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. And now, you’ve decided to come clean and apologize for cheating on your husband or wife, apologize for cheating and lying to him/her.
How does one even go about it? How do you figure out what to say when apologizing for cheating? It’s a complex situation 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 apologize for cheating, and things to do and things not to do when you’re putting yourself and your partner through this very tough experience.
Expert Suggests 11 Tips On How To Apologize After Cheating
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 say that you chose to shatter their trust and create possibly permanent relationship trust issues. What’s easy or simple about that, right? 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 after cheating, hopefully (but we make no promises) without losing your mind completely
1. Avoid making excuses
“Avoid giving any excuses or reasons as to why you had the affair,” says Gopa, “Avoid justifications and be sure to take full responsibility for your own behavior. Don’t get into the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ and strictly no blaming your spouse or partner for the affair. Blame-shifting doesn’t work. Take 100% responsibility for your own actions. 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 did something deeply hurtful and possibly unforgivable.
Don’t bring up the how’s and why’s just yet, if at all you have to. This is an apology and you’re just saying you messed up and are truly sorry for it. Making excuses just makes it sound like you’re looking for a way out.
2. Be completely honest and open
Listen, you’re owning up to lying and cheating here. Don’t make it worse by lying even more or making up stories. When you apologize for cheating and lying, you need to be as honest as you can without embellishments or exaggeration. You’re not telling a story here, no one’s waiting for a big climax or hoping for a strong beginning
“I had a short affair with a colleague and I had to tell my husband about it,” says Colleen. I kept wondering how to apologize for cheating – what to say, how to frame it, how to go about it and so on. And then I realized, this was real, and I needed to be completely honest about things because this wasn’t some sort of movie script.”
Related Reading: 11 Signs Of Emotional Cheating With Examples
However, Gopa warns against too much detail. “The one who cheated needs to be completely honest and open and come clean about the affair. This is important as the spouse is not only feeling hurt and betrayed but can no longer trust their cheating partner and is already feeling that their relationship is all lies. 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. 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.”
“However, it is imperative to be honest and stick to the truth no matter how hurt your partner is feeling. 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 is not fair to them and causes further damage to the relationship,” 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’re not doing it with expectations. You’re not thinking, “Okay, 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.”
Sorry, but life’s not a kids’ story, especially when you’ve done something as real and complicated as cheating on a committed partner. You’re going to have to accept the consequences, and they’ll likely be absolutely nothing like what you imagined.
When you apologize after cheating on your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse, they have every right to not want to hear you out at first 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 and having wildly unrealistic expectations isn’t the way to go about it. In fact, realistic expectations in a relationship is a good way to go even if you’re not apologizing for cheating.
4. Accept that your partner will be angry, upset and irrational
Gopa says, “Don’t demand that your spouse forgive and forget the affair, or act as the guilty/hurt party and play the victim. Don’t push or manipulate them either. Expect your spouse to be angry (but not physically or verbally abusive), don’t react when they are angry, or start fighting or storm off when they are talking about the affair. Remember, they are trying to deal with their betrayal and hurt.
“Your spouse is going to feel angry, be deeply hurt and will want to hurt you back emotionally. 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 as of now, you have no right to 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.”
Related Reading: 10 Questions To Ask Your Unfaithful Spouse
5. Actively rebuild trust
When you’re thinking feverishly about how to apologize for cheating, know that it’s not just about the words or the apology itself, but also about how you need to quietly and slowly start rebuilding the fragile bond of trust between yourself and your partner. Even if the cheating means your relationship is probably over, a sense of rebuilt trust is a sense of closure for both parties.
Gopa says, “Be especially sensitive to your spouse and help rebuild trust in your relationship. Start to be proactive and more open with them. Actively nurture the relationship. The love and trust will not grow on their own. 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.”
There’s no one way to do this, and it’s entirely possible your efforts will seem fruitless at first but it’s important to follow up your apology with concrete action and let your partner see that you’re serious about being better and making things better.
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 apologize after cheating on your boyfriend, 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, 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, and you need to let them be. The answer to how to apologize for cheating 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 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 why the affair happened. The affair happened out of choice – you chose to step out voluntarily and disrespected your relationship intentionally. The best option is 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.”
Seeking therapy and relationship counseling is always a good idea, even if you’re not dealing with an affair or a relationship crisis. It’s important to take a long, hard look at your relationship and dust it off, and talk about what’s working and what isn’t.
It’s going to be a difficult conversation, which is why having an impartial and trained listener is integral to your healing process. Try to be as kind as possible, both to yourselves and each other and have an honest talk about your relationship. If you need a hand, Bonobology’s panel of counselors is here to help.
8. Don’t hold off on the apology
When you plan to apologize for lying and cheating, don’t stop at just planning. Of course, it’s a tough thing to actually go ahead with, and we guarantee you that it won’t go the way you’ve planned it out in your head. But you need to actually go ahead and say the words and make the gestures if you want to move on in whatever way possible.
Related Reading: 12 Ways An Extramarital Affair Can Help Your Marriage
David says, “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, I wrote it all out and 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.”
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. Yes, you can plan and write out what you want to say, you can also write them a letter if a face-to-face conversation is difficult. However, you might want to start out 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.
9. Don’t make it all about you
Gopa says, “Avoid beating yourself up and make the apology all about yourself. Your spouse is hurt, feeling betrayed and has lost trust in you and your relationship. Your focus should be on your partner rather than playing the victim and telling your partner about your pain and letting cheating guilt signs take over.
“Remember, your partner has enough pain to deal with at their own end. They cannot and should not have to deal with your pain and issues. 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.”
There’s a difference between taking accountability and responsibility 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 how to apologize for cheating, just say your piece, be honest with yourself, be clear with your partner, and then back off. They don’t need the additional frills and furbelows so you can feel better about yourself.
10. Act out of genuine remorse, not just guilt
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 terrible, maybe even unforgivable in your partner’s eyes. And you’re genuinely feeling terrible about it and you realize that simply saying sorry once may not cut it, even if it assuages your guilt.
Gopa says, “What to say when apologizing for cheating is very important and how you say it is also very important. I have clients who argue that it has been over a year and that their partners should have gotten over it by now. They ask me how many times they need to say they’re sorry. My recommendation on how to apologize for cheating is to say you’re sorry a million times if need be and let your genuineness and honesty show that you really mean it.
Related Reading: An Overview Of Stages Of Guilt After Cheating
“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, humiliated or continue to distrust you, that means you are not being serious about making reparations to the relationship or about doing the work required to heal the marriage.”
11. Be clear about how you want to proceed after the apology
How to apologize for cheating? Forgiveness in relationships is important, but clarity about what comes afterward is a major part of the apology and the road ahead. Be clear about it in your mind and communicate to your partner accordingly. 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?
Remember, your partner might not want the same things you want. They may not be able to forgive you and may want to end the relationship and 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.
When you apologize after cheating on your boyfriend, it’s 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.
How to apologize for cheating 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 emotion from your spouse, and you’ll need to take it.
Gopa says, “Often, the betrayed spouse can get triggered and make connections based on their suspicions of you. Your partner may feel you are not being open about where you went or who you’re on the phone with.
“These triggers can make the spouse believe that you’re cheating on them again and this cuts their trust in the marriage even deeper. However difficult and painful 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, non-judgmentally hearing your spouse out and practicing active listening, you will go a long way toward healing your relationship over time.”