It’s one thing to catch your partner cheating. It’s another to another to catch them cheating when you’re self-isolating together for weeks, unable to leave your home. Do you break up, even though there’s nowhere to go? Do you try to talk it out, when there’s so little room to take space? What do you do if you find out your partner cheated while quarantined together?
“There’s nothing simple or easy about what you’re going through, and all the feelings you’re experiencing right now are valid,” couples therapist Genesis Games, LMH, tells Bustle. “Yet, we want to be mindful and levelheaded when making decisions that might have very serious repercussions. We want to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved while tending to our own pain in the best way we can.”
As much as you may feel the urge to scream at your partner, Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships, tells Bustle that it’s a good idea to take some time to collect your thoughts first. You’ll want to process, then make a game plan for what you want to say and how you want to convey it.
If you hope to work things out, your approach needs to feel less accusatory and more rational and even-headed, so your partner doesn’t become defensive and will be more willing to explain themselves. Whether you catch them sexting or having an emotional affair with an ex, it’s important to address the issue openly and honestly. As Manly says, “emotions might be running high, but a simple and straightforward approach is ideal.”
Manly suggests having the conversation in the morning or mid-afternoon, as this gives you enough time to discuss the issue and then process the conversation. Avoiding approaching the topic when your partner has been drinking and don’t be tempted to use it as a weapon in the middle of a larger argument. The aftermath of the conversation is going to be more successful if you’re both emotionally and mentally present.
“When you’re ready, clearly and directly express your feelings and needs using an ‘I’ statement,” Manly says. For example, you can say, “I feel really angry and hurt right now. I saw messages on your phone that make it clear you’re having an emotional affair, and I won’t tolerate the disrespect. I want to discuss how this will affect our future.”
Attacking your partner and saying hurtful things in the heat of the moment will only make the situation worse, especially if you have to stay under the same roof for the near foreseeable future.
Now, on to the all-important question: Should you break up? Jennie Steinberg, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle that it really depends on what you want. “Culturally, the expectation is that you’ll leave when your partner cheats on you, and that might be what’s best for you,” Steinberg says. “But we’re all under a massive amount of stress right now, and you may not have the emotional resources you need to touch base with your emotional self and listen to your feelings.”
If they don’t seem genuinely remorseful, have a history of cheating, or you know for sure that you can’t ever trust them again, you can seriously consider a breakup. But if things aren’t so clear right now, Steinberg says it’s also OK to take your time before making any major decisions. You may have to make some adjustments and find ways to get more space for yourself in the meantime. You don’t have to make any major decisions about your relationship right away. Give yourself some time, and you will come up with a solution that works for you.
Genesis Games, LMHC, relationship therapist
Dr. Carla Marie Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist and author
Jennie Steinberg, licensed marriage and family therapist