What to do if you’ve cheated on your partner
This can be a confusing time for both you and your partner
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
Cheating on your partner when you're in a committed relationship can bring up feelings of guilt, shame, anger, sadness and confusion. If your partner knows about it, you might feel upset or scared about what will happen to your relationship. If your partner doesn't know, you might be trying to figure out if and how you should tell them.
It's important to reflect on why you cheated on your partner and what it might say about your relationship. It's also important to consider how your partner will feel when they learn about what happened, and what you're willing to do to make it up to them if you both decide you want to stay together.
Why do people cheat?
The reason why a person cheats can be different in each relationship. You might know what led you to cheat on your partner, or you might be feeling confused and finding it difficult to understand why you did it. It's really important that you take time to reflect on the reason why it happened, for the sake of this relationship, or for any relationship you might have in the future.
Problems with the relationship
Relationships can be hard, and sometimes there are problems that can be difficult to fix. In some cases, it might not be possible to save the relationship from whatever problems are going on. Even when a person is unhappy in a relationship, they might not want to break up, or they might want to avoid conflict for as long as possible. They could start cheating on their partner as a way to avoid having to deal with these issues.
If you think that there might be deeper problems with your relationship, you need to talk this out with your partner and decide if it's something you can fix. This can be scary, but the longer your avoid this conversation, the more difficult it can be.
Afraid of commitment
You may not be at a stage in your life where you feel like you can commit to a serious relationship. This could be the case no matter how old you are. People who feel this way might end up continuing the relationship even though it's not what they want, and begin cheating on their partner.
Ask yourself if a relationship is really what you want. If the answer is no, then you owe it to your partner to be honest and end the relationship.
Developing feelings for someone else
It is normal to sometimes find that you are attracted to someone else even when you're in a relationship. However, sometimes this attraction can develop into something more, and you might start to have feelings for the other person. When this happens, some people end up acting on those feelings instead of being honest with their partner about what's going on.
This could be the case with someone new, or with an ex from your past who you still have feelings for. While it's normal for these feelings to come up, it's unfair to your partner to act on them. You need to face these feelings yourself and decide what it means for you and for your relationship.
Lack of communication
Every couple is different, and the boundaries of a relationship are not always the same from one couple to the next. It's important when starting out a relationship to talk about what these boundaries are.
If your partner thinks that the relationship is exclusive, but you see it as something more casual, then this could cause a big issue if your partner feels you've cheated on them, but you don't see it the same way. It also helps to communicate clearly what it means if you decide to take some space from each other or time apart so that everyone is on the same page.
Communicate with your partner about what you understand your relationship to be, and make sure that they are comfortable with that arrangement.
How you might be feeling after cheating on your partner
Many people go through a range of emotions after cheating on someone.
You might feel angry with yourself, with the person you cheated with, or even with your partner. Try to understand where this anger is coming from, and find ways to manage your anger here.
It is normal to feel guilty about what you've done after cheating on someone. Guilt is a sign that you understand that what you did was wrong and that you have hurt your partner. Guilt can be a difficult emotion to feel, but it can encourage you to find a way to make things right.
Whether it was something that only happened once, or you've been seeing someone other than your partner for a while, you might be feeling confused. This could be confusion about why you cheated, or it could be confusion about your feelings, especially if you feel strongly about both your partner and the person you've cheated with.
Feeling anxious is understandable, whether that's because you need to tell your partner what happened, or if your partner knows and you're trying to find a way to fix the relationship. Learn how to deal with anxiety here.
You could be feeling scared about talking to your partner about what happened, about what will happen to your relationship, or about what you did and what it means.
Telling your partner that you cheated
As much as you may want to keep this to yourself, it is always best to be honest about what happened. It's unhealthy to keep a secret like this from your partner, both for your own emotional wellbeing, and your relationship.
Not only that, but there is a chance that your partner could find out another way. No matter how hurt they might feel hearing it from you, it could be much worse if they heard it from a friend, from the person you cheated on with, or by accident.
Where to talk about it
Let your partner know you need to discuss something important with them. Arrange to talk about it in person, somewhere private where you won't be interrupted. This is also important because one or both of you could get upset, and it's best to allow that to happen where other people won't see.
How to say it
When you tell them, try to be clear about exactly what happened. Explain what you did, when, how often, and where. For example, you might say "I kissed someone from work at the Christmas party last weekend" or "I had sex with my ex twice over the last month". If you choose to be vague and try and dance around the topic, your partner will only have to ask questions to be sure that they have all of the information.
If you had unprotected sex, let your partner know, especially if there's a chance that you could have passed any possible STIs on to them. If this is the case, suggest that both of you get tested.
You may want to offer all kinds of excuses to your partner when you tell them, but this is not likely to help. It's most important that you are honest, answer all of their questions, and if you want to work on the relationship, let them know what you're willing to do to fix things.
You may want to look into going for counselling, either on your own or as a couple. Learn more about counselling here.