Moving Forward After Cheating on Your Partner: Steps to Take

Introduction

“I cheated on my boyfriend” (or girlfriend) is probably a phrase you never expected to say in the first place. Or maybe it’s something you suspected might happen for a while now. Whatever your situation is, moving on after infidelity of any kind can seem like an insurmountable task in even the strongest of relationships. Pain, disappointment and grief are just a few feelings that might emerge. Given that you’re currently experiencing a multitude of different emotions, you might be wondering the next steps are or how to move on. Keep in mind that this event does not necessarily mean that your relationship needs to end, or that your bond is changed forever. When you and your partner are able to communicate honestly and move forward together, there are a number of steps you can take to heal the relationship and begin to restore the trust that has been broken. In this article we’re going to be doing just that – we’ll be diving into the impact of cheating, deciding whether to reveal the truth, how to rebuild trust and steps to move forward.

Image of two People in the aftermath of cheating

Confronting Reality: Acknowledging the Impact of Cheating

Self-Reflection and Accountability

Understanding the emotional impact and consequences of your actions is the first step to take after cheating has occurred. It is important to reflect on the impact on both your partner and yourself. For this to happen, you and your partner should both take some time to process your emotions. Consider asking yourself [1];

  • Do you feel regret?
  • Do you feel ready to be held responsible for your actions?
  • Are you ready to put in the time and effort to heal what has been broken as a result of your cheating?
  • Is this something you feel you might do again?

It is incredibly important to remain honest with yourself during this time. Once you have answered these (and any other relevant) questions for yourself, turn your attention to how this has impacted your partner.

Understanding the Emotional Toll of Infidelity on Your Partner

Realising that you’ve cheated on your partner can be shocking and confusing. It can feel awful, and trigger in you intense feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse. It’s normal to feel swamped by these emotions, and worry about the future of your relationship.

Cheating can have a deep impact on both you and your partner, disrupting emotional stability and creates a significant divide in your relationship.

This is the part where you’ll need to accept that you are, likely, the sole reason for their hurt and disappointment. Your partner, if they’re aware of the infidelity, may experience intense emotions like anger, resentment, anxiety, depression, betrayal, hurt, and confusion, all of which are valid and to be expected [2].

Their trust in you and their own sense of self-worth may have taken a powerful hit too. In some cases, that may even be seeking revenge. Although it’s difficult, understanding that these reactions are normal can help you. It can lay the groundwork for you to take responsibility and decide how to move forward. If it’s a relationship you want to stay on, then these are very important steps in healing and rebuilding after such a breach of trust.

If you find that you are struggling to understand your feelings or need objective guidance, consider reaching out to a couple’s counsellor or relationship therapist, for in-person or online therapy help.

Image of a person finding out their partner has cheated on them and feeling heartbroken

Taking Responsibility: Reflection and Self-Examination

Identifying the Reasons Behind Your Actions

Why did you cheat? This is an important question to ask yourself if your goal is to work through it. Many people, both men and women, cheat. You’re not alone, and you’re not the worst person on earth. Perhaps it was a meaningless one-off or maybe it had a deeper meaning behind it. While there’s no hard and fast rule for how to deal with this, it is crucial to get to the bottom of why cheating occurred in your current relationship. Here are a couple of reasons why it might have happened:

  • Impulsivity and giving in to a temptation
  • Low self-esteem issues
  • Reaction to a shift in attraction
  • Changes in sexual desire
  • Long distance
  • Boredom
  • Feeling under-appreciated
  • Body image issues
  • Lack of emotional intimacy
  • Growing apart

Once you have told your partner about the infidelity, among other questions, they will likely ask why it happened. Being aware of why it happened first, can help bring your partner some clarity and help jumpstart the process to open and honest communication. If you struggle to find a core reason behind why you cheated, it might be a good idea to reach out to a couple’s counsellor or relationship therapist. Talking with a therapist can help you examine your subconscious thoughts or motivations, as well as tackle any underlying mental health problems and process your emotions after cheating [3]

Accept Responsibility and Move Towards Change

Determining why you cheated is important, but accepting responsibility for your actions is equally crucial. This is an essential first step in the process of rebuilding trust. Avoid placing any blame on your partner, as your actions are essentially your own [1]. The unfaithful partner should take full ownership of their actions and demonstrate their willingness to be held accountable and take steps towards rebuilding with their partner [2]

It’s not just about identifying the reasons but also understanding the patterns that led to your decision. It’s often about looking into your personal values, emotional needs, and relationship dynamics. For instance, you may realise that the infidelity came from feeling neglected and not valued in your relationship. It wasn’t just a moment of impulsivity; it represented unmet emotional needs and the growing distance between you and your partner. Cheating rarely comes out of nowhere, and understanding these deeper issues can be enlightening. The introspection can be tough, but it’s really necessary for personal growth and healing your relationship.

Admitting to yourself that you made a mistake is challenging but fundamental to move past cheating. One thing is to simply acknowledging the act of cheating, another thing entirely is recognising the harm caused by your actions and where they were coming from. This realisation can mark a turning point for you, leading to genuine remorse and a commitment to change.

Another reason why reflecting on these aspects is important is it can lead you to self forgiveness. We don’t mean excusing your actions, but accepting and learning from them. It’s not about absolution; it’s about giving yourself the space to grow and heal. Forgiving yourself can be crucial, not just for yourself but to make relationship work again.

Should I Tell My Partner I Cheated? Deciding Whether to Reveal the Truth

Although revealing the truth to your partner is without a doubt the morally correct option, you may be pondering what to do after you’ve cheated. Choosing to disclose or hide your infidelity both come with their potential benefits and consequences, and it would be beneficial to first evaluate your own specific situation before deciding what to do.

Revealing the truth can serve as a way to relieve your feelings of guilt, but it could also place an unnecessary burden to your partner. What seems to be an important discriminant is the type of cheating that occurred and its root causes. This can help you determine the most helpful course of action [4].

A one-off incident

Perhaps your situation involves a one-off cheating incident, an isolated incident, that was fuelled by alcohol. In deciding whether to reveal a one-off incident, it can be helpful to weigh the long-term impact on your relationship. Consider not just the immediate relief of unburdening guilt, but also how this revelation might affect your partner emotionally and the trust between you both. You might feel it would be better to refrain from telling your partner, as you feel it was likely a mistake and will only hurt them to know. However, if you go down this route, know that you’ll be dealing with concealing a dangerous secret that may have consequences of its own. If you choose to do so, then take this chance to reflect on finding the root of the problem or figure out ways to prevent it in the future. Remember, we are all human and are allowed to make mistakes! What matters most is how we learn from them and change our behaviour going forward. Once a cheater is not necessarily always a cheater.

If on reflection, you realise your actions come from a deeper indifference towards your partner’s feelings — indicating a lack of genuine remorse or care — this signals a different kind of responsibility. In such cases, revealing the truth is imperative. It not only addresses your own integrity but also respects your partner’s right to make informed decisions about their future, potentially freeing them to pursue paths more aligned with their well-being and happiness

An affair

If you cheated on your partner, the situation wasn’t a one-off incident, and you were having an affair, revealing the truth to your partner is the best option, albeit tough, course of action. In the case of an affair, you decided on multiple occasions to cheat on your partner. This is an indicator that there is an issue within your relationship or yourself, both of which should be expressed to your partner.

If you decide to confess to having an affair, be prepared for a wave of emotional reactions from your partner, from shock to hurt or anger. You want to approach these with empathy and a readiness to address them, as part of the process of rebuilding trust.

In this situation, consider reaching out to a therapist beforehand in order to gain a deeper understanding of your feelings or learn how to best approach the conversation with your partner. In doing so, you’ll also learn what language to use to minimise the potential hurt you will cause your partner, or devise a plan on how to move forward.

Voiced suspicion

If your partner has voiced their concern or suspicion that you have been unfaithful, it is important that you are truthful to them. Lying about your infidelity will likely cause more harm than good, and can negatively affect the possibility of rebuilding trust or moving past the affair. When facing voiced suspicions from your partner, remember that honesty isn’t just about clearing your conscience. It’s the first step in the, likely, long journey of rebuilding trust.

The Emotional Journey of Confession

In confronting the decision to confess infidelity, it’s not just the act of revelation that’s important, but also the emotional journey that follows. As we mentioned, confessing is more than unburdening yourself; it’s about initiating a process of healing and rebuilding. This journey is about understanding and empathy from both sides. As you navigate this path, consider the long-term consequences of your actions on your relationship. It’s about building a foundation for trust and open communication, essential for moving forward together

Image of two partners still in love divided by the barrier placed by cheating

Rebuilding Trust: Open Communication and Transparency

Establishing Open Communication

Perhaps the most important part of healing a relationship after cheating is to maintain a healthy relationship through open and honest communication with your partner. Be open to letting them know where you are, who you are with etc., until a foundation of trust can begin to reform. Acknowledge your partner’s thoughts and feelings regarding the infidelity, and avoid placing expectations or time limits on rebuilding trust.

Research has shown that ineffective communication is one of the most common reasons for failed relationships. With this point in mind, it is crucial that you open up to your partner about your feelings, needs and expectations and be open to listening to theirs [1].

Transparency and Boundaries: A Practical Approach

Rebuilding trust after infidelity is a gradual journey requiring patience, consistency, and a genuine commitment to change. It’s more than just discussing the incident; it’s about co-creating an environment where both partners feel safe to express their emotions and concerns: sharing vulnerabilities is at the basis of trust, and a crucial ingredient to long-lasting relationships.

Imagine the case of Emma and Tom as an example. After Emma’s infidelity, they agreed to increase transparency in their daily activities. Emma began sharing details about her day-to-day interactions, which, though initially difficult to accept and challenging to put into practice, helped in rebuilding Tom’s trust.

Agreeing upon boundaries can be of great help in preventing future issues. These boundaries, respecting the needs and comfort levels of both partners, can bring up a sense of safety and security. For Emma and Tom, setting clear boundaries regarding their social interactions was a key step in demonstrating their commitment to each other and the relationship.

Emerging Stronger Together

The journey of rebuilding trust is not only about overcoming a challenging phase in your relationship but also about transformation and growth. It’s an opportunity to take a look at the foundations of your partnership and strengthen them. The good news is that relationships which survive the trials of infidelity and trust issues often emerge more fulfilling and resilient than ever before.

You might even say that cheating is the shockwave that propels your relationship to address underlying issues and rebuild on firmer, more honest grounds. It’s definitely not just about reverting to how things were before, but giving the relationship a new DNA, made up of mutual respect, deeper emotional connection, and a renewed commitment to each other.

To emerge stronger from this experience, whether individually or together, relationship counselling and couples therapy can provide valuable guidance. Get in touch with us to explore how we can support your journey towards a healthier, more fulfilling relationship.

Image depicting partners feeling hurt following cheating

Healing and Moving Forward: The Importance of Self-Care

Recognising the Right Time for Self-Care

In the aftermath of infidelity, it’s easy to fall into negative patterns, like neglecting your own needs while trying to fix the relationship. Imagine you’re like Sarah, who found herself constantly ruminating about the situation, losing sleep, and skipping meals. She realised that neglecting her well-being was not only detrimental to her health but also impeded her ability to constructively contribute to healing her relationship.

Avoiding Unhelpful Patterns

When you’re stressed, it can be tempting to turn to unhelpful coping mechanisms, like overworking, ignoring your emotions, or isolating yourself. For instance, you might find yourself thinking ‘I cheated on my boyfriend’ (or girlfriend, partner, etc.,) and initially tried to ‘keep busy’ to avoid dealing with your feelings, only to find that these patterns make your emotional turmoil worse. Being aware of such tendencies and consciously choosing healthier coping strategies is fundamental for your overall well-being as well as the healing process of your relationship.

Recognising the need for self-care is the first step towards your emotional recovery. Even if, as the one who cheated it might feel like you deserve the suffering, this may not be ultimately helpful to you or your partner.

Implementing Effective Self-Care Strategies

So, what can you do to look after yourself? Well, while working to understand and move past the infidelity in your relationship, you want to prioritise both your physical and mental health. Engaging in self-care is a great way to ensure that you are in the best state of mind to work on rebuilding your broken relationship. [5]. Consider asking yourself, “What do I need today?” Self-care can include;

  • Eating healthy meals
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Engaging in your favourite hobbies
  • Spending time with family and friends
  • Exercising
  • Journaling
  • Meditating
  • Spending time in nature

Self-care is not just a form of self-indulgence; it’s an essential part of your healing journey. It helps you regain emotional balance and prepares you to face the challenges of repairing your relationship. When you prioritise your well-being, you’re better equipped to contribute positively to the healing process with your partner.

Seeking Professional Help

If you begin to notice that despite your best efforts, you are still unsure about how to move forward, or you and your partner cannot seem to find a resolution, it might be necessary to seek professional help. This is especially true if these issues are beginning to impact your day-to-day life, communication is continuing to deteriorate, or mental health concerns arise. There are several different therapies available to help in dealing with both personal challenges and challenges in your relationship. Remember, it’s okay to ask for help!

At Therapy Central we offer relationship therapy and couples’ counselling, as well as more focused therapy such as stress counselling and therapy for low self esteem. This treatment is available in London and everywhere else via online therapy. We use evidence-based interventions such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and many other approaches to help you manage your relationship problems.

If you’re considering professional support, contact our team for a confidential consultation. We’re here to help guide you through this challenging time, offering tailored support for your unique situation.

Request a free 15 min consultation to start your journey towards healing and renewal

Resources

 References

[1] – “You Cheated and Were Caught, Now What?Verywell Mind

[2] – “Rebuilding Trust after Infidelity: Strategies for Healing and Moving Forward.” WFLA, 1 May 2023. Accessed 6 Aug. 2023.

[3] – “I Cheated on My Boyfriend: What Should I Do?Betterhelp.com, 2017. Accessed 6 Aug. 2023.

[4] – “This Is When You Should Tell a Partner You Cheated, according to Experts.” The Independent, 5 Oct. 2022.

[5] – “This Is How to Move Past the Pain of Infidelity.” Psych Central, 9 June 2017.

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