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We Asked Relationship Coaches How to Tell a Partner You’ve Cheated

Is there a "good" way to have that conversation, or is just always horrendous?

by Kyle MacNeill; photos by Chloe Orefice
26 September 2017, 12:16pm

Cheating on a partner is never a good thing to do. You feel guilty, they feel sad and your relationship is either ruined on the spot or tainted forever.

But as daunting as it may seem telling them what you've done with words via your mouth, it's a much better way for them to find out than, say, hearing from a friend or finding an incriminating Snapchat message. But are there any "better" ways to communicate the news, or is it just always unavoidably awful?

We asked three relationship experts for their thoughts.


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TOMAS SVITORKA

Tomas Svitorka is a certified life coach and speaker based in London.

I believe honesty and integrity are important values to live by and are the foundation of good, stable and lasting relationships.

Cheating is a serious betrayal of your partner's trust. There will be some guilt and survival instincts kicking in, and you may play with the idea of keeping it to yourself, but coming clean is the best way to go. Going into that conversation, get clear on what the outcome should be, whether that's staying together and working through it, or ending the relationship.

How badly your partner takes it comes down to how much you accept it as your responsibility. In the very moment when you tell your partner that you cheated, it will and should be about the fact that you cheated, and not about all the other details of your relationship. Contain it as an isolated incident and avoid bringing other factors into play. Bringing up things that you think might have led to it will only ever look like weak excuses. If you choose to stay together, there may be a different time and place for that part of the conversation – like maybe couple's therapy. If you choose to end it, then there's no need for it to come up.

Being honest about your infidelity won't really save either of you from heartache. The pain will be there. What it does, though, is pave a clearer way to recovery, either together or apart.

HELEN MIA HARRIS

Helen Mia Harris is a Relationship and Couples Therapist, specialising in love addiction and co-dependency.

Infidelity in a committed relationship can be such a shock to any couple; your entire world and foundations of your relationship is turned upside down. Your once certain, secure and reliable attachment bond is completely thrown into question, breaking all sense of a secure base. The impact of an affair often ends the relationship. Often, the deceived partner is completely surprised by the affair and is left feeling devastated, alone, shattered, betrayed, jealous, confused and aggrieved.

But what if you're the one who has cheated and actually want or need to speak about this? Ironically, if people were able to "speak" about the fact they have cheated or that they feel an attraction towards someone else, then the whole idea that it is a secret – a concealment to hide – would no longer exist. In fact, I would go as far as to say that cheating often occurs because two people have lost a sense of their shared mutual appreciation of one another, but for the betrayed partner there is no excuse as often they are overwhelmed by emotional trauma.

Perhaps they have felt as if they are living alone together. Often a person will want to tell their partner they have cheated, as many will be fraught with guilt and anxiety as the ability to participate in a double life can be one of the most difficult things to hold together. Beginning to speak about it can put an end to the dishonesty, the secret and the lying. There is no "best" way to tell your partner you've cheated, because you are going to potentially destroy the trust needed to nurture the fundamental security required to experience a mutually loving emotional connection.

JO HEMMINGS

Jo Hemmings is a behavioural and media psychologist and dating coach.

There are times when it is actually better not to tell your partner that you have cheated on them. If it was a foolish one-off that you feel mortified about, for example, it serves no productive purpose – other than to relinquish your own guilt – to tell them.

But let's assume you have decided to tell them. The most important step, before you tell them, is to understand your own motives in telling them. Do you feel guilty and just need to unburden yourself? Do you think you have made a genuine mistake or been caught in a difficult situation where you behaved out of character? Do you want them to forgive you? Do you want to stay together? Or do you maybe feel that this is a way of testing their feelings and acknowledging yours, with a view to ending the relationship? You may not be able to accurately gauge their reactions, but you need to know your own preferred outcome by telling them.

You'll also need to have some answers to a wide range of inevitably probing questions. And "I don't know" is never a good response.

Assuming that your partner hasn't already confronted you with any suspicions, you will need to plan the conversation. Don't have it spontaneously, don't have it before you are going out, when you are out or when there are guests arriving. Choose a time which isn't pressured, but don't prepare anything fancy, like a special meal; just make sure that it feels as ordinary as possible. Sit down on the sofa with your partner and tell them calmly that you need to talk to them. Be direct and tell them that you have cheated. If you feel emotional – which you may well – then let those emotions show.

You can say that you feel awful about it – don't expect sympathy – but once you have confessed, don't wibble on. Let your partner react, and be prepared for anything from screaming at you, crying, leaving the room, telling you to fuck off, disbelief to complete silence, or even in some cases, if the relationship isn't in great shape, or they feared something else as a result of your uncharacteristic behaviour, like a serious illness, words or emotions of relief.

@kylemmusic

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