Deep Dive: Do I Need to Confess to Cheating If the Affair Is Over?
So you did it, you dirty dog. You cheated on your girlfriend. While it was all fun and games while it lasted, now the affair is over and you’re torn about whether or not you should tattle on yourself. You’re pretty sure your partner is clueless about the infidelity – and what she doesn’t know can’t hurt her…right? On the other hand, you feel awful keeping such a dirty secret from the person who loves and trusts you more than anyone else. It’s not an easy position to be in, but rest assured, it’s all your fault you’ve ended up here. (Sorry. We couldn’t help the guilt trip.) In this deep dive, we’re answering the question: Do I need to confess to cheating if the affair is over?
Cover Photo: Mixmike (Getty Images)
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Check your conscience.
How bad do you feel about the affair? If it’s killing you to keep it a secret or if keeping the secret has interfered in other areas of your life, like your job or your ability to take care of yourself, by all means, unload the whole tawdry story and get it off your conscience. If you don’t feel remorse about the affair, you probably have bigger issues than cheating (like being a sociopath) or you’ve justified the affair in some way (i.e. your partner has been traveling a lot and isn’t around to meet your needs). If sleeping around doesn’t bother you, we can see why your motivation to tell would be minuscule. You’re also probably a horrible person, but that’s a topic for another post.
Not telling is still a form of lying.
You can debate all day long about whether or not you’re lying by not telling, but let us spare you: it’s lying whether you speak untrue words or not. Withholding a secret as serious as an affair from the person you’re supposed to be the most intimate with is not OK.
All affairs are not created equal.
If the affair was a one-time sexual thing that you recognize was a mistake and swear will never happen again, you could get away with keeping it quiet. If the affair was long-term or involved the “L” word, you need to ‘fess up. You were likely emotionally involved with this person, and many a person who’s been cheated on will say that’s worse than the sexual infidelity. Meeting sexual needs outside of your relationship is one thing, but meeting emotional ones in a whole ‘nother issue. Something is wrong with your relationship; either admit to the affair and see if your partner is willing to work together to figure out what went wrong between you two or shut up and cut bait.
Is the affair really over?
If you’re still in contact with your lover, seeing her on a regular basis, or find yourself distracted by thoughts and feelings of her, you need to come clean. This isn’t really over. It’s ongoing. If, however, the affair ended weeks, months, or years ago, telling your partner now might not make much sense...unless you end up having another affair.
Did you use protection?
If you raw-dogged your lover, you need to tell your girlfriend you've potentially exposed her to STDs. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. If you used protection, congratulations on staying safe and protecting your partner’s health (even as you broke her little heart).
Has your partner confronted you?
If your partner asks you if you’ve cheated, there’s your opening. Tell the truth. She wouldn’t ask if she didn’t already suspect the answer is “yes.” Don’t add insult to injury by denying it and gaslighting her. It will make her feel insane, and that's just not fair.
She already knows, even if she doesn’t have all the details.
Women have a sixth sense about infidelity – and you are probably not as slick as you think. Even if she doesn’t know exactly what’s going on, she’s likely sensed that something is amiss between you two. Don't leave her stranded in a sea of suspicion.
Feel all the feels.
News of an affair will likely devastate your partner, but it might also make her feel relieved, especially if she’s been suspicious of you sneaking around. If the affair is long over, and you truly love your partner and want to stay together, the only person benefiting from a confession might be you. Telling her you cheated just to relieve your own guilt is strangely selfish. If you tell, be prepared for unexpected emotional reactions -- both hers and yours. There’s no wrong way to feel about infidelity. Let the feelings come.
Either way, you have work to do.
Whether or not you spill the beans, an affair is a warning sign. Something is not right and it's time to get to the root of it. Therapy is a good place to start. If you aren’t willing to do anything but sweep your indiscretion under the rug, you probably shouldn’t be in any relationship right now.
In most cases, honesty is the best policy, and confessing to the affair is the right thing to do. It gives the power back to your partner, who can then decide how she wants to proceed given the circumstances. While finding out about your infidelity will hurt at first, and might result in a breakup, it could also push your relationship to a new level. A study by UCLA and the University of Washington found that in married couples where a spouse had cheated, coming clean about the infidelity was related to a lower divorce rate than couples in which the affair was kept secret.
Need help finding the right way to break the bad news? Talk to a therapist. It’s a tough step to take, but being able to tell your partner the truth along with, “…and I’m in therapy to figure out why I did this” will only help your case. Whether you tell or not, for goodness' sakes, stop cheating. It’s one of the most painful wounds you can inflict on another person. Your girlfriend deserves better – as do you.