When cheating occurs in a relationship, it’s a bad experience for both people—it’s especially hard on the cheater if they decide to keep it a secret.
Cheaters’ guilt is an intense feeling and learning to navigate it can be problematic as it turns into an emotional and even physical burden.
So, you have decided to not tell your partner about your affair…what’s next?
– Are there times when it’s okay to cheat but not tell?
First, let’s get this out of the way: cheating is never okay, something I’m sure you already know!
That being said, honesty also facilitates a healthy relationship.
Objectively speaking, there are instances in which keeping infidelity a secret is acceptable, or at least as acceptable as it can possibly be.
– The affair was short and meant nothing.
WebMD describes affairs as “acts” of infidelity in a relationship—because the definition depends on a couple’s boundaries, though, the question of infidelity is an open one.
Some people consider a simple look cheating and some think intercourse is about as bad as it gets.
If your affair was short and had no emotions involved (e.g. a drunken one-night stand, a quick kiss), then keeping it a secret could shield your partner from pain.
– It won’t ever happen again because you love your partner.
Following up on one-night stands, if you’re not emotionally invested in anyone else but your s.o. and won’t repeat the same mistake again, hiding the affair might be for the best.
– Revealing your secret puts your safety in jeopardy.
If you’re dating an emotionally or physically abusive person, then revealing your secret might put your safety at risk.
If you’re trying to avoid this, it’s understandable.
Don’t put up with their abuse—report your partner and open up about what you’ve been going through to family or friends.
– You two were on a break.
Ah, the “Ross and Rachel” situation.
If you and your partner were on a break, then we can’t exactly call it “cheating”—opinions aside!
– The relationship is as good as over.
We’ve all experienced the last stages of a relationship: no effort and affection from both people.
If you two are on the verge of breaking up, although it’s still technically cheating, telling your partner will only make the breakup go awry.
If you’re having a hard time coping with what you did, then it must be taking a toll on your mental health; these are the 14 steps toward self-forgiveness:
1. Understand your motives for cheating.
If you’re not the unfaithful type, then recognizing what pushed you to cheat might help you cope and hopefully forgive yourself.
- The most common reasons for cheating include anger, revenge, lack of love or commitment, opportunities, dissatisfaction, low confidence, etc.
If you were able to relate to any of these, then I suggest evaluating your relationship with this person.
Have a self-reflection session and decide what pushed you to cheat—were you under the influence of alcohol? Was it your love life?
2. Work on your relationship if you think it’s worth saving.
Or on yourself, if you believe that’s where the problem lies.
E.g. your affair was a drunken mistake. If you behave peculiarly under the influence of alcohol, you can try staying away from it.
If your reason for cheating was a dull love life, then you should try communicating with your partner about spicing stuff up!
Whatever you believe your relationship is lacking, you have the choice to do something about it instead of giving up—if you want to, of course.
Think of it like a plant! By getting to the root of the problem, you’re solving it and preventing yourself from doing something you don’t want to.
3. Take full accountability instead of blaming it on others.
The hardest thing about this situation is coming to terms with the fact that what you did was your fault—remember, cheating is a choice.
It’s best to take accountability instead of blaming it on your partner or the people you cheated with (you’re the only one in this mess sharing 100% of the fault).
Once you stop making excuses about what happened, you’ll be one step closer to peace and self-forgiveness.
Don’t stay in denial!
4. Let yourself feel.
The more you try to push your guilt down and pretend as if everything is okay, the more intense it will become, so let it manifest.
- Cry if you have to and take a break from people if it helps you get your thoughts in order—anything but letting it bottle up!
What happened can’t be reversed and shouldn’t be ignored; don’t keep it all in as it will only increase your stress levels, making you very irritable.
It’s always OK to feel, even if you think you have no right to.
5. Minimize contact with your affair partner.
I’m not saying “cut contact” because unless your AP is a complete stranger, it’s not exactly possible.
If you cheated with a friend, classmate, co-worker, etc., then minimize your contact with them out of respect for your partner.
- If the roles were reversed, I’m positive you would want your partner to have as little contact as possible with their AP.
Not only does being around them remind you of what happened (which will make you feel worse), but it will also create more opportunities in which you’ll feel tempted to cheat again.
Only contact them when it’s absolutely necessary (e.g. work or school related).
6. Hear others’ perspectives.
Tell only your most trusted friends what happened and no one else if you want your cheating to remain a secret as some might let the cat out of the bag.
Do not seclude yourself from people as a form of punishment because staying alone will have a detrimental effect on your mental health.
Go out with some good friends whom you believe won’t judge and open up about what happened; request their advice and point of view.
Their support will encourage you to have a positive outlook on the situation and not be as hard on yourself.
7. Recognize the possibility of your partner finding out in the future.
Everyone who’s cheated in the past has to deal with the paranoia of their partner finding out in the present—this has to be making you crazy.
However, your partner learning your secret is out of your hands and you have to come to terms with that instead of staying on edge all the time.
You’re choosing to hide your affair while being aware of the consequences; live your life as usual while embracing all the possible outcomes.
8. Have an outlet!
CTSA defines an “outlet” in psychology as something you plug into in order to release stress—a hobby, for example.
It’s fine to keep yourself busy as a form of distraction.
- Do an activity you enjoy like running, drawing, swimming, etc., and you’ll feel energized as well as cheered up.
Feeling better (and less stressed) is a result of consistency and you’ll eventually learn how to forgive and see yourself in a positive light again.
9. Get your life in motion and take care of yourself.
If guilt is eating you up, then you most likely don’t feel like doing anything, basic self-care included—this needs to be evaded.
- Take care of your mental and physical health by having fun every now and then, eating healthy, and getting exercise.
Go on about your life as usual and don’t put your goals on hold.
I’m not recommending you pretend as if the affair didn’t happen, only that you don’t allow your life to change drastically for the worse!
The guilt from letting yourself go combined with the guilt of cheating will do a number on your mental state.
10. Do not punish yourself—it won’t help.
You might think what you did was so horrible that you need to punish yourself somehow, like:
- Starving yourself;
- Not taking proper care of yourself;
- Not allowing yourself to have fun;
- Purposely refusing affection from your s.o., etc.
The more you beat yourself up over it, the more you’ll convince yourself that you don’t deserve forgiveness.
Hurting yourself won’t solve the problem, only add to it.
11. Don’t hate yourself.
“Don’t hate yourself”—easier said than done, right?
Learning to love oneself after making such a crucial mistake takes time, but there are things you need to stop doing to speed up the process.
- Put an end to self-punishment;
- Don’t self-deprecate;
- Stop downsizing your achievements;
- Don’t keep your partner at arm’s length;
- Don’t stop yourself from having fun.
Write your feelings in a journal, repeat positive affirmations, and remind yourself that doing something bad doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person.
Give yourself a break from all the self-hatred to acknowledge the fact that you’re human, you make mistakes and are capable of fixing them.
12. Learn from your errors and never repeat them.
Such experiences are eye-opening and truly make us appreciate the people in our lives.
I’m assuming you feel guilty about having cheated, so you’re automatically learning from your mistakes.
If your affair proved that you truly love this person and regret hurting them this way, then view it as a lesson to never do it again.
Or if you learned that not talking to your partner about serious issues makes you more inclined to cheat on them, now you know what needs to be done!
- Make an effort to never repeat the same thing for your and your partner’s sake.
13. Talk to a therapist about what might help.
If you’re having an extraordinarily difficult time getting over cheating on your partner, professional help is always a choice.
- A therapist might help you get closer to self-forgiveness and show you better ways to deal with excessive guilt.
They’ll give you valuable insight and advice regarding your affair; if you’re not sure whether you want to admit it to your partner, a therapist will give you a definite answer.
14. Self-forgiveness takes time, so be patient!
Unfortunately getting over what happened will take time, it doesn’t happen overnight!
You might be hoping for things to go back to normal so that you can feel like your usual, cheery self, but forcing it will result in major setbacks.
Be patient and don’t hate yourself for not being able to speed the process up—these things take time.
- While you’re waiting, work on your relationships, focus on your goals and health, hang out with friends, or just spend some quality time with your partner.
– How do I stop being a cheater?
Not cheating on your significant other if you have a history of cheating is difficult—habits are hard to break.
But change in this aspect is required if you love your partner and want to avoid hurting them.
Some actions you can take will help you break the cycle of infidelity, but you need to be determined and stay consistent!
1. Find the reason why you cheat and provide a solution.
Is it because you believe your partners do the same thing? Is it because you have a difficult time committing to only one person?
Whatever it is, you first need to figure out your motive for cheating and work on it together with your partner.
If you believe your needs aren’t being met, for example, you should bring it to your partner’s attention.
2. Don’t blame everything on your partner.
Cheaters tend to blame their actions on their partners, completely ignoring the fact that their partners don’t exactly enjoy being cheated on.
“My s.o. stopped having sex with me! I had no other choice.”
Instead of asking their partner what’s wrong, they rush into another person’s bed, and this is the cheater’s fault.
Accept the reality and don’t make excuses; if you go through with cheating on your partner, it’s not their fault.
3. Stay clear of people and situations which tempt you.
Although being committed to somebody means that temptations are out of the question, you can choose to stay clear of certain places and people!
This is only an example, but let’s say you are around an ex you’re still attracted to and feel tempted to accept his or her advances—cut contact with them.
Or maybe stop going to clubs with your cheating friends so that you’re not surrounded by a “toxic” environment.
4. Establish boundaries in the relationship and respect them.
Boundaries exist for a reason, and that is to ensure that two people are comfortable with each other.
Come up with reasonable boundaries (e.g. not having contact with your exes, not going to spots where single people mostly link up) and respect them.
By doing this, you’re learning about your partner’s dos and don’ts and not putting yourself in sticky situations.
5. Keep the relationship exciting!
Try out new places and routines together, or spice up your sex life!
Make room for spontaneity so that neither you nor your partner feel at any point bored with your relationship.
6. Ask yourself, “What am I looking for at this point in my life?”
No matter how much you want to make things work with your partner, if you’re not a monogamous person, then it’s vain—you’re only hurting them.
Are you not looking for a relationship? Do you often find yourself wanting to break free from the “shackles” of commitment?
You might not be looking for anything serious, and that could be why you always find yourself cheating on your significant other.
7. Try out individual or couples therapy.
If you think that the problem is your inability to commit, consider speaking to a professional about it.
If your partner caught you cheating and you two are trying to work things out and prevent it from recurring, couples therapy gets the job done.
– Can a relationship go back to normal after cheating?
Yes, if two people really love each other and are all for trying, they will succeed in making the relationships normal again.
However, the cheater needs to change a couple of things—they need to respect their partner’s boundaries and be determined to never cheat again.
Although I can’t guarantee that every couple will stay together (resentment may form after a while), it’s possible with the right people.
Can I forgive myself for cheating?
It’s going to take you weeks, months even, but yes! You are going to eventually forgive yourself and learn from your errors.
The beautiful thing about being human is that we live and we learn—so go easy on yourself because you’re not a bad person.
Let self-love and self-reflection be a daily part of your routine; be proud that you’re owning up to your mistakes instead of running away from them.