I cheated and I want to save my marriage. What do I do?

I cheated and I want to save my marriage. What do I do?

First off, please know that you are not alone. There are many reasons why people have affairs and even more reasons why people want to stay in their marriages. Couples who discovered infidelity and chose to love instead of hate report having a far better marriage and are happier than couples who decided to split after discovering. 

The first step is to stop cheating. This might sound simple or difficult. Whatever it means for you, a strong, healthy, secure marriage is not possible when there is ongoing infidelity. If you need help figuring out how to do this or which relationship you want to keep, consult with a trained therapist. We can help.

The next step may be one of the most difficult of all, and that is you must tell the truth. The secrets that we hold in our relationships keep us distant from those that we love. The secret of infidelity, even if the relationship with the affair partner has ended, will never allow you to be as close to your spouse as you could be. Many partners that cheated on their spouse have tried to end the affair and fix their marriage all alone. This is almost impossible task for one individual to take on alone. Revealing an affair can plunge a marriage into the most trying times you’ve ever faced. Many couples seek marriage counseling at this difficult point.

Another common mistake in attempting to save a marriage is to only reveal part of the affair, the bare minimum or a “safe” amount of information. The best action that one could take is to make sure that, when disclosing an affair, you are completely honest and willing to disclose everything that was done. Imagine an affair like really bad rash: it hurts! It is painful, this horrific wound is there for the entire world to see. The unfaithful partner often thinks that they're protecting their spouse by not giving them all the details, but what happens more often than not is that the betrayed spouse finds out more details, little by little, and every new detail that they discover feels like a new affair. A client told me once that it was like a road rash that still has gravel embedded in the skin and every time he found out more information it was like the partner was willingly taking a cheese grater to his heart. Every time more information was revealed the wound was completely reopened and all trust was lost again. For the sake of your partner and the marriage it is best to get all of the hurt and gravel out of the wound so that it can heal and heal properly.

Another difficult task for an unfaithful spouse is to accept responsibility. This can be hard for many reasons, including facing any guilt you may feel and seeing the effects of your actions. On the surface the unfaithful spouse can say, “well, I only had an affair because my spouse didn't love me or because I was tired of being rejected or because [of any number of reasons or excuses].” Ultimately, it was the unfaithful spouse’s choice to have an affair. That choice is yours and yours alone. That of course doesn't mean that you need to suffer and bear the burden forever. If you decide to stay in the marriage, support and love can eventually come from your betrayed spouse. That support can also come from a qualified professional. You don’t have to go through this alone.

The betrayed spouse is going to go through a myriad of emotions. There are going to be days when they know that they love you and they want the marriage to work. There are going to be days where they hate you and are disgusted with you and they can't believe they're standing by you through this. Through all of this you will need to be patient with them while also caring for your self. You will need to allow them to have the space they need to process everything that's going on. They will need you to not get defensive about your actions or place blame on them. This is really hard. Incredibly hard! IMPOSSIBLY HARD! It is okay to take a timeout during a heated argument where one or both of you it is overwhelmed. It is good to wait until some of the emotions have subsided and you are in a place to make sure that you will both be able to say things you need to say without saying the things you’ll regret.

Your spouse likely doesn't trust you in any way, shape, or form. So it is important for you to be patient while they heal and to do your part to rebuild trust. Trust isn’t something your partner can just give; it’s something you have to earn. Depending upon many factors, it can take up to a couple of years for an affair to heal. Again, this isn’t something that just happens, it happens because of how you both work on it. And it’s worth putting the time and energy into helping the hurt of the affair heal how it needs to in order for a marriage to progress on solid ground.

This is part 1 of 2.