Being the Perpetrator of Infidelity

What if you were the perpetrator of infidelity and still wanted to make your marriage work?  This can be a scary, unsettling, and confusing time in your life.  After all, we often ignore the reality that affairs happen.  Good people do have momentary lapses in judgements, and sometimes it is the actual affair that allows you to re-commit to the marriage.  Regardless of your reasons for cheating, we have compiled together a list of steps that we highly recommend all “recovering” perpetrators of infidelity follow. 

Stop Contact with the Other Person

This step is often the most challenging one of them all.  Ending your contact with the affair partner is often easier said than done, especially when you made commitments to him / her.  Breaking these promises can be uncomfortable and make you feel bad, especially when they did nothing wrong other than fall in love with you.  Just remember that the faster you can extract yourself from his or her  life, the faster his or her own healing can begin.  Your actions not only hurt your spouse, but your lover, too. Given your decision to re-commit to your spouse, you are no longer  a safe person for them to rely upon.  To make your marriage work, your primary commitment cannot be to your affair partner.  Please note, if you are not ready to let the affair partner go, consider meeting with an individual therapist.  Try to find one who is not invested in the outcome of the original relationship (your marriage), but rather a therapist who is invested in helping you heal yourself.

When you are ready, stop all contact with the affair partner .  This includes phone calls, text messages, social media, and all other forms of communication.  Though this may be difficult, it would give the marital relationship space to heal.  Trust and security can slowly grow when the real threat to the marital relationship is gone.  After all, developing trust requires you to be vulnerable and fully present with your spouse. 

Understanding the Infidelity

Knowing how you got yourself into this pickle in the first place is helpful.  It’s hard to heal if you don’t know what the actual issue is.  Important information to gather for yourself is the actual chronology of events.  What is your first memory of being upset with your spouse? What did you do with those feelings?  When did your spouse become aware of your feelings? How did your spouse  respond to your feelings? What stopped you from being more communicative to your spouse about your feelings? How long did you feel unhappy in the relationship? Besides having an affair, what other options did you have to manage the situation?  After you have asked yourself these type of questions, focus on the next aspect of the infidelity: the other person.  What did you do to make yourself open to meeting someone new? When did you first realize that you had feelings for this other person? How did you choose the other person?  Why did you choose that specific person?  When did you first become aware that the other person liked you? When did you share your feelings with the other person? When did the affair first occur?  When did the subsequent affairs happen?  When was the last instance of infidelity?  How do you define infidelity? 

Following these explorative questions, try to figure out the surrounding context of each affair.  Were you bored?  Did you feel lonely? Isolated? Overwhelmed?  Flat? Did you want to escape your life? Get revenge? Feel special?  Alive?  Inspired?  Hopeful?  How did communication break down?  In what ways did you attempt to express your feelings to your spouse?  When did you realize you were totally stuck in your marriage (committed relationship) and give yourself permission to step outside the marital contract and cheat? These questions may not provide you with the exact reason for the infidelity, but they will get you closer to it. 

Nobody Has an Affair if Their Relationship is Picture Perfect:

Part of recommitting to the relationship is getting honest about the actual relationship and the problems that existed prior to your decision of stepping outside of the marriage.  What were the issues that were making the two of you stuck? What is the pattern that your typical fights look like? Can you identify the repetitive cycle that always occurs? How do each of you need to grow and change to make this relationship work?

Creating a mental map of the problematic relationship that you had with your spouse can help explain when, why, and how the infidelity occurred to your partner.  Remember, there is no “right” answer on whether to disclose the cheating to your partner. The critical piece is that the affair is over, and that you are able to learn from your experience(s).  Everyone makes mistakes. The question is how do you give yourself permission to learn from them and move forward.

Grieve the Relationship

Specifically, you need to grieve the relationship you had with your  extramarital partner.  Grieving may seem counterintuitive, but with all relationships, you likely invested time, feelings, and experiences into the other person.  Therefore, terminating that relationship will also be painful.  It’s likely that the infidelity fulfilled certain needs; therefore, mourning its end is not only natural, but potentially necessary.  Give yourself permission to be sad.  Acknowledging the sorrow, anger, and wistfulness present allows you to recover from them.  Think about it this way, sweeping dirt under the rug doesn’t make it go away.  The same goes for our feelings.  As much as we can try to cover them up, they are still there.  If you acknowledge them, however, you can actually do something with them.  The same goes for the affair partner’s emotions.  They may understand ending the relationship, they may be ambivalent, or they can even be quite angry at you.  Though it can be very unpleasant to go through, it’s okay if the other person hates you.  What they’re experiencing is a valid emotion that could be essential to their healing process.  It may hurt, but try not to take that away from them.

Daring to Be Vulnerable in Your Relationship

Being vulnerable in a relationship is incredibly difficult.  It’s very natural to want to protect oneself from pain, even if it’s emotional.  However, lowering your defenses can help your marital partner.  The infidelity has likely left your partner vulnerable; therefore, also being exposed can decrease some of the discomfort.  As you imagine yourself recommitting to your marriage, take some time to identify what changes you need to make.  By reflecting on the upcoming questions, you may be able to be more vulnerable with your marital partner.

  • What makes you feel loved?
  • What do you like from your partner that you would like more of?
  • What makes you feel secure in a relationship?
  • What are some of your fears regarding committed relationships?
  • What do you wish that you could say to your partner?

Partner Forgiveness

This next step is especially difficult due to your limited control over the situation.  For those of you that did admit the affair, you need to give your partner the space and time to be angry with you.  Their anger, hurt, pain jealousy etc will ebb and flow and may come out at random moments and you will need to be prepared to simply hold the space for them.  You can’t undo the past. You did hurt them.  While you can’t undo the past, you can sit with them and help them through an emotionally rough time.  They need your support now more than ever.  .  Forgiveness may or may not happen. That is out of your control.  What is in your control is how you respond to your partners needs.    Being patient, understanding, and open to discussion can go a long way.  Establishing new boundaries with your partner can also be useful.

While trust may be gone, honesty can help your partner get to know the real you.  Focus on  becoming an open book.  Push yourself to openly share your thoughts, feelings, and actions.  The more your partner knows you, the more safe she or he may feel.   Going further, disclosing all passwords for emails, social media, and electronic devices can also be beneficial.  Your goal is to increase your openness to showing up, and thus your accountability.  Deepening trust requires fully showing up. In order for your partner to decide whether or not she / he can move forward with you, you need to fully reveal yourself. Opening up all your passwords  may feel like oversharing, but you’re simply doing what’s necessary to bring back security.  Your partner, at least for a few years will likely not “trust” your words, but at times will need to verify with an outside source that what you are saying is truly what is happening. The last thing that you need is for your partner to think that you’re keeping secrets.  After all, moving past infidelity is already emotionally difficult enough, why complicate it more?

Being the perpetrator of infidelity can definitely be hard; regret, blame, disgust, shame, fear, hurt, anger and grief are all common emotions.  Unfortunately not all partners will be open to hearing you.  It may be too painful for him or her.  This is where a close friend or therapist comes in handy.  Your partner may want you to feel terrible for cheating on them; however, you need to trust that at the end of the day they want what is best for you, and recognize that they probably have some work to do to.  This is hard for them too.   It’s true that you were dishonest in how you handled your feelings, at the same time, the origin and reasons for those feelings were honest.  It is so very critical to address those reasons.  Simultaneously, try to be mindful of what your partner is going through. 

Preparing yourself to be yelled at, ignored or even disliked may help the forgiveness process.  It’s possible that a warm, loving moment with your partner could turn into them yelling at you.  Though this can be terrible to experience, you job is to simply listen and offer empathy for the pain that they are going through. 

Self-Forgiveness 

If you want to continue your relationship with your marital partner, then forgiving yourself for cheating can be very difficult.  You made a really bad decision that hurt at least two people, and it’s honestly hard to sit with that knowledge.  On top of all of this, you have to trust yourself that you won’t cheat again, that you will handle future situations differently.  It’s important to hold yourself accountable for the consequences of these actions, while also giving yourself some slack for making a mistake.  All humans do things that they regret; however, being able to turn that guilt into positive change is what’s truly significant.  In other words, admitting and forgiving your big mistake allows you to rectify it.

Infidelity will always be a messy, disruptive, and hard experience.  However, being the perpetrator of it yields its own, unique problems.  Self-forgiveness, grief, and conceptualizing the affair are all difficult, exhausting, but ultimately healing experiences.  Though recovering from the infidelity has its challenges, remember that you want your relationship to succeed.  That wonderful drive can help guide you through the darkest of times.