Updated: Dec 8, 2022
You’ve discovered your partner’s cheated on you. You’re devasted, enraged, and...confused. You don’t know what to do or even how to think about this.
Or rather, you have a million ways to think about this. You want to kill the bastard or the bitch. Or the person they’ve been involved with. You want to kick their sorry ass to the curb and never see them again. But...you love them.
Well, based on decades of working with thousands of people in just the place you’re in, here’s some fast, safe, smart advice. I beg you to heed it. You’ll thank me later.
First, don’t actually DO anything. It’s a good life rule in general. Never do anything when you’re all churned up. Yeah, sure, move out temporarily, or tell them to move out temporarily, if you feel that’s necessary. But no final decisions.
Second, as a beginning to thinking about where to go from here, do NOT think about how much you love your partner. Nope. That’s not a good guide to decision making here. Instead, ask yourself—slowly and carefully—how good was your relationship before you found out about this cheating. Because...come on! If your relationship was already iffy, why in the world would you want to struggle with the difficult task of healing from an affair? But if your relationship waspretty good before you found out about this, then, as your dentist might put it, “we can save the tooth.” You can, in other words, if you want, save the relationship.
Third, do not put a dime’s worth of energy into trying to understand what happened. I know, I know. You have a million why’s in your head. A thousand things you want explained. Endless questions you want answered. I know, I know, I know. But I beg you to believe me when I say that this utterly profitless path will just take you down a rabbit hole of misery and confusion. No one, and I mean NO ONE, has ever found answers to why that were satisfying, illuminating, and helpful.
Besides, you already know the answer. It’s the same with all affairs. The two risk factors for an affair are need + opportunity. Your partner had some unmet need—everyone in a relationship has some unmet needs!—but then maybe somehow that need became more acute because of something going on in your relationship or in their life. Then along came the other missing piece: opportunity. A person who offered the right thing at the right time, or the wrong thing at the wrong time, depending on how you want to look at it. That’s all that was necessary.
That’s all anyone can possibly understand.
Fourth, okay, you want to understand something? Here’s what’s VITAL for you to understand. Does your partner really care about you—do they have the capacity to care—and do they have what it takes to go through what healing will actually consist of? And what is that? It’s your sharing your pain in depth and in detail, the full history and geography of your pain, with your partner. Not to rake them over the coals. Not as a punishment. But to see if they are a good person.
You have to proceed on the assumption that your partner had no idea the damage they’d cause when the affair started. (Yes, people ARE exactly that stupid!) So you have to show the damage. So they can be appropriately horrified. So that, being appropriately horrified, they can spontaneously want to never hurt you like this again.
Now if they’re willing to go on this journey with you—and DO go on it!—you have something real and valuable. You know they care. You know they know the full extent of the hurt they’ve caused. That’s what it means to be a good person. And you have the best assurance a person can have that this won’t happen again.
And if they’re not willing and able to do this, then what? It says a lot. It says, I was willing to hurt you, but not willing to understand and appreciate the extent of the damage I caused. What kind of a person says that? At a minimum, a person who might well hurt you again.
So there you have it. Four things to do, four steps to take, four ways to think about how to deal with what’s happened to you. Most importantly, four ways to take the best possible care of yourself and your future right now.
We’ve written two books on infidelity and betrayal. You might very much want to check them out: