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5 Things to Consider When You Discover Your Spouse Cheated

The knot in your stomach, the disbelief in your mind, the clutching in your chest – these are the overwhelming physical sensations that seize you when you discover your spouse cheated. It’s likely a moment you never thought you would face, a possibility you never wanted to confront. Whether you stumbled upon a revealing text message or heard it straight from your partner’s lips, the truth is now impossible to ignore. Infidelity has breached the sanctity of your relationship.

You’ve built a life together, navigated professional challenges, and perhaps raised children. Yet now, everything seems to be in question. But amidst the shock and the pain, it’s crucial to remember that you are not alone. The path from discovery to healing is well-trodden, though uniquely challenging for each individual. Here you will find the understanding, empathy, and practical advice you need to move through this devastating situation.

These five essential considerations will help you navigate the complex emotions and decisions that arise when you learn your spouse cheated.

While there are no simple answers, with these considerations you will begin to find the clarity, strength, and, eventually, a path forward that aligns with your values and aspirations.

  1. Take Time to Process Your Feelings

    The moment you discover that your spouse cheated, a whirlwind of emotions is likely to engulf you. Anger, betrayal, sadness, confusion – these intense feelings are entirely natural, but they can also be incredibly overwhelming.

    It might seem strange, but you need to grieve the breach of trust in your relationship.

    With grief, it’s normal to feel a wide array of emotions that may shift rapidly. Grieving is a process, and it’s unique for everyone. Your relationship, as you knew it, has changed, and it’s likely the way you view your spouse has changed too. So, it’s entirely appropriate to mourn those losses.

    During this challenging time, opening up to a trusted friend, family member, or healing professional who understands your unique situation can provide a safe space to express your feelings.

    In the immediate aftermath, you might feel the urge to make speedy decisions about the future of your relationship. While these feelings are natural, acting on them without proper reflection may lead to regret down the road. Give yourself time to process what has happened so you approach the situation with greater clarity and wisdom.

    If you are like most betrayed spouses, your mind is probably swirling with some deeply painful questions about surviving infidelity that exacerbate your emotional turmoil. So, it is critical that you allow yourself the time and space to process your feelings during this tumultuous period and take care of yourself.

    Give yourself the gift of engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Whether it’s indulging in a hobby, focusing on physical exercise, or simply taking time to unwind, self-care will aid your healing and resilience as well as provide you a lifeline for moving through everything else.

  2. Communicate with Your Spouse

    Communicating with your partner after discovering that they’ve cheated can be one of the most challenging conversations you’ll ever have. It’s a process filled with potential pitfalls, but with the right approach, it can be a path toward understanding, growth, and possibly even healing.

    Finding an appropriate setting for this conversation is key. Selecting a private, uninterrupted space where both of you can speak freely can set the stage for a more open dialogue.

    In addition to finding the right external environment for meaningful dialogue, you also need to consider your internal environment. It’s likely you will feel a strong urge to accuse and blame, but entering the conversation with an accusatory tone will likely shut down any possibility of meaningful communication. Instead, you will want to do what you can to approach the conversation with a spirit of curiosity.

    You will want to share your feelings using “I” statements and ask your spouse open-ended questions to understand what happened.

    Boundaries are another important ingredient of a productive conversation. Setting boundaries can help both of you to manage emotions and keep the dialogue productive. Whether you decide on a time limit or agree on specific topics to avoid, establishing ground rules may provide a sense of control and comfort during a deeply emotional discussion.

    Although it may be difficult, you will want to listen a little more than you talk during this first conversation about your spouse’s infidelity. Listening to your partner’s perspective does not mean you condone their actions. However, it can provide you with essential insight into the underlying issues in the relationship from your spouse’s perspective.

    Listening actively and empathetically may also show your partner that you are willing to work towards a solution together – if that is what you both decide.

    While this conversation is something you may wish to begin on your own, you may decide to enlist professional guidance. Experts in relationship counseling can provide neutral ground and the tools necessary to navigate this complex issue.

  3. Explore Professional Support Options

    Because of the emotional overwhelm inherent in discovering their spouse cheated, many choose to seek professional assistance. As the dust from your spouse’s betrayal settles, you may find that professional assistance is not only valuable but essential in navigating the complex emotions and decisions that lie ahead.

    You may be able to work through some issues on your own, but recognizing when you need professional guidance is crucial. If communication with your spouse breaks down, or emotions become too intense to manage, seeking help from a relationship expert could be the wise next step.

    One thing to remember is that therapy isn’t one-size-fits-all. There are various therapeutic approaches tailored to the unique needs of couples facing infidelity. Whether it’s individual therapy to process personal feelings or couples therapy to rebuild trust, understanding the options can help you choose what’s right for you and your situation.

    And for those looking for a more immersive experience, a private intensive couples retreat could provide the focus, time, and commitment needed to delve into complex issues. By setting aside time in a supportive environment, couples can work intensively with professionals to heal, grow, and select the best path forward for their relationship.

    If you choose to get professional support, you will want to select a therapist or counselor who aligns with your values and specializes in infidelity issues.

    You may want to conduct preliminary consultations, ask for recommendations, or read online reviews to find someone who resonates with both you and your partner.

    One final note about a successful therapy engagement is that it requires openness and a willingness to explore painful emotions and challenging topics. It can be a transformative journey, but it often requires patience and commitment. Being open to the process and having realistic expectations can make the therapeutic journey much more effective.

  4. Evaluate Your Relationship

    Facing the shock of infidelity can leave you feeling lost and uncertain about where your relationship stands. It’s a pivotal time that calls for deep self-reflection and honest evaluation. Although this process is unique to each couple, it is essential that you understand where you stand as you consider your next steps.

    As you begin your evaluation, you will want to consider several things. One place that many choose to start is reflecting on their feelings.

    Give yourself permission to feel and reflect on your emotions without judgment. They are natural and understanding them can provide insights into what you truly want and need.

    Then, you may want to take a hard look at the fundamental aspects of your relationship. What are the strengths that have held you together? What weaknesses may have contributed to this situation? Assessing these can help in understanding whether your relationship has the foundation necessary to move forward.

    Next is understanding the context of your spouse’s infidelity. This can be difficult, but it is necessary so you can better assess your spouse’s behavior. Was this a one-time mistake or part of a pattern? What led to this breach of trust? This information might not excuse the behavior, but it can shed light on underlying issues that need to be addressed.

    Another self-reflective piece of this evaluation is determining what you value in a relationship. Then you can work with your spouse to understand whether your values are still aligned with your partner’s. Your expectations about commitment, honesty, and intimacy are core to this assessment. Reflecting on them can you clarify whether reconciliation is possible or if moving on is the best course of action.

    Finally, consider what you want for your future and how much effort you are willing to put into achieving it. This can provide additional guidance for your decision-making. In other words, are you willing to work through this breach of trust, or is it a deal-breaker? Your answer to this question can define your path, whether it’s rebuilding together or parting ways.

  5. Decide to Move Forward

    Once you’ve explored your emotions, evaluated your relationship, and considered professional help, the path forward may start to become clearer. Discovering your spouse cheated is a crossroads moment. It demands you decide whether to rebuild trust, choose separation, or pretend nothing happened and continue life as it was before your discovery.

    All forward paths are challenging. There is no universally correct path.

    If you choose to rebuild trust, you both must commit to change and growth. This may involve setting new boundaries, attending counseling, and repeatedly engaging in open and honest communication. In fact, there is a growing belief that choosing to rebuild trust after infidelity creates the conditions necessary for a couple to create an even better marriage.

    Rebuilding your relationship will also require you to forgive your spouse for their infidelity. Forgiving is a process, not an event. It requires understanding, patience, and time. It’s essential to recognize that forgiveness is primarily for your benefit because it will allow you to release the hold this event may have on you.

    Because moving forward together will require you each to change, you may want to keep track of the progress you’re making together. Create the practice of celebrating successes and learning from setbacks. Transparency and continued communication will be key to successfully rebuilding trust and establishing your new relationship.

    At the other end of the spectrum is choosing to dissolve your relationship. If separation seems to be the best option, you will want to seek professional guidance through legal advice and/or counseling to make the process smoother and more manageable.

    If you have children, consider their needs and feelings during this transition. Open communication and support can minimize their confusion and anxiety.

    The final option is to choose to live with the status quo and ignore the infidelity. Although it might seem to be the “easy” choice, it’s not. You still know what happened and you still know how you feel about it. There is still much for you to process to be able to fully move forward.

    Be patient with yourself, the path forward might not be clear-cut for some time, and that’s normal.

    Embracing the uncertainty and giving yourself the grace to evolve and change your mind as you learn more about yourself and your relationship is an integral part of the process.

    Although it was stated earlier, remember that whichever path forward you choose, you need to take care of yourself. Whether it’s seeking therapy, leaning on friends and family, or engaging in activities that nurture you, self-care is vital during this emotionally taxing time.

Discovering that your spouse cheated is an incredibly painful and complex experience. Each person’s journey through this challenging terrain is unique and deeply personal.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but the insights and steps provided above provide a brief overview and some guidance for what you are facing and how to move forward.

Throughout your journey, remember that your feelings and needs are valid. Your path toward healing may be winding, filled with unexpected twists and turns, but you don’t have to walk it alone.

The value of professional help, supportive friends and family, and your inner resilience can be immeasurable assets during this time. Allow yourself the grace to feel, to question, to grow, and most importantly, to heal. Your relationship’s future may be uncertain, but your ability to navigate this challenge with wisdom, courage, and compassion can offer a new beginning, no matter the outcome.

Mary Ellen Goggin offers relationship coaching for individuals and collaborates with her partner Dr. Jerry Duberstein to offer private couples retreats. To learn more about working with Mary Ellen, contact her here.

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Mary Ellen Goggin

Mary Ellen is a highly skilled and intuitive relationship guide. She brings over 35 years’ experience with individuals and businesses as a lawyer, mediator, personal coach and educator. She received her J.D. at University of New Hampshire Law School and a Master’s Degree at Harvard University. Mary Ellen co-authored Relationship Transformation: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too with Jerry Duberstein — and they were married by chapter 3. Mary Ellen brings a unique blend of problem-solving, practicality, and warmth to her work. She’s a highly analytic person, with geeky and monkish tendencies. She’s a daredevil skydiver, a voracious seeker of knowledge, and an indulgent grandmother. Her revolution: helping people become the unapologetic rulers of their inner + outer realms. Read more about the retreats