When your partner has admitted to cheating on you, it's the first step toward beginning to find the healing that needs to take place. You might be experiencing anger, sadness, and every emotion in between. Take time and space to let yourself feel whatever you need to feel, and then, when you are ready to have a conversation, think about what to say when your partner cheats. How much do you want to know about the nature of their relationship? Are you asking questions that will hurt you more, or are you seeking the truth that will allow you to heal and move on?
When you are approaching a conversation with a partner who has violated the trust in your relationship, remember their behavior is not your fault. They are the one who needs to be accountable for their actions. You cannot control how a person behaves anymore than you can control how they feel. The choices they made are their own, and you deserve to see some accountability. You are not being irrational, overreactive, or highly demanding in your quest for clarity. This conversation is a time for you to get all of the answers that you need to evaluate whether your relationship is still worth pursuing.
1. Why Did You Start Avoiding Me?
Dr. Jason Whiting, a relationship researcher and professor at Texas Tech University (PhD & LMFT), has studied cheating and says that in his findings, cheating was uncovered when people noticed their partner was being evasive about their activities or generally defensive. He says that a partner that is "irritable about being questioned" may also be having an emotional affair.
If your partner became noticeably withdrawn from your relationship, ask them what prompted them to become shutdown and detached. It's not your fault that they pulled away from you — you can't know what's going on with someone if they don't tell you. But getting your partner to see their motivations clearly is important for moving forward.
2. Are You Interested In Putting Work Into Yourself To Heal This Relationship?
When your partner admits to cheating, they might say that they have seen the error of their ways and will do anything to win you back. They might feel this way in the moment, but you need to make sure that healing won't just happen overnight. Just because they want you back doesn't mean that the issues that led them to cheat will resolve themselves immediately. They need to do some serious reflection and think about how they are willing to change to move forward from here.
3. What Are You Going To Do To Be More Honest With Yourself And With Me From Now On?
"Most people are more disturbed by the breaking of trust and the intimacy in the 'rival' relationship than whether there is sex involved," says Dr. Martha Tara Lee, a clinical sexologist (DHS, MA, BA) and founder of Eros Coaching.
If your partner wants to stay with you, then they are probably showering you with words of love and affirmation right now. That's all very nice to hear, but you won't be able to trust that it is real unless you know some concrete steps that they are going to take moving forward. Otherwise the niceties are just a bunch of hot air.
4. How Did You Rationalize Cheating When You Were Doing It?
"The word 'affair' already implies secrecy, deception of the partner and betrayal," says Dr. Lee. "It also has to do with the amount of emotional energy that you put into the other person, and consequently denying or unable to give to your partner."
When you and your partner are talking about how they violated the terms of your relationship, you can get a lot of clarity by having insight into exactly what was going on in their head at the time. Be careful though — even if they don't get into the details, whatever they say to answer this question won't be one you want to hear. Before you ask this question, be sure that you are in a stable enough place, emotionally, to be able to take the hit.
5. Are You Going To Stay In Touch With Your Lover?
This shouldn't even have to be a question but, unfortunately, it's something you need to know. When my ex-boyfriend cheated on me, he stayed in touch with the person he was interested in. We broke up because my trust in him was never reestablished. Even though I begged him to stop hanging out with this person, he prioritized his own desires over my feelings.
"In many cases, the betrayal was emotional, and this happened through flirty messaging, posting pictures, or other behaviors that were kept secret from the partner," Dr. Whiting says. An emotional affair can be just as damaging as a physical one, and it cannot continue to happen if you are going to stay together.
If your partner tells you that they want to recommit to your relationship, then they need to show that they mean it by cutting off all contact. Once they have taken that step, then you get to decide whether you want to accept them. And that is a very powerful position, indeed.
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