You never thought it would happen (or happen again), but you did it… you cheated. It’s time to face the music, Darling. Here’s your next step.
The picture is clear: You find yourself waking up with a pounding headache, still foggy from the details of last night’s party. As you walk into the bathroom to get a glass of water, you spy your face in the mirror and it all comes sinking back in. Your guilty eyes give it away. You cheated.
Whether it was a drunken party mistake, a traveling one night stand with a stranger, or a coffee date with a colleague that got just that much out of hand, you know you cheated. So… now what?
Well, what you do depends a lot on what your situation is and who you are.
While cheating on your partner may seem like one thing to some folks—a massive betrayal—there are actually many different meanings to infidelity. And depending on your specific situation, figuring out the meaning of your infidelity may be helpful to guide your next moves and how you deal with the consequences that follow.
You are cheating out of anxiety.
You may be going through a transition in your life and in your relationship. Transitions can include moving in with a partner for the first time, getting married, having a child or entering into an empty nest period of your life. Many people cheat as a way to manage overwhelming anxiety about life transitions.
If you haven’t learned how to deal more effectively with anxiety, you may have taken this road as a way in which to control a growing sense of chaos internally. If this is the case, get help! You may be able to figure out what is going on for you and learn the skills to properly manage your anxiety while at the same time being able to tolerate change and be able to maintain closeness with your partner.
You are cheating because of an alcohol or drug problem.
You may be the most loyal of partners, when you are sober. But once you down a few or take that second or third hit, something happens. Something changes. You lose your judgement, you become uninhibited, you are no longer able to make appropriate choices and you become unable to manage your boundaries around others, whether accepting previously unwanted sexual attention, or seeking it out.
If this is the case, you need to get your substance use and abuse under control. If you are aware that cheating is a tendency for you while intoxicated, than you need to deal with being intoxicated. Otherwise, you will forever find yourself in a bind tin which your actions may or may not feel like something you are responsible for. And you are responsible for them, high or sober.
You are cheating because of difficulty in your relationship.
Infidelity and affairs are common in relationships, and they can be a clear sign that things are not right in the relationship. Oftentimes, when there are relationship problems, people go outside of the relationship to get some relief, to feel a sense of power or control, to seek a thrill in an otherwise stressful time, or to find an exit from a situation that feels powerless. Unfortunately, this tends to make things much worse, before they get better, if they get better at all.
It is tempting to think that other person is the answer to all of your relationship problems. Its a fantasy, but one that is so powerful, it can block out the real life consequences of an affair—like hurt partners, divorce and separation, loss of family and access to children, social stigma and emotional distress leading to mental health concerns. If this is the category you fall into, again, get help.
If your partner does not know about the affair, you may consider telling them, before they find out in another more disastrous way. People can deal with affairs in ways that help their relationship get better, even though it is very difficult for both partners in different ways. Just like there can be crisis out of opportunity, you may want to think of this as a moment in time that may be able to transform your relationship into something else, something more authentic and connected. That is the silver lining in what can oftentimes feel like the end of the world when your partner finds out about your actions.
You are cheating because you are pathologically antisocial.
Well this category is pretty simple. You are a self-absorbed narcissist with little conscience, who is likely not on their first or second spin with infidelity. You likely don’t care about your partner and see them only as an extension of yourself or as an object of use to you. You have likely lied to your partner over and over again, and not just this current partner but most of the ones prior as well. You seek out people to cheat with for your own gratification, rarely thinking of any consequences to your actions, and, if your partner does find out, you either blame your affair on them, you deny, deny, deny, or you lie and say you will end it with no intention of doing so.
If this is the category you fit into… well, any advice given to you will be irrelevant to you and quickly discounted. So you may keep doing what you do until there are other real life consequences that impact your own sense of self worth or at least, your bank account, like divorce, litigation, protection orders or prison.
Whatever the reasons you cheated, you may be in a quandary about what to do next and how to move forward. Try to stay true to yourself and figure out what you need before making any rash decisions just to divest yourself of the uncertainly you may be likely to be feeling right now. What you do next will have big consequences on how things move forward for you.