Based on everything I know, people who cheat REALLY don’t get what they have done. Yeah, some say they do – they may cry and say they are sorry, but they DON’T GET IT.
They don’t get the damage they have done and the pain they have caused. They don’t understand how their actions have fundamentally changed the world for the person they have cheated on. They don’t understand the pain and loneliness, and how this one revelation can completely change everything. Everything you believed about your partner is called into question. Every memory becomes tainted.
You find yourself questioning – if they were capable of cheating on you, how well did you actually know them? If they were able to lie and hide this, what else was a lie? What is/was real? Was anything real?
It’s kind of like the movie the Matrix, where Keanu Reeves was going about his daily life and he knew something was wrong, but couldn’t figure out what. Then he eventually found out his life was a lie and he was really hooked up to a machine; and his whole world changed.
Finding out your partner has been cheating on you can be THAT level of a fundamental shift in your understanding of things. You may have known that things weren’t as good as they could be (though sometimes people have no idea), then suddenly your world becomes broken and things don’t make sense anymore.
Cheaters don’t get this. They can’t.
Because if they DID get it?
Then they wouldn’t have been able to cheat in the first place.
A Breakdown of Trust
Now, I won’t pretend the above is a blanket statement that applies to all cases.
I don’t believe all affairs are created equal.
An emotional affair with an anonymous person over the internet is different from a drunken one night stand. And both of those are different from long term affairs where someone is leading a double life and hiding their activities from their partner. There are a lot of different things that can happen, and different “severities” of affairs if you will.
Additionally, I believe that while the person who cheats is ALWAYS wrong, that doesn’t mean the person who was cheated on is necessarily in the right (to be clear, they are NEVER at fault for the cheating. They’ve likely contributed to the decline in the relationship that contributes to the cheating, sure. But cheating is always a choice made by the person who does it).
So affairs can be nuanced, and complex.
But they all have one thing in common – a complete and total destruction of trust. And this is kind of a significant problem, because trust is the foundation relationships are built upon.
So when that is gone, there’s a good chance it will tear down everything else with it.
Your relationship may not have been perfect (obviously it wasn’t, or you wouldn’t have cheated), but chances are even if your partner knew there were issues, they had NO IDEA how bad you felt things were. They probably thought you were fairly solid as a couple, and you should have been able to work though whatever problems existed.
If nothing else, they trusted you with their heart.
Relationships may be hard at times, but they REALLY don’t have many rules. Love each other, and be willing to show it. Try to communicate with each other. And don’t be selfish – don’t put yourself first all the time, your partner needs to matter too.
If you’ve cheated on your partner, regardless of your reason you have to understand you have broken pretty much every relationships rule there is.
Why Did you Cheat?
There’s very little in this world that is black and white; but affairs are one of the few things that are almost universally accepted as wrong.
Something you need to understand is, why?
Why did you do it?
What in your values allowed you to justify having an affair?
This is an extremely important question to be able to answer to yourself honestly.
I can understand people being unhappy in their relationship. I can understand people falling out of love. I can understand feeling stuck, and wanting some excitement in your life.
There may have been any number of reasons why you felt you would find yourself happier in another relationship. And they may be completely valid and understandable.
But none of them will answer the most important question of all:
If you were that unhappy why didn’t you leave your existing relationship first?
If you can’t look hard at yourself and truly answer that question of WHY (even if only to yourself), then you are likely at risk of doing the exact same thing again. Not saying you will, but it will always be a risk if you don’t truly know why.
When caught, some people will show genuine remorse and make promises that it will never happen again. And often I suspect they mean it – at least in the moment. But then it happens again. Or, if it doesn’t happen it’s mostly because someone is scared of the consequences of getting caught again, and not because they really saw what they did as wrong.
It’s crazy to me, but through this blog I have talked to a number of people who have cheated. And one of the common things I have heard is they are sorry for hurting their partner but they aren’t sorry for the affair!!! The regret is mostly for the damage done and the consequences they have suffered. But they really don’t regret the cheating, or breaking their vows.
I believe serial cheaters tend to be people who have never taken a hard look at themselves and tried to understand how their values became so broken that they were able to do what they wanted and not care enough about their partner to think of how their actions could impact them.
When someone has cheated, I think one of two things has happened.
Scenario one, they are people who always put themselves first and think the regular rules of relationships shouldn’t have to apply to them. In their minds, they are special and feel entitled to do whatever they want to achieve their own “happiness”. They believe they deserve to be able to do what they want, when they want, and not have to worry about the consequences of their actions and how it impacts others. Because of course, they are the ones who matter.
These people are true narcissists, people who don’t actually care about anyone but themselves. So if the opportunity was there? Sure, why not. They either don’t really see what they are doing as wrong, or maybe they do and they simply don’t care.
Another scenario is someone was unhappy and feeling emotionally dead – often due to something like depression or unresolved grief. Their emotionally dead state made them start to believe there was something wrong with their relationship, and to believe they have fallen out of love. While in this emotional state someone started to give them the type of attention they felt they were missing – and they liked how it made them feel. One thing leads to another, and before they realize what has happened they are in an affair.
These types of affairs often stem from a state of anhedonia, and become like an addiction the person can’t give up. When someone talks about how their affair allows them to “feel alive again”, often the person who is cheating is dealing with underlying issues with depression or something similar.
These people do realize they are doing damage, and will go through periods of guilt and shame for their actions. They may even start to hate themselves for what they are doing. But like an alcoholic with a bottle, they find themselves unable to stop.
In both cases, the cheater likely has underlying issues that need to be faced, and resolved before that person will ever be able to have a healthy relationship.
It’s always important to understand the “why”, but if you are someone who already HAS cheated and is trying to hold onto your relationship, what do you do?
First off, you have to TRULY want the relationship, and you need to be able to say WHY you still want your relationship. You cheated, so you can’t have wanted it that badly at the time. What is different? Why do you want it now?
Your answer can’t be that you are scared of losing it, losing your family, or being alone. Wanting something and being scared to lose it are two VERY different things. And unless you TRULY want it, you are never going to be capable of putting in the work required to (potentially) save it.
Even if you do truly want it, you need to accept that there is a very good chance you are going to lose it. That’s just the reality. You’ve broken every rule of relationships, and actions have consequences.
Anyone trying to decide if they want to stay with you now will be struggling with the fact that commitment seems to mean something very different to you than it does to them. The cheating has happened. It can’t be changed now, but trust is destroyed and that will color the future if it’s not rebuilt. And only you can rebuild it.
This isn’t the sort of thing you ignore. It’s not the sort of thing that you say “sorry” and then move on as if it has never happened.
I’ve spoken with people who are trying to rebuild/hold onto their marriages after an affair, and the healing process is a slow and difficult one. It will likely take years, and realistically if the relationship IS salvaged, it will never be the same.
Understanding that, here are a few tips for anyone who is hoping to hold onto their marriage.
First, it HAS to be over. There can’t be contact with that person ever again. If you think you can either keep it going, or even just be friends with that person in the future then you are proving you REALLY don’t get what you have done (not to mention you are a sh*tty person).
Likewise, trust with you ever being alone in the future with members of your gender of preference is probably gone. You have cheated, and it’s now up to YOU to make this better.
You need to sell your partner on why they should stay with you. And you need to understand that you’ve already shown yourself to be dishonest, so this selling job will take a very long time.
It will take consistent effort, probably for the rest of your life.
You need to own your actions. No blaming, no rationalizing, and no minimizing.
Don’t say you made a mistake. You may be still telling yourself it was a mistake as a way of rationalizing it to yourself, but it wasn’t a mistake – it was a choice. And even if someone is willing to buy into the idea that an affair can be a mistake, that only applies if you did it once. When you continue it and see that person a second time, it becomes a pattern of choices. And another word for a pattern of choices is behavior.
So no, it wasn’t a mistake. Here’s what it really was – an opportunity.
You saw an opportunity to live outside the “rules” of your primary relationship. To do what you wanted, even at the expense of your partner or any promises you may have made to them. And you did it because you thought you could get away with it.
Sometimes when they are caught, cheaters will say things like “I never stopped loving you” or “I never meant to hurt you”. For someone on the receiving end, it’s pretty incomprehensible to understand how cheating is an act of love, or to think that you could cheat without realizing you would hurt them.
You didn’t just hurt them, you destroyed their world.
And to hear you “never meant to” just proves what they have likely believed all along. You didn’t mean to, because you were never even thinking about them. You were never even considering them, their emotions, or the damage you would do.
You were only ever thinking about yourself.
Here’s something you need to understand – the cheating isn’t the actual problem here. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty big f*cking deal. The REAL issue is the lying. The deception. The double life. The time, energy and effort that was put into another relationship instead of being put into the primary relationship.
More than the cheating, it’s this deceit that will likely tear your relationship/marriage apart.
And there’s only one way past that.
You’ve been dishonest and broken trust, and it’s time for that to stop.
A common thing for cheaters to do is to downplay what they have done, figuring the less their partner knows the better. Or perhaps figuring that although they are now caught, they will only own up to the things that they have actually been caught in.
You partner is going to want, and even NEED to know things that you probably don’t want to tell them. And you know that the truth is going to hurt them, and likely push them even further away.
But the truth is the ONLY way out.
Because relationships are built on trust, and that trust is already broken. So if you EVER want to repair it, you need to start with truth – no matter how difficult it is.
If they want to know the truth, you need to tell them. All of it.
Yes, they may cry, they may scream, and they may leave.
Better to leave knowing the truth though, then to try to rebuild a relationship on a rotten foundation.
Because I can promise you one thing.
If they give you another chance and you continue to hide things and lie? After they have tried to forgive and tried to rebuild, if they find out you were hiding things and not being honest?
Well, the trust that needs to be rebuilt will be shattered again. And once you have broken it a few times, there won’t be any more chances, and there won’t be any going back.
Actions have consequences. And if you’ve chosen to cheat, you will need to live with yours.