So, you’re thinking of cheating.
Anyone who’s had any sort of long-term relationship has had the thought show up at least once – it’s human nature. I know I have. There’s no shame in feeling the temptation, only in giving in to it.
There are all sorts of reasons you might be tempted to betray your partner’s trust, from boredom in the relationship to fear of never getting to sleep with anyone else for the rest of your life. Sometimes it’s meeting some new person that seems exciting in all the ways your partner isn’t any more; sometimes it’s a way of not facing up to problems in the relationship you can’t quite admit to or pinpoint yet.
These are all understandable problems, but tempting as it may seem, cheating is never the proper solution to any of them.
There are plenty of compelling ethical arguments against breaking your partner’s trust, and no doubt you’ve heard them all before, but in moments of passion (or just blind impulse) moral concerns have a tendency to fly out the window. But even if the philosophical arguments aren’t enough to make sure you keep it in your pants, there are plenty of blunt practical reasons not to cheat – especially if you have any fantasy of keeping your relationship going afterwards.
They all have one thing in common: there’s always more fallout from an affair than you expect.
You’ll Have to Tell Them Everything
If (when) your partner discovers the affair, you’re gonna have to sit down and talk about it. And that will not be fun.
Your partner will have a lot of questions. They’ll want to know what happened, and when, potentially down to the most intimate details. If you’re going to want to keep the relationship going, you’ll have to be ready to tell them everything they want to know – piecing together a picture of what happened is part of the process of understanding it, and they’ll be hungry for every detail they can get.
“They will want this information so that they can begin to understand what happened, in order to begin to reestablish trust,” explains relationship therapist Larry Shushansky. “They will want to know that it wasn’t something they did. Although there is never any guarantee, knowing the ‘why’ moves the process of rebuilding along.”
Looking ahead now, this might not seem so bad. You might think you can always omit the details you’d rather keep secret, or that you think it might hurt them to hear, telling them as little as you can get away with. Wrong. You’re gonna have to lay out just about every sordid detail, whether you like it or not.
“I've seen couples in my practice where part of the truth came out, a lot of work was done to improve the relationship, only to be undone weeks or months later when new details emerge somehow,” says Dr. Matthew Mutchler, Assistant Professor of Counseling Psychology at Delaware Valley University.
And you think you’ll only have to go through this once? Not so lucky. Be ready for repetition. Lots of it. Your partner will probably ask you the same questions again and again, covering the same ground for the fifth time, rehashing points you thought you’d settled.
“Remember, your partner is probably keeping a running dialogue in her head about what happened as a way of working it out, and she’ll need to keep a running dialogue with you as well,” explains Shushansky.
That means sitting there telling the love of your life what you put where, again, and again, and again. Still sound worth it?
You’ll Still Have to Sort the Relationship Out
There are all sorts of reasons people might cheat on their partners, but nine times out of ten it’s going to come down to something in the relationship. That means that not only are you going to have to dredge through the details of the affair, you’ll also have to work through all those relationship issues that led you up to it.
The ‘why’ of the affair is just as important to your partner as the ‘what’. It’s information that they need to decide whether to stay in the relationship, and how to go about that. Understanding why you did it will be the first part of the healing process for them. Be gentle, but be honest – now is not the time to try and protect them from the truth.
“This always comes up for the partner,” suggests psychotherapist Toni Coleman. “They need to know, probably because it speaks to understanding if their partner cheated because of stress, family problems, low self-esteem, or because they fell in love with the other person and/or don’t love their partner anymore.”
If you’re at the point where you’re considering cheating right now, it probably seems like a good way to avoid tackling your problems head on – but it just doesn’t work like that. Sooner or later, it’ll all come out. You’re just delaying the inevitable.
You’ll Have to Change Your Behavior
So far this just sounds like a lot of uncomfortable conversations, but if you get caught cheating, there’ll be a lot more to do than that. Talking everything through is all well and good, but at some point you’re going to have to begin putting some of those words into practice, creating real change in the relationship, and fixing the damage you caused by cheating in the first place.
It’s undoubtedly a cliché, but relationships are built on trust, and you’ve basically shattered it. If you want to rebuild it, you’re going to have to go above and beyond to set things right. Resetting to ‘normal’ couple behavior isn’t enough, you’ll have to prove to your partner that you’ve got nothing to hide – at a time when they’ve never been more suspicious.
As difficult as it may be, you’ll need to open up your entire life to them, become as transparent as possible. Not only will you have to share the things you think are relevant to the affair, but also just about everything they think might be relevant – even if you know it isn’t. That business lunch you’ve got next week? You may know it’s innocent and professional, but it might be setting off alarm bells in her head if you don’t tell her exactly who you’re meeting, when, and why.
“This includes things like letting her check your email, phone and any other forms of communication you have,” agrees Shushansky.
Giving your partner unfettered access to everything you own may sound profoundly unreasonable and unfair, but ‘fair’ got thrown out the window when you cheated on them. This may be the price you have to pay to rebuild, and only you can decide if it’s worth it.
Slowly, gradually, your partner will hopefully begin to trust you again. They’ll stop asking who you’re texting perhaps. The second you ask for more privacy, their suspicions will flare up, undoing months of hard-earned progress, taking you back to square one.
You’ll Miss the Affair
In most cases, an affair will be driven by pretty intense feelings – different than, but perhaps just as strong as, those you felt for your partner. Giving that up may well be hard, no matter how much you love the person you’re staying with, and you’ll need to devote some time to dealing with what’s essentially a breakup.
Like any breakup, it’s best to go cold turkey (and not just for your sake – this is a crucial part of proving to your partner that the affair is done with). You’ll have to cut off all contact, delete their details from your phone and social media, and avoid the places you used to see each other. Obviously this is more complicated if it was a workplace affair, or someone among your close friends. In that case, you’ll have to do your utmost to minimize contact, and keep it professional and courteous, but not affectionate, at all times.
That means that the whole time you’re fighting to save your relationship with your partner, baring your life to them, you’re simultaneously working through a breakup. And a moment of weakness here – a drunken phone call, a quick check of their Facebook profile – won’t just set back your progress, it could cost you your relationship too.
You might be thinking that as long as you keep things strictly physical, and avoid developing an emotional attachment, you won’t have this problem at all. That’s true, but even then you might have to process giving up the excitement and the freedom you felt while cheating, as you return to your normal relationship. At the end of the day, whatever you think you stand to gain by cheating, you’ll have to give it back up again at some point -band that’s never going to be easy.
You’ll Have to Deal with Her Family & Friends
Oh, you thought this might just stay between you too? Fat chance.
At some point in this whole mess, your partner will tell someone else what you did. It could be her BFF, it could be her mom, it could be her hairdresser. Either way, someone’s gonna find out. If you’re particularly unlucky, especially if you guys break up, she might just tell everyone. Suddenly, you’re branded a cheater to her family, her friends, and, most likely, your own too.
That’s tough enough if you guys split, but arguably tougher if you don’t. How do you plan on looking her dad in the eye when you visit for Thanksgiving, with him fully aware that you’re the guy who broke his daughter’s heart by sleeping around? The holidays are never going to be quite the same again.
It’s a brand that doesn’t go away easily, either. Plenty of people still stand by the maxim that once a cheater, always a cheater, and they’ll stay suspicious of you for good, long after your partner has started trusting you again. Her friends will be keeping an eye on you while you’re out for drinks, her mom will be checking your Facebook to make sure you’re not talking to too many other pretty girls. And the first time the relationship hits the rocks again down the line, you know what the first question on everyone’s lips will be.
You’ll Have to Live With Yourself
Last, but definitely not least, let’s set aside everyone else. Let’s even set aside the risk of you ever getting caught out – this one will hit just as bad if you don’t.
You’ll have to live with what you did. If you don’t get caught, you’re stuck living with the lie for the rest of the relationship. If you do get caught, but stay together, you’ll still always remember just how much it hurt them when they found out. And if you guys break up and you start dating again, you’ll never again be able to honestly tell future partners that you’ve never cheated. You’re stuck either lying to them too, or facing up to their judgement, and hoping they’ll be willing to give you a chance.
Sure, the guilt will probably fade with time, but it’s never likely to go away completely. Do you really want that hanging over your head every day?
So, ask yourself again: is it worth it?