Healthy lives for young people
Relationships

I’ve been cheated on

Cheating happens with people of all ages. It’s hard to say what cheating is, as it’s different for so many people.

Most people in a monogamous (exclusive) relationship would agree that if their partner had full sex with someone else, that is definitely cheating. 

For some people, a drunken kiss, sending flirty texts or sexting would count as cheating. For others, it could be finding out your partner spent an evening with workmates rather than with you, but lied about it.

If you think you’ve been cheated on

According to a study by the relationship organisation Relate, more than one in 10 people said they suspected they have been cheated on, but had no evidence. The same study also revealed that a third of people admitted to checking their partner’s phone or social media without permission.

However, this behaviour is the virtual equivalent of going through someone’s pockets. And, over time, it can become just as damaging to your relationship as the cheating you suspect is going on.

Unless you have very good evidence that someone is cheating on you, be very careful of accusing them outright. If you’re wrong, it could lead to anger, denial and damage to your relationship. 

Instead, try to have a calm conversation. Try not to scream accusations at your partner. It’s better to ‘own’ the way you feel by saying something like: ‘When you did this, I felt like this.’

It’s a good time to have a conversation (see our page on communication) about boundaries around cheating and what trust means to you both, as this could help your partner understand how you feel. Other things to try include:

  • Listening – to what your partner has to say about the cheating without interrupting
  • Staying calm – however angry and hurt you feel, taking a deep breath and counting to 10 will help you to listen
  • Writing it down – if you are having a slanging match, agree to both write down your feelings, then talk about them later when you are both calmer.

If you know you’ve been cheated on

Give yourself time
Finding out can be a big shock. Talk to your close friends and let them support you. You can also talk to a trained Relate relationship counsellor in a free Live Chat.
Talk to your partner
Although talking about the cheating may feel painful, it’s important you can ask questions and assess exactly what has happened. Talk in private and find space and a time when you won’t be interrupted.
Avoid interrupting
Let your partner finish before responding. Its normal that you feel shocked and upset, but try to keep your emotions in check and avoid shouting or walking away.
Ask for the truth, however painful
Recovery after cheating is always worse if lies are told early on.
Focus on the facts
You might have questions, such as how long they have been cheating but it’s better to avoid asking questions such as ‘were they better in bed than me?’ You may want to talk about this kind of thing later on, but focus on the facts first. Often, the most urgent question for many people is ‘why?’ but sometimes a partner can’t tell you this immediately and their perspective often changes over time.
Avoid the blame game
It may seem tempting to hurl an insult at your partner or the third party, but this often gets in the way of really understanding things. You should also resist blaming yourself. While you were both responsible for your relationship, you can never be responsible for someone else’s choices – especially cheating.
Take time to think about what you want to happen next
If your partner promises to end the cheating and re-commit to your relationship, take your time in making any decisions about your future together. Only after talking and understanding the reasons for the cheating, will you be able to know whether you’re able to forgive them breaking your trust. Perhaps all you can commit to is being willing to work with them to try to understand why this has happened.

There are many reasons that cheating happens and it can be in happy relationships as well as those with problems. Listen to what your partner tells you rather than focusing on what you have always believed about cheating.

Moving on together

Only you can decide if you are prepared to forgive your partner and work together to rebuild your relationship, and perhaps even make it stronger. 

Some couples can rebuild their relationship after cheating with lots of hard work, which can be painful. It also takes time, perhaps a few months. If you do decide that you can forgive and continue to invest in what you have together, it’s important to be honest and open with each other.

It’s also important to understand why the cheating happened. Was it simply getting carried away at a party and things ‘just happened’? Or was it online flirting that morphed into ‘planned’ cheating. Either way, it’s key to communicate with each other about the reasons.

It’s also important to ask yourself if, given similar circumstances, would you have been vulnerable to cheating?

Here are some tips on how to get over your partner cheating:

  • Agree to be more open about what you do when you’re not together. For example, when you’re each seeing friends, enjoying your hobby, studying or working late
  • Agree to show each other online posts and social media for a while. Perhaps it may be necessary to share passwords for a few weeks
  • Set a time limit on discussions and don’t talk about it when you’re tired or leaving for work or college
  • Try not to avoid the subject. The cheating partner may want to draw a line under it. Or you may be afraid to ask questions in case the answers are too painful. But it’s important to ‘tell the story’ behind the cheating and why it happened
  • Take an interest in each other’s lives and commit to being honest with each other in future
  • Be patient and give it time. It could take a few months until you’re back on track
  • Talk about future challenges or threats to your relationship. These might be crushes or continued friendship with an ex.
  • Be committed: You both need to commit to making the relationship work. And both of you need to do this – and mean it.

If you find that jealousy over possible threats, even to things like a text or a ‘liked’ Instagram photo, is ‘eating you up’, you may be feeling insecure and anxious. Jealousy is a normal emotion, but try not to let it get out of control.

Breaking up

If you decide you can’t forgive – or forget – the cheating, or fear it may happen again, it may be time to break up, especially if there are other problems with the relationship.

It’s important to understand why the cheating happened, for both partners. This will help you to be better prepared for future relationships. Try to remember the good times you had together and allow yourself time before you start another relationship.

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