How To Talk To Your Spouse About Them Cheating

Seriously? I’m the one who was cheated on, and I’m the one who has to find a sane way to confront my spouse? Understandably, throwing clothes onto the front lawn may be just a warm-up to what you have in mind. But knowing how to talk to your spouse about them cheating will set the tone for all of your communication — and decisions — going forward.

Before delving into the ideals of confrontational communication, let’s acknowledge the obvious….

Suspecting or having proof of infidelity on the part of your spouse is breathtaking. Literally breath-taking. It’s like a kick in the stomach and a Dyson-vacuuming of all your memories and dreams.

Once the realization washes over you, betrayal trauma may rush in, complete with its symptoms of fight-or-flight, anxiety, depression, insomnia and constant nausea.

And that is a very difficult place from which to figure out how to talk to your spouse about them cheating.

It’s natural to feel enraged, ungrounded, displaced, lost, numb, and vacillating between extreme and conflicting emotions. You need a place to scream, cry, vent, swear, process, but your “safe place” for doing so is your betrayer.

The person you need to confront is a traitor, and yet, you can’t simply hand him or her over to the firing squad. After all, your anger is rooted, at least in part, in your love. Betrayal wouldn’t hurt so much otherwise.

Let’s also acknowledge that there are varying degrees and types of infidelity: sexual, emotional, financial, and even micro-cheating.

That doesn’t mean your pain is weighted accordingly. It simply means that cheating doesn’t always reveal itself as lipstick on a collar or an affair partner showing up at the family home.

Knowing that suspicion or discovery of infidelity is only the beginning of a long, painful journey, you will need to be prepared. That sounds ironic, I’m sure, given that you likely weren’t prepared for any of this.

But your mindset and approach to communication are vital, even to the outcome that you want.

You likely won’t know what you want in the early aftermath of infidelity. But annihilating all your options in a furied retaliation will serve nothing but a temporary assuaging of anger.

Here are some key points for how to talk to your spouse about them cheating.

As you read through them, hold onto the validation that you are not expected to “just know how to do this.”

And know that compassionate help is available from experts who navigate these agonizing entanglements day in and day out. You don’t have to do this alone.

  • Do the seemingly impossible: Stay calm.

    Yes, it sounds unreasonable, impossible, even cruel to expect someone who has been betrayed to “keep it together.” But embrace this guidance as self-protection, not as deference to the cheating spouse.

    Anger in and of itself is not a “bad” emotion. And it’s certainly not an emotion to be denied in this circumstance.

    As a matter of fact, anger is a gift-bearing messenger. Think of it as a “PEP talk”: power, energy, protection.

    But anger also comes with physiological components that can cascade into complete lack of control if the correct part of the brain isn’t in charge.

    You don’t need to be screaming and throwing dishes to make it clear how angry and hurt you are. Think about the most stinging reprimand a child can get from a parent: I’m disappointed in you. (Ouch.)

  • Have proof before you accuse.

    Suspicion is one thing. Discomfort with a spouse’s behavior is yet another.

    But proof of infidelity is entirely different.

    The last thing you want to do is throw out an accusation of infidelity without sound proof. That’s not how to talk to your spouse about them cheating.

    As a matter of fact, your spouse may flat-out deny it and only work harder to cover his/her tracks in the future.

    Even if you do have proof – screenshots of text messages, photos, etc. – how you present it will determine, in part, how the conversation progresses.

  • Have a good idea of what you want the outcome to be.

    This is a biggie, as it will set the guardrails for the immediate conversation and the long road ahead.

    You don’t have to know “the rest of the story” to have an idea of the outcome you would like to see in the present.

    Do you want answers? Truth? Details? An honest appraisal of your marriage leading up to the affair?

    Do you want open communication, despite the ugliness of the topic?

    Do you want at least the opportunity to heal your marriage? Or are you confident enough at this point to want to end it?

  • Plan an appropriate time and setting for the conversation.

    As with any important conversation with your spouse, be mindful of the setting. That includes timing.

    Don’t greet your spouse at the door waving photos and wielding accusations. You both need to be in a calm, unstressed (as much as possible), unrushed frame of mind.

    Create space around this prognostic conversation by making sure the children are cared for somewhere else and you have no interruptions.

    Remember, this is as much about self-protection and self-respect as it is about respect for a person who has disrespected you and your marriage.

  • Express your feelings of hurt and betrayal without blame.

    This may be your greatest test. Betrayal of trust that has been laid bare and vulnerable in a relationship can feel like living that nightmare of running through the streets naked.

    You’re going to want to throw daggers and accusations. “You destroyed us! You did/didn’t, always/never….This is all your fault! How could you?”

    But the practice of staying in the “I” will help you to stay contained and, ironically, empowered.

    Practicing mindfulness in this way will keep you in touch with your body’s signals. It will also ensure you say what you mean and mean what you say.

    What’s important is that your spouse hears what his/her betrayal has done to you. S/he is going to expect your anger upon disclosure or discovery. But, if there is any hope of healing your marriage or making a well-informed decision, the cheater has to feel the harm done to you.

  • Be prepared to listen.

    You might not think that “how to talk to your spouse about them cheating” would involve listening, but it does.

    This is one reason that having a desired outcome is so important.

    If you are genuinely seeking answers to “How could you do this?” you will need to be prepared to listen to your spouse.

    In no way does this imply an acceptance of blame for the actions your spouse chose.

    It does, however, imply a self-accountable – and courageous – willingness to examine your marriage from both perspectives. Rarely does someone cheat without feeling unfulfilled, unheard, unvalued, or unloved in some way.

    Your willingness to listen is as much a gift to yourself as to your spouse and your marriage. It is your opportunity to collect information for reflection – something you probably won’t be ready to pursue until your emotions have settled into acceptance of this new reality.

Knowing how to communicate with your spouse after an affair is not in the “marriage manual.” And yet, millions of people are thrown into on-the-job training.

If I can impress anything upon you during this most painful time, it’s this:

Be kind to and gentle with yourself. Stay contained, safe, and clear in your boundaries. Speak your truth as your truth.

And know that help is always available for those who seek it.

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.

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