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should you tell your partner you've cheated?

snippets of what people shared on campfire.

team

a lot of dating coaches online are advocating that you shouldn’t tell your partner you cheated if you regret doing so and are willing to work on the relationship because it is more ‘cruel’ to do so. some folks online agree that confessing your infidelity is the easy way out and only helps rid you of your own guilt. however, this often goes against the radical honesty principle that many consider a key to a lasting, healthy relationship. so, as always, we wanted to see what the community feels about this!

L

The moral answer is yes but we tend not to because we still want that person and we're scared that they will leave or judge us

P

Pragmatically speaking the answer would always be yes.

But there's a combination of factors that can make it impossible.

If one has a pathological fear of rejection, no matte how fundamentally honest they are, the fear will override the capacity to be honest

If the partner isn't emotionally or even physically safe, that's enough of a reason for honesty to bring more harm than good.

In any case, living internally truthfully to the betrayal is the crucial part I believe. Accountability and suitable action

I

It's always a tricky question for me but I always try to think of it from the pov of the one being cheated on than cheating and I would want to know regardless if they're regretful or not. It's up to the one who got cheated on to continue the relationship or not and it feels like you're taking consent away from them if they don't have all the information. Yes, it helps your guilt to tell and you can go "well, I was honest and it's on them not to forgive me." but I think finding out the moment it happened vs years down the line will cause much much more harm.

If you feel like they can't handle it in the moment, ending the relationship on your end (without telling them) is better than leading them on and basically deceiving them.

M

And if it’s something that happened and ended, you regret it, didn’t have a direct impact on the relationship and so on… there’s also arguments against putting the burden of knowing on someone just to ease your own conscience. To what extent is it worth? I guess it will depend on each situation.

P

I listened to this podcast the other day that talks about the nuances of infidelity and how disclosing an infidelity is not always the appropriate/necessary choice. I found it helpful.

I

Also, sometimes not knowing you've been cheated on and going about life believing that your person is faithful (while others know they haven't been) can fuck you up pretty badly. so, I think even after the fact/a non-related breakup, it's important information to share.

J

I think it’s a nuanced question and totally depends on the context.

Ideally I make agreements that I keep (eg monogamy), and if I don’t keep them, often the main emotions I feel are anger towards myself and shame. But sometimes I don’t live up to all my agreements to myself, and that doesn’t make me a bad person - it makes me flawed and troubled, and if it hurts people around me then out of care I might try and learn/heal/change/grow.In an ideal relationship I’d have the strength of connection and safety + courage to share when I’ve fallen short, and even when I’ve (not maliciously) hurt the other person. If your life truly falls apart if you tell them, or you can’t bring yourself to share, then by definition there are too reasons for that.

And I think it’s also worth striving to be the best versions of ourselves, which to me includes doing the compassionate and honest thing even/particularly when it’s hard. Obviously fear of loss is one of many emotions involved in a situation like this; I’d offer that the subsequent grief/reflective process could be a powerful opportunity for growth if ones willing to take it.

J

Some additional thoughts:

- I’ve wrestled with the consequentialist “how it impacts them” question multiple times, talking with friends about some of our other friends relationships. I’ve generally come to the conclusion that it’s kind of impossible for anyone to say what’s best for someone, there’s just too many variables. An exception would be if you’ve had an explicit conversation about not wanting to know, which I’ve never heard of

- As someone else mentioned, there’s a lot of nuance around “what is cheating?” Which is different between each relationship

- is hugging ok? How about for 5 seconds? How about 5 minutes? How about 5 seconds but a lo of sexual tension? Etc. and also how important exclusive physical connection is to the other person (eg maybe they’ve wanted to explore poly for a while and actually this creates an opportunity to discuss)

T

I think the word should is key here - I think that implies there is a moral obligation or a duty that is expected to be met, otherwise we've fallen short.

From a purely moralistic POV I think that relationships are meant to be based on trust, honesty, and communication. As a result, to maintain that, we should tell our partner when we have slipped up. That's the morally correct thing to do.But I think we live in a world of grey. You can definitely do a calculation or make a case for least harm and conclude that, to reduce the overall pain, you shouldn't tell your partner about infidelity. Similar reasoning for "white lies" I think.

That being said, I'd agree with everyone's conclusion that it's case by case. Some people would absolutely want to know and I think that you should definitely tell them. Others are content with the dynamics of the relationship and would rather not know. I think when you mess up and could potentially hurt someone, their needs and wants should be top if you wish to make amends

team

since it's been brought up a couple of times, a related question is: what do you personally define as cheating?

D

I agree entirely with it all being case by case. Even when it comes to what constitutes as cheating and whether we mean emotional or physical. I have had past partners that were far less concerned with the physical side than the emotional side.

S

To me cheating is anything that’s out of the boundaries of your relationship. Wondering if those should be defined or not. I mean, could you be accidentally cheating, ie doing something that makes your partner feel cheated on even if you didn’t agree on this as being a case of cheating.

J

100% think they’re worth defining. Our unique histories and experiences inform what each individual is comfortable or not with. Within monogamy there’s infinite variations of what’s agreed upon/not.

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