You messed up. Like, big time.
You know you're not supposed to do that stuff. Stuff like falling in love with another person when you've legally, religiously and ethically committed to loving only one person – that person being your significant other/spouse.
Stuff like having happy endings with a paid masseuse, or hook-up sex with Tinder men. You're not permitted to hire a sex worker for the night, chat online with an ex, or sext a stranger from Russia who you met online.
I know you will tell me that cheating is unacceptable, lacks integrity and casts a pretty dark shadow on someone's reputation. Perhaps you had a parent cheat, or were cheated on yourself.
In which case, you don't need me to tell you how painful this cheating thing is. Yet you submitted to it, you betrayed your own values, and you probably feel as crappy about that as you do about the pain you've caused your injured partner.
What you may need is a little help surviving the catastrophe you set in motion in your personal and relational life.
Don't duck the bullets
From the moment you are caught out, breathe a sigh of relief – it feels so good to be set free from the heaviness of carrying such a big secret and juggling separate lives. It is important to commit to the decision that from that point onwards, you will be honest – deathly honest.
After all, this might be one of the reasons that you stepped outside of your marriage/relationship in the first place. Perhaps you were not honest about your emotions, sexuality and needs – and instead of risking being honest with your partner, you turned outward and sought these feelings elsewhere. Now you have the opportunity to create a brand-new relationship based on radical honesty.
So get off your knees. Prayer won't help you, and begging for forgiveness can only be sustained and impactful for a certain length of time. Time to man/woman up and do the work.
Hold onto your pants: your partner, who is clinically referred to as the "injured" partner, will be thrust into a state of trauma. She/he will hate and love you within the space of minutes. She/he will tell you to move out the house, and then call you to come home and make love. Sit through it. Take the bullets she/he shoots at you during ongoing sessions of interrogation.
Saying "I don't know/remember " won't cut it... even if this is your truth. A lot gets forgotten under the pressure of interrogation. Keep sharing your feelings, whatever they are: contrition, confusion, love, shame, guilt, fear, whatever.
Give the details if requested – you have nothing to lose at this point, and it's amazing how far honesty goes... even as far as cocreating a richer relationship. Be aware that what your partner is really begging for is a way to feel safe with you again, wondering what he/she did that made you act this way, and is terrified that it may happen again. This is what you should talk to.
Mourn the loss of the affair
It's not politically correct for you to admit missing your mistress, dominatrix, hook-up, or online chat buddy. Best you do this mourning in private, preferably with a nonjudgmental therapist. It's a really important piece of work in your process of healing, as therein lies some of the answers to why you stepped out of line in the first place.
Consider who you chose, the kinds of intimacy you enjoyed with this person/s, the sexuality. Overall, consider how this person/s made you feel about yourself. Perhaps you enjoyed the feeling of being sexually desired, admired, intellectually stimulated and free.
Get on your knees
Express remorse, if it is genuine. If not, this is your truth. You want out? So get out elegantly – now is the time to talk divorce or separation.
Otherwise, you need to show that you are remorseful, open your heart – chest-beating, begging for forgiveness, showcasing pleasing behaviour and deep apology.
Take responsibility for betraying and hurting. Denying the truth – getting irritated, aggressive and defensive – will keep you on your knees way longer than necessary. Go for the lie-detector test, agree to a tracker on your phone and car. Prove your commitment to begin rebuilding the all-important trust in your relationship.
Get rid of the lover(s)
"My wife says I can't see you any longer."
"My partner saw our online chats and freaked out, so unfortunately, I have to disappear for a while."
This kind of non-ending of an affair will keep your partner bleeding in agony. If you have chosen to stay with your partner, even if you remain in love/fascination with your lover, ending the hook-up or relationship is essential.
Do it with elegance and ritual. And then close it. Block off all contact, temptations and opportunities for further contact. Keeping doors open to a lover will add years of pain to your healing process, as trust can't be restored.
Know when to accept that, despite all the work you put into recovering your marriage, it may simply not be possible.
Why did I cheat?
Esther Perel, a clinician and bestselling author of "State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity", discusses two models of infidelity: the deficiency model holds that infidelity occurred because of some deficiency in the marriage and is a symptom of problems between the couple. The betrayer is selfish, has a narcissistic personality disorder, is a sex addict, or has attachment wounds or commitment issues.
Or that the marriage was flawed in the first place, and opened up the possibility for the betrayal. Or that the hurt party was inattentive to the relationship, and was simply not enough. This model can support shame for both people in the relationship. But shame inhibits growth and healing, so let go of blame and shame, and let's keep moving forward.
A second model is the perpetrator/victim model. The injured partner becomes so traumatised by the betrayal, that it's very difficult for her/him to move past the hurt that is witnessed and see more. It's so convenient to keep stuck in these roles, isn't it?
If you don't fiercely object to this model, you'll be on your knees for life, begging for forgiveness, and your partner will be forever smirking in his/her role as the hurt person, punishing you for any violation that will naturally occur in the relationship from here on out.
You are both injured by your infidelity. You may both have been suffering injuries, before you acted it out. Stand up for that truth. Get off the back foot and allow yourself and your partner to individually take responsibility, as you both honestly discuss and shred through hours of therapy, unpacking your past marriage/relationship.
Use this crisis as an opportunity for growth, both personally and relationally. Reform this relationship, shaping it from a new foundation of sexual and emotional honesty. And know when to accept that despite all the work you put into recovering your marriage, it may simply not be possible.