your partner's dirty laundry can be incredibly powerful. Unfortunately, the triumph that comes with spilling your other half's secrets all over social media will quickly fade, leaving you embarrassed that you've given up control of the narrative and ensured gossip will quickly spread.

Keep up with self-care

Dealing with infidelity in your relationship can be emotionally taxing and logistically difficult whether you stay or go. That's why it's crucial to carve out time to focus on yourself, work through your emotions and ensure you're feeling whole and positive. Some people do this by hitting the gym, taking walks, investing in a hobby they love or just taking long baths.

Don’t rush physical intimacy

Even if you've decided to move past infidelity and forgive your partner, you may find some new hurdles emerge in your relationship. Most common is finding it difficult to be physically intimate with a partner without thinking about what they did. The solution is to work up to intimacy slowly and with lots of communication, including with a licensed relationship therapist if necessary.

Don’t learn about the person

If you've been cheated on by a partner, you'll know that it's hard to resist the temptation to learn everything you possibly can about who they were cheating with. This is an impulse best resisted though, as it can only lead to bitterness, resentment and comparison. While you might need to know if they were an existing acquaintance of yours, most of the time they're best left alone.

Avoid moving the goalposts

Making the decision to forgive your partner, move past dishonesty and stay in the relationship after infidelity is not for everyone, and it should only be done after much deliberation and communication. With that said, if your partner has done what you've asked to win back your trust, you cannot then move the goalposts to keep forgiveness out of their reach indefinitely.

Don’t catastrophize

The thing about stability is that it is cumulative, so something going wrong in one area of your life can have a far-reaching effect. If you've been cheated on, you might also start believing that your friends can't be trusted to have your back, or that your appearance isn't up to snuff in some way. In truth, your partner's dishonesty has nothing to do with your worth.

Don’t emotionally cheat in response

Having someone to vent to in the wake of infidelity in your relationship is healthy, important, and crucial for your mental well-being. With that said, it's best to trust a family member or long-time friend with such intimate details of your romantic life, rather than the handsome stranger at your office. Emotional affairs are insidious and hard to spot, sometimes even when you're participating in one.

Avoid ignoring other red flags

Sometimes, you can be blindsided by a breach of trust even when everything else in your relationship seems perfect. Other times, however, cheating can be a wake-up call to all the other red flags in your relationship. If you decide to stay with your partner after they've been unfaithful, take time to interrogate whether this is part of a larger pattern of objectionable behaviour.

Spend time with friends

When you find out that your partner has been unfaithful to you, it's normal to feel embarrassed or ashamed, as though everyone else in your life could tell but you. In reality though, it's crucial to lean on and spend time with friends, in order to reaffirm that you have people in your life who truly want what's best for you.

Avoid the urge to cyberstalk

Cyberstalking is a huge temptation in all sorts of scenarios: old high school classmates, prospective partners, your ex's new fiancee. With that said, cyberstalking the person who your partner cheated on you with is only going to lead to more pain in the long run. Put the phone down, and channel your hurt feelings into something else, like journalling.

Don’t ignore your own feelings

You can get guidance from every person you trust in the world in the wake of infidelity but, at the end of the day, you have to trust your own feelings. If your friends and family are saying to stay and work through it, but in your heart of hearts you know it's a dealbreaker, then it's definitely time to leave.

Know when to let go

Even in the wake of a betrayal of trust, it can be difficult to leave a relationship when you've spent time building a life with the other person. With that said, as painful as it can be to uproot and start anew, it can often be healthier than staying in a partnership where you know you'll never trust or forgive the other person.