THE BLOG
08/31/2012 11:44 am ET | Updated Oct 31, 2012

I Think My Partner Is Cheating -- Now What?

The signs are there. You suspect your partner is cheating and having a cyber, emotional or physical affair. You might be feeling betrayed, hurt and unsure of how to proceed. Your natural impulse is probably to immediately confront your partner and let them have it. However, a word to the wise: Stop and take a deep breath! Don't make any accusations until you have concrete evidence to make your case and secure a confession.

Here's why: When first confronted about the affair, your partner may clam up, deny and deceive you further to protect themselves from the fallout. They fear being abandoned, punished or rejected if the truth is discovered. They fear losing control and being forced to change. They may also want to protect you from being hurt.

So what is the best way to proceed?

As a relationship therapist and author of a book on this topic, here's my best advice: If your goal is to get to the truth, make sure you have the 4 P's covered -- Proof, Preparation, Purpose & Plan -- before talking to your partner.

Here's what you need to know and do:

1. Have proof.

You must have tangible proof of the infidelity, such as a text, email or voicemail message, a private detective's report, a piece of clothing you found that doesn't belong to you or even photographs -- something that you can produce as indisputable evidence.

Without proof, you will look (or be treated) like a distrusting fool at best and, at worst, you will ensure that your cheating partner learns to cover their tracks better.

Proof will also help you plow through your own denial. When we love and want to trust someone, it can create huge blind spots in our ability to see the truth. Let's face it, to hear your partner admit that he or she has cheated on you hurts to the core. However, the truth can also be the doorway to a better and healthier relationship on the other side.

The more proof you possess, the greater the chance you'll have to get your partner to come clean.

Only when you have PROOF can you proceed.

2. Be prepared.

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." -Benjamin Franklin

Don't be surprised if your partner gets defensive, adamantly denying any and all wrongdoing and dismissing everything (i.e. "We're just good friends, that's all," "We're not having sex, so what's the big deal?" or "Lighten up. It was just a totally harmless text.")

When it comes to emotional or cyber infidelity where no physical intimacy has occurred, the boundaries are blurrier. It is often easy for the betrayer to deceive themselves (and you) into thinking their behavior is meaningless and harmless. Their denial may be even more defensive or aggressive.

Cheaters often use distraction as a tactic to deflect the truth by claiming you're being irrational or paranoid. They may even blame you for the time they were spending with someone else, claiming they needed a supportive friend because you were dropping the ball in the relationship by not providing something your partner needed or wanted.

The bottom line is, do your homework and be prepared. DON'T be surprised by your partner's reaction and DON'T lose your cool.

3. Know your purpose.

The purpose is to get the truth by getting your partner to confess. Once you have a confession and know what's really going on, you can work at a solution.

To do this, you must approach your partner in a rational, non-threatening way that alleviates your partner's fear instead of aggravating it. The intention is to get your partner to respond in a way that is forthright and honest.

Keep affirming to yourself... "I feel calm. I am safe. I can handle this. I want the secretiveness to stop. I'm in charge here and I'm going to get to the bottom of this."

4. Make a plan.

"If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up someplace else." -Yogi Berra

Make a plan to confront your partner and discuss the affair without interruptions. Choose the time and place carefully, then present the evidence one piece at a time.

It is very important to remain calm, no matter how much you may want to inflict physical harm on your cheating partner! Don't get me wrong, wanting to vent is healthy and necessary. In fact, it is essential to your own healing, as well as, the healing of your relationship that you are able to express your emotions.

However, getting upset, accusing, attacking, or name-calling will put your partner on the defensive and not help you get to the truth.

Remaining calm, cool, and collected is key to getting to the truth. Have a plan for how you'll deal with your anger and frustration when these emotions come up. The more calmly you deal with the truth, the more your partner will tell you the truth.

Do a personal check-in and make sure that you are emotionally prepared for the outcome of the discussion.

When the answer is "Yes! I'm ready!", here's what to do next:

Think Conversation, NOT Confrontation

First, remember to do everything you can humanly do to stay calm so that you can approach your partner in a diplomatic, non-combative way. A good way to start the conversation is to talk about yourself and start each sentence with "I" instead of "you." This will help your partner be less reactive.

Second, phrase the problem in a non-judgmental way by stating, "Something I discovered is upsetting me. I'm concerned (sad, hurt, frustrated) and I'd like to talk with you about it." This will maximize your chances of being heard and ultimately getting the truth.

Lastly, once your partner starts to open up, don't bombard him or her with questions. Studies show that people shut down, become defensive and lie when asked too many pointed questions (i.e. Who were you with? Why did you lie? How could you do this to me?). Know that this is an ongoing, unfolding discussion and everyone needs to come out of the shock and denial first. Listen carefully to your partner's responses so you can accurately assess the situation and keep the conversation going.

It helps to think of this conversation as a way to come together to understand and discuss what went wrong and what you can do about it now. Keep insisting: "I love you. I want our relationship to work. This has got to stop. This is what I need." If you can approach your partner with an expressed desire to use their confession for good-to ultimately improve your relationship-the conversation will be far more fruitful.

Sheri Meyers, Psy.D is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Los Angeles, CA, and author of Chatting or Cheating: How to Detect Infidelity, Rebuild Love, and Affair-Proof Your Relationship.

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