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Should I Tell My Partner I Cheated On Them?

Written by: Marie Murphy, Ph.D., Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


If you’re in a committed, ostensibly monogamous relationship, and you’ve done something you know your partner would consider cheating – if they were to find out about it – you may be freaking out.

Man and women flirting at a bar

Should I tell my partner I cheated?

On the one hand, you may really want to tell them. It’s the right thing to do, right? After all, honesty is the best policy… isn’t it? You’re pretty sure you’d feel relieved not to have to bear the burden of your secret anymore, and a little relief sounds pretty great right about now.

But on the other hand, you don’t really want to tell them at all. You can’t imagine bearing their fury – or disappointment. And what good could it possibly do? How would telling them to benefit them in any way? You’re pretty sure it wouldn’t – but you’re also kind of afraid that you’re just trying to find a way to justify taking the easy way out.

What’s a well-meaning person like you to do in a situation like this?

Here’s the good news and the bad news: if you cheated on your partner, you do not have to tell them. I know that plenty of people – even people with fancy professional credentials, who call themselves “relationship experts” – will tell you otherwise. But you really don’t have to tell your partner you cheated. You don’t have to do anything! You might decide that there are good reasons to tell your partner that you cheated, and that you therefore want to tell them. But, for better or worse, you get to choose whether you tell or not.

So if you don’t have to tell someone if you cheated, how do you make a decision? Here are things to consider to help you decide.

Do you want your relationship with the person you cheated on to continue?

This is a really important question to answer before you attempt to think about anything else.

Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – we cheat on our partner because we’re kind of done with that relationship… but we don’t really know how to admit that to ourselves, or to them. Whether that rings true for you or not, now is an excellent time to get really clear on what you want in terms of the future of your relationship with the person you cheated on.

If you come to the conclusion that you’re ready to leave the relationship, your cheating may be completely beside the point. Your job may be to prepare to break up with your partner – not to figure out whether or not want to tell them you’ve cheated on them.

If you don’t know if you want to stay with the person you cheated on, now is a good time to figure that out. Make that your main project.

If you’re sure you want to stay with the person you cheated on, the question of whether or not you want to disclose your cheating is a lot more salient. So keep reading.

Is your infidelity over, or is it an ongoing thing?

If whatever infidelity you’ve engaged in is definitely over, that’s one thing. Maybe you slept with a coworker after you’d had a little too much to drink and you’re absolutely sure that it will never happen again. Nothing too complicated there.

But if you aren’t sure whether you want to continue with whatever you’re doing in the infidelity department or not, you may want to figure that out before you even think about telling your primary partner about what you’re up to.

It’s one thing to tell your partner that you cheated on them, but you’re sure that it’s all in the past. It’s another thing entirely to tell someone that you have been and still are cheating on them – and you aren’t really sure if you want to stop.

Honesty has its value, to be sure. But being honest before you’ve gotten your shit together may not be doing anyone any great favors. So if you don’t know what you want to do about your ongoing infidelity stuff, focus on answering that question before you worry about talking to your partner about whatever you’ve been doing.

How likely is it that your partner will find out about what you did if you do not tell them?

If you are confident that there’s a good chance that your partner either knows about your extracurricular activities already or is likely to find out, you may want them to hear about your cheating from you first. Especially if you want to keep your relationship with your committed partner going, it may behoove you to disclose your infidelity before they find out some other way. Sure, they may not be excited to hear about what you’ve been doing, but hearing about it from you may be the least-bad way for them to find out. If you’re pretty sure you’re busted, you may want to be as honest with your partner as you can, as quickly as you can.

And, if you think they already know what’s going on, the most respectful thing to do for them may be to come clean and confirm their suspicions. Especially if they’ve already asked you, point blank, if you’ve got anything going on with someone else. Yes, it may be hard as hell to look them in the eye and tell the truth – or at least, a portion of the truth. But you might like that better than continuing to lie to them, and know that they know you’re lying, and feel pretty terrible about that.

Alternatively, if you’re as sure as you can be that the chances of your partner finding out about your infidelity are extremely low, consider the possibility that they might never know if you don’t tell them. And if that’s the case, carefully consider what you think the benefits in telling them would be. There might be some real benefits to telling your partner you cheated, even if they’d likely never find out. But I encourage you to be very clear on what exactly those are. Which brings us to the next question…

What do you imagine the benefits of telling your partner you’ve cheated will be?

It’s really important to be honest with yourself about what you hope the benefits of confessing your infidelity to your partner will be. There can be GREAT reasons to confess. But sometimes, people confess based on unrealistic expectations.

For instance, sometimes people want to confess that they’ve cheated so that they can feel the relief of having “done the right thing” by being honest. Furthermore, sometimes people assume that if they confess their infidelity to their partner, their partner will be so pleased with them for being honest, that they will forgive the infidelity, and everyone will get to be happy, and all will be well.

I’m not going to tell you that this can't happen or never happen. But your partner may not give you these things! Moreover, it may not be fair for you to expect these things from your partner.

So get really, really clear on what you think the benefits of telling your partner will be. And then evaluate those anticipated benefits. Do they constitute good reasons for you to tell your partner what you’ve done? Only you can make that judgment call!

So, should you tell your partner you cheated?

Whether you decide to tell your partner that you cheated or keep this information to yourself, you’re probably going to experience some discomfort either way.

Telling your partner that you cheated may be excruciatingly uncomfortable. Dealing with their reaction to your disclosure may be excruciatingly uncomfortable, too. It might be worth it to deal with this discomfort, if you have reasons that you like for confessing. But it will still be uncomfortable.

And NOT telling your partner will probably be pretty uncomfortable, too. You may feel bad about cheating, and bad about keeping what may seem like a pretty big secret. But if you decide that you really don’t have any great reasons to tell your partner that you cheated, it may be worth it to bear this discomfort on your own, and look for ways to move forward… instead of letting your past cheating interfere with the future of your relationship with your partner.

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Marie Murphy, Ph.D., Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Dr. Marie Murphy is a relationship coach and the host of the podcast, “Your Secret is Safe with Me.” Dr. Murphy helps people who are engaging in anything they think counts as infidelity to deal with their feelings, clarify what they want, and make decisions about what they’re going to do – without shame, blame, or judgments. She believes that if you’re cheating on your partner, you deserve guidance and support that respects the fullness of your humanity, and the complexity of your situation, no matter what you’re doing. Resolving your situation in a way that’s truly right for you IS possible, and Dr. Murphy can help you do it.



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