How to apologize for cheating? What a terribly loaded question! You’re probably already dealing with the fact that you cheated on a committed partner, and the guilt and uncertainty are eating away at you. In your heart, you know your partner deserves better than this and you owe them a detailed explanation. But how does one even go about it? What to say after cheating?
Do you write an apology letter or talk to them in person? Should you reveal the whole truth behind this affair? Or is it better to censor certain parts to spare them any more suffering? No matter what triggered your earlier actions, you are here now, ready to take responsibility for the damage done in the relationship and we stand by you in your pursuit. You must feel everything’s bleak at the moment but let’s look at the bright side.
You value the importance of saying sorry in a relationship and are willing to work hard to make amends. The silver lining says they might give you another chance. But we have a complex situation at hand to deal with, and we thought it could use an expert’s take. So, we spoke to psychotherapist Gopa Khan (Masters in Counseling Psychology, M.Ed), who specializes in marriage and family counseling, on how to ask for forgiveness after cheating. She tells us all the things to do and not to do when you plan on coming clean.
Expert Suggests 11 Tips On How To Apologize After Cheating
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We’ll be honest – There’s no easy or simple way to do this. You’re about to confess to a partner whom you probably still love and respect, or at least still have some warm feelings toward, that you cheated on them. You’re basically about to shake up their world and tell them you shattered their trust. You’re dreading permanent relationship trust issues after this confession.
There’s nothing easy or simple about that. But you can be honest and sincere, and not make this any messier than necessary for yourself and your partner. Here are some expert tips on how to apologize for cheating on your partner:
1. Avoid making excuses
What to say when you cheat on someone you love? Gopa suggests the following:
- The first step toward making amends for cheating is to take responsibility for your actions
- Avoid giving any excuses or reasons as to why you had the affair
- Avoid spending time justifying your infidelity
- Don’t get into the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ and strictly no blaming your spouse or partner for the affair
- Blame-shifting doesn’t work. Just go with “What I did was wrong.” No excuses
This is, of course, easier said than done. When you’re confessing to something you know will hurt your partner and your relationship, the temptation to follow it up with “But I only did it because I was lonely/drunk/thinking of you, etc.” is high. After all, it might redeem you just a tiny bit, both in your own and your partner’s eyes.
The thing is, that’s a total cop-out, especially at the beginning of an apology. Maybe there is a justification for why you cheated and maybe you are lonely or unfulfilled or unhappy in your relationship. But right now, you’re just owning up to the fact that you brought a third person into your relationship, an action that’s deeply hurtful and possibly unforgivable. Don’t bring up the hows and whys just yet, if at all you have to. Making excuses just makes it sound like you’re looking for a way out.
Related Reading: 11 Signs Of Emotional Cheating With Examples
2. Be completely honest and open about your cheating regret
“I had a short affair with a colleague and I had to tell my husband about it,” says Colleen, an advertising expert from Maine. She adds, “I knew my husband won’t forgive me and I kept wondering, ‘What to say? How to frame it? How long does it take for someone to accept an apology?’ and so on. And then I realized, this was real, and I needed to be completely honest about things because this wasn’t a movie script.”
We agree with Colleen. You’re owning up to lying and cheating here. Don’t make it worse by lying even more. You’re not telling a story here, no one’s waiting for a big climax or hoping for a strong beginning. Be honest, to yourself and to them. However, Gopa warns against too much detail:
- When you apologize for cheating and lying, you need to share the whole truth without embellishments or exaggeration
- Also, lies have a way of coming out and can deeply damage the relationship to the point of no return
- However, avoid giving too many minute details as the spouse can use this to further torture themselves mentally
- Also, share information at one go, instead of giving it in bits and pieces
- Regardless of whether it’s a short fling or a lifelong extramarital affair, giving information to a betrayed spouse in drips causes further damage to the relationship
“I usually encourage my clients to write down their concerns and questions and hand it over to their spouse to respond. This makes it non-confrontational, and both spouses can read the letters repeatedly and make them part of their healing,” she adds.
3. Don’t assume apologizing fixes everything
It would be nice if life and adult relationships were like kids’ storybooks where you say you’re sorry and you’re sincere, and that’s all you need to do to fix things. Unfortunately, that’s not how things work, so don’t go assuming that an apology, no matter how perfectly worded, is all it takes to fix things.
When you’re apologizing to someone you’ve hurt, you can’t be doing it with expectations. You can’t think, “Okay, I cheated but I want to save my relationship. I’ll say I’m sorry, I’ll tell them everything and then things will go back to the way they were and it’ll all work out.” You’re going to have to accept the consequences, and they’d likely be not what you imagined.
Even if you offer an apology for hurting someone you love, they have every right to not want to hear you out at all, and certainly not forgive you right away or ever. That’s a risk you need to take when you’re wondering how to apologize for cheating; having wildly unrealistic expectations isn’t the way to go about it. Make your partner feel like you genuinely regret cheating on them and wait with patience until they are ready to acknowledge your plea.
4. Accept that your partner will be angry, upset, and irrational
“I am sorry I cheated. It was a one time thing and it won’t happen again” – If only it were that easy to send an apology letter to boyfriend for cheating (or to your girlfriend) and wash your hands off the unfortunate incident. The reality is that your partner is going to feel angry. You have just broken their heart into a million pieces. They will want to yell, scream, and hurl their anger at you or give you the cold, silent treatment for weeks afterward.
Your partner may also wish to defend themselves or run away from the situation to protect themselves. In other words, they’re going to behave in a manner that you won’t like or consider ‘rational.’ But given that you are the one in a morally compromised position here, you have to allow them the space to vent. Our expert suggests:
- Remember, they are trying to deal with their betrayal and hurt
- Do not expect kindness or understanding from them or reprimand them for being less than rational
- Their world has just come apart, you need to let them process it their way, even if it doesn’t make sense to you
- Expect them to be angry (but not physically or verbally abusive). Don’t react when they are angry, or start fighting
- Do not storm off when they are talking about the affair. Pay undivided attention so they know you truly want to make amends
- Don’t demand that your spouse forgive and forget the affair
- Don’t act as the guilty/hurt party and play the victim
- Don’t push or manipulate them either
Related Reading: 10 Questions To Ask Your Unfaithful Spouse
5. How to apologize for cheating? Rebuild trust actively
When you’re thinking feverishly about how to ask for forgiveness after cheating, know that it’s not just about the words in the apology letter, but also about how you need to quietly and slowly start rebuilding trust and the fragile bond between you and your partner. And that means you take responsibility – In your words and your actions. Even if it seems your relationship is almost over, a sense of rebuilt trust brings closure for both parties.
There’s no one way to do this, and it’s entirely possible your hard work will seem fruitless at first but it’s important to follow up your apology with concrete action. We can both agree you probably won’t be nominated for the ‘best husband’ or ‘best partner’ award at the moment. The least you can do is to let your partner see that you seriously want to make things better. Here’s what Gopa suggests:
- Be specially sensitive to your spouse and help rebuild trust in your relationship
- Start being proactive and more open with them
- Nurture the relationship mindfully. The love and trust will not grow on their own
- Make sure there’s parity between your words and actions so they can trust you enough to give you a second chance
- It’s a commitment that you need to make with yourself and your partner to work on the relationship every day and heal it from within
- Maybe your partner won’t respond at first, but remember, you’re doing this for yourself as much as for them
- Rather than carry the burden and signs of being an untrustworthy partner all your life, it’s both kinder and more practical to act toward making better choices
6. Give your partner space
When you apologize for cheating on your husband or wife, do keep in mind that it’ll take both time and space for them to come to terms with the betrayal and the shock. And the best thing you can do is to give it to them. What to say when apologizing for cheating? How about “I understand you need time and space.”
“When my partner confessed that he’d had a one-night stand while away on a trip, I broke down completely,” says Chris. “I couldn’t stand being in the same room or even the house as him. Eventually, he realized this and he went and stayed with a friend for a while. We’re still trying to work it out, but that time apart meant I could wrap my mind around it and at least we’re talking now.”
Dealing with a cheating partner is its own kind of trauma, and like any trauma, it needs both emotional and physical space. Constantly being around your partner or begging for forgiveness is not the best thing right now. You’ve made your apology. Hopefully, it was a sincere one. Now it’s up to them to come to terms with it in their own way. The answer to how to apologize for cheating and lying is sometimes “maintain some distance.”
7. Consider seeking professional help
When an affair occurs, the couple tends to try and dissect it and find reasons on their own,” Gopa says. “The betrayed partner is looking for reasons as to why the affair happened in the first place and the cheating partner is trying to find justifications as to what was missing in the relationship or if there were any lacunae.
“Firstly, that is not the reason that the affair happened. The affair happened out of choice – You chose to step out and disrespected your relationship intentionally by bringing in a third person into your equation. Now that you’re confessing cheating to your partner, the best option is for both to seek individual counseling for yourself and set aside a fixed time once a day or week where both partners can talk civilly and discuss where their relationship was and where it stands now.”
The conversation is going to be difficult after you were caught in bed with someone. That is why having an impartial and trained listener is integral to your healing process. If you need a hand, Bonobology’s panel of counselors is here to help. Seeking therapy and relationship counseling is always a good idea, even if you’re not dealing with an affair or a relationship crisis.
Related Reading: 12 Ways An Extramarital Affair Can Help Your Marriage
8. Don’t hold off on the apology
A reader emailed us for tips on how to apologize after cheating on your boyfriend. Let’s hear it from another reader, David (28) from Phoenix. He shares, “I had been secretly seeing my wife’s cousin for a while. After a point, I was riddled with guilt and called it off. I didn’t know how to apologize for cheating. I planned a huge apology to my wife, planned what I would say and how I would say it, the words I would use. But when it came down to it, I was terrified of actually saying it. It took weeks before I realized I was actually making it worse by putting it off.”
When you plan to apologize for lying and cheating, don’t stop at just planning. As with any tough situation, the way to apologize for cheating on your husband or wife or long-term partner is to go ahead and do it. Of course, it’s a tough thing to actually go ahead with, and we guarantee that it won’t go the way you’ve planned it in your head. But you need to actually say the words out loud and make the gestures if you want to move on in whatever way possible.
- The first thing you can do is plan and write down what you want to say
- Apology letters are another option at hand if a face-to-face conversation seems difficult
- You can pour your heart into an apology letter to boyfriend for cheating or express deep regret for betraying your girlfriend
- However, you might want to follow it with a proper talk rather than giving in to your fear
- And do it as soon as you can, without letting relationship communication issues get in the way
- It will be more impactful if you face the situation instead of dropping off an apology letter through mutual friends
9. When apologizing for an act of infidelity, never make it all about you
How to apologize for emotional cheating? Well, whether it was an emotional affair, a one-time kiss, or something entirely physical, this one rule applies to all when you are making an apology to the most important person in your life right now. Don’t make yourself the center of the apology letter/speech. There’s a difference between taking accountability for your actions and making it all about how terrible you feel and how you’ll do anything to make up for it.
You need to have empathy for your partner and their feelings, which will be all over the place as they deal with their shock, sorrow, anger, and so on. If you’re wondering what to say when you cheat on someone you love, just say your piece, be clear with your partner, and then back off. They don’t need the additional frills so you can feel better about yourself. Here are some tips from Gopa:
- Avoid beating yourself up or make the apology all about yourself
- Your spouse is torn into a million pieces and has lost trust in you and your relationship. They cannot and should not have to deal with your pain and issues
- Your focus should be on your partner rather than playing the victim and letting cheating guilt signs take over
- Those are best addressed in individual therapy sessions with your counselor
- Also, don’t try to minimize the issue or blow it off, as if the affair was a blip in the marriage and everything will now go back to the way it was
10. Act out of genuine remorse, not just guilt
How to apologize to your wife for cheating or for betraying your partner’s trust? Remember, an apology is about saying you’re sorry, and meaning it. It means you’re not doing it simply as a courtesy but because you realize you’ve done something wrong, maybe even unforgivable in your partner’s eyes. And you’re genuinely feeling terrible about it. Saying a simple sorry one time may not cut it, even if it assuages your guilt.
Gopa says, “Choosing what to say when apologizing for cheating is very important, and how you say it is even more important. I have clients who argue that it has been over a year and that their partners should get over the cheating episode by now. They ask me how many times they need to say they’re sorry. My recommendation on how to say sorry after cheating is to do it a million times if need be, and let your genuineness show every time.
“Yes, sometimes you may get tired of apologizing repeatedly or want to stop talking about the affair or just move on. But one can only move on if the betrayed partner has been made to feel safe, secure, and understood. If they continue to feel betrayed and distrust you, that means you are not being serious about making reparations to the relationship or that you didn’t work hard enough to heal the marriage.”
11. Be clear about how you want to proceed after the apology
Forgiveness in relationships is important, but clarity about what comes afterward is a major part of the apology and the road ahead. Remember, your partner might not want the same things you want. They may find it hard to wipe away the image of a third person from their head and want to end the relationship/marriage. If that is the case, don’t attempt to change their mind, at least not right away. If letting go is what is best for them, do so with grace. Here are some things to do when you’re caught cheating or after you’ve confessed the whole affair:
- Be clear about what you need to communicate to your partner
- Do you want to continue with your marriage/relationship?
- Have you fallen for the person you cheated with and is that something you want to pursue?
- Are you both willing to go for counseling and rebuild trust?
When you apologize after cheating on your boyfriend or girlfriend, take the first step to whatever comes next. It’s not going to be pretty no matter which way it goes, and there’s a good chance it won’t go your way. But it’s up to you to be clear about your own intentions and stick to them as firmly as you can. If you and your partner are not on the same page, it’s best to let go or at least take a relationship break.
Related Reading: An Overview Of Stages Of Guilt After Cheating
- When you are apologizing for cheating on your partner, do not justify your actions or make it all about yourself by playing the victim card
- Be completely honest with your partner, but you can cut out the harsh details to save them from further pain
- One apology at one time doesn’t fix a broken relationship. You need to work actively on rebuilding trust
- Give your partner ample space and time to deal with the shock and the heartache
- Make plans in advance regarding your future course of actions as a couple or an individual depending on how the apology goes
Gopa concludes, “Often, the betrayed spouse can get triggered and make connections based on their suspicions of you. These triggers can make them believe that you’re cheating on them again and this cuts their trust in the marriage even deeper. However difficult it may be to hear their anguish and pain, try not to buffer the hurt, dismiss it, or be impatient for them to get over it. By being present unconditionally, hearing them out non-judgmentally, and being a good listener, you will go a long way toward healing your relationship.”
“I cheated on my boyfriend and I regret it” – Remember how it all started? We hope this article helped you find an answer to how to apologize for cheating on the one you love. Undoubtedly, it is one of the hardest things to do in a relationship. The words you use, how you express yourself, what you do afterward both as an individual and as a couple – All of this matters tremendously. There will be heartbreak and anger and negative emotions, and you’ll need to bear it all patiently to save the relationship you once built with love.
This article has been updated in August 2023.