The day you discover that your spouse cheated is like the day you watched airplanes fly into the twin towers. It's your own, personal 9/11.
From that day on, nothing is the same.
Yet, as painful as it is, your spouse’s cheating does not necessarily mean your marriage is over.
Your spouse’s behavior may have rocked your marriage to its core, but your relationship CAN recover ... if you want it to. The problem is that figuring out what you really want in the immediate aftermath of discovering your spouse's affair is next to impossible!
For a while, you're just in shock. Your body is flooded with emotion and you feel more pain than you thought any human could ever endure. You may not be able to eat or sleep. Your brain jumps from one thought to the next with lightning speed.
You can't focus on anything ... except the affair. You obsess about the affair.
Making any major life decisions while you're in that kind of crisis state is risky. You're too emotional to be able to think clearly.
At the same time, you feel compelled to do SOMETHING!
Before you rush into anything, take a deep breath and take a look at these 10 tips for dealing with infidelity. They will help you work through your situation, and your emotions, one step at a time.
10 Steps for Dealing With Infidelity: What To Do After You Find Out Your Spouse Cheated
1. Get the facts.
As tempting as it is to jump to conclusions, if you accuse your spouse of something that turns out to not be true, you may do irreparable harm to an otherwise decent marriage.
At the same time, you also don’t want to be stupid either.
If your spouse has been lying to you for a while, the odds are good that, if you confront him/her with your naked suspicions, your spouse will just deny them. (S/he will also be MUCH more careful to cover his/her tracks in the future, too!)
Get the facts (and the evidence to back them up!) before you open your mouth. That way, when you confront your spouse, the conversation will be about what s/he has done, rather than whether you are jealous or crazy.
(Of course, if you are married to an honest person who will tell you the truth if you ask, you may not need to play private eye and prove your suspicions first. )
2. Talk to your spouse.
Once you know the facts, it’s time to have a discussion with your spouse.
Actually, it probably won’t be much of a “discussion” at all. It’s more likely to be a verbal vomiting of all of the dirt you just discovered, followed by a lot of tears and maybe some screaming.
No matter how your conversation goes, remember this: The most important part of your discussion is not going to be what YOU say.
It will be what your spouse says, and how s/he reacts.
That reaction (i.e. whether your spouse is apologetic or indifferent) will tell you a lot about whether your marriage stands a chance of recovery, or not.
3. Don’t try to deal with the affair alone.
When you are hit with something as devastating as an affair, your emotions are going to bounce around more than a two-year-old on a sugar high. Trying to deal with those emotions alone can be challenging.
A good therapist can help you deal with your emotions productively so that you can process them and move on.
You are also going to want to find a good friend or two (not ten!) who you can rely on to help you through the next few months. The weeks and months after you've discovered your spouse's affair are never easy. Having a friend who can listen to you rant, and help you dry your tears, will be invaluable.
If you decide to try to save your marriage, you will also need a good marriage counselor or coach. S/he can help you deal with the damage the affair did to your marriage, and hopefully create a better, more solid relationship.
(Can you and your spouse repair the damage the affair did to your marriage by yourselves? ... maybe. But you will dramatically increase your odds of success if you use a marriage counselor.
4. Do NOT file for divorce immediately.
Yes, it sucks that your spouse had an affair. Yes, you are mad, and maybe you ultimately WILL file for divorce. But making major life decisions in the heat of the moment often leads to regrets.
If you are seriously considering divorce, start learning about what getting a divorce will really entail. Educate yourself. (A good place to start is with the Divorce Road Map Program. It's a reliable, affordable way to start understanding what you may be dealing with if you divorce.)
If your situation is complicated, or if you get to the point where you're seriously leaning toward divorce, go talk to a good divorce lawyer in your area. You don't need to hire him/her today. Just go for a consultation so you can understand what getting a divorce will really involve for you.
While you may feel like talking to a lawyer is betraying your spouse (which is kind of ironic, given the circumstances) there is no harm in understanding your options. In this circumstance, as in most others, knowledge is power.
Just remember not to jump into any decision too quickly. Unless there are other circumstances that would require you to file for divorce immediately (like your spouse is draining all your bank accounts or running up the credit cards like crazy!) then rushing into divorce may not be your best choice.
(Remember, filing for divorce is like letting a genie out of the bottle. Letting the genie out is easy. But putting it back in is nearly impossible.)
5. Give yourself permission to be emotional.
Learning of your spouse’s affair is like getting sucker-punched in the gut by the heavyweight champion of the world. It hurts!
Even if you had been suspicious of your spouse’s behavior for a long time, once you know for sure what's going on, your emotions are going to kick into high gear. (And if you had no clue that your spouse was unfaithful, you're probably going to be an emotional mess for even longer! Sorry!)
You will be mad, sad, stunned, and angry. You will be hurt beyond anything you’ve ever imagined.
For a while, you may find yourself unable to eat, sleep, or focus on anything other than the affair. You may either not want to be near your spouse, or the two of you might start having sex like rabbits.
Let yourself experience whatever comes up for you without judgment. Trying to stuff your emotions down will only make you miserable longer.
You are not a robot.
6. Don’t ask for details you don’t want to hear.
Dealing with infidelity is highly personal. Some people seem to need to know every detail about their spouse’s affair. They want to know when and how their cheating spouse hooked up with the other person, how often they had sex, and a host of other intimate details.
Other people don’t.
Whatever your reaction to your spouse’s disclosure of infidelity is, it's fine.
But, before you pump your spouse for all the particulars of his/her affair, ask yourself if you're sure you really want to know them. Ask yourself if knowing the details will help you heal, or just intensify your pain. (Usually, it's the latter.)
Be careful about asking for too many details. Remember: You can’t “un-know” something once you’ve heard it.
7. Don’t stalk your spouse’s affair partner.
It’s normal to hope that the person with whom your spouse cheated contracts some dread disease or accidentally gets hit by a bus. (Of course, you don’t want them to die. You want them to suffer for a long, long time!)
But, there is a huge difference between wishing all sorts of evil on that person and taking steps to make it happen.
Don’t go there!
Don’t look that person up, follow them around from a distance, or harass them at their job. Don't try to "friend" them on Facebook or stalk them on social media.
Nothing good will come from that kind of behavior.
As angry and upset as you may be, it’s not your job to punish your spouse's paramour. The last thing you need to deal with, on top of your emotional pain, are criminal charges for stalking or harassment.
Deal with your own pain, and let karma take care of the rest.
8. Do some soul searching.
When you find out your spouse has been cheating, you go into this weird sort of altered reality. Nothing seems real.
You keep going over your relationship again and again in your head, trying to figure out where you went wrong, and what you should have done differently.
You try to figure out every clue that you missed - every lie your spouse told. You're desperate to know the truth about everything that happened in your marriage because suddenly your version of your history now seems fake.
Getting clear about the past and processing your emotions is vitally important. But so is looking to the future and deciding what matters in your life.
You need to dig down deep and decide who you are and what you want. You also need to decide whether you are open (at least a tiny little bit) to someday maybe forgiving your spouse and rebuilding your relationship.
If not, staying married is pointless.
(NOTE: Remember that deciding whether to give your marriage another try, or pull the plug now, is an intensely personal decision. There are no right or wrong answers. There are just your REAL answers, and the ones you think you SHOULD have.)
9. Don’t rush into fake forgiveness you don’t honestly feel.
While forgiveness is important if you ever want to move past your spouse’s infidelity, true forgiveness takes time. You need to feel the betrayal and experience your emotions before you can ever begin to move past them.
You can’t just wave a magic wand and pretend nothing happened.
Rushing into “fake forgiveness” just to save your marriage is disrespectful to both you and your spouse.
Burying your true emotions for the sake of “keeping the peace” is a sure-fire way to cause those negative emotions to fester and grow under the surface. While you may succeed in keeping your marriage together for a while (or not) the marriage that is born out of such desperation or obligation rarely lasts for long.
10. Give yourself time to heal.
Working through your emotions takes time – especially if your spouse’s infidelity came out of the blue.
If you decide to give your marriage another try, rebuilding your trust in your spouse is going to take time. Getting to the bottom of why your spouse strayed and dealing with the real issues in your marriage will also take time.
Even if you don’t ultimately stay married, you are still going to need time to deal with what just happened to you.
If you allow yourself the time to work through your betrayal, anger, and hurt, before you file for divorce, your divorce will go much more smoothly. If you dive into divorce while you're still spitting mad, you and your spouse will likely be duking out your pain and problems inside a courtroom for a long time. (You'll also spend a lot of money in the process.)
Of course, sometimes your circumstances are such that - ready or not - you need to file for divorce NOW! If that's the case, then do what you have to do. Just make sure you get yourself a good therapist and as much support as you can!
Dealing with a cheating spouse is never easy. No matter what you read, or how rational you try to be, chances are, you're still going to lose it from time to time.
That's okay. (As long as you don't do anything too stupid, or criminal!)
The key to getting through this period in your life with some level of sanity is to take things slow. Breathe. Give yourself time to feel, and to heal.
Finally, be kind to yourself.
Beating yourself up because you're not doing things "right" (whatever that means) only makes you feel worse.
Believe it or not, you WILL get through this. No matter what happens with your marriage, you will go on. You can still have a wonderful, happy, and amazing life.
You just need to take things one step at a time. You'll get there.
This post was originally posted on August 29, 2016 and updated on January 29, 2020.