8 Steps to handle a cheating spouse

Cheating in a relationship is never pleasant, and how you handle been cheated can really help one heal and recover. Here are some 8 steps that can help one handle a cheating spouse in a relationship. 

1. Decide whether or not to re-establish trust.

When a partner is unfaithful, it is a serious breach of trust. And it is something that may indicate that this person is not worthy or capable of a healthy relationship. On one hand, good people make bad choices and if they are truly sorry and can make amends, forgiveness can lead to an even better relationship. On the other hand, if you simply cannot trust that person again, the relationship is effectively dead.

  • Is your partner truly sorry?
  • Did they voluntarily tell you, or did you find out from someone else?
  • Has this sort of behavior happened before, or has he or she promised to not do it, and it has continued or gotten worse?
  • Is this part of a larger picture of poor behavior towards you?
  • Is your partner willing to take steps to mend the relationship (if you decide you want to go that route) such as marital counseling, quitting a job, moving, etc.?
  • Do you feel you want to trust this person again? There is no right or wrong answer for this. This is entirely up to the person who has been cheated on. It does not matter if the person who has cheated is sorry, made amends, and so on — this can be a deal breaker plain and simple.
    • Feelings may change with time and further experience with the cheating partner. It can go one way or the other. This is natural.
    • Well-meaning friends and relatives may want to give simple advice to make a quick, definitive decision. Be aware that you do not have to make a decision right away in most cases. It is your life.
2.Understand the nature of your partner’s cheating. 

People cheat for many different reasons and it is not always about sex. Sometimes people cheat because they are seeking an emotional connection, trying to deal with a loss or crisis, or seeking an escape. This is not an excuse or reason for the behavior, however. [1]
  • Do not assume that your partner’s cheating was all about sex. Find out why they cheated before you move forward. Try telling your partner, "I need to know why you cheated and who it was. Please be honest with me and tell me what happened."
  • Be aware that they may not really know why the infidelity happened. They may not really have deeply thought about it, or even if they did, they still may not really know why. And there may be reasons not fully understood by the person. This does not excuse it, but realize "I don't know" may be the honest answer. Some common reason include:
    • Attraction to a different person.
    • A desire for attention, excitement, or novelty.
    • A troubled marriage: poor communication, stress in the marriage, partners growing apart.
    • If the person's parent was unfaithful (especially the same sex).
    • The individual comes from culture or subculture that expects and tolerates infidelity.
    • Mental illness or disorders. People who cheat are not mentally ill, but a mental illness such as bipolar disorder, depression, or even severe attention deficit disorder can all contribute to poor decision making.
3.Request that your partner cut off all communication with the third party. 

The third (or even fourth or fifth) party needs to be out of the picture for the relationship to survive. Boundaries were breached, and they need to be re-established in a way that protects the relationship. That means asking your partner to break all ties with the person. This severing may be difficult if the third party is a coworker or someone else that your partner sees on a daily basis. [2]
  • This may require a change in lifestyle, such as quitting a job, the softball team, or moving to a new town.
  • If the relationship was of a very close family member (such as a sibling), this can be extremely awkward and difficult. Not only is your romantic relationship damaged, but close family relationships as well.
  • If your partner is unwilling to cut off contact with the third party, it may be a sign that they are unwilling to stop cheating. In this case, you may not be able to repair the relationship.
  • If the third party continues to pursue your partner despite being cut off, you and your partner may want to pursue a restraining order to keep this person away from you both.

4.Communicate with your partner when you are ready. 

Learning that your partner has had an affair is likely cause you to experience a high level of emotional distress. You may need some time before you can talk to your partner about what happened. It is important to discuss the affair in order to move forward in your relationship, but don’t feel like you have to discuss the affair with your partner right away. Take your time and talk about it when you feel ready.[3]
  • If your partner pressures you to talk, say something like, “I appreciate that you want to talk, but I am just too hurt right now to talk about what happened. Please show your love for me by giving me space and time.”
  • It is OK to be very, very angry. You have every right to be hurt, angry, and otherwise furious. Expressing this is healthy, as it is not OK to be cheated on and your partner needs to know how his or her actions affect you. Not being honest and open about this means they do not have to face the reality of what has been done, and you may implode if you try to squelch these natural and normal feelings. If they try to avoid or blame you, this is a sign that they are not truly accepting responsibility. You can say something like, " I want to keep the focus on your behavior."

5.Set boundaries about relationships outside of your marriage. 

Affairs often happen when healthy relationship boundaries are not respected. You have every right to make it clear what these are, even if the other person gives excuses or "reasons" for the affair.
  • For example, your partner should not talk to a work friend about you or your marital issues. You and your partner can work together to compile a list of topics that are acceptable as well as topics that are not acceptable for conversations with friends and coworkers.
  • Friendships do not involve any sexuality. One does not kiss (except in polite greeting in certain cultures), flirt, or otherwise engage in even mild sexual behavior.
  • There should be no one-on-one outings with people that risks infidelity. This means no drinks with single (or even married) co-workers, for instance. This may seem harsh, but this can help re-establish trust.
  • Emotional intimacy belongs in the marriage. This does not mean you cannot have a best friend to confide in, but at some point it can cross the line to what is not appropriate.

5.Ask your partner to make their whereabouts known to you throughout the day.

In order to reestablish trust, your partner will need to understand that they have lost your trust. For this reason, you will need to know where your partner is at all times. This may seem unfair to your partner, but it is necessary if they are committed to regaining your trust.

6.Talk about your partner’s cheating, but set limits. 

You, as the betrayed party, get to decide your limits and what you want to know when.
  • One idea: schedule two 30 minute sessions each week to talk to your partner about the affair, rather than spreading the questions throughout the week.
  • Don’t ask your partner to reveal things that will be too hurtful for you to hear. You decide when and if you want certain information. You reserve the right to not know things as well.

7.Forgive on your own terms. 

Your partner may be extremely apologetic and desperate for you to say that you forgive them, right then and there. But true forgiveness and healing will likely take time. And there is no timetable on that. The person who cheated must understand that they do not have the right to dictate when the healing happens. It is okay if you need more time to heal before you forgive your partner. To help your partner understand, let them know that you are still too hurt to forgive just yet and that you need more time.[6]
  • Say something like, “I appreciate your apologies and I want you to keep apologizing, but I am just not ready to forgive you yet.”
  • It is OK to not forgive. Cheating is a deep wound, and sometimes is fatal to a relationship. This does not necessarily mean you are not a good or nice person or otherwise not loving enough. It is OK to say you have had enough.

8.Seek help from a counselor. 

Dealing with a cheating partner on your own is difficult. If it is too hard for you and your partner to work through this process on your own, seek the help of a licensed counselor who specializes in marital issues. A marriage counselor can help you to deal with your emotions and have more constructive conversations.
  • Keep in mind that marriage counseling will not offer an instant solution. Reestablishing trust in your relationship will take time.
  • Marriage or couples counseling can also help make ending the relationship smoother. Although counselors tend to try to fix relationships, they can help the individuals recognize when it is not working, and how to move forward in that direction as well. 
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