You’ve cheated on your spouse and they’ve left you. What now? Is it possible to win them back? If so, what’s the best way to do it?
First, you must accept that there are no guarantees. Your spouse may not take you back, ever. Accept that and you’ll be in a better frame of mind for the work you must do to ever have a chance of winning them back.
Having said that, don’t despair – there is a better than even chance that you can win back your spouse. But it won’t be easy.
Paradoxically, to have the best chance of winning back your spouse after cheating, you need to focus on yourself, not on your spouse. You need to be serious and honest with yourself, and you need to be serious about changing the behavior and thinking that led you to cheat in the first place.
Certainly, your spouse may have contributed to the problem – perhaps they neglected you or put up emotional barriers or weren’t as affectionate as in the past. But you have to set all that aside and just focus on yourself and what you did.
Admit what you did. Be honest about it. Say you are sorry. Do your best to answer your spouse’s questions about it. But don’t feel like you must submit to an Inquisition. You aren’t obliged to give your spouse every lurid detail of your affairs. But you need to say enough to make it clear that you are telling the truth and not hiding further infidelity.
This is a difficult road to walk, keeping from hiding too much on one hand and from overwhelming your spouse with too much horrible detail on the other hand.
It’s best to create a safe place and time to talk to your spouse about your cheating. Getting the help of a professional counselor or therapist, even for just one session, can be very useful. It helps to have someone to referee between you and keep your conversation on useful subjects. Without that help, it can quickly turn into a verbal or even physical brawl.
Meeting with a therapist also helps because it sets a time limit on your disclosure conversation. During your safe one-hour session, you can cover the major points, tell your spouse what you need to tell them, and then the conversation is over. That doesn’t mean you won’t ever talk about it again, not at all. But it means you’ve covered the most important issues.
After this, it is probably best to focus on yourself for a while. What are you going to do to change your own ways of thinking and the dangerous patterns of behavior that led you to cheat in the first place?
Here again, getting professional help is valuable. One-on-one sessions with a therapist can help you untangle the problems in your life that led you to cheat. That help will be useful even if you and your spouse don’t get back together, as you will be happier and healthier in any future relationship you have. [Related: How to Find a Good Couples Counselor]
Be honest with your therapist and listen to the advice they give you. Attending regular sessions like this will not only help you, but it will also demonstrate to your spouse that you are serious about changing your behavior.
You may object to the cost of therapy. But ask yourself – how much money is it worth to save your marriage? Compared with the value of a healthy, happy marriage, the cost of therapy is insignificant. Your willingness to spend some of your hard-earned money on therapy will also help convince your spouse you are serious.
But always remember – you are getting help from a therapist for yourself, not for your spouse. Your objective is to become a better, healthier, happier person, not to prove anything to your spouse. Keep that idea very clear. Don’t ever tell your spouse that you’re going to therapy because of them. That will do far more harm than good.
Once you’ve spent some time talking to a therapist, you will be able to start making sense of some of the underlying stresses and problems that led you to cheat. Now it’s time to learn a few strategies from your therapist, ways to stop yourself or reach out for help if you are tempted to cheat again. Some professionals call them “off ramps” – techniques that help you get off of a highway that leads somewhere dangerous.
As you progress in your recovery, feel free to tell your spouse some details of your therapy. But keep in mind that you are doing this work for yourself, not for your spouse. Your therapy sessions are confidential and you don’t have to tell anyone about them.
Couples counseling – where you and your spouse go together to work out your problems – is also very helpful, though you may at first find it scarier than individual sessions. But a good couples therapist can help you and your spouse focus on and fix the most serious problems in your marriage. Don’t be afraid to seek this kind of help.
At some point, you will probably want to broach the subject of getting back together. Be very cautious about this. The best thing you can do is show through your behavior that you have changed, that you are serious about never cheating again, and wait for your spouse to make the first move towards getting back together. It will be much better coming from them than from you.
Waiting like that is not easy – you may be tempted to brag and say, “Look at all I’ve done! Let’s get back together!” But such an approach can easily backfire, so be careful.
Eventually, if your spouse wants to get back together, they will start a conversation about it. If you’ve been diligent about changing, you will be in a very good position to restart your marriage, and make it a happy, healthy one.