We’ve all read articles about how heartbreaking it is if a partner cheats, and why you should never do it, and why no one should ever even think about it. But on a more practical tack, what should you do if you catch your partner cheating? In a perfect world, no one would do such a thing, and we’d all be happy and healthy and full of love and light and miracles. But unfortunately people cheat all the time, and if it happens to you, you’re faced with an immediate decision: What can you do right now?
“Cheating and it’s consequences are one of the most devastating moments in a relationship,” relationship coach and psychic medium Melinda Carver tells Bustle. “It turns your whole world upside-down when you find out your partner is cheating, [and] you begin to look at everything in your relationship as a lie, and your self-esteem plummets.” But you don’t have to remain in that place of feeling like a victim.
I spoke with 15 relationship experts to explore the possibilities. Basically, it’s not a cut-and-dried situation: If someone cheats on you, and you’re committed to the relationship, you might not necessarily want to just get up and leave. And it might be a deeper and more intricate situation than that, anyway. If you want to consider all of your options and think about what to do next, here are 15 possible things you can do if you catch your partner cheating on you. And keep in mind that you don’t have to make any serious decisions just yet — if you found out recently, you can give it some time and let things unfold before you make a concrete choice about what to do next.
1. Stay Calm
“Stay calm and call a trusted friend to give you support,” psychologist, image consultant and dating expert Dr. Jennifer Rhodes tells Bustle. “Do not react impulsively. Given the circumstances of your relationship, you may need to respond in a thoughtful manner.” Reaching out to a best friend is the most helpful thing you can do first. And then you can consider what to do next.
“If you are married or there are kids involved, seeking professional help for yourself first will help you build the support team necessary to deal with a confrontation and to ask for what you want,” Rhodes says. “Too many people act out of impulsivity and anger often leading to more consequences down the road. Do not post comments on social media like celebrities — all of this can be used against you in your breakup or divorce.”
2. Be Direct
“Don’t set a truth trap, trying to get him or her to confess,” relationship coach and therapist Anita Chlipala tells Bustle. “Be direct about what evidence you found of their cheating.” Don’t try to dance around the thing — just come and and tell them what you know.
“You will also need to know that the affair will be stopped and that your questions will be answered,” she says. “I also recommend not telling anyone — yet. When people first find out they have been cheated on, they want to tell everyone in their family and friends circle. This can potentially backfire if you decide to stay together and work on your relationship.” Be direct with your partner and choosy with the people you talk to — at least at first.
3. Have An Honest Look At The Relationship
“Cheating in a relationship requires an honest assessment of the relationship in order to figure out a next move,” New York–based relationship expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. “If the cheating happens within the first couple of months of dating, it’s not really cheating — it’s playing the field.” That may be true, but if you are with someone new and you discussed being monogamous and you find out they’re seeing other people, it’s probably best to walk away.
“[If] it happens in year 10 of a 10-year marriage with children,” she says, or just in a long-term, committed relationship in general, “there’s a lot at stake and walking away should be a last resort — unless this isn’t the first time that the cheating has occurred. Cheating doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it’s crucial to be honest about your part in the relationship,” Masini says. “It’s easy to play victim, but more often than not, the cheating happened because the cheater felt neglected or mistreated or not valued. That doesn’t excuse that person’s behavior, but it explains it, and it shows that the cheating was a symptom, not the main problem.” From there, you can decide what to do next.
4. Go Inward
“Although I feel cheating can be rectified and strengthen a marriage, I would insist, and I mean insist, on six months of individual and couple therapy for both people,” zen psychotherapist and neuromarketing strategist Michele Paiva tells Bustle.” Though the disrespect is real, it’s possible to come back from it if real work is done within the relationship.
“Most couples in betrayal are there because of a lack of communication, respect, or attention,” Paiva says. “Both people contribute to that and the affair is a result of that fracture.” Although your partner cheating on you is never your fault, cheating may be a symptom of a greater problem. “You need to own your part as much as they need to own their part,” she says. From there, healing can happen.
5. Understand That It’s Not About You
“It can scar you emotionally for a very long time and interfere with future relationships,” dating expert Noah Van Hochman tells Bustle. “You have a very big decision to make. Do not make excuses for this person or believe in any way that it’s your fault. The person cheating make a conscious decision to do this. They could have told you that things are not going well in the relationship and made it clear that continuing it may not be the best thing.”
Since your partner didn’t do this first, it’s up to you what you decide to do. Van Hochman believes that if your partner was really in it for the long run, they wouldn’t cheat in the first place. “If you are a forgiving soul, you may consider finding out what caused the aberration in behavior and if there was a significant reason for a severe lapse in judgement or if it is habitual,” he says. But that’s completely up to you. If you feel as though it’s worth working it out, go for it — but be sure you do so only because you want to and you feel as though it was a temporary blip.
6. Find Out Why It Happened
“Leaving is a strong, optional choice — but is dependent upon so many factors,” relationship trainer Daniel Amis, author of Unbreakable Love: Proven Methods For Developing a Stronger, More Satisfying Relationship In Just 30 Days , tells Bustle. “If the couple is married, what may have caused the cheating, if they have children,” and many others.
Though it may not be a straightforward thing, if you can talk it out, you might benefit from the conversation. “There may be something that you can learn from, that will allow you to become wiser should you get in another relationship — or even stay in that one,” he says. “If the cheater acted on impulse, was just caught up in the moment, acted on their attraction to someone else, etc., then there’s no doubt that you should definitely consider leaving. Because the thing about cheating is you have a choice. No one falls into bed with another person. So if they made the choice to cheat, then they should also accept the consequences.”
If you decide to stay, consider Paiva’s suggestion of couple’s and individual counseling.