Husband walking in on his cheating wife.

What To Expect When Your Cheating Is Exposed

There comes a time in every affair when truth can no longer hide between the sheets. It may come out right away. It may come out after months or even years. But, once your cheating is exposed, your life will never be the same. 

So fasten your seatbelt. 

The revelation of infidelity can happen in a number of ways:

If you’re married and cheating, you may have your duplicitous life neatly and conveniently compartmentalized. As long as you can keep your stories straight and your tracks covered, you can keep everyone in your fantasy bubble happy. 

Until, of course, you leave a slipper on the staircase and your carriage turns into a pumpkin before curfew. 

Or until your spouse starts adding up your one-off nights of working late. 

Or your affair partner gets fed up with the double-standard of being alone when you’re with your family. 

Or you get tired of keeping up the charade and feel the sudden moral urge to confess. 

How your cheating is exposed is less important than the exposure itself…because exposure means decision-time.

Everyone involved — even the affair partner — has decisions to make. 

Are you going to end the affair and work on your marriage? Are you going to get a divorce and start a new life with your affair partner? Are you going to break off both relationships and live on your own? 

What can you count on in the aftermath of being outed for your affair?

There is no definitive script for the post-cheating-discovery drama that plays out. But you can count on several unpleasantries, especially in the early days, weeks, and months following the affair’s exposure. 

One thing’s for sure: The sh*t is going to hit the fan.

Even if your spouse becomes reclusive and avoidant in the wake of pain and anger, you’re going to feel the repercussions of your betrayal. 

And your “logical” compartmentalization — you know, that thing that convinced you you could keep this double-life going — is going to implode. 

Here is a short-list of what to expect when your cheating is exposed:

  • You and your spouse will be polarized emotionally.

    Your spouse will be fuming from your betrayal — angry, devastated, hurting, confused, self-doubting, demanding details.

    Your emotions will be equally complex and may even parallel some of your spouse’s emotions.

    But you are likely to feel overwhelming contrition, shame, embarrassment, and self-loathing, even if you’re hurting and confused.

    If your affair was long and emotionally involved, you may have a separate set of emotions surrounding your affair partner — responsibility, guilt, anger, sadness, longing.

    If you and your betrayed spouse plan to work on saving your marriage, you’ll have to make peace with this polarity, especially in the beginning.

  • Your spouse will be flooded with negative emotions, which may come out as unpredictable rage and fury.

    Hell hath no fury like a [spouse] scorned.”

    Whether your betrayed spouse is female or male, the anger from betrayal is deep and consuming.

    One way to add to that scorn and fury is to get defensive with a bunch of cheating excuses.

    Just. Don’t.
  • Your spouse may not be the only one who knows about and is affected by your infidelity.

    Depending on how your cheating is exposed, there may be others in your family and/or social circles who know about your infidelity.

    And, if your betrayed spouse acts out in a moment of rage, you may find yourself in a social media fishbowl. Now you’re not only trying to save your marriage, you’re trying to save face everywhere you go.

    Who knows? Does everyone know? Does everyone hate me? Can I show my face anywhere?

  • You may care for your affair partner, but don’t expect your spouse to.

    Advice for getting past infidelity is almost always focused on the married couple, with little or no regard for the affair partner.

    This “other person” is often objectified and treated as a disposal for blame and the unfettered ugly side of anger. Easy to “just give up,” with no concern for their feelings.

    But you may have developed deep feelings for this person, especially if the affair began as an emotional connection and/or lasted a long time. You may even think of your affair relationship as another committed relationship.

    The understandable requisite that you completely end the affair in order to work on your marriage may be more complicated than that.

    For you, at least.

    Your spouse, however, won’t share your concern for this other human being.

    Again, the emotional polarity….
  • It’s going to be a long time before your spouse trusts you again. With anything.

    Just plan on it.

    And don’t add insult to injury by making your spouse lay it out for you or defend the lack of trust.

    You’re going to have to earn it back.

    And not just a few times when you think the effort is worth making.

    You will now need to earn trust on your spouse’s terms.

    And that may include surrender in some very uncomfortable ways — passwords, cell phone-monitoring, curfews, and, of course, zero contact with your affair partner.

  • You’re going to face a firing squad of very uncomfortable questions. And your spouse is going to expect you to answer them.

    As with the lack of trust, you should brace yourself for the barrage of questions about your affair.

    Your spouse’s reality has been shattered in one revelation. Nothing makes sense.

    And your spouse desperately needs something to make sense.

    They will flounder under the weight of self-doubt, wondering why your transgression wasn’t obvious. How could I have not known? How can I ever trust again?

    In an effort to put the pieces of sanity back together and decide how to move forward, your spouse is going to ask. A lot.

    And, while you’re going to have to humbly, compassionately, contritely answer, you’re also going to have to exercise prudence.

    Some answers may be too explicit to achieve any end but more harm.

    And some answers may actually be necessary, despite the shame and discomfort you feel when delivering them.

    Seeking qualified professional help during this time can remove some of that “burden of prudence” and give you both a safe place to heal.

  • Even if you want to save your marriage, you may not believe you can endure the punishment.

    Affairs aren’t the scarlet letter of miserable marriages only. They happen in happy marriages, as well.

    And those marriages that have (however ironic it sounds) a strong foundation of love and respect tend to fare better after an affair.

    But, depending on the nature and length of the affair, you may believe the cost of repairing your marriage is just too steep.

    You may, for example, doubt that your spouse will ever forgive you, let alone trust and desire you again. And no one can live with a prognosis of perpetual monitoring, blame, and reminding.

    If your spouse expresses the desire and commitment to work on your marriage and that’s what you also want, know that the journey ahead is going to be long. It’s also going to be painfully, exhaustively, inconveniently reflective.

Infidelity changes everyone in its path – the betrayed, the betrayer, the affair partner, children, family, friends.

When cheating is exposed, the veil is lifted – on a lot more than just the infidelity.

Ironically, the exposure lays bare the very issues that made your marriage vulnerable to an affair in the first place.

It also reveals, with alarming clarity, the fragililty of the reasoning behind choices made to avoid them.

Perhaps your affair was a wake-up call to the supplications of a marriage you want to save.

Perhaps it was a sabotaging of a marriage you subconsciously want to end.

Whatever your motive for cheating, know that its exposure will be a turning point in a lot of lives.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I work with individuals struggling with how to get over resentment after an affair. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. Schedule an introductory private coaching session if you’d like to take the first step toward working with me.

Looking for more information about the repercussions of cheating? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Surviving Infidelity.

Dr. Karen Finn

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