A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

10 Things to Do Right Now If You’ve Been Caught Cheating

Find out what to do if you've been caught in the act of infidelity to minimize the pain and the damage to your relationship, your partner—and yourself.

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Own up to it

Denying that you strayed from your relationship will only make your partner more angry and frustrated, so be a grown up and tell the truth if you’ve been caught cheating. If he has learned what has happened, there is no point in lying about it. “It’s hard enough to stomach the affair,” says Irina Firstein, LCSW, a couples’ therapist in New York City. “All the lies and covering up make the situation much more difficult to move on from.” So, why not just come clean? “Understand that the other person is in shock,” says Sara Nasserzadeh, PhD, a sexuality and relationship consultant and coauthor of The Orgasm Answer Guide. “Give him some space and time while making yourself available to answer any questions he might have.” If you try to ignore or lie about your unfaithfulness and infidelity, you’ll only cause your partner more hurt, resentment, and damage. Been hurt before? Find out the signs that someone is trustworthy.

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Decide on your own whom you want to be with, if anyone

It’s up to you whether you want to repair the relationship or not, so no letting your squad or grandma make the decision. Only you know what’s best for yourself and what will work going forward after you’ve been caught cheating. “It’s extremely important for the partner who betrayed to look inside himself to have a deeper sense of why the affair began in the first place,” says Ashley Grinonneau-Denton, an American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists certified sex therapist and couples relationship expert. You should make the final decision on whether you want to continue with the relationship or not. “If you’re undecided about which of the two to choose, do yourself and your two partners a favor and totally distance yourself from them,” says Gilda Carle, PhD, relationship expert, and author of Don’t Lie on Your Back for a Guy Who Doesn’t Have Yours. “Then take the time to figure out who you are so that you can select an appropriate mate for your needs.” (By the way, these relationship fights are totally normal.)

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Pursue counseling

Don’t dismiss seeing a therapist: It’s totally normal to seek professional help from an objective, nonjudgmental, third party if you’ve been caught cheating. While, of course, the counseling may have been more beneficial before you cheated, doing so now will give you understanding and insight into what happened and why it occurred. “This isn’t to resolve the overall issues you have,” says Dr. Nasserzadeh, but rather to help you “deal with the crisis while it’s hot, providing an opportunity to discuss and exchange information without emotionally getting out of hand.” Counseling can help you communicate better and it will give you peace of mind knowing that you tried to make things work if you do decide to step away from your partner and relationship. Grinonneau-Denton also suggests that you see a therapist who has experience addressing infidelity to get the most out of your therapy. Find out the surprising signs your partner is a keeper.

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Hide the evidence

That means you should throw away or destroy sexts, voicemails, receipts, or anything else related to the affair because your partner doesn’t need to know all the details of what went on. It will only make him feel worse. “Keeping reminders of your affair isn’t healthy for anyone,” says Antonia Hall, MA, a psychologist, relationship expert and author of The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Orgasmic Life. “If you want to have a happy, healthy relationship, it’ll require a cleanse, so to speak. Love yourself enough to get rid of everything related to the affair.” (Here are some telltale signs that your partner is cheating.)

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Don’t involve the kids

If you have kids and you’ve been caught cheating, keep the situation between you and partner. Your kids shouldn’t feel like they must choose between the two of you, because no matter how old they may be, their role isn’t to be your therapist. “Protect them as much as possible from your relationship issues,” says Kristie Overstreet, a licensed professional clinical counselor, certified sex therapist, and author of Fix Yourself First: 25 Tips to Stop Ruining Your Relationship. “It’s unfair to involve them in your relationship; you’re an adult, so act like one.”

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Don’t try to go back to how things were

“It’s impossible for life to return to the way it was prior to cheating,” says Overstreet. “Major trust issues have occurred and these will take time to heal.” Something needs to change for you and your partner to move forward; how things were obviously wasn’t working, otherwise, you wouldn’t have been caught cheating. “Get used to the ‘new normal’ and settle in for the long haul,” says Overstreet. (If you’re contemplating forgiveness, here are some proven steps to truly forgive anyone for anything.)

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Don’t blame your partner

“If you’re the cheater, no one’s to blame but you,” says Dr. Carle. No one likes to be blamed for something and he’ll only get defensive if you do blame him. “You made the conscious decision to cheat. Therefore, you’re 100 percent to blame,” says Overstreet. “Regardless of what your partner did to you, there is no reason to blame him. If you do this, then prepare to not experience healing within the relationship.” Instead, if you’ve been caught cheating, take ownership for what you did and apologize for your actions.

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Don’t rush the process

As you try to figure out what to do next, take your time. Don’t pressure yourself to decide quickly about what to do. And don’t urge your partner to forgive you immediately. “Trust is broken in an instant and reclaiming it will take a long time,” says Dr. Nasserzadeh. Give both you and your partner time to process what you did and what happened. “Nothing you can do will make the healing go faster,” says Overstreet. “The relationship is fragile at this time and requires you to treat it with kid gloves. You need to be patient, supportive, remorseful, and connected.” (Here are 15 powerful steps to surviving infidelity in your relationship.)

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Don’t involve family and friends

“Having others involved will be a mistake you can never take back,” says Hall. Yes, you may want to tell your fam and BFFs what’s happening, but if you do, be prepared to field everyone’s opinions—including ones that you may not want to hear. Loved ones may be devastated that you were caught cheating and turn their backs on you, they may lay on the guilt, and they could make you feel even worse. Consider keeping things between the two of you. “Involving others in your infidelity is a coward’s way out of taking responsibility for your own actions,” says Dr. Carle. “In the end, this is your issue that you must solve on your own.” Use your therapist as your outside mediator, suggests Hall. (Did you know there’s an actual day that your partner might be more likely to cheat?)

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Don’t assume the relationship is doomed

It’s not a given that your relationship is kaput, even if you’ve been caught cheating. Assume that you will stay together—as long as you’re willing to put in the effort to repair your relationship. “Both of you need to be committed to do the work to make it better,” says Overstreet. “Repairing trust in a relationship is hard work, but it’s worth it if you choose to stay together. You can’t have a relationship without trust.” If you can salvage a relationship after infidelity, your bond will be even stronger and you can likely conquer anything that life puts in front of you. “Many times, cheating is a cry for help. Many relationships become more connected and stronger having survived such an experience and learning from it,” says Firstein. “It can be an opportunity to get to know your partner in a more realistic way and understand the aspects of your relationship that are problematic and detrimental. You can correct them, making your relationship better in the long run.” (Here are 10 things you should never do after you’ve caught your partner cheating.)

Stacey Feintuch
Stacey Feintuch contributes to RD.com's Health and Relationship sections. Her articles have appeared in Woman's World, Boca Raton Observer and Healthywomen.org, among other sites and publications. She earned her MA in magazine writing from S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and her BA in journalism from The George Washington University.