How to Heal Relationships After Cheating

Four Methods:Taking ResponsibilityEstablishing Open CommunicationRestoring Truth and Honesty to Your RelationshipRenewing Your Commitment

An affair of any sort has a devastating effect on a relationship. If you have cheated on your partner and now seek to reconcile, you have considerable work to do to renew your damaged relationship. The process of healing will be long, emotional, and take substantial work by both parties. Your partner has suffered a devastating blow, and you must both determine whether the resulting damage can be overcome. Careful attention to your partner's needs and a commitment to the hard work of healing can help you overcome the pain of infidelity.

Method 1
Taking Responsibility

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    Stop cheating. If you are the cheating party, you need to end your affair completely before you can expect to have any chance of healing your relationship with your partner or spouse. This step is non-negotiable.[1]
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    Make any changes necessary to distance yourself physically from the source of your affair. If you cheated with a co-worker, for example, you may need to consider seeking re-assignment or even finding a new job. An affair that started at the gym or in another social setting may require you to change your social habits.[2]
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    Be honest with your partner. Tell your partner what happened and why. You can tell your partner the intimate details of the sexual experience if he or she asks, but it could be too painful to reveal at first. Your partner may not want to know at all. This should be a choice your partner makes, and you should abide by your partner's wishes.
    • Your partner is likely to lash back when presented with your painful admission. While your infidelity will form the core of your partner's hurt, you may find yourself confronted with a whole range of issues as your partner seeks to express his or her pain.[3]
    • If your partner has ever had an affair, news of that infidelity is likely to surface during this initial exchange. Responding with disclosure of this information may be the closest weapon your partner has at his or her disposal. Be prepared for such an admission, and remember that if you feel hurt by disclosure of such information, your hurt is paralleled by your partner's pain regarding your own infidelity. You'll both have significant healing to do.[4]
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    Be honest with yourself. Spend time diagnosing the reason for your infidelity. A wide variety of reasons may have contributed to your affair, from low self-esteem, alcoholism, and sex addiction to the pressures of marital problems or perceived deficiencies in your committed relationship.[5]
    • Conventional wisdom once argued that infidelity was always a sign of something missing in a relationship; it is important to recognize that professionals now believe this is only one among many reasons why people cheat.[6]
    • Regardless of your reason for cheating, you should never blame your partner for your decision. Even if you feel something has been missing in your committed relationship, you made a choice to cheat rather than working out your problems with your partner.

Method 2
Establishing Open Communication

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    Strive for transparency. Your partner will likely have many, many questions. He or she may want to know what were the circumstances of meeting the other person, and whether it was a long term affair or a short, one night stand. He or she will spend time reflecting upon the past months or years of your life together and wonder about your past actions and motives. Total disclosure detailing all the sexual details or your relationship with the other person is not appropriate when you first tell your mate that you've cheated, but it's important to be forthcoming if your partner asks for details.[7]
    • Take your time as a couple to process the many questions your infidelity will bring to the surface. Respond fully and openly to your partner's questions as they come, but expect that new questions will emerge over time.
    • Be mindful of your partner's readiness to hear details even as you fully answer his or her questions. Never cover up information, but if your partner is not yet asking one type of question -- about your motivation for cheating, for example -- exercise patience. He or she may have enough information to take on board. Wait until your partner asks, then carefully provide a transparent response.[8]
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    Give your partner time to process. You've known about your affair for as long as it's been happening. This painful information is new to your partner. Even if he or she had suspicions, only now have those suspicions been confirmed.[9]
    • The time it takes a relationship to heal after cheating varies, but expect that this process can easily take 1-2 years.[10]
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    Have an honest conversation about your relationship's future. Be realistic -- is forgiveness a possibility? If you see any hope for your future, commit to do the hard work that will be necessary to restore trust.[11]
    • When considering your relationship's future, consider the feelings of all those who will be affected by your decision. If your relationship involves children, for example, the stakes may be higher than they would be for a couple. Couples married for decades may have relationship networks and shared experiences that bind them more tightly than those who have dated just a few months or even years.[12]
    • Recognize that even if your partner sees hope for forgiveness, the actual process of forgiveness could take considerable time.
    • Avoid making rash decisions. Give yourself sufficient time to ensure you're making decisions based upon careful reflection and not simply reacting during the heat of an argument.
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    Consult a therapist or counselor. You may find individual therapy an important tool for examining your motives and addressing your own behavior. Couples counseling can be an important step in helping your negotiate the complicated terrain of forgiveness.
    • Counselors or other trusted figures can provide objective, nonjudgmental support to help you process your feelings.[13]
    • A trusted third party also provides a safe referee for the sometimes painful discussions you'll need to have with your partner.

Method 3
Restoring Truth and Honesty to Your Relationship

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    Expect to be held accountable. You'll need to make an extra effort to prove your trustworthiness to your partner. Communicate your plans and respond to your partner's requests for information and reassurance.
    • Note, however, that your past history of cheating does not completely eliminate your right to privacy. Be mindful of your partner's need for information, but do not feel compelled to provide a full list of your cell phone and social media passwords or to account for your whereabouts at all times. Such practices perpetuate mistrust rather than allowing you to rebuild your shattered relationship.[14]
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    Give your partner time and space. Do not expect forgiveness -- least of all on your schedule. Your partner will need to learn he or she has reason to trust you.
    • Take a "time out" if you find that emotions are running high. Your partner may need some physical or emotional space to process his or her feelings. Politely leave the room, go for a walk, or give your partner the freedom to distance him or herself for a period of time.[15]
    • Consider scheduling specific windows of time to process difficult feelings. You might set an egg timer for half an hour, for example, and use that limited span of time for discussion. Doing so provides structure and predictability; you can both focus upon the subject at hand without having the conversation degenerate into "venting" or other unproductive behavior.[16]
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    Forgive yourself. Forgiving yourself does not mean you're off the hook for the consequences of your behavior, nor does it exempt you from the hard work of taking steps to change your behavior. Rather, forgiving yourself frees up your mental and emotional energy to move forward. You can then work on healing your relationship and changing your habits.[17]
    • Each day is a new day. When you wake up each morning, remind yourself of your decision to move forward and focus on repairing your damaged relationship.
    • If you find rituals helpful, consider taking a symbolic step such as (carefully) burning or shredding a paper labeled "cheating." Remind yourself of this action when you're tempted to dwell upon your past behavior. You've burned your bridges, literally or metaphorically, and have committed to move forward.
    • If you find yourself wallowing in regret, brainstorm a productive action you can undertake instead. You might consider sending your partner a loving text, performing a chore around the house, or working on a new hobby that helps you constructively redirect your behavior.

Method 4
Renewing Your Commitment

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    Recommit to your "new" relationship. Your relationship as you knew it pre-cheating is gone, but if you've decided to move forward with your partner you're now entering a potentially rewarding new period of reconciliation, growth, and development. This new phase in your relationship will bring with it new rules and expectations. Discuss these rules and expectations openly to ensure you are on the same page.[18]
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    Spend quality time together doing things unrelated to your experiences of infidelity. While continued communication and trust-building will be important, your fragile relationship will benefit from spending time and effort on new experiences.[19]
    • Consider activities you've enjoyed in the past that you could reestablish as productive habits.
    • Discuss your goals and interests. Perhaps your partner has always wanted to travel. You might consider spending some time researching trips or even pursuing language or cultural instruction to make that dream a reality. Perhaps he or she has been thinking about running a half marathon. If you can share this vision, commit to achieving this goal together -- or, if you aren't a runner yourself, commit to becoming your partner's top cheerleader.
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    Stay "present oriented." However painful, your cheating is now in the past. Focus upon the possibilities of your future together while recognizing you're now called to higher standards of accountability and emotional communication.[20][21]
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    Work toward reestablishing your sense of shared intimacy. If sexual intimacy was part of your relationship in the past, set a goal of reestablishing sufficient trust to renew this commitment.[22]
    • Be mindful that while your relationship is a partnership, the wounded partner needs to set the parameters for this process. Fulfilling intimacy requires considerable trust.
    • Ensure you've been tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Never risk your partner's physical health -- or the emotional devastation that would result from an STD diagnosis.


  • Cheating is never an excuse to be abusive toward your partner. Admissions of cheating should never be met with violence. If either partner fears physical violence from the other, leave the relationship immediately.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Cheating in Relationships