If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve done the unthinkable: cheated on your partner, and now you’re sitting wondering how the hell you’re going to tell them – or perhaps, if telling them is even the best course of action.
Maybe you’re hoping you can continue the lie, having your cake and eating it (please don’t) but, to give you the benefit of the doubt, it’s likely you’re feeling a lot of guilt and shame right now, and maybe you’re rightly scared of the outcome.
After all, telling the truth will hurt your partner to an unimaginable extent and, where you’re concerned, a relationship you care about deeply could come to an end.
But, frankly, keeping the secret is likely to make you feel much worse in the long run.
‘A secret like this can eat away at the partner who cheated and this in turn can impact their mental health and their relationships,’ Ammanda Major, an experienced sex and relationship therapist and Head of Clinical Practice at Relate, tells Metro.co.uk.
‘They may project their feelings of guilt onto their partner, accusing them of cheating too.
‘It may also cause them to dislike themselves and have a lot of anxiety around whether their secret will be discovered.’
Even the idea of keeping a secret that big is stress-inducing, and that’s before acknowledging how important it is to come clean.
‘If you tell your partner you cheated, they’re likely to feel hurt, angry and betrayed, and there’s a risk they will end the relationship,’ says Ammanda.
‘But being honest about what happened may also present an opportunity to really look at the relationship you have with each other, and the relationship you have with yourself.
‘By examining the reasons that led you to cheat and better understand what was going on in your head, you can begin to address any issues.’
Not only that, but giving your partner the full truth puts you on an even playing field – and they can decide whether or not the relationship is right for them, with all the facts.
Besides, if you do keep the secret, your relationship might still be negatively impacted in the long run.
‘Keeping cheating and especially repeated cheating a secret means you’re not giving your partner the opportunity to decide if they want to stay with you, which of course is one of the reasons many people stay silent,’ Ammanda continues.
‘But any relationship thrives better on fairness and honesty, so it’s important to carefully think about the impact of not telling and especially if what happened comes to light years after the event.’
Plus, it’s important to remember that relationships do often recover from infidelity (hello, Jay Z and Beyoncé) and can even, as Ammanda says, end up being stronger – but this means having many tricky conversations.
How to approach the conversation
- Let your partner know you want to talk in advance – don’t just spring it on them
- Tell them the basic facts of what happened
- Be prepared to answer a lot of questions, straight away and later down the line
- Be prepared for your partner to react differently to how you expect
- Provide an explanation, but don’t make excuses or blame your partner for your actions
- Apologise, but only if you mean it
- Don’t expect instant forgiveness
- Let them know you want to work on the relationship, if that’s the case
- Suggest talking to a professional when they feel ready
‘For the relationship to continue in a healthy way, both partners need to be willing to really work through things and look at how their behaviour may or may not have contributed to the situation,’ says Ammanda.
‘A relationship counsellor can facilitate tricky but important conversations like this.’
If – or when – you decide to come clean, it’s important to make sure you’re doing so for the right reasons: because your partner deserves to know the truth, and not just to alleviate your guilt.
‘Let your partner know in advance that there’s something you need to talk to them about and arrange a time to chat when you won’t be distracted,’ says Ammanda.
She says it’s important not to come from a place of guilt, but to give the basic facts of what happened and apologise – but only if you mean it.
If you want to stay together and work things out, she says, let them know, but don’t expect them to forgive you there and then.
Whether it helps your relationship or not, coming clean is likely going to be the best thing for you and your partner, so give the conversation some serious thought and make sure you approach it with compassion.
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