Fact: Cheating really sucks. Whether you’re being cheated on or having the affair, infidelity puts your relationship in danger. And, if you’re the one coloring outside the lines, you risk breaking your S.O.’s heart.
What may not be so clear is what to do once you come to terms with your big, fat mistake: Should you share your guilt or carry it for the rest of the relationship? The experts and even some of Women’s Health Facebook followers are divided.
Here, we present both arguments so you can decide which side you fall on.
What a reader says: “I told my partner after I cheated on him and I wish I could take it back. Confessing didn’t open up new avenues of communication; it just made us both feel like I had to re-earn his trust again. If I hadn’t told him, cheating would have been my burden to carry and I wouldn’t have subjected him to something that he had no control over.” –Maddy M.
What an expert says: “While being open and honest might seem like the right thing to do, the decision you make should really be based on what you can live with,” says Jane Greer, Ph.D., a New York-based marriage and sex therapist and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship. “The ideal situation is that you’re honest with your partner about being unfaithful and you work through the issue together,” she says. “But for a lot of different reasons, it doesn’t always work out that way.”
If you cheat—whether it was a one-night stand or a fling that ended—and you realize how important your relationship is and promise to yourself that it will never happen again, Greer says that you don’t have to necessarily share it with your S.O. If you know your partner will be unforgiving, and that coming clean will destroy the relationship, it might be better to keep your guilt to yourself.
Despite not being honest with your partner, she says that it is possible to grow from your mistake and make an effort to not take your bond for granted. That being said, Greer thinks you absolutely should tell your partner if he catches you (otherwise you’re going to make him feel like an idiot) or if you feel that being honest is more true to your character and is worth risking a relationship for.
What a reader says: “Yes, you should always tell your partner, but not for your own peace of mind. Instead you should do it because the person you cheated on has the right to decide whether or not they should continue the relationship. You can’t be selfish twice.” –Cynthia J.
What an expert says: “Cheating threatens a relationship and hiding it threatens it even more,” says Jenni Skyler, Ph.D., director of The Intimacy Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
That’s because meaningful relationships are based on transparency and honesty, she says. And the longer you hold on to the secret, the more betrayed your partner will feel when he or she eventually finds out.
“They might actually be more hurt by the fact that you never told them than the actual cheating,” says Skyler. Though confessing to what you did doesn’t minimize the fact that you cheated, it does prevent the damage that could be caused by keeping a secret.
So here’s your damage control plan, according to Skyler: Tell them, take accountability, be remorseful, and try to move forward by re-building trust. “Even though you’re risking your relationship by telling them about the cheating, when you own it, your relationship success rate is so much better than if you hold it in and they eventually find out,” she says.
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