How to Come Clean When You’ve Cheated
Charlotte Granger speaks to an expert on how to navigate this relationship minefield
As betrayal of the highest degree, infidelity is hard to overcome in even the strongest of relationships. It’s not merely about the sex; not by a long shot. It’s everything that surrounds it – the lying and sneaking around. It’s the fact that you’ve broken your partner’s trust, often irreversibly. Yet, despite all of the above, cheating is hardly uncommon.
Over 46% of people have previously cheated, according to a recent survey, with only 24% later admitting it to their partner. Of course, if you’ve done the deceitful deed and hope to salvage your relationship, you have to own up to it.
“I don’t think there are any pros in not admitting it. Cheating means hiding and lying, which leads to secrecy and alienation and is not conducive to intimacy,” advises Eva Weaver, a sex-coach, author and somatic sex-educator.
“If there is a real wish to stay with their partner after they have been cheating, it is vital that the partner is brought into the clear,” says Weaver. “Then they have a choice how to react and the relationship, if it continues, will progress on a new foundation built on honesty and renewed communication, rather then deception.”
Needless to say, speaking your truth could be easier said than done. As necessary as it may be to move forward together, telling your partner that you’ve broken their trust is no small feat. Here, Weaver explains how you can do it in a sensitive manner.
“I think the best time is to come clean as soon as possible, however difficult that may be,” says Weaver. “If the information is held back and only disclosed much later it can be experienced as an even greater betrayal.”
While a part of you may be tempted to push the affair deep down and ignore it, the lie will only fester. It’s a weight you carry with you each moment you keep it to yourself. That’s why, as one former cheat found, saying nothing at all could be near impossible.
“It hung over me for days. We were sat in the living room, watching TV and everything just felt off,” says Tom*, a 31-year-old who cheated on his long-term partner two years ago and admitted it shortly afterwards. “Jane* was acting completely normal, which made me feel worse, like I was lying to her. I felt like I had to say something. It just came out.”
Blurting it out means that you have no control over the time or place. However, if you can take a more considered approach, it could be worth choosing a moment in which you both have the time to truly hear one another.
“Pick a moment where you are undisturbed, when neither of the two is too tired, not on the evening before one party has an important engagement,” explains Weaver. “To be attracted to other people outside a monogamous relationship is absolutely normal. Cheating is a symptom of other issues going on in the relationship.”
You’ve played out the scenario a thousand times in the depths of your mind. When you finally admit you’ve cheated, how will your partner react? Your imagination is running wild, but you need to leave your preconceived expectations at the door.
“It’s best not to expect any particular reaction but be open to a range of possibilities,” advises Weaver. “A breakup after cheating is a real possibility, so be aware of this.”
“To be honest, I had no clue how she’d react. I was scared that she’d start crying,” explains Tom. “I never expected this to happen. When first I said it, she was actually quite calm. She just wanted to know why I’d done it.”
“I believe that being vulnerable, honest and open with each other is the only way forward here. Approach the conversation as bravely as possible,” explains Weaver. “The least defensive one can be the better.”
While your gut instinct may be to make excuses, you should avoid doing so. Frankly, there is no acceptable explanation for this type of betrayal. So, instead, try being honest and allow yourself to be both vulnerable and apologetic.
“I definitely had my tail between my legs. I kept apologising and trying to explain myself. I wanted to show her that I was hurt too and I’d never do it again,” says Tom. “I knew I’d messed things up and she shouldn’t forgive me. That’s what I kept saying.”
You don’t have to do this alone. “Working with a therapist or a sex-coach at such a time can be very helpful. When trust has been betrayed, it can be difficult for both parties to hear each other out and have constructive conversation,” says Weaver.
“It may help to have a safe space in which each of the two can express themselves and be heard, allowing them to unpick what lead up to the cheating. It might be a symptom of other things that have been going on.”
If you’re expecting your relationship to be miraculously intact, you will be sorely disappointed. Infidelity shakes the foundations of a partnership. It’s going to take time to rebuild the foundations and start again. Patience and understanding are key.
“It felt so weird at first, like I was on probation and had to prove Jane could trust me,” says Tom. “It wasn’t until a few months later that I felt we were a proper couple again. Our everyday lives started to feel safe and normal.”
“If a couple works through the trauma of the situation, a relationship might have a chance to grow stronger,” explains Weaver. “But it demands vulnerable open sharing.”
*Names have been changed to allow subjects to speak openly on private matters.
Artwork by Esme Rose Marsh
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