The way forward isn’t easy, but it’s the best direction to go.
You can’t change what’s happened, no matter how much you may want to. The fact is you cheated.
Now, what you do about it, no matter what it is, will completely change your marriage.
Obviously, your actions broke your spouse’s trust. What may not be so obvious right now is that you also damaged your self-respect. It’s the impact your behavior has on you and your mate that has you wishing you could change the past.
The first step out of this mess is to figure out why you cheated and why you cheated now.
People have affairs for all kinds of reasons. According to Esther Perel, some people cheat in search of “an expansive experience that involves growth, exploration, and transformation.” And sometimes people betray their spouse because there are significant problems in their marriage.
Don’t be surprised if you have a hard time figuring this out. It’s actually a good thing if this is difficult for you because it means that you’re being completely honest with yourself. It’s also an indication that you might do well to work with a helping professional to get to the bottom of why you strayed.
Next, you need to decide what you want.
Do you want to maintain your marriage? Do you want to maintain your adulterous relationship? Do you want a divorce? Do you want an open relationship?
These aren’t necessarily easy questions, but they are very important ones. Deciding what you want is the first step to moving in that direction with respect and honesty.
And just because you’ve decided what you want, that doesn’t mean that your spouse will be on board with your decision. They may have a different idea of what they want after they find out you’ve cheated.
Getting clear about your decision is just the starting point for the conversation you will need to eventually have with your mate.
It’s time to do something about the other person.
Once you know what you would like to have happen with your marriage, it’s time to do something about the other person if you haven’t already.
If you’ve decided you want to keep your marriage, then you must break things off immediately. Doing so will make it much easier for your spouse to believe you about wanting to work on things.
If you’ve decided you want to pursue an open marriage, you have options about how you proceed. Keeping your relationship with the other person will signal to your mate that you’re serious about having an open relationship. But it will also get your open relationship off on the wrong foot because you weren’t upfront with your spouse about things before you acted.
If you’ve decided you want to end your marriage, you have options here too. If the other person is someone you want to continue your relationship with, be discrete or put things on pause until your divorce is final. Flaunting your relationship will only make your divorce more contentious. However, if your relationship with the other person was simply how you realized you want a divorce and nothing more, there’s no reason to maintain it.
Having an honest discussion like this takes preparation.
Preparation is critical because it won’t be easy and your spouse will be hurt and/or pissed when you let them know your marriage isn’t working for you. And if you choose to divulge your affair, things will be even more charged.
Choosing whether to tell your spouse you cheated is an important part of your preparation. In most cases, it’s the best option, because being honest is much better than having your infidelity discovered regardless of how you want your marriage to move forward. However, not everyone makes this choice.
You’ll also want to plan when and where to talk with your spouse. A discussion like this will easily take a couple of hours and you won’t want to be disturbed during that time.
You’ll want to choose a location that’s private and comfortable for both of you. And you may even want to enlist the support of a marriage counselor to keep the conversation on track.
You’ll also want to choose a time that will allow both of you to focus.
The conversation you have with your spouse will mark the end of your marriage as it was.
Calmly and compassionately telling the truth about what you want from your marriage and why you want it is only one part of the discussion. You’ll also need to listen carefully to what your mate says.
They’ll have questions – lots of questions. You’ll need to respond to them calmly and honestly so long as the questions are important and about things that matter to how you move forward.
Focus on taking full responsibility for your decision to cheat because nothing justifies your actions. There’s no explaining it away. The only way to make it through this discussion is directly through it.
Don’t let the conversation drag on and on because it will be exhausting. When you and your spouse are tired, it’s more likely that one of you will say something you don’t really mean which will make eventually coming to a resolution that much more difficult.
Prepare for the long haul.
This first conversation just lets your spouse in on what you’re thinking and potentially what you’ve done. They’re going to need time to process what you want and to think about what they want.
You’ll have many discussions about how to move forward with your marriage – how to put things back together, how to redefine it, or how to dissolve it. No matter which option you and your mate choose, you’ll need to communicate a great deal to make your (hopefully mutual) decision a reality.
This isn’t an easy process to go through, yet because you cheated, it’s the only path forward for you to reclaim your self-respect and to fully put the past behind you.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and personal life coach helping people just like you who want support in dealing with the pain of affairs and miserable marriages. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.