Choices After Indiscretion

You cheated. It’s done. It’s now too late to make another decision because you cannot erase the past. What are your choices?

First, let’s define infidelity. As Dr. Phil says, “If you wouldn’t do it with your spouse standing there, it’s cheating.” (Again, really not a fan, but he does have some good advice on relationships.)

This includes, but is not limited to, online flirtations, propositions, cybersex or sexting, kissing, oral sex, and, obviously, intercourse. Unless you and your significant other (SO) have already defined sexual contact as genital to genital contact or penetration, assume that any of the above and more would be considered an infidelity.

Let me preface the rest of the post by saying that I’m not judging here. I will use some judgmental language, like betrayal, liar, etc., but that is because it is how your spouse will feel and it is the reality of what you’ve done. I’m not saying you’re a horrible person for your weakness or for your past choices, I’m just trying to give it to you straight.

So you cheated. It happens far too often, and unfortunately now your choices are much more limited than they were before. You do have choices, but none of them are good ones. It’s a complicated situation to which there is no easy way out.

1. Come clean. Tell your spouse/SO about the indiscretion and deal with their reaction. This will undoubtedly be anger and feelings of betrayal, because you did betray their trust and their love by your actions. They might very well end the relationship, but often they won’t because they don’t want to be alone either. They don’t want to lose their family either. Whatever their reaction, it is now up to you to regain their trust, and it will likely take years. Be prepared to deal with not only your self-loathing but your spouse’s self-loathing, too, as they’ll likely hate themselves for staying with you after what you have done. They will hate themselves for not having the strength to leave.

If they’re willing to keep trying to build a life together, ask them what you can do to make it better. Then do whatever they say. Start by being true to your word and telling them ev.ery.thing, no matter how small something might seem. Tell them. You will have to deal with their anger for a long time, and you will need to do whatever it takes to rebuild that lost trust, if it can ever be completely rebuilt. If you truly want to save your relationship, you will have to work very hard for likely years before they fully trust you again. You can build this trust faster by being open and honest. I guess it goes without saying that it’s best to build intimacy before you step out.

2. Don’t tell and keep it to yourself. Your spouse has no idea that you cheated, and you’re not about to tell them. This might work, and they might never find out, but they usually do. Because once there is one indiscretion, there are usually more. Still, you can try it, but if they find out on their own, it will be far worse than you telling them about it and begging for forgiveness. If you decide to keep it inside, you will be living a lie, and that in itself can be soul-destroying. Many people live lies, and they seem to survive. I can’t really speak to what that’s like, but it must feel like a part of you has died. You will never truly been seen or accepted by your most beloved because they never get to see all of you. They’ll never know the real you.

People justify keeping things to themselves because they think that by confessing their indiscretion, it’s protecting their spouse from being hurt. They’re already hurt. They just don’t know it yet, at least not on a conscious level, but I guarantee they know something isn’t right. If you have kids, they likely feel it, too. Children are very intuitive. They haven’t yet learned how to lie to themselves.

Still, hiding away is an option, but if you choose this option, please move forward by building intimacy with them now. For, as I mentioned, the first lie is the hardest. It gets easier after that, especially if you believe you got away with it.

You certainly can continue to have affairs, getting what you need from one or more extramarital partners, but that’s a very dangerous game of Russian Roulette. If and when it becomes known, the betrayal will be much deeper than if you had just come clean at the beginning because now you not only have the indiscretion(s), you now have the months or years (or decades) of deception on top of it. As I’ve said before, the deception is far more damaging than the sex with someone else. The deception, when your spouse realizes they’ve been forced into a living a lie and given no choice in the matter, is shattering. They might never recover from such a profound slight.

3. Don’t tell at first, and work towards an open relationship. This is almost as risky as the above choice, if not more so, because you are attempting to build trust on top of a lie. And this will only work if it was only a one-time thing and not ongoing with multiple extramarital partners. Follow the advice from previous posts and podcasts about healing your relationship. With some luck and a lot of work, you will get to the point in your relationship that you are so close and understanding that you might be able to come clean with much less fallout than at first. This is a real gamble, though.

I actually asked my husband about this scenario last night, and we couldn’t come up with a good solution. We are very close, and if he were to tell me he cheated on me before we opened our marriage six years ago, I’m not sure how I would react. It could go either way, really. I would either just say that the past is the past, and where we are now is what’s important because where we are now is beautiful. Or…I would wonder what other lies he has told. I would question everything, and it would be very difficult to get through it.

For me, there is no greater betrayal than deception, so it would likely be the latter. That said, I wouldn’t leave because of what we’ve built since. But there would be some difficult weeks thereafter. But it would be weeks and not years.

He, on the other hand, would probably take it in stride if it had been my indiscretion. So that’s why it’s a gamble. It really depends on the individual and their personality and the level of intimacy and trust in the relationship.

Bottom line, whichever of the above three options you choose, building trust and intimacy is a very essential part of moving forward, that is, if you want to save the relationship and respect your life partner.

4. End the relationship. If you cheated because you are unhappy in your relationship and you don’t see a real future together, then do both of you a favor and end the relationship. You both deserve better than living a lie.

I often like to think of the future me when it comes to decisions like these. Do I want to wake up in 20 or 30 years and realize I wasted my life with someone, knowing that I might’ve found someone better for me? Knowing that I kept him from finding someone better for him? I haven’t ended many relationships, because there is nothing more important than relationships with others in my life. They are what makes this life worth living, really. Mutual love and respect. Although I have ended a few, I did so with as much love and understanding as possible. I was once engaged, years ago, and I could see our future would be one of painful mediocrity. I loved him dearly, still do, but I knew we would not be happy together. We’re still friends nearly 20 years later, and he has a beautiful family, and so do I. We are both happier because we ended our relationship, yet we are still special to one another.

I have watched friends live horrible lives with a partner, fighting daily. Toying with infidelity all from the safety of their primary relationship. Ultimately, it ends with a lot of pain and regret, but so much of that can be avoided if we can find the courage to be honest with ourselves and with those who mean the most to us.

You can, of course, continue having affairs, secretly, perhaps even unconsciously hoping that your spouse finds out. Perhaps you see this as the easy way out, basically because it won’t be your decision to leave. But, of course, you have already left the primary relationship, you just didn’t tell your spouse that you left. I have also watched friends end a marriage this way, and it’s a world of pain and not at all respectful of anyone else involved. Still, it is a way to end it.

Last month I wrote a post on how to end a romantic relationship with love and respect. Even if the romantic part is severed, you do not have to lose that person forever, especially if you share children. You will always be connected by your children, so it’s even more imperative to transition out of a romantic relationship into a lovingly friendly one. You’re stuck with each other for life, and if you want to do what’s best for your children, it’s to always treat their mother/father with the respect they deserve.

So these are the options as I see them. Can you think of another option one has after an indiscretion? I’d be happy to discuss others.

~ by omgrey on July 20, 2011.

6 Responses to “Choices After Indiscretion”

  1. Great blog! As you know Grey, we have discussed this topic before so I will try to condense my comments without sacrificing significance.

    During college I did kiss another very attractive, very cool woman while in a relationship with my then girlfriend of 18-mons or so. I never told my college girlfriend about it because all we did was kiss, but kiss passionately. It DID feel like infidelity when I was back in the presence of my girlfriend. I justified my silence by the indiscretion not being intercourse or fondling. Some 20 yrs later, I realized clearly that even that was wrong. Why? Because I would NOT have kissed that woman so passionately had my girlfriend been right there with us. BAAM! Guilty, no questions or arguements necessary.

    Today, things are way different for me & any Significant Other I may be involved with due to my open-lifestyle (semi-poly). Hence, my response or answer to the above “options”, as you’re aware I choose #1.

    #1 is far and away the most perfect solution for a mistake or betrayal because it is empowering for you both. Whether that empowerment is painful & ends up destroying, OR it becomes a reinvention of good, stronger loving relationship…either way it empowers both to work, repair, modify, whatever, in reality and not iin constructs of false-reality.

    If you like Grey, I can further elaborate on this choice; because in my mind there are CRITICAL a priori foundations needing to be layed BEFORE a mutual committment to each other is made.

    • Feel free to elaborate as much as you’d like!

      • Thank you Grey! I would carry this policy of #1 a step further. When events are simply thoughts or feelings, in my world & lifestyle, confession is the WRONG word. You probably already realize that but I’d like to explain it in my words from my/our world. Humans are naturally social beings; we are very gregarious at times. Those connections can be any combinations of a physical chemistry, a mental chemistry, spiritual chemistry, or emotional chemistry — I personally prefer as many of them as possible. Because I want my partner(s)/spouse to enjoy the same, yet confessions under the threat of judgement simply doesn’t work; it fails miserably!

        Therefore, the sooner you confront WITH each other the individual meanings of human nature, confession and judgement, sexual fears, emotional fears, etc…the easier it is to be transparent. Option #1 with the mutual pre-established principles of a non-physical nature either in the mind only OR by an initial chance encounter, seconds or minutes after (while present together or not) will ALWAYS be the one & only best option every single time.

        Some couples may feel this is TOO much transparency, almost as if each are their ‘mother checking up’ on you. Perhaps, so the question(s) needs to be “How transparent can you & your spouse/partner manage, and how quickly & frequently?” And both need to be brutally honest with themselves about the other’s social habits AND their own behavior. Clearly, lots of PROACTIVE honest communication is necessary.

    • I agree about the importance of proactive honesty, but this post is about what the choices are if there was no proactive honesty. One can’t change the past. So how does one move forward after infidelity?

      • Yes, I/we realized that after we discussed this. My choice is the same in an after-the-fact situation too. #1…but I’ll cheat and say #0, or better yet, # -1. LOL

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