With the recent news that millions of men in America have been revealed as cheaters in the Ashley Madison website hack, there are most likely many, many men scrambling to hide, lie, or run away from what they've been up to. Not only do I see spouses of cheaters in my counseling office, I see men AND women who have been caught cheating and are wondering what to do next.
Now the cat is out of the bag and your marriage has been shattered to pieces. Your spouse is devastated and probably wants a divorce. This is the last thing you want. You never intended to hurt your spouse. It all started innocently and went farther than you expected it to. But you still love your spouse and want to stay married. So what do you do now? If you came into my office for counseling, here's what I would tell you.
5 Things to do After You've Been Caught Cheating
1. Come Clean
I know that you will want to just share the bare minimum. That it's too embarrassing and painful to share everything. That you don't want to hurt your spouse or give her any more of a reason to leave you. The first thing you can do to start building back trust is to be open and honest about everything that happened. You don't have to share every little detail, but here are the main things you need to be honest about:
1. When the affair started
2. How long it lasted for
3. How you met the person
4. Where you would meet up with this person
5. Whether or not you've cut ties with this person and how you've done it
6. Whether or not you've had other affairs during your marriage
Your spouse will want to know a lot more than this. If your spouse is asking very specific questions about the little details of your affair, consult a marriage counselor about this first. My experience has been that the more details that the spouse knows about your affair, the harder it will be to get those images and thoughts out of their head. This makes it much more difficult to forgive and move on. It's important to be an open book, but it's also important to protect your spouse from further pain. Don't share all the steamy details.
Bottom line: NEVER get defensive when your spouse asks you questions about your affair. They are now having to grapple with the reality of what has happened, and your spouse has EVERY right to ask all the questions they want. You've given up your right not to answer.
2. Confide in Someone
Whether it's a pastor/priest, friend or co-worker, find someone you trust who you can confess to (must be the same sex as you). Ask that person to hold you accountable. Allow them to ask you the hard questions about your affair and support you during the difficult days to come. Expect to be judged, but don't fall into the shame trap which will lead you into a cycle of continued destructive behavior and poor choices. Lean on your friend to support you through this time but also hold you accountable so you aren't tempted to go back to your affair.
3. Cut off ALL Communication
Most people carry on their affair through either texting, social media, or phone calls. Make EVERY effort to block their phone number, delete all texts and emails, and un-friend them on social media (facebook, snapchat, etc). You're done hiding now, and it's important that you remove any temptation to contact this person again. You should let the person know that you can no longer carry on the affair, and that you are going to focus on your spouse and healing your marriage.
I know that there will be an element of grieving the loss of this relationship. This relationship provided some benefit for you (emotional or physical) and you will no longer have that connection. It's ok to discuss this with your counselor or the person you have chosen to confide in, but it's NOT ok to discuss these feelings with your spouse.
Cut off all ties, and do it now.
4. Get Tested for an STD
Whether you used protection or not, get tested. It's the responsible thing to do. I don't care if the person you had an affair with tells you they are free of an STD. They are lying to their spouse about being in a relationship with you, so what else are they lying about? You have no idea how many other affairs and sexual partners the other person has had. You owe it to your husband or wife to get tested and make you are not passing anything on to them.
5. Seek Professional Counseling
Whether you are going to try to repair your marriage or get divorced, you have a long road ahead of you. It takes YEARS to build trust in a marriage and only a few moments to destroy it. Find a therapist for couples or individual counseling and find someone who has experience with infidelity. You will want an unbiased, non-judgmental professional to help you walk through the healing process.
Ultimately, what ever you do, you have to work on forgiving yourself for what you've done. You may have ruined your marriage or your family, but your life is not over. Your actions will speak louder than words so show your family that you are turning away from your affair and walking towards healing, trust, and hope.