After infidelity is discovered, many cheaters find themselves comparing their long-term relationship to their cheating, especially if the cheating involved an emotionally connected affair. What cheaters need to understand if/when they start to do this is that long-term partnerships and affairs are not an apples vs. apples comparison. It’s more like apples vs. chocolate chip cookies.
With your primary partner, you have a history, a home, family, friends, intermingled finances, a place in the community, and all sorts of roles and responsibilities. With your affair partner, you have the excitement and intensity of illicit sex and romance, and that’s about it. You’ve never had to work on the yard or clean the house with your affair partner. You’ve never had to pick up groceries after a long day at work with your affair partner. You’ve never had to live with your affair partner when he or she was ill or in a bad mood.
But still, if you’ve cheated and been caught, you’re likely to do a compare and contrast. In his book, Out of the Doghouse, Dr. Rob Weiss suggests that if you fall into the comparison trap, you at least do so with purpose and clarity. For that, he suggests you consider the past, the present, and the future.
As you look at the past, you should focus on the true history of your primary relationship, making sure you don’t rewrite history just because your partner is incredibly angry and unpleasant right now. After all, your behavior (infidelity) is what caused the current anger and unpleasantness. So put that aside and look at life with your significant other before you cheated. Ask yourself:
- What qualities attracted me to my partner in the first place (beyond physical appearance)?
- What qualities made me fall in love with my partner? Does my partner still possess those qualities? Are those qualities that I still value?
- If my relationship with my partner ended today, what would I miss the most?
Next, you should now ask yourself the same questions about your affair partner.
When looking at the present, it is again important that you push aside your partner’s justifiable anger so you can look at the situation objectively. Ask yourself:
- Do I love my partner?
- Do I like my partner, and do we generally enjoy spending time together?
- Do I care about the life that my partner and I have built together—our home, our friends, our children, and our shared interests?
- Am I willing to do the work of healing, no matter how unpleasant that may at times become?
If you’re in a long-term affair, you should ask yourself the first two questions about your affair partner, too.
Now think about the future. Ask yourself:
- What do I want my life to look like five years from now?
- Do I want to be with my spouse? My affair partner? Someone completely new? Or would I rather be alone?
- What do I want my life to look like twenty years from now? Who, if anyone, do I want to be with?
- How will my children (and other family members) be impacted if I stay in my primary relationship? If I end my primary relationship and move on with my affair partner? If I end my marriage and move forward as a single person (for a while, at least)?
- Can my primary relationship heal and perhaps become stronger than ever if I re-earn my partner’s trust? And if I don’t, will I ever behave in a trustworthy way in future relationships? If I go with my affair partner instead of my spouse, will I end up cheating on my affair partner, too?
Breaking the News
Whatever decision you make, you need to tell the people involved. Don’t string your long-term partner or an affair partner along just because you’re dreading the pain of doling out some bad news. And regardless of your decision, remember that your goal is to move forward with integrity, no longer lying to your partner or anyone else about your romantic intentions.
If you decide to stay with your significant other, you must inform your affair partner that the relationship is over. Then you should delete their contact information from your phone and computer, unfriend them on social media, delete your hookup apps and profiles, and delete any texts and/or photos related to your cheating. If your affair partner phones or texts, you should immediately block their number so they can’t contact you again.
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For information about healing after infidelity, we suggest reading Dr. Rob Weiss’s book, Out of the Doghouse. We also suggest the free podcasts, webinars, discussion groups, and blogs available through our affiliated website, SexandRelationshipHealing.com.