So You Cheated and Need to Come Clean – Here’s How to Do It Right
Cheating in a relationship is ugly, it’s messy, and it happens all the time. OK, so you cheated on your girlfriend, and now you two need to Have The Conversation — what could possibly be worse than that? Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. Here’s how to break this news to her gently and make the best of a bad situation.
1. Make Sure To Pre-Empt Anyone Else Telling Her
Don’t let your relationship turn into a bad B-plot from the show Friends! Don’t wait for her to find out you cheated from someone else. It hurts much more to hear it from some office gossip or well-meaning nosy person than from your own partner.
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Find the earliest possible convenient time, take her somewhere private (coffee shops or crowded restaurants are not ideal for this kind of conversation), and tell her gently and plainly that you did something wrong. There’s no need to go into too much detail at this point — it will be a massive shock to her, so you would do well to keep it to the bare facts.
2. React Calmly To Whatever She Says
Understand that this is an incredibly fraught thing to hear, and that people react in all sorts of ways to bad news. She might cry, or yell at you, or freak out, or storm out. Anything is possible — but what’s for sure is that you need to remain calm and collected. (This will help her be calm too.)
Don’t get upset or agitated yourself. Be a rock for her to lean on. Tell her “I know this is hard to hear, and I’m so sorry. Take your time to process this however you need to. I’ll be here.” You need to be a soothing presence, so that her anger and grief will subside.
3. Resist The Urge To Make Excuses Or To Go On The Defensive
“Well, I don’t think it would have happened if you hadn’t been traveling so much. Also I was really, really drunk…I’m not trying to excuse it, but I wasn’t in my right mind…”
Don’t provide too many explanations or justifications for your cheating! Your partner has a right to be upset with you, and you shouldn’t minimise that. The urge to explain away your bad behavior is very human, but it will do much more harm than good.
“I’m so sorry that I did this. I have no-one to blame but myself, but I can try and explain what was going on with me if it helps.”
Cheating is complex, and the best you can do is take full accountability for your actions. Once she is calm enough to hear more, you are free to provide some context. But don’t begin the conversation with an excuse: it sounds like you’re blaming her instead of yourself.
4. Give Her Some Space And Time To Deal With Her Emotions
After you break the news, offer her some practical options.
“If you want to be alone to think about this — I get it, and I’ll go away and wait. If you want me to stay, though, I’m here for you. I’ll do whatever you’re most comfortable with.”
She might not want to talk to you for a while, and that’s understandable! You wouldn’t want to either, in her place. Don’t insist on talking to her or keep explaining yourself when she’s not comfortable with it.
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Follow her lead and remember: everybody processes on their own time and terms! Apology flowers and gift baskets won’t erase what you did overnight. If you are chill and respectful about this, it will happen much more smoothly.
5. Don’t Expect Instant Forgiveness – Or Even Ask For It
“It was an unforgivable thing to do, I know, and I’m so sorry.”
To most of us, the idea of not being forgiven is unthinkable. But the reality is that no-one owes us forgiveness — and asking for it can often come off as entitled. It might even make the other person angry.
It’s definitely not something that should be brought up in this conversation. Forgiveness — if it comes — will take some time, and you shouldn’t rush her! Don’t say things like “Do you think you could ever forgive me?” It suggests you don’t appreciate the gravity of the situation.
6. You Can Ask Her To Stay, But Be Prepared For Her To Leave You
“I want you to know that our relationship is still incredibly important to me, and I’m aware I’ve jeopardised it with my actions. I would give anything to take it back, and I’ll fight to regain your trust, I promise. I hope you’ll consider it.”
If you want to stay in the relationship, you do have to make some promises: you have to commit to regaining her trust. You have to be prepared for a period of doubt and uncertainty, until she figures out what she wants. You’ll have to put in work to salvage this relationship.
But you shouldn’t assume that the relationship can be salvaged. Cheating is a dealbreaker for many people, and it’s insulting to the other person to assume that it won’t happen in this particular instance. Don’t act shocked or surprised if she says it’s over — give her time and acknowledge that her feelings are valid. You have to respect whatever her final decision is.
Go into the conversation prepared for the worst — and hopefully you’ll find it isn’t quite that bad! Good luck!