How to tell your partner you cheated.
Be prepared for a difficult conversation
Admitting you cheated on your significant other is never easy. It may be one of the hardest things you can do in a relationship because the outcome is unknown. But, just like they tell you on the airplane to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others, it’s important to process your feelings and emotions before talking to your partner.
Remember, when you speak with your partner it's going to feel like you dropped a bomb on them. The conversation is not about you or relieving your anxiety; it’s about telling the truth and allowing your partner, someone you know and care about, to react and have their feelings heard.
Honesty is essential in maintaining a healthy relationship. If you’re not sure how to approach the conversation, here are some tips you might find useful when navigating this difficult situation.
It has to come from you
Don’t let them find out from someone else. If they find out from you, it will lessen the trauma and give your relationship a better chance at rebuilding trust. They are also getting the facts from the source, instead of hearing them from others or finding out themselves and letting their imagination run wild.
This will be very hard on your partner. Think about the timing, perhaps on a Friday when they have the weekend to process without work getting in the way or before a therapy session so they can process their feelings when they are fresh with a professional.
Provide a safe space
Set up a space with lots of privacy when you tell them so you can't be interrupted and they can feel secure and free to react however they need to without fear of judgment. You have to understand this new information will likely be traumatic for your partner. Expect these potential responses:
→ Fight response or attack mode
→ Flee response - the need to escape or leave the situation if it's too difficult to tolerate
→ Freeze response - shutting down or not willing to talk about it if they are feeling too numb to process the information.
→ Fawning response - trying to take care of you or wanting to get past it to avoid dealing with it.
All of these reactions are perfectly normal. The state that you’re putting your partner in when you tell them that you’ve cheated requires absolute kindness and compassion. Being lied to is not part of a healthy attachment; deception prevents security in the relationship. Essentially with cheating, you have injured the relationship, and repairing it will require healing and lots of care and patience. It will take time to rebuild and heal. Allow your partner to take the lead you can only move as quickly or as slowly as they are on the path to repairing the relationship.
The devil is in the details:
Steer away from sharing graphic information like body type or sexual details as they could be triggering and unnecessary images for your partner. However, be ready and willing to answer any questions your partner may have. Be truthful and upfront from the get-go and avoid slow leaks of truth called staggered disclosure because that creates more trauma. If you hide information and your partner finds out it will be just as traumatic as when they found out you cheated the first time or even worse. To avoid this, be 100% truthful from the start.
Take responsibility for your actions:
Cheating is never the fault of the person who was cheated on, and it's important to acknowledge that.
Seek professional help:
If you're having a difficult time navigating this conversation, or if the relationship is struggling, but you both still want to make it work, seek professional help. A therapist or counselor can help you both work through your feelings and develop strategies for moving forward to help rebuild the trust that has been broken.
Cheating can be a major blow to a relationship, but it doesn't have to be the end. Rebuilding trust takes time and effort from both parties. Be prepared to work through the process and be willing to put in the effort to make things right.
If infidelity is a pattern in your relationship or you suspect that your partner may have a sexual addiction, get help from a certified sex addiction therapist (CSAT) right away. A CSAT can help your partner understand the addiction and work on recovery. A therapeutic formal disclosure process may be required in order to get the best care and support for you and your partner.