I can’t even imagine how difficult it would be to confront a cheater. “Um, honey…(in that walking on eggshell tone), can I talk to you?” Brutal!
Unfortunately, I have heard countless stories from both men and women who have confronted their spouse about cheating. The cheater’s reactions: all over the map!
Before I get into the 3 different reactions you could get from a cheater who admits to the cheating, I want to talk about those who deny it. I think that so many cheaters deny the cheating initially, and then fess up later, possibly in counseling.
The reason a cheater will deny it is this: when someone admits to cheating, the entire relationship instantly changes. All of the trust is wiped away at that moment in time. Even if the spouse knew about the cheating in their gut (before the cheater admitted it), the trust wasn’t really gone until it was confirmed. People hold onto this little tiny piece of hope that somehow, there is some explanation that isn’t betrayal. So, the cheater who denies it doesn’t want that change to occur—the trust to be destroyed. He or she doesn’t want to change the status quo of the marriage. So, it’s easier to just keep lying.
To those who confronted a cheater and he or she denied it, here is my advice. Trust your gut. If you think he or she is cheating, he or she is, even if they deny it. I could be wrong, but that’s how I feel. Don’t let your spouse tell you that you are being paranoid, that you are crazy, that you are insecure. He or she is doing that because they are stalling for time. They will do or say anything not to get caught. They are desperate so they will make the spouse think it is THEM, that it’s THEIR issue. These kinds of cheaters are infuriating to me. Not only are they cheating, but they are making their spouse feel badly about themselves!!
I know a woman whose husband was cheating on her for years. She always suspected it, but her husband would say, “Please don’t be that insecure girl. Don’t be paranoid.” When she found out that her suspicions were real, she said she was extremely relieved, happy, in fact. Why? Because she finally got confirmation that she wasn’t paranoid or crazy.
I think it would be very very frustrating and difficult confronting a cheater and then having them deny it. It’s like “now what?” when you are sure they are cheating. My advice for this scenario is go to therapy, don’t back down on your gut feeling, and start making life decisions that are in the best interest of you and your children. I’m not saying pack up and move out, but treat the situation as if you know he or she is cheating (even though they said they are not).
Moving on to those who come clean, I have found that when a cheater is confronted and admits it, there are 3 reactions the cheatee could get.
1. The cheater has complete remorse and wants to work things out. Countless couples have survived cheating and gone on to have happy marriages. How? With lots of hard work and dedication from both, given that they both want to stay married. Usually in this scenario, the cheater who is confronted breaks down and feels remorse. He or she takes accountability for what they did and makes it clear to the other that they will stop and that they want to work things out. The couple then begins a 2.0 on the marriage, possibly goes to counseling, and oftentimes, the relationship is better than ever. Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen this isn’t the norm. It is possible, though.
2. The cheater wants a divorce but feels badly about it. In this scenario, the cheater is almost relieved that he or she got caught, and now feels the time is right to say, “Listen, I haven’t been happy for a long time and I want a divorce.” The person then probably feels really guilty, which makes it a great time for the cheatee to settle the divorce quickly. Why? Because at this point, the cheater will give the cheatee anything he or she wants just to be done, and to appease their guilt a little bit. However, often times, this is the hardest reaction for a cheatee to deal with. Why? Because the cheater is being kind. He or she is torn, and might even be crying. It’s easier to walk away and accept that a marriage is over if the cheater is a jerk about it.
3. The cheater shifts all blame to the cheatee, is angry and wants out of the marriage. Of the three scenarios, this is the worst one of all. The cheater, in an attempt to rid himself of any wrongdoing or blame, turns it around and blames the cheatee! It’s infuriating when I hear about this scenario. The cheater refuses to take accountability or accept responsibility for doing anything wrong. Instead, he or she will tell the spouse, “You were cold. You were distant. You were mean to me. You deserved this.” This way, the cheater lets himself off the hook and justifies the cheating. Usually in these cases, the cheater becomes really mean and vindictive, divorces are horrible in these kinds of cases, it’s an all out war, and the cheater HATES his or her ex with a vengeance. Why? Because sadly enough, he or she hates him or herself and has displaced this hate to the spouse. It is a coping mechanism. It is a disgusting and horrible coping mechanism.
Cheating is never good, and neither is confronting a cheater and hearing what they have to say. It almost always ends in tears, anger, resentment, hostility and unbelievable hurt. However, there IS good news for each confronting a cheater reaction. For #1, your marriage might end up working out. For #2, you might end up with a great divorce settlement and an amicable divorce. And I even found a positive for #3, which is that the story isn’t over yet. I guarantee the cheater in this case will not be happy. He or she deep down knows they are a piece of garbage, not just for the cheating, but for the way they handled it. So, how can you be happy in life knowing you are a piece of garbage? You can’t. A relationship won’t make you happy. Money won’t make you happy. And being away from the spouse you think you hate won’t make you happy.
What might give a cheater some peace is coming clean with your ex no matter how long it has been. Say, “I am very sorry I cheated. I know we had problems and that we both are responsible for the demise of the marriage. But for the cheating and lies and deceit, I am truly sorry for hurting you.” But in most cases I’ve seen, this kind of cheater lacks self-awareness so much, that they are blind and will probably never see it. The good news for the cheatee is, a person like this is usually easy to get over, because isn’t it worse if they are nice about it (like scenario #2)? So, the cheatee ends up in a better place, even though it might take time.
In closing, confronting a cheater is never an easy thing to do, but something that has to be done usually. The key in staying calm and getting through it is having hope and knowing that someday, the picture will look a lot different, and the cheating will hopefully be a distant memory.
Jackie Pilossoph is the creator of her website, Divorced Girl Smiling. The author of her novels, Divorced Girl Smiling and Free Gift With Purchase, Pilossoph also writes the weekly dating and relationship column, Love Essentially, published in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press. Pilossoph lives with her family in Chicago. Oh, and she’s divorced.