Navigating an affair isn’t easy, and it will be tough to talk about your future with a partner who has been unfaithful, especially after trust has been broken.
If you want to save your relationship after being cheated on, there are some important questions to ask your unfaithful partner to understand why they had the affair, what emotional headspace they're now in, and how they want to move forward with your relationship.
We asked relationship experts for the top 10 questions to ask your unfaithful spouse or partner when you know they've had an affair, and why they're important.
Finding out the headspace your partner was in when they cheated on you is the first important question to ask them.
“Partners who are unfaithful tend to be aware that they're making a choice that's unfair, uncaring, and selfish,” says Rhian Kivits, a Relate qualified sex and relationship expert. “It's uncomfortable for anyone to think of themselves in this negative light, and therefore unfaithful partners often fall back on justifications for their infidelity.”
Asking your partner this tough question helps them realize that they've been avoiding accountability. “It helps them understand that there is no real justification for their behavior and that they've simply been making excuses that have perpetuated the problem,” Kivits adds.
“This question also opens up a conversation about any underlying issues which they may perceive in your relationship, such as discrepancies in sexual desire or lack of quality time as a couple,” says Dr. Jacqui Gabb, Chief Relationships Officer at Paired and professor for Sociology and Intimacy at the Open University.
“You can then address these together. Talking through tough issues can help to strengthen a relationship."
“This question gets your partner thinking about how they feel about being unfaithful,” says Hilary Sims, a relationship counselor and founder of Life Balance Counselling.
“Did they think about the impact of their actions or did they just do what they thought was right for them? If your partner has some guilt, it will show to you that they do understand how their unfaithfulness has impacted you and your future relationship.”
This is a heavy question, as it's questioning your whole relationship — but it will help you understand why your partner may have cheated on you, and whether it was personal to you, or a void in their life they were trying to fill.
“This question will get your partner thinking about how long they've felt like this. Understanding the answer to this question will show you how your partner viewed the relationship and whether they think there have been issues in the relationship before or if it’s a new thing,” says Sims.
Whether this gives you the answer you were hoping for, or not, it can allow you to understand “where things have been going wrong and what needs to change to get the relationship back on track.”
Knowing how deep your partner is into an affair is essential so you can process it properly.
“Whether the infidelity was a one-night stand, or a string of one-nighters, or an ongoing affair, it's still breaking the contract of physical and emotional monogamy that the person has entered into with their partner,” warns Kivits.
“There’s no equivocation of whether the affair is still going on here,” adds Gabb, "it's a yes or a no. If your partner is clear and it’s over then they need to commit to working on your relationship to overcome the hurt and distrust that they have caused.”
“Let your partner know what you need. If you feel you need ‘time out’ or to talk with a mediator or counselor then this is what’s needed,” she adds. “Try to agree on a timeframe for this intervention so that you can work towards a resolution together."
Trust is a key part of any relationship and if you hear that your partner has been communicating information — especially things they were unhappy with — to the person they had an affair with, it can be quite damaging.
Sims agrees and says that this could be a deal-breaker for many. “You’re bound to feel anger if your partner has told someone else more about your relationship and not communicated it to you. It will also make you question what your partner actually thinks of you and if there is any respect left between you.”
Sims believes that this question is key as it adds you back into the equation, and asks your partner to understand how their actions have impacted you.
“If your partner confesses that they didn't consider your feelings before the affair, this could be the end of your relationship as the trust is lost,” explains Sims. "If they did, you need to ask why did they still have the affair? And how did they view your feelings throughout?”
If you want to move forward with your relationship after an affair you need to know more about whether your unfaithful spouse was having a sexual relationship or an emotional relationship too, and how they feel about the person they had an affair with now.
Establishing the parameters of feelings establishes the bedrock from which you can build back.
"It can be difficult for some unfaithful partners to answer this question truthfully,” says Kivits, “sometimes they harbor complex feelings and although they've decided to end the affair, there may still be lingering feelings to process and release.”
According to Gabb, online adultery can be just as painful as a real-life affair. “If your partner has been lying about what they’ve been doing or keeping it a secret, there are similar feelings of betrayal and hurt,” she explains. “Whether it’s watching a sex cam or a text-based emotional attachment, your partner needs to outline what they’ve been doing and why.”
“If the infidelity has remained virtual, then they may feel that it doesn’t count, but it’s important to say how their behavior has impacted you and the relationship.”
When you’re partner has been unfaithful it’s hard not to internalize feelings and this can easily spiral into self-doubt and insecurity.
“It’s key to remember that a partner’s infidelity is often not linked to shortcomings in their relationship. It can be about opportunity or their insecurities,” explains Gabb.
“Establish what motivated the affair. This doesn’t pit you against the other person, it ensures that your partner owns up to why they were unfaithful.”
Kivits believes that in many cases, unfaithful partners can learn from their mistakes and rebuild a strong relationship. However, if your partner's been unfaithful, asking this question will give them the space to think about how they can gain your trust again.
“This usually works best when the unfaithful partner has chosen accountability and honesty, looked at the underlying reasons for their infidelity, worked on their issues, and consciously implemented behavioral change,” explains Kivits.
“A promise is great in practice — but they need to implement what they are promising — actions speak louder than words.”