Surviving infidelity is never easy, not even for the cheating spouse and affair recovery takes time and a lot of effort.
As a cheater, your worst fear is getting caught. But, now that it has happened and you want to make it up to your spouse, you’ll find hundreds of thousands of articles or pieces of advice about the feelings of the one who was betrayed.
Is surviving infidelity possible for cheaters? Let’s face it, even broaching the subject can be difficult but it’s best to talk openly about it.
While every relationship is different, cheaters often feel a lot of the same things.
Often, there is a part of you that is relieved that it’s finally out in the open. You’re glad that you don’t need to keep hiding and covering up. Perhaps, you’ve wanted to break the affair off but didn’t know how. Maybe the person you cheated with threatened to tell your partner if you broke it off.
Letting the chips fall and getting it out in the open feels like a relief.
There is another part of you that is confused and terrified by everything you and your partner are now feeling. You were not prepared for your partner’s massive emotional reaction to your cheating.
You told yourself that it was okay to cheat because your partner was not into you anymore. Or you slipped into an affair with someone you worked with. You had no intention of having an affair or leaving your partner.
In either case, you can’t believe how enraged your partner is. You get angry when your partner constantly wants to check your phone or track your location. You feel your partner is completely unreasonable by emotionally coming off the rails when you come home an hour later than you said you would.
You feel embarrassed and interrogated when your partner wants to know the details of how and when you kissed the other person and even what sexual positions you used.
You also cannot believe what is happening inside of you. You find yourself downplaying the significance of what has happened. You want your partner to believe that it was just a thing on the side and that you never intended to leave the marriage. You also want to justify your actions by blaming your partner for a lack of support or sex.
Surviving infidelity as the cheater is a complicated matter.
Why do people cheat? Some cheaters had an authentic emotional connection with the person they cheated with.
If this is you, you know how difficult it is to have a negative view of the person you had the affair with. You feel in your heart that the affair opened you up and actually made you a better and more connected human being.
But you can’t talk about any of that to your partner. You know how that information would just add to the threat. So, you have to suffer from grieving the loss of the relationship with the person that you cheated with. And you somehow have to find the capacity to be sorry about how you devastated her or him. None of that is easy.
Most cheaters stay with their partner because they never really did want to end the relationship, even if it was disconnected or emotionally up and down. After an affair has ended, many cheaters are surprised by how much love they feel for their partner.
Seeing your partner’s devastated and hurt emotions may open up a whole new awareness of how much you matter and how much he or she matters to you.
When some cheaters face the threat of losing their spouse and children they can sink into deep hopelessness. It is not uncommon to have thoughts of no longer wanting to live. It can be difficult to focus on work and the tasks of daily living.
In addition to all of the above, you are terrified about how you are going to navigate the financial devastation of a potential divorce. Your mind can run wild with the worst outcomes. This further paralyzes you.
Everything mentioned above speaks to the incredible complexity of surviving infidelity as the cheater and finding inner peace after you have cheated.
It is easy to do the wrong things and make the relationship worse and unrecoverable. Know this, many relationships can be saved even after a betrayal.
If you want to save the relationship with the person you have cheated on, it is very important that you regain your inner peace through the betrayal trauma and mistrust.
Here are 7 tips for surviving infidelity when you were the cheating spouse (and it’s important to do all of them).
1. Put a complete end to your affair
Have the difficult conversation with the person you cheated with and end the relationship permanently. Apologize and leave the person you have cheated with no hope that the affair will continue.
Let them know that you love your life partner and are going to do everything possible to rebuild the relationship.
Delete all social media connections and conversations that you have had when you cheated. Delete all contact information and text strings. Do not visit the same places that you cheated.
If you work with the person you cheated with, you may need to transfer to a different department or even get a different job.
I know that this sounds painful and perhaps even a little rigid. Please trust me on this. Any future contact that you have with the person you cheated with will re-traumatize your partner and start the mistrust and questions all over again.
Rebuilding trust is difficult enough without the person you cheated with showing up again in your life.
2. Apologize repeatedly with deep remorseful emotion
Your partner will not believe you unless you apologize over and over again with deep, sincere, remorseful emotion. Your words alone won’t do it. Your cheating was a repeated lie to your partner. They no longer trust your words alone. What will begin to be trusted is the sincerity of your emotions.
I say in couples therapy that “it takes emotion to heal an emotion.” Cheating causes your partner a lot of deep emotional damage. It is your emotional remorse that will allow your partner to feel understood and cared for.
Your facial expressions and voice tone must be congruent with your words.
You must not be offended when you are not trusted the first number of times that you do this. You will feel frustrated. Again. You have lost the trust of your partner. If your partner loves you, they will be very careful not to emotionally trust you again until time and repeated emotional connection heals the trust injury.
Yes, this is difficult. And it takes great humility. This will eventually bring healing to your relationship. In addition to apologizing you will need to do a lot of listening.
3. Listen with compassion to your partner’s pain
Listening is 90 percent of what you need to do. You must avoid the temptation to correct or to offer your partner solutions.
That last thing your partner wants is to be corrected. You partner could care less that you have a different perspective on times, dates, and betrayal behaviors. The truth is that none of these really matter anyway.
What matters is your partner’s betrayal injury. Your partner is in gut-wrenching pain and wants to be heard. Put down your cell phone, turn off the T.V. and listen. Look your partner in the eyes and attend to every heartfelt word.
Let yourself feel your partner’s pain inside yourself. Tell your partner that you feel how painful the betrayal was. This is a good time to again say that you are sorry.
Compassion is the key to emotional healing. Never suggest that your partner is exaggerating or embellishing. This will cause more injury.
Just listen and compassionately, empathically respond.
You may be asking yourself “What do I do?” if your partner is misrepresenting what you’ve done or who you are.
4. Do not defend yourself
This one is really hard. It is so difficult when we are not accurately understood. It is difficult to hear your partner batter the integrity of the person you had an affair with, especially if you continue to hold that person in high regard.
Jealousy is a natural human emotion designed to protect our pair-bonded relationship. Your partner will compare and devalue themselfs because of the threat of almost losing you. This is natural and will pass over time.
Any time you get defensive it sounds like you are not sincerely sorry and that you are covering up. You have deeply hurt your partner and the integrity of your relationship. That is all that matters.
Do not defend yourself and do not defend the person you cheated with. Listen and validate with compassion.
Your partner may mine for facts. This is mostly about your being tested to see if you are telling the truth. Yes, all betrayers lie. Now you need to prove that you are no longer lying by trying, to the best of your ability, to answer your partner’s questions.
Don’t try to withhold the truth for fear that you will hurt your partner worse. It is best to get the truth out on the table as soon as possible. If your truth and her truth do not align, let it go. Respond according to the best of your recollection.
5. Understand and help heal your partner’s betrayal trauma
About 70 percent of people who are cheated on have betrayal trauma.
What looks irrational to you makes perfect sense when viewed through the lens of betrayal trauma. Betrayal trauma is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Imagine being in the military and almost losing your life by a surprise ambush.
This kind of assault causes your brain to release powerful stress hormones designed to motivate you to fight or flee the situation. After that, anytime you’re in a situation that reminds you of the ambush your brain will release those same hormones.
Your affair was an ambush that threatened to end everything that your partner deeply cared about. Her relationship with you, her kids, her home, her financial security, her friends, and her family are all compromised by this major threat to her existence.
When you surprised her with the betrayal her brain shut down her ability to reason and activated her chemistry to make her fight for you or run like hell away from you.
This back-and-forth looks a little crazy. It feels even more crazy. PTSD symptoms often include debilitating anxiety, hot and cold flashes, feeling like you are going to lose your mind, feelings of unreality and terrible hypervigilance. Panic attacks sometimes occur that make a person feel like they are having a heart attack.
There is also deep grief and sadness. The betrayed person often just can’t get their head around how the person that they loved and trusted the most could hurt them the most. There is often a deep grieving process. They feel that the image of the person they married is shattered for life.
The emotions your partner is feeling are no joke. Rather than trying to minimize them you need to recognize and validate them. Your partner needs to tell you when she is triggered. It is then your responsibility to support her and remove her from whatever she is being triggered by.
When you support her in those moments it will help her feel like you are her safe defender rather than her unsafe betrayer. This will go a long way to both heal the PTSD and restore the trust.
If you are feeling a little overwhelmed by what you have read so far, join the club. Surviving infidelity as the cheater is complicated. Healing betrayal trauma emotions by remembering to do everything is not easy. And, in many cases, you will not be able to do these suggestions without help.
Surviving infidelity as the cheater and regaining your inner peace will not be easy.
It will take time and a commitment to a careful process. It will not happen overnight. However, it’s doable.
I work with couples every day who are struggling just like you are. Couples who wonder how on earth they will navigate this healing process. There will be days when everything in you wants to run and hide and start over elsewhere. But hang in there and be patient with the healing process.
You’ll need time and professional help to get through this and these tips to help you regain your inner peace is your roadmap.