Heartbreak

7 Ways To Survive Infidelity When You're The Cheater

Photo: JackF | Canva 
Couple talking though infidelity

As a cheater, your worst fear is getting caught. But, now it has happened, and you want to make it up to your spouse, you'll find hundreds of thousands of articles or pieces of advice about the feelings of the one betrayed. Is surviving infidelity possible for cheaters? Let's face it. Broaching the subject will be difficult, but it's best to talk openly about it.

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Here are 7 tips for surviving infidelity when you're the cheater:

1. Put a complete end to your affair

Have a difficult conversation with the person you cheated with and end the relationship permanently. Apologize and leave the person you have cheated with no hope the affair will continue. Let them know you love your life partner and will do everything possible to rebuild the relationship.

Delete all social media connections and conversations you have had when you cheated. Delete all contact information and text strings. Do not visit the same places where 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 this sounds painful and perhaps even a little rigid. Please trust me on this. Any future contact you have with the person you cheated with will re-traumatize your 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.

the pained face of the betrayed

Photo via Getty

2. Apologize repeatedly with deep remorse.

Your partner will not believe you unless you apologize over and over again with deep, sincere, remorseful emotion. Your words alone won’t do it. Your cheating was a repeated lie to your partner. They no longer trust your words alone. What will begin to be trusted is the sincerity of your emotions. I say in couples therapy, "It takes emotion to heal an emotion." Cheating causes your partner a lot of deep emotional damage. Your emotional remorse will allow your partner to feel understood and cared for.

Your facial expressions and voice tone must be congruent with your words. Don't get offended if you are not trusted at first when you do this. You will feel frustrated. Again. You have lost the trust of your partner. If your partner loves you, they will be careful not to trust you again until time and repeated emotional connection heals the trust injury.

Yes, this is challenging. And it takes great humility. This will eventually bring healing to your relationship. In addition to apologizing, you must do a lot of listening.

3. Listen with compassion to your partner’s pain

Listening is 90 percent of what you need to do. It would help if you avoided the temptation to correct or to offer your partner solutions. The last thing your partner wants is to be corrected. Your partner could care less you have a different perspective on times, dates, and betrayal behaviors. The truth is none of these matters anyway.

What matters is your partner’s betrayal injury. Your partner is in gut-wrenching pain and wants to be heard. Put down your cell phone, turn off the T.V. and listen. Look your partner in the eyes and attend to every heartfelt word. Let yourself feel your partner's pain inside yourself. Tell your partner you can feel how painful the betrayal was. This is a good time to say again you are sorry.

Compassion is the key to emotional healing. Never suggest your partner is exaggerating or embellishing. This will cause more injury. Just listen and compassionately, empathically respond. You might ask yourself, "What do I do?" if your partner misrepresents what you've done or who you are.

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4. Do not defend yourself

This one is quite difficult. It is so difficult when we are not accurately understood. It is tough to hear your partner betray the integrity of the person you had an affair with, especially if you continue to hold the person in high regard.

Jealousy is a natural human emotion designed to protect our pair-bonded relationship. Your partner will compare and devalue themselves 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 are covering up the truth. You have deeply hurt your partner and the integrity of your relationship. 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. You need to prove you are no longer lying by trying to answer your partner’s questions to the best of your ability.

Don’t try to withhold the truth for fear you will hurt your partner worse. Get the truth out on the table as soon as possible. If your truth and their 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 percent 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 in a surprise ambush.

This kind of assault causes your brain to release powerful stress hormones to motivate you to fight or flee the situation. Anytime you're reminded of the ambush, your brain will release the same hormones. Your affair threatened to end everything your partner deeply cared about. Their relationship with you, the kids, the home, the financial security, their friends, and family are all compromised by this threat to their existence.

When you surprise them with the betrayal, their brain shuts down their ability to reason and activate their chemistry to make them fight for you or run away from you. PTSD symptoms often include debilitating anxiety, hot and cold flashes, feeling like you are going to lose your mind, feelings of unreality, and terrible hypervigilance. Panic attacks sometimes occur and make a person feel like they are having a heart attack.

There is also deep grief and sadness. The betrayed person often can’t understand how the person they loved and trusted most could hurt them most. There is often a deep grieving process. They feel 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 they are triggered so you can support and remove them from whatever triggered them. When you support them, it helps them to see you as a safe person rather than an unsafe betrayer. This will go a long way to both heal the PTSD and restore the trust.

If you feel overwhelmed by what you have read, join the club. Surviving infidelity as a cheater is complicated. Healing betrayal trauma emotions by remembering to do everything is not easy. In many cases, you will not be able to apply these suggestions without help.

   

   

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 and have found the emotions 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 emotions, not away from them. 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 a negative cycle of 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, and even love languages do not work with betrayal trauma. The damage is too deep for surface solutions. While couples therapy is essential, there is also something 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. To be less reactive. To not be overtaken by shame. Do not let anger be your go-to defense.

This can be helped by learning to meditate or center yourself in prayer. Taking time to feel your emotions and let them go will help you not fear emotions. 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 your feelings, 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?

   

   

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While every relationship is different, cheaters often feel a lot of the same things.

Often, part of you is relieved it's finally out in the open. You're glad 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 feels like a relief. Another part of you 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. You told yourself it was okay to cheat because your partner was not into you anymore. Or you slipped into an affair with someone you worked with. You had no intention of having an affair or leaving your partner.

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. You feel your partner is 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.

You also cannot believe what is happening inside of you. You find yourself downplaying the significance of what has happened. You want your partner to believe it was just a thing on the side and you never intended to leave the marriage. You also want to justify your actions by blaming your partner for a lack of support or sex.

Surviving infidelity as a cheater is a complicated matter.

Why do people cheat? 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 an affair with. You feel the affair opened you up and made you a better and more connected human being.

But you can’t talk to your partner. Do you know how the information would add to the threat? So, you have to suffer from grieving the loss of the relationship with the person you cheated with. And you somehow have to find the capacity to be sorry about how you devastated them.

Most cheaters stay with their partner because they never really want to end the relationship, even if it is 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 new awareness of how much you matter and how much they matter 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 challenging 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 mentioned above speaks to the incredible complexity of surviving infidelity as the cheater and finding inner peace after you have cheated. It is easy to do the wrong things and make the relationship unrecoverable. Many relationships can be saved even after a betrayal. If you want to save the relationship with the person you have cheated on, you must regain your inner peace through the betrayal trauma, and mistrust.

Regardless of what you have done, God and the universe love you. You can’t do anything to fall out of favor with God. You can let go of shame and self-condemnation. 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 way to helping you make peace with the person you have betrayed.

couple in silhouette with problems

Photo: dubasyk via Getty

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 overnight. However, it's doable. I work with couples every day who are struggling just like you. They are couples who wonder how on earth to navigate this healing process. There will be days when everything in you wants to run, hide, and start over elsewhere. Hang in there and be patient with the healing process. You'll need time, professional help, and these tips to regain your inner peace.

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Dr. Michael Regier is a clinical psychologist, marriage counselor, and executive coach with over 30 years of experience working to help couples repair unhappy marriages and create forever love. He and his wife Paula are authors of the book Emotional Connection: The Story & Science of Preventing Conflict & Creating Lifetime Love.

This article was originally published at michaelregier.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.