I’m Caught, What Now?
If you’ve been caught red handed in an affair, you might be at the beginning of a way better life. Or you could be starting patterns that will make your life and your family’s lives a nightmare. It’s not all up to you, but a lot of it is. What I’m about to tell you is that how you handle being caught cheating is extremely important, and there are some very common mistakes. It may seem like it can’t get worse. But that’s not true. It can get worse. How?
People caught up in an affair are so invested in keeping secrets and covering up that it’s hard to switch back into honesty. As they said during Watergate, it’s not the crime – it’s the cover-up. One of the most common tendencies I see in counseling is just that. The “caught” person tries a series of things that hurt their partner even more.
When Trying To Get Out Of A Hole, First Stop Digging It.
The truth is your friend. The idea that you will spare your husband or wife’s feelings by hiding or minimizing is self serving. In fact, you hurt a person more when they ask for the truth and don’t get it. As soon as you start to deny, minimize or cover up, you have begun the process of making it worse. If you want your relationship, you have to risk losing it by telling the truth when asked. The more lies you tell, the bigger the hole you are digging yourself and the harder it will be to climb out of it.
An even more destructive tendency of those who are caught is deflection. Too often when someone is caught cheating, they turn it around on the other person. What does this look like? It’s when you shame the other person for “even” suspecting, or blame them for being insecure or for not being more trusting. Basically you’re saying “You’re bad, or dumb, crazy or shameful for thinking these things.” This happens all the time, and every time it’s a bad idea. This is more digging on that hole you’re in. The better option is to tell the truth and validate your partner for their understandable suspicion.
Wait, What If I’m Not Really Cheating?
Maybe you’re just friends with someone and your spouse is upset over discovering 200 texts in one day to your coworker. You don’t think it’s cheating, but she does. Same deal: quit digging. If you turn it around on your spouse for suspecting, you are closing the door to a crucial discussion about marital boundaries. Every couple should be able to discuss and figure out what they can and cannot accept in terms of relationships. For some “free range” couples, everything may be fair game. For others, no emotional connection that is hidden from the other is acceptable without damaging the trust. The bottom line is, it’s important for each of you to know and agree on what constitutes a betrayal. Here’s a hint: if you’re hiding it, you already know it’s something the other person won’t like.
The Bottom Line: Now’s Your Chance
As crazy and scary as it may sound, the truth is going to help. You may have no idea how much extra damage you’re doing by supposedly sparing your partner’s feelings. In fact, you are probably just trying to spare your own feelings of fear and guilt. If you really want to begin climbing out of that hole and into a better life, it’s time for something new. It’s time to stop trying to control your partner with misinformation and let them decide what they want for their own life.
If you’re still reading this far, a really short, simple book I often recommend is called How To Help Your Spouse Heal From Your Affair: A Compact Manual For The Unfaithful, by Linda J. MacDonald, M.S., LMFT. It’s a great primer on what to do (and what NOT to do) that many couples have found to be helpful, in my experience. Also, you don’t have to go it alone. If you find that this discovery has opened the floodgates to arguments that feel too overwhelming, sometimes counseling can help. But the best results come from the single decision to focus on your partner’s needs and to break the destructive tendency to try to “make it go away” as quickly as possible.
Margie Wheelhouse is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Springfield, Illinois. She helps couples build great relationships and repair broken ones.