In movies and songs, the betrayed spouse screams and sobs and hurls accusations while throwing their unfaithful partner’s belongings out onto the lawn or curses while taking a Louisville Slugger to the hood of the cheater’s car.
It’s natural to want to lash out and burn it all down when you discover that the person you love has broken your trust and your heart. There’s nothing that causes hurt and outrage like infidelity.
But as cathartic as those explosive all-out war moments may appear on screen or sound in songs, they’re not a productive and healthy way to handle the situation.
In moments like these, it’s almost impossible to reason. Fortunately, there’s an essential playbook to follow when confronting a cheater. Here are seven crucial tips from the experts and people who have been in your shoes.
Be sure. Although at times, your gut instinct alone is so strong you feel you must confront your spouse about cheating, it’s almost always better to do it when you have concrete proof. Straying spouses will typically deny the affair, especially if they believe you’re just going on a hunch. If you jump into accusations without tangible evidence, they will likely get angry and defensive and march out the door. It allows them to call you distrusting and paranoid, buys them time to concoct a story, and, unfortunately, can help them get better at deception. Additionally, if you have no proof, you may be wrong; maybe your loved one is faithful, and your feelings and suspicions stem from something else.
Gather the evidence. It might be screenshots of emails or texts, hotel or gift receipts, incriminating photos, or voicemail—be prepared with proof.
Seek support. Talk to a trusted friend or counselor about your suspicions or, if you have proof, what you’ve discovered. Get their perspective and help.
Clear your head. Prepare yourself emotionally for the conversation, which may be one of the most challenging and painful discussions you will ever have. You may learn that your partner is not who you thought they were; they may even try to turn the tables, accusing and blaming you. And despite all of this, it’s crucial to keep your cool. Write out your thoughts and feelings beforehand, let it all pour out onto the page, take a breather, then go back and choose what points you need to make in the initial conversation.
Know what you want. Envision the conversation and the outcome you hope to achieve. Is cheating a deal breaker for you? Are you telling your spouse it’s over? Remember that California is a no-fault divorce state. You don’t need to prove infidelity or any wrongdoing. If you’re sure you want out, you can get a divorce. Ask yourself whether this person and this marriage mean so much to you that you’re willing to try to forgive, put in the work of healing, and save the relationship if they will. What are the conditions (total honesty, transparency, cutting off all ties and communication with the other person, etc.) for moving forward? Or do you not yet have enough facts to know what’s next—is this conversation to gather information and get clarity?
Carefully pick a time and place. Choose a time when you can be free of distractions and the children aren’t around. Make sure you’re in a safe place—meet in public or have someone else present if there’s any risk your spouse could turn threatening or aggressive. Have a plan for where to go afterward. Set a time limit for the discussion. You’re not going to resolve this in a single conversation, so it’s better not to let it escalate or go on until you’re exhausted.
Don’t lead with accusations or an inquisition. “Think conversation, not confrontation,” advises Sheri Meyers, Psy.D., Marriage & Family Therapist and author of “Chatting or Cheating: How to Detect Infidelity, Rebuild Love, and Affair-Proof Your Relationship.” Remember, your goal is to get to the truth. Begin the discussion by explaining, in a non-threatening way, what you’ve been feeling and experiencing. Asking too many questions can put your partner on the defensive and invite further deception. Allow them to come clean. Ask open-ended questions and encourage them to talk. Don’t dig for details of the affair—that will only make this more painful. If they deny wrongdoing, stay calm and present your proof. “The more calmly you deal with the truth, the more your partner will tell you the truth,” says Meyers.
With hard work and much healing, many marriages do survive infidelity. But If you’ve reached the difficult decision that your partner’s cheating means the marriage is over, the skilled and caring family attorneys at SFLG can help you navigate the next steps.
By Debra Schoenberg