7 Tips For Surviving Infidelity As The Cheater And Regaining Your Inner Peace
Probably half the couples I see in my therapy practice are trying to work through the damage caused by a betrayal. This is a deeply painful topic, especially if it’s effected you personally.
Even seeing the words in print – betrayal, cheater, infidelity, affair – will evoke strong, unpleasant emotions in most people. Feelings of shame can paralyze you. You’re not alone.
So if you’re even struggling to read on, I get it. Plowing through the layers of this difficult topic takes courage. So with that, let’s look at some tips for surviving infidelity as the cheater. My hope is that this is just a start to your journey toward healing.
Surviving infidelity as the cheater is painful.
Your worst fear has come true and you have been caught cheating. You’ll find hundreds of thousands of articles or pieces of advice about the feelings of the one whose been betrayed. But what about surviving infidelity as the cheater?
While every relationship is different, cheaters often feel a lot of the same things. Often there is a part of you that is relieved that it’s finally out in the open. You’re glad that you don’t need to keep hiding and covering up. Perhaps you’ve wanted to break the affair off but didn’t know how. Maybe the person you cheated with threatened to tell your partner if you broke it off. Letting the chips fall and getting it out in the open may feel like a relief.
There is another part of you that is confused and terrified by everything you and your partner are now feeling. You were not prepared for your partner’s massive emotional reaction to your cheating.
Perhaps you had told yourself that it was okay to cheat because your partner was not into you anymore. Or maybe you slipped into an affair with someone you worked with. You had no intention of having an affair or leaving your partner.
Your partner’s raging emotions are directed at you.
In either case you can’t believe how enraged your partner is. You get angry when your partner constantly wants to check your phone or track your location. Your partner seems completely unreasonable by emotionally coming off the rails when you come home an hour later than you said you would. You feel embarrassed and interrogated when your partner wants to know the details of how and when you kissed the other person and even what sexual positions you used.
And you cannot believe what is happening inside of you. You find yourself downplaying the significance of what has happened. Why can’t your partner believe that it was just a thing on the side and that you never intended to leave the marriage? You want to justify your actions by blaming your partner for a lack of support or sex. Surviving infidelity as the cheater is a complicated matter.
Feelings of grief are confusing.
Some cheaters had an authentic emotional connection with the person they cheated with. If this is you, you know how difficult it is to have a negative view of the person you had the affair with. You feel in your heart that the affair opened you up and actually made you a better and more connected human being. You’d become tired of feeling shut down with your wife.
But you can’t talk about any of that to your partner. You know how that information would just add to the threat. So, you have to suffer with grieving the loss of relationship with the person that you cheated with. And you somehow have to find the capacity to be sorry about how you devastated her or him. None of that is easy.
The difficult process of healing will bring clarity and closeness to your relationship.
Most cheaters stay with their partner because they never really did want to end the relationship, even if it was disconnected or emotionally up and down. After an affair has ended many cheaters are surprised by how much love they feel for their partner. Seeing your partner’s devastated and hurt emotions may open up a whole new awareness of how much you matter and how much he or she matters to you.
When some cheaters face the threat of losing their spouse and children they can sink into deep hopelessness. It is not uncommon to have thoughts of no longer wanting to live. It can be difficult to focus on work and the tasks of daily living.
In addition to all of the above you are terrified about how you are going to navigate the financial devastation of a potential divorce. Your mind can run wild with the worst outcomes. This further paralyzes you.
Everything I have said so far speaks to the incredible complexity of surviving infidelity as the cheater and finding inner peace after you have cheated.
If you want to save the relationship with the person you have cheated on it is very important that you do each of the survival tips I am listing below. It is easy to do the wrong things and make the relationship worse and unrecoverable. Know this, many relationships can be saved even after a betrayal.
Surviving infidelity as the cheater – or as the betrayed – requires help.
Following are 7 tips for surviving infidelity as the cheater and regaining your inner peace through betrayal trauma and mistrust. This gives you a snapshot of the repair work we do in emotionally focused couples therapy.
1. Put a complete end to your affair.
Have the hard conversation and end the relationship permanently. Apologize and leave the person you have cheated with no hope that the affair will continue. Let the person that you have cheated with know that you love your life partner and are going to do everything possible to rebuild the relationship.
Delete all social media connections and conversations that you have had when you cheated. Delete all contact information and text strings. Do not visit the same places that you cheated.
If you work with the person you cheated with you may need to transfer to a different department or even get a different job.
I know that this sounds painful and perhaps even a little rigid. Please trust me on this. Any future contact that you have with the person you cheated with will re-traumatize you partner and start the mistrust and questions all over again.
Rebuilding trust is difficult enough without the person you cheated with showing up again in your life.
2. Apologize repeatedly with deep remorseful emotion.
Your partner will not believe you unless you apologize over and over again with deep, sincere, remorseful emotion. Words alone won’t do it. Your cheating was a repeated lie to your partner. He or she no longer trusts your words alone. What will begin to be trusted is the sincerity of your emotions.
I say in couples therapy that “it takes an emotion to heal an emotion.” Cheating causes your partner deep emotional damage. It is your emotional remorse that will allow your partner to feel understood and cared for.
Your facial expressions and voice tone must be congruent with your words.
You must not be offended when you are not trusted the first number of times that you do this. You will feel frustrated. Again. You have lost the trust of your partner. If your partner loves you he or she will be very careful not to emotionally trust you again until time and repeated emotional connection heals the trust injury.
Yes, this is difficult. And it takes great humility. This will eventually bring healing to your relationship. In addition to apologizing you will need to do a lot of listening.
3. Listen with compassion to your partner’s pain.
Listening is 90% of what you need to do. You must avoid the temptation to correct or to offer your partner solutions.
That last thing your partner wants is to be corrected. You partner could care less that you have a different perspective on times, dates, and betrayal behaviors. The truth is that none of these really matter anyway.
What matters is your partner’s betrayal injury. Your partner is in gut wrenching pain and wants to he heard. Put down your cell phone, turn off the T.V. and listen. Look your partner in the eyes and attend to every heart-felt word.
Let yourself feel your partner’s pain inside yourself. Tell your partner that you feel how painful the betrayal was. This is a good time to again say that you are sorry.
Compassion is the key for emotional healing. Never suggest that your partner is exaggerating or embellishing. This will cause more injury.
Just listen and compassionately, empathically respond.
You may be asking yourself what do I do if your partner is misrepresenting what I have done or who I am. This leads to my next point.
4. Do not defend yourself.
This one is really hard. It is so difficult when we are not accurately understood. It is difficult to hear your partner batter the integrity of the person you had an affair with, especially if you continue to hold that person in high regard.
Jealousy is a natural human emotion designed to protect our pair-bonded relationship. Your partner will compare and devalue self or other because of the threat of almost losing you. This is natural and will pass over time.
Any time you get defensive it sounds like you are not sincerely sorry and that you are covering up. You have deeply hurt your partner and the integrity of your relationship. That is all that matters.
Do not defend yourself and do not defend the person you cheated with. Listen and validate with compassion.
Your partner may mine for facts. This is mostly about your being tested to see if you are telling the truth. Yes, all betrayers lie. Now you need to prove that you are no longer lying by trying, to the best of your ability, to answer your partner’s questions.
Don’t try to withhold the truth for fear that you will hurt your partner worse. It is best to get the truth out on the table as soon as possible. If your truth and her truth do not align, let it go. Respond according to the best of your recollection.
5. Understand and help heal your partner’s betrayal trauma.
About 70% of people who are cheated on have betrayal trauma.
What looks irrational to you makes perfect sense when viewed through the lens of betrayal trauma. Betrayal trauma is a form of post traumatic stress disorder. Imagine being in the military and almost losing your life by a surprise ambush. This kind of assault causes your brain to release powerful stress hormones designed to motivate you to fight or flee the situation. After that, anytime you’re in a situation that reminds you of the ambush your brain will release those same hormones.
Your affair was an ambush that threatened to end everything that your partner deeply cared about. Her relationship with you, her kids, her home, her financial security, her friends, her family are all compromised by this major threat to her existence. When you surprised her with the betrayal her brain shut down her ability to reason and activated her chemistry to make her fight for you or run like hell away from you.
This back-and-forth looks a little crazy. It feels even more crazy. PTSD symptoms often include debilitating anxiety, hot and cold flashes, feeling like you are going to lose your mind, feelings of unreality and a terrible hypervigilance. Panic attacks sometimes occur that make a person feel like they are having a heart attack.
Your partner’s emotions are real.
There is also deep grief and sadness. The betrayed person often just can’t get their head around how the person that they loved and trusted the most could hurt them the most. There is often a deep grieving process. They feel that the image of the person they married is shattered for life.
The emotions your partner is feeling are no joke. Rather than trying to minimize them you need to recognize and validate them. Your partner needs to tell you when she is triggered. It is then your responsibility to support her and remove her from whatever she is being triggered by.
When you support her in those moments it will help her feel like you are her safe defender rather than her unsafe betrayer. This will go a long ways to both heal the PTSD and restore the trust.
If you are feeling a little overwhelmed by what you have read so far join the club. Like I said, surviving infidelity as the cheater is complicated. Healing betrayal trauma emotions by remembering to do everything I have suggested is not easy. And in many cases you will not be able to do what I have suggested without help.
This leads me to the next very important point.
6. Commit to working long term with a qualified couples therapist.
A qualified couples therapist specializes and has had specific training in working with couples in conflict. Most therapists work with individuals. If they are honest with you they find the emotions that couples in conflict express to be scary and difficult to manage.
Qualified couples therapists understand everything I have said above and help couples move toward their emotion, not away from it. A skilled couples therapist will keep the conversation from spiraling out of control by slowing the conversation down and focusing on one person at a time.
Couples need the help of a therapist to understand how their triggers create negative cycle arguments. They need help learning to express their vulnerable, rather than their reactive, hurtful emotions.
They need help repairing their attachment injuries and moving to the next level of expressing their need for each other. This is what creates new bonding.
Superficial fixes like date nights, win-win conversations, even love languages do not work with betrayal trauma. The damage is too deep for surface solutions.
While couples therapy is almost always essential there is also something that you can do to help you become a more resilient, compassionate partner and person.
7. Practice mindfulness meditation or centering prayer.
Regaining your inner peace requires both a relationship fix and a personal fix. Your emotions will be up and down. Your relationship reality is distorted. You need to develop the ability to slow down and center. You’ll need to be less reactive. To not be overtaken by shame. Learn to let go of anger as your go-to defense.
All of this can be helped by learning to meditate or center yourself in prayer. Taking time daily to feel your emotions and then let them go will help you to not fear emotion. Emotions are energy in motion. This energy can be used for good or evil depending on how you have made peace with it.
By learning to feel and not judge what you are feeling you will develop the capacity to be less reactive when you are emotionally activated.
Just breathe and feel right now as you read this sentence. What do you feel? Are you afraid of what you feel? Does what you feel cause you to think negatively about yourself or someone else?
Regardless of what you have done, God and the universe love you. Nothing you do will make you fall out of favor with God. Shame and self condemnation are unwarranted and unhelpful. You do not need to perform for spiritual love because you already possess it.
Becoming at peace with who you are as a spiritual being will go a long ways to helping you to make peace with the person you have betrayed.
Courage to reconnect.
Surviving infidelity as the cheater and regaining your inner peace will not be easy. It will take time and a commitment to a careful process. It will not happen over night. However, it’s doable.
I work with couples every day who are struggling just like you are. Couples who wonder how on earth they will navigate this healing process. There will be days when everything in you wants to run and hide and start over elsewhere. But hang in there and be patient with the healing process. You’ll need time and professional help to get through this. My 7 tips for surviving infidelity as the cheater and regaining your inner peace is your starting point.
Michael W. Regier, Ph.D. is a highly trained and experienced clinical psychologist, Certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist and EFT Supervisor in Visalia and San Luis Obispo, California. He helps couples prevent and survive infidelity and betrayal trauma. He’s developed an online course for betrayal prevention and recovery.