The worst has happened. You have found out your partner has cheated on you. Your mind is out of control and your heart is broken. You have no idea about how to confront a cheater. Your thoughts are muddled, and your feelings all over the place. To put it in simple words, you can’t think straight.
To help you understand the right approach to confronting your partner about cheating as you work through the disbelief, grief, and trauma, we reached out to psychologist Jayant Sundaresan, (Masters in Applied Psychology), who specializes in offering counseling for a range of relationship issues such as communication breakdown, expectation management, infidelity, separation and divorce.
He says, “Understanding the patterns governing a person’s choice to cheat makes it easier to figure out how to deal with cheaters, especially soon after discovering the infidelity. For some people, cheating is like an addiction. For others, it can be an escape mechanism. Identifying the reason behind the choice of infidelity can put a lot of other things into perspective.”
11 Expert Tips For Confronting A Cheater
Jayant says, “Before you confront a liar and cheater, look at the label and timeline of your relationship. If you were dating casually, why bother putting yourself through so much torment to confront them? They chose to cheat on you. They did the wrong thing here. You pick yourself up and move on.
“If you question them, they can say, “Since we aren’t serious about each other, why should I stop myself from seeing others?” They will wash their hands off the whole matter. In such unlabeled relationships, you won’t get the satisfaction of their apology, regret, or guilt. This is one of the signs they never loved you and they don’t really care about their actions or how it affects you. So why bother at all?”
But if it’s a serious relationship, then you must question your cheating spouse/partner, and you need to know how. The right confrontation strategy does not just include things to say to a cheater or how to say them. There are three main aspects to the process:
- Before confrontation: What to do if someone is cheating on you and you’ve just discovered this bitter truth? Prepare yourself with the right tools before you approach your cheating husband or wife or partner
- During confrontation: This is the part where you actually have a conversation with your unfaithful partner. It includes everything you need to do to challenge them responsibly, and you need to be mindful of what to say to a cheater and how
- After confrontation: The ordeal is not over once you’ve confronted your partner. You need to strategize how to give your cheating wife/husband/partner and yourself time and space so that neither of you ends up making rash decisions
Confronting your partner about their choice of betraying your trust and jeopardizing your relationship is far from easy, and it helps if you can try to be as pragmatic as possible and not lead with emotions alone. Below are some of the things to keep in mind when confronting a cheater:
1. Gather the evidence
So you suspect your mate of cheating. You have a strong hunch that they are emotionally invested in or physically involved with someone else. Or perhaps, they’re engaged in virtual cheating and having an online affair. But to approach them you need evidence. Without evidence, if your partner outrightly negates your accusations, you wouldn’t be left with much of a choice but to half-heartedly move forward. This can also cause irreparable damage to the relationship.
You also need evidence to be absolutely sure that suspicions hold water. This security will help you feel confident and more relaxed when approaching your partner. Evidence can be of any and all kinds. Everything you have will not necessarily be incriminating evidence but it will be useful. Even small signs and seemingly irrelevant pieces of evidence can become parts of a bigger puzzle.
- Bills and receipts of unexplained purchases
- Transactions that show your partner was somewhere they shouldn’t have been
- Confirmation from someone who saw your partner with someone else
- Social media history
- Duplicate accounts on social media with an alias
- Email or text trail and call records for phone cheaters
Related Reading: How To Make A Cheating Boyfriend Feel Bad – 11 Surefire Ways
2. Use writing as a tool to organize your thoughts
Jayant says, “You can begin organizing your thoughts by writing down the things you want to say. This will help you hold yourself together and not break down during the confrontation. You have been gravely wronged and it’s only natural for your emotions to be all over the place, but you need to be calm and collected to be able to get through this conversation.” Here are a few writing prompts that can help you stay calm and gain more clarity on what you hope to achieve from this confrontation:
- How do you feel right now?
- What do you want from the conversation?
- What is the end goal of the confrontation? Would you be willing to forgive? Or do you want to end the relationship?
- What do you think you need from your partner to make things better?
- What will you say to your partner? Practice writing the dialogue
- What do you want to know from them? How much or how little?
After you have done this, make sure to release your expectations before entering the conversation. You may approach your partner responsibly, expecting a sincere response, but ultimately, you cannot predict how they will react. Don’t “expect” a terrible response, nor a great one. Do your part and see what it brings.
3. Select the right time and place
Jayant says, “This is one of the first things to think about when you are planning to confront your cheating spouse/partner. You want everything to be on your side, including time and setting. Select a safe place where you can be comfortable. You also don’t want any distractions and disturbances. Don’t have this conversation when you or they are driving.”
If you have suspicions of cheating, you might want to barge into your partner’s office and create a scene at their workplace, especially if you suspect that they are having an affair with a coworker. But, don’t! Don’t challenge them when they are hanging out with their friends because those people might end up defending their friend (your partner) and make them look like the victim. You need to know how to out a cheater smartly by being mindful of the ‘where’ and ‘when’.
Another thing to take care of is your children if you have any. Make sure that your children do not witness this conversation. You can send them to a family member or a trusted friend. Do not rely on “keeping the voice down” or “let’s talk when the children are asleep”. Tempers can flare during such conversations.
Related Reading: 21 Signs Of Lack Of Respect In A Relationship
4. Remain objective
When you confront a cheating partner, they might react impulsively and try to twist the entire narrative, especially if you don’t appear confident or if you show signs of vulnerability. It’s very difficult to not burst into tears but this is not the time to cry or open the floodgate of feelings.
Jayant says, “Imagine you are a lawyer presenting your own case. Be in control of your emotions while confronting a cheater. It sounds impossible but it’s doable.” He recommends the following tips that come in handy no matter what type of cheater you’re dealing with:
- Remain objective, calm, and dispassionate
- Use a detached formal tone
- Have a business-like approach to the entire confrontation meeting
- Using statements that reflect what was found and what you felt, instead of accusing them of what they did
- For example, “I found out that you have a second account on Facebook that I know nothing about. I saw that you chatted with a person named, X. I feel betrayed/disappointed/shocked/hurt/pained. Please explain yourself”
5. Lay down your evidence
Now is the time to lay down all the hard facts. When you confront a cheating boyfriend without proof or any cheating partner with no speck of evidence, they will say that it’s just your over-possessive nature that’s giving rise to such baseless suspicion. Don’t give them a chance to wiggle their way out of this.
Jayant advises, “You need to logically lay down your evidence. You can’t just approach them and say that your instincts are telling you that they are cheating on you. While your intuition could be 100% correct, you need data to make them confess.”
6. Give the cheater a chance to speak
Jayant says, “While confronting your partner about cheating, don’t hurl abuses at them. Give them a chance to speak without prejudice and steer clear of the temptation of engaging in name-calling or taking a dig at their character. If and when you try to reconnect after a big fight like this, the vicious name-calling and snide remarks can get in the way.
“The reason that you need to confront a liar and cheater without judgment or prejudice is that there is always a microscopic chance you could be wrong. How you conduct yourself during these difficult times will govern the course of your relationship if you decide to give them another chance.”
Related Reading: Fighting In A Marriage – 10 Tips To Do It Right
7. Don’t assume you have the upper hand
Jayant adds, “When you confront a cheater with evidence, the hurt and betrayal can get to your head and make you act in irrational ways. You think they are at your mercy, and choose to be mean, rude, and hurtful. Show a little humility and don’t dismiss the possibility that you could be wrong even if the chances are minimal. Ask yourself, “Is my partner cheating or am I paranoid?”, before you go all out on them. “
Your reaction to their disloyalty can cause a lot of damage. When we think of confrontation, we often imagine a dramatic movie scenario. Breaking things, throwing stuff at them, grabbing their collar, or even indulging in physical abuse like pushing your partner or hitting them. These are extremely unhealthy. Not just for them, but also for you.
8. Prepare yourself for a dramatic reaction
Jayant says, “When you confront your cheating spouse/partner, be prepared for an emotional outburst from their side. You’ve caught them off guard. They don’t have a defense yet, so they will try to make you feel uncomfortable by shouting and creating a disruption.”
When you confront a liar and cheater unexpectedly, the stages of guilt often don’t begin right away. They are reacting out of disbelief that their infidelity has unraveled and that you were smart enough to collect evidence against them. They might cry, scream, yell, and throw things around/at you.
He adds, “You also need to be prepared for the eventuality that they might accept their disloyalty and hold themselves accountable for everything.” When you confront a cheater with evidence, they might feel you have cornered them, and see ending the relationship or the affair as the only way out. You must go into the conversation prepared for any and every reaction.
9. Don’t ask for all the details
Jayant says, “When you are confronting your partner about cheating and deceit, ask yourself how much you want to know about their transgression. If you seek too many details, the mental images may continue to haunt you. On the other hand, if you don’t ask your partner anything at all, you may find yourself imagining worst-case scenarios. Asking the right questions to your unfaithful partner is all about striking a balance between the things you need to know and the ones that are best left undisclosed.”
Your partner has violated your trust and desecrated your self-esteem for another person. It’s natural to be curious but don’t make the mistakes I made. When I stood up to my previous partner about his infidelity, I was inquisitive about everything. I wanted to know where they did it. How many times? In the bedroom? Which hotel? What was she wearing? None of the answers made anything better. It only intensified my trauma.
10. Don’t take the blame on yourself
Always keep in mind that cheating is a choice. And a selfish one at that. If your partner respected you and the relationship, they would never have done this to you. Your partner cheating on you does not say anything about you but is a reflection of their mental state. They might try to make you feel like you too are at fault, but make sure you don’t go down that rabbit hole. It won’t do you any good.
When asked on Reddit if cheating is a choice or a mistake, one user said, “Knocking over a glass of milk is a mistake. Cheating is VERY much intentional.” Tell yourself and your partner that you can share the responsibility of a relationship gone wrong, or unmet expectations of your partner, or a marital crisis. But the responsibility of infidelity lies on your promiscuous partner alone.
11. Give each other space to process and respond
Yes, it’s true, your partner cheated on you, and that should take away any rights they have, shouldn’t it? But if you want to move forward from this, you need to go through the infidelity recovery stages, and that requires patience. Accusations of infidelity are hard to take. These conversations can be very tough. If you or your partner need some space to decide the next steps, allow each other that.
You don’t have to forgive them. But you don’t have to decide everything right away either. Make sure, however, that your partner asks for a reasonable time from you to react. They shouldn’t see this as an opportunity to dodge the ball. You can do so by clearly expressing your intent of continuing the conversation after a little while.
Related Reading: 11 Ways Being Cheated On Changes You
How Do Cheaters React When Confronted
Your partner has been having their romantic escapades behind your back. And you’ve finally found a window of opportunity to gather evidence against them. Your worst suspicions are not confirmed. You also know everything you need to about how to successfully confront someone for cheating. But there is still a missing piece of the puzzle that needs your attention – their response. Cheaters can say shocking things when caught.
Your partner’s first reaction can be denial, or shifting the blame on you – shock and embarrassment can make one do that – but they should ideally switch to taking accountability soon after. Below are some of the common phrases most people use when brought face-to-face with their transgressions:
|Denial||“What rubbish! It wasn’t me. I don’t even know this person”|
“Someone is brainwashing you”
“It’s just rumors and gossip”
|Anger||“How could you even think I would cheat on you?”|
“How dare you accuse me of cheating?”
“Is this your level of faith in me?”
|Blame-shifting||“You weren’t meeting my needs”|
“You were always busy/tired/not in the mood”
“You were always fighting with me”
|Playing the victim card||“I felt trapped in the relationship”|
“I was going through a lot at work/in my personal life”
“She/he lured me into their trap”
|Accusations||“Are you accusing me of cheating because it’s you who’s actually cheating on me?”|
“You are just jealous/controlling/overprotective”
“How dare you check my phone? You have invaded my privacy”
|Gaslighting*||“Stop being so insecure.”|
“You are just imagining things. Are you okay? Do you need help?”
“You are supposed to believe me. And you choose to believe a piece of paper?”
*Take this “Am I being gaslighted” quiz to find out if you are
|Guilt||“It was just sex. You are the only person I care about”|
“There was no emotional connection. I don’t love her”
“It was a stupid mistake and it happened only once”
- To learn how to deal with cheaters, you need to prepare well for the confrontation
- If you suspect infidelity from your partner, back your gut feeling with evidence. Small pieces of evidence can work together to create an incriminating piece of evidence
- Picking the right time and place, remaining objective, using “I” language, giving the cheater time to respond, and making sure you listen is the best way to confront someone and can make a big difference in the way things turn out
- Be prepared for all kinds of responses and don’t approach this with an expectation of how it must go
- Take professional help from a relationship counselor to navigate this phase better
You have your answer now for what to do when someone is cheating on you. You are familiar with their reactions. Let’s say they accept, apologize for cheating, and want to make it better. What are you going to do now? Are you ready to repair the relationship and address the underlying issues that have surfaced? Or do you want to dump them and move on? Jayant says, “A lot of people are so immersed in their grief that all they care about is the confrontation. They don’t sit back and think about the things that will follow after that.”
It’s not just about learning how to confront someone for cheating, it’s also about how to move forward afterward. Infidelity is a sensitive issue to deal with and professional counseling can prove to be extremely helpful in the matter. You can seek individual counseling, or if you and your partner decide to give it another chance, couples therapy can assist you with the tools of trust building, forgiveness, and moving on. Should you need that help, Bonobology’s panel of experts is here for you.
This article has been updated in April 2023.