How To Save Your Marriage When You’re The One Who Cheated

Both spouses and the marriage need to heal.

Saving marriage and surviving after affair Timur Weber | Canva

If you've had an affair, you may be wondering how to save your marriage. And, the thought of surviving infidelity may seem far-fetched. You might still be in a conundrum of guilt, shame, and indecisiveness. Affair recovery, when you're the cheater, has to be treated with as much care and importance as surviving infidelity as the betrayed.

RELATED: The Harsh Reason Some Couples Survive Infidelity — And Some Don't


How to save your marriage when you’re the one who cheated:

1. End the affair

This is more obvious than it is easy, especially if you have developed a deep emotional relationship with your affair partner. Affairs this involved can feel like a second marriage and can be extremely difficult to walk away from.

Set right and wrong aside for a moment. You may care very deeply about the welfare of your affair partner, even if you know you need to return to your marriage. Only you can do the soul-searching that determines which direction you need to take.

If repairing your marriage is your goal, then you have no choice but to end your affair. Completely. No contact, no occasional messages, no searching on social media, no while-I’m-in-the-neighborhood drive-bys.


You and your spouse will have a long and difficult journey ahead of you. There’s no way to do authentic work if you are still dividing your energy and affection.

2. Do your soul-searching

The age-old question is: Why do people cheat? Surviving infidelity as the cheater in a relationship is going to demand seemingly endless answers and explanations from you. You can’t be honest with your spouse until you are honest with yourself.

Examine everything from the purity of your remorse (do you regret cheating or just getting caught?) to your reasons for cheating. Remember that your reasons (emotional/sexual abandonment, thrill-seeking, etc.) are not justifications.

Tense couple are trying to save their marriage StockPhotoDirectors via Shutterstock


Explanations help you to examine and strengthen your marriage. And your self-examination must be brutally honest and raw if your spouse is to trust your resolve to stay married.

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3. Commit to complete honesty

You will have to accept your spouse’s trust is going to be hard-won. You have annihilated it in a way that isn’t repaired by a few all-exposing conversations in marriage counseling. Your work will be ongoing, as will the questions. You must know this upfront so you are lovingly responsive and not defensively reactive.

This process is a very fragile one. Your spouse will inevitably segue into questions that reflect rumination on sordid details. For this reason, you should consider seeing a marriage therapist or a couples therapist who specializes in infidelity.


A professional committed to the welfare of your marriage will be able to help you safely navigate these delicate conversations. They will know how to balance your spouse’s need to know about the affair relationship against the risk of unnecessary trauma.

4. Accept responsibility

Only you will fully understand the weight of guilt that goes along with surviving infidelity as the cheater. It will always be part of the context of your relationship as you work to re-earn the trust of your spouse. Know it may take longer than you envision.

You must accept full responsibility for your choice to have an affair instead of dealing with issues in your marriage. This does not mean that your spouse bears no responsibility for their behavior in your relationship. It simply means that you were not forced to have an affair. You chose that as your way of dealing with your feelings and the issues in your marriage.

No matter how cornered you feel when communicating with your spouse about the affair, you must never blame them. Again, a skilled professional can help guide these conversations in a way that is safe and productive for both of you.


5. Be willing to create a new marriage

At this point, you have no choice if you are going to stay in your marriage. Yes, you could do what many couples do out of pragmatic concerns and fear. You could choose to co-exist and sweep the experience under the rug and avoid permanent change.

But if you want to make your marriage truly work, you and your spouse will need to design a new relationship. You’ll both need to decide what you are going to contribute and change beyond just surviving infidelity. How will you better satisfy each other’s needs and expectations? Just what can you expect from one another?


Fun Fact: On average, it takes a “healthy” person 6 months to 2 years to get over an act of infidelity. Could you imagine how long it’ll take someone with attachment wounds, distorted cognitions, personality types with dependent characteristics, or deep-rooted fears? New community, journals, books, and merch coming two weeks! 🔥

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As the cheater, you will undoubtedly feel the burden of change squarely on your shoulders. But by staying the course and proving your commitment to remarrying your spouse, you will open the door to new possibilities. And you will set the stage for leaving the affair in the past as a painful — but not wasted — learning experience.


6. Learn from your mistakes and forgive

No experience is worth this kind of effort if you learn nothing from it. Use this opportunity to take notice of your patterns, beliefs, and fears. How did they come into being? What do you need to work on?

What are your strengths and gifts you can call into play to help you and your spouse triumph on this journey? Your commitment to learning from your betrayal and its damage to so many people will set the stage for you to forgive yourself.

RELATED: How To Know Instantly If You Should Save Your Marriage

Cheaters surviving infidelity rarely elicit empathy or help from their circle of influence. That outreach is usually reserved for those who were betrayed.


In any given marriage in which there has been infidelity, a minimum of two people have important decisions to make since children, family, friends, co-workers, and community — directly or indirectly — all feel the impact of a relationship they once trusted. But two people are often overlooked when it comes to the importance placed on healing after infidelity: the cheating spouse and the affair partner. They, too, suffer. They, too, need to heal and find their way back to wholeness.

Trying to regain her trust when you'r the one who cheated Just Life via Shutterstock


In terms of surviving infidelity as the cheater in a marriage, the million-dollar question is whether to stay in or leave the marriage. And that's assuming that the betrayed spouse wants to stay in the marriage. Either way, at least two people will get their taste of rejection.

The irony of surviving infidelity — as the cheater and as the betrayed — is it calls to the fore the best, most determined attributes of yourselves. It requires you to do what you will inevitably wish you had done in the first place.

The gift buried in the rendering experience of infidelity is it forces a decision about the quality of your life going forward. There is no longer the option of staying unaware. Everything becomes a choice. Everything becomes a personal responsibility. And, with the commitment to the redemptive work ahead, everything also becomes a possibility.

RELATED: Yes, An Affair Can Save Your Marriage (From An Expert Who Knows)


Mary Ellen Goggin and Dr. Jerry Duberstein offer relationship coaching for individuals, and offer private couples retreats and couples counseling. They are co-authors of the book "Relationship Transformation: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too."