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Broken Trust: What to Do When You Discover an Affair

It sounds like a worst-case scenario and something that happens to other people. But studies show that about one-fourth of men and 14 percent of women have cheated on their significant other. The numbers are probably higher because, of course, not everyone owns up or gets caught. Long story short: You may eventually be betrayed by your partner and it makes sense to know more about the topic. What is the protocol when you discover an affair? What does it all mean and how do you handle it?

What is Infidelity?

A very useful first step is to define what “infidelity” means to you. Each couple can and must set boundaries that resonate with them. Many, if not most people will consider an affair to involve sexual activity with someone other than your partner. But now more than ever, the distinctions are blurred. For example, some couples choose to be open. Having sex with someone outside your relationship is acceptable. However, even in such a non-monogamous connection, variations abound, e.g.

  • Certain sex acts are off-limits
  • No playing with anyone in the couple’s social circle
  • Don’t ask, don’t tell
  • Full disclosure
Set mutually agreeable boundaries and check in about those boundaries on a regular basis.

About 40 percent of online flirtations transition into a real-world affair.

More recently, the digital explosion has dramatically shifted the playing field. Infidelity can encompass anything from sexting to liking too many of someone’s social media posts.

Today’s couples cannot afford to leave too much unsaid and undiscussed. Set mutually agreeable boundaries and check-in about those boundaries on a regular basis. Even so, this will not automatically prevent an affair. When and if a betrayal occurs, it is essential that both partners commit to a recovery plan before further damage is done.

Steps to Take When You Discover an Affair

For the Betrayed Partner:

  1. Create a Support System: Lean on friends, family, and other loved ones for the support you will definitely need. Seek counseling (see below).
  2. Don’t Do Anything Rash: Revenge cheating accounts for almost 10 percent of infidelity. This is not a prudent or productive option. Avoid retribution and process the pain.
  3. Set the Agenda: You are in the midst of a traumatic experience. Do not let anyone — especially your partner — try to downplay or rush you through your pain.
  4. Demand Transparency: As stated above, it’s too easy to hide flirtations in a digital age. Tear down the secrecy. Reject the “privacy” excuse. Both of you must commit to transparency, honesty, and openness from now on.
  5. Be Honest: If your partner’s cheating signals an end the relationship for you, you owe yourself and your partner the truth.

For the Cheater:

  1. Take Full Responsibility: The game-playing and manipulation are over (and never should have started). Provide an authentic apology. Hold yourself accountable. Show remorse. Pledge to never do it again. Do the work to live up to this pledge.
  2. Cut Off Contact With the Other Person: There is NO excuse to maintain contact once the affair has been exposed. This could be tricky because 36 percent of affairs take place between coworkers. Still, the time has come to prioritize your relationship even if that may eventually mean a job change.
  3. Do Not Blame Your Partner: In the throes of panic, you may be tempted to try some version of this one: “I wouldn’t have done if you didn’t (fill in the blank).” Do not deflect or distract from reality.
  4. Be Honest: If your cheating was a sign that you wish to end the relationship, you owe your partner the truth.

Seek Guidance

Couple that discovered an affair

You may try individual or couples counseling but either way, it is crucial to ask for help when you discover an affair. Regular therapy sessions can help air out underlying issues and smooth the path forward. Reach out for a consultation soon. Eddins Counseling Group, in Houston, TX  has many experienced couples counselors that can help after an affair. Call us at 832-323-2355 or book an appointment online.

Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP on Twitter
Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP
Rachel’s passion is to help people discover their personal gifts and strengths to achieve self-acceptance, create a healthy relationship with food, mind and body, and find meaning and fulfillment in work and life roles. She helps people create nurturance and healing from within to restore balance and enoughness and overcome binge eating, emotional eating, anxiety, depression and lack of career fulfillment.

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