You've cheated. Maybe it was a one-night stand spurred on by too much alcohol and impaired decision-making. Maybe it was an on-going affair with a friend or colleague. No matter the circumstances, you're in a sticky situation if you're interested in keeping your relationship intact.
And, you're likely wracked with guilt. When trying to fix your relationship, you probably think that step number one is coming clean and telling your partner that you cheated. But, the "honesty is the best policy" mantra most kids learn in kindergarten doesn't actually hold up here, says Megan Fleming, PhD, a marriage counsellor and sex therapist in New York City. It might be a controversial move, but she suggests that you don't tell your partner about your infidelity.
"You're the one sitting with the guilt, and if [the affair] is over and done, you absolutely don't want to then put that on your partner," she says. Sure, you'll feel better if you tell your S.O. that you cheated, but how will your partner feel? By telling, all you'll do is dump a pile of negative feelings on them — feelings such as resentment, confusion, anger, and rejection. And your admission of guilt is going to shake the core and the foundation of your relationship — your partner might never trust you again.
If you actually want to make the relationship better, Dr. Fleming suggests focusing on what happened to make you cheat in the first place. "Obviously on some level your relationship was feeling challenged," she says. Usually, when Dr. Fleming sees clients who've had affairs, the infidelity stems from feeling that their needs weren't being met in their relationship. And instead of talking to their partners about their insecurities surrounding sex or emotional intimacy, these clients cheated. "A lot of times, the crisis is the opportunity," she says. "So, the affair in some ways was a crisis, and it's the opportunity to repair the relationship and make it better."
If the affair is over and you're left wanting to fix your relationship with your partner, Dr. Fleming suggests first seeing a therapist on your own and working through what went wrong. A therapist can help you realize what needs you didn't think were being met in your relationship and how to start bringing up your concerns with your partner in a healthy way. Later, if you and your partner want to keep working on your relationship, you can go to couples' therapy. But, regardless, Dr. Fleming suggests keeping the affair out of it.