133: Don’t Make Your Partner Break Up with You

Mar 21, 2023

When someone in a committed relationship has been cheating on their partner and they feel stuck in deciding what they want to do, they sometimes get the idea that they should tell their committed partner, even though they don’t know how they want to move forward.

People who get this idea think it sounds like a great thing to do for a number of reasons. But the most concerning reason is that, if they tell their partner about their infidelity, they might not have to make a decision themselves about their situation. They think either the next move will suddenly become obvious or their partner will make the difficult decision and initiate a breakup.

Feeling like you can’t make a decision is excruciating. If you’ve been thinking about disclosing your cheating in the hopes that your partner will break up with you and the expectation that you’ll feel better, tune in this week because the reality is not as simple as you’re telling yourself it is right now.

If you’re ready to take this topic deeper in a confidential and compassionate environment, you can schedule an introductory coaching session with Dr. Marie Murphy by clicking here!  

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Why, when you’re in the thick of things, it can seem like you’re stuck in an impossible conundrum.

  • How one might become inclined to disclose their cheating to their partner in the hopes that a difficult decision will be made for them.

  • Why Dr. Marie Murphy agrees that it isn’t all that classy to attempt to deal with your confusion by handing the responsibility for a decision to your partner… to a point.

  • 2 solid reasons why there are no guarantees that your partner will initiate a breakup after you’ve disclosed your infidelity.

  • Some of the very realistic ways your partner could react once you’ve told them about your cheating.

  • How to know if you’re considering disclosing your infidelity for concerning reasons.

Listen to the Full Episode:


Featured on the Show:

Hi everyone, I’m Dr. Marie Murphy.  I’m a relationship coach and I help 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.  No shame, no blame, no judgments.  A lot of the advice out there for people who are cheating on their partners is little more than thinly veiled judgment, but that is not what I provide.  I believe you’re entitled to guidance and support that respects the fullness of your humanity, and the complexity of your situation, no matter what you’re doing.  If you’re ready to begin the process of resolving your infidelity situation in a way that’s truly right for you, let’s work together.  The first step is to schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com.  I can’t wait to meet you.

All right.  Let me start off by acknowledging the obvious.  I am a little sick today, and I know I don’t sound normal, but I’m recording this episode anyway for two reasons.  One is that I am very excited to talk about today’s topic, and the other is that I firmly believe that not only is it okay to do things imperfectly, there’s no such thing as perfection anyway.  So with that, I’m coming atcha today with my sick voice.  I’m pretty sure I’ll survive making this recording, and I’m pretty sure you’ll survive listening to it.  So with that, onwards… 

The title of this episode does not provide a full preview of what we’re going to talk about today.  Here’s a more robust overview of what’s on the agenda.  Sometimes, people are in a committed relationship, and they’re cheating on their partner, and they don’t know what they want to do.  Do they want to stay in their committed relationship and keep cheating?  Do they want to end their affair and stay in their committed relationship?  Do they want to leave their committed relationship and pursue a relationship with their affair partner?  Do they want to leave both relationships and run off to an ashram somewhere and never leave?  When people have been going around and around and around in circles with questions like these for months upon months, or even longer than that, they sometimes start to get tired.  They start feeling exhausted by their own drama.  And that’s fair enough!  Asking ourselves the same questions over and over can be pretty damn tiring.

In addition to becoming exhausted, people who keep going around in circles, continuously asking themselves questions but never definitively answering them also start to become even more convinced that they don’t know what they want.  And that’s fair enough too, because when you tell yourself that you don’t know what you want over and over again, you tend to prove yourself right!  You tend to do things that indulge your confusion, rather than doing things to cultivate clarity and certainty.  And when you don’t come up with answers to your own questions, you may think that is evidence that your questions cannot be answered.  This is not the truth, but it can seem like the truth.  And if all of that weren’t bad enough, it can be really hard to see that this is what is happening while it’s happening.  When you’re in the thick of things, it can truly seem like you’re stuck in an impossible conundrum and there’s no way for you to figure it out.  It can be hard to see all the ways that you are keeping yourself stuck.  That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important and so valuable to work with a coach, by the way.  Having someone who can help you see where you get yourself stuck and keep yourself stuck is quite literally priceless.  And having someone who can help you do the work of getting yourself unstuck, bit by bit, tenacious step by tenacious step, is invaluable.  So if you’re serious about wanting to resolve your infidelity situation, get yourself an appointment with me STAT.  I will help you move forward.  

I’m digressing a bit.  What I want to return to is, when people who are in a committed relationship and have been cheating on their partner have been “stuck” for months or years on the question of what they should do about their infidelity situation, they sometimes get the idea that they should tell their committed partner that they’ve been cheating.  

And people who get this idea think that it sounds like a good idea for a number of reasons, but the one that I am most concerned about today is this: the person thinks that if they tell their partner about their cheating, something will happen, and then they’ll either be relieved of having to make any decisions, or what they want to do about their situation will suddenly become much more obvious to them.

So for example, people sometimes think that if they tell their partner they’ve been cheating on them, their partner will say something like, “You’ve been cheating on me?  Oh my god, I can’t believe this, you’re a terrible person, I want a divorce immediately.”  And if that happens, then the person who’s been cheating no longer has to make a decision about what they want to do about their marriage, or about their relationship.  And that at least makes their path forward somewhat more clear, and that may seem like a tremendous win for them, even if the prospect of having someone be pretty mad at them for cheating doesn’t sound all that attractive.  

Now, there are some relationship expert people out there who will tell you that you should never try to get someone to break up with you by telling them that you’ve been cheating on them.  Hence the title of today’s episode.  Some people will tell you that it just isn’t very classy for you to tell someone that you’ve been cheating on them for the sake of trying to get them to end the relationship, so that you won’t have to go to the trouble of doing that.  

And I agree with this to a point, I agree that it probably isn’t all that classy to attempt to deal with your confusion by handing your partner some news that they probably don’t want to hear, and hoping they’ll make a decision for you.  But I also am completely sympathetic to the reasons why people do this!  I know how excruciating it is to feel like you can’t make a decision, and I understand why people resort to the measures that they do in an attempt to get themselves out of what they consider to be their unsolvable problem.

So if you’ve been thinking of telling your partner about your cheating in the hope that they will break up with you, and with the expectation that you’ll be relieved of some of your problems as a result, I get it, and I don’t think you’re an asshole for considering this plan.

Here’s the problem, though.  Your plan may not work.

Whether or not it’s classy or cool to tell your partner you’ve been cheating on them in the hopes that they’ll break up with you and thus relieve you of any need to make decisions about what you want to do about that relationship, the bigger problem is that your partner may not break up with you!  Even if you tell them you’ve been cheating on them, even if it’s been with their best friend, or someone really close to them, and even if it’s been for what you or they consider to be an ungodly length of time!  You might not get off the hook that easily!  Even if you are sure that what you have been doing is SO reprehensible that they wouldn’t possibly want anything to do with you, they might not want to let you go!  

Your partner might very well might say to you, “Wow, oh my god, I really don’t like it that you’ve been cheating on me, but you know what, I just adore you and I want to make this relationship work no matter what, so let’s figure out what we need to do to get back on track.”

That is possible, people!  

Sometimes people tell me that they are SURE that this would never happen to them.  Sometimes people are SURE that infidelity would be an absolute deal-breaker if their partner ever found out about it.  But that does not always end up being the case!  Sometimes the partner is surprisingly understanding, and sometimes the partner is pissed, but committed to making the relationship work.  Sometimes people tell me, “Well I KNOW my partner would leave me if they knew I cheated because they told me they would.”  Guess what, people?  People change their minds!  All the time!  I have done just about every single thing that I at one point said I would never do.  And I don’t think that’s because I’m particularly capricious or uncertain about what I want.  Rather, I think that two of the reasons why people do things differently from how they at one point said they would do them is, one, we change!  We’re evolving all the time!  We might have really meant that thing we said with conviction when we said it, five years ago or ten years ago or a hundred years ago.  But things might be different now.  And number two, sometimes there’s a very big difference between considering something hypothetically and contending with it in very concrete terms, in the present moment.

So all of this is to say that even if you are as sure as you can be that you partner will want to leave you if they find out about your infidelity, you could be wrong.  And you need to be prepared for that possibility.  What if they don’t want to leave, but instead want to double-down on your relationship?  Have you considered that? 

Similarly, another thing that might happen, if you tell your committed partner about your infidelity, is that they might say, “Okay, why are you telling me this, and what does this mean for our relationship?”  More specifically, they might ask you, “Okay, what do YOU want to do about US?”  They might say something like, “Well, now that you’ve done this, how are you going to make it up to me?  Are you going to fight for our relationship to work out?”

And then, if your partner says or asks you any of the things I’ve just mentioned, or something similar to the things I’ve just mentioned, you effectively find yourself in the position you were in before you disclosed your infidelity.  And that is, not knowing what you want in regards to your primary relationship.  Only now, you have a partner who knows what you’ve been up to.

Sometimes people think that this will be beneficial, that having their partner know what they’ve been up to will be beneficial insofar as it will galvanize them into figuring their shit out.  The logic sometimes is that they haven’t been able to figure out what they want yet, so maybe being honest with their primary partner about what they’ve been up to will change something, and thus make it easier for them to make a decision about what they want.

I like to call this the nuclear option.  Sometimes, when we can’t figure out what we want to do about a certain something in our lives, whether it’s our infidelity situation or something else that seems impossible to resolve, we press the blow-up-our-lives button.  There may not be a magic button that instantly fixes our problems, but there are definitely ways to instantly blow up our lives.  And when we don’t know what else to do, that may seem like a really attractive option to us.

And if you choose the nuclear option, if you choose to just tell your partner what you’ve been doing in the infidelity department without knowing what you want to do about your relationship with them, it IS possible that things will happen, and you will find yourself working with a very different set of circumstances.  And those changes in your external world could inspire you think differently about any number of things.  And thus, you might find that you are indeed more sure of what you want to do about your relationship, or relationships.  

But I don’t encourage you to assume that this will happen.  I don’t encourage you to think that your partner knowing about your infidelity will automatically or necessarily give you any additional clarity on the matter of what you want to do about your relationship with them.  Although it is possible that it could, it also might not – and you might find that your partner knowing about what you’ve been up to only occasions MORE confusion and consternation on your end.  We’ve got to remember that it’s never our circumstances that create confusion or clarity for us.  We always have the power to decide what we’re going to think about anything – and we’re always the ones who create clarity for ourselves, or confusion for ourselves.

Similarly, sometimes people think that if they tell their partner about what they’ve been doing outside of the relationship, that will usher in a new degree of honesty in the relationship, and that will somehow make it easier for them to decide how they want to move forward with the relationship.  The thinking sometimes goes like, “Well, maybe if I open up about my big secret, my partner will trust me more, and they’ll be able to be more honest with me too, and then TOGETHER we can decide how we want to move forward with our relationship.”

This idea sounds really lovely to some people, and I think that in some people’s situations, it may be fair enough to want to put all your cards on the table and talk it out with your partner.  That may be fair enough.  But wanting to make a decision “with your partner” can be just another way of saying you want them to make a decision for you.  Don’t bullshit yourself about this, people!  

Another layer to this whole thing is that sometimes people say they just want to be honest with their partner for the sake of being honest, because honesty is something they really prioritize.  Here’s the trouble with that, though.  For starters, today we’ve been talking about people who have been cheating on their partners for a WHILE and have been trying to figure out what they want and what they’re going to do for a WHILE.  If honesty is so important to you, what’s taken you this long?  I mean this question half literally and half not.  I know full well that there are LOTS of reasons why we aren’t honest, or aren’t honest within a particular time frame, even when we consider honesty a really high priority for ourselves.  But if you have suddenly decided that this is the time for you to be honest, rather than any moment in time prior to this one, I want you to yourself what you think you will get out of being honest about your infidelity NOW.

To echo what I said earlier, when people are sick and tired of being confused about what they want to do about their infidelity situation, the changes that being honest might bring seem like a very attractive prospect.  It seems like being honest would, if nothing else, mean they didn’t have to lie anymore, and that seems like it would be a great relief.  And it’s fair for you to want relief!  Deception can be exhausting!  Lying can be exhausting!  Uncertainty can be exhausting!  But telling your partner that you’ve been cheating because you’re tired of lying, and then telling yourself that you’re doing this so that the two of you can make a joint decision about the future of the relationship may be – wait for it – a stalling tactic on your part.  At some point you are going to have to decide what you want with your relationship with the person you’ve cheated on.  Period.

By pointing this out, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t tell your partner about what you’ve been up to, infidelity-wise, if you really want to.  By all means, tell them anything and everything!  I’m not arguing in favor of lying just for lying’s sake.  But what I am arguing against is you telling them the truth without knowing why the hell you’re doing it, and without knowing what you want to do about your relationship with them, your primary partner, going forward, and without knowing what you intend to do about your infidelity stuff.

Sometimes people think they’re going to be giving this partner their great gift by being honest with them about their infidelity, even if they don’t know what they want their relationship with them to look like going forward.  And who knows!  Maybe your partner will interpret your honesty as such.  It’s not impossible.  

But my opinion is that the most important thing you need to be honest with someone about is whether or not you want to be in a relationship with THEM.  In some ways, the greater betrayal might not be that you’ve been cheating on your partner for all these months or all these years, but that you’ve been staying with them even though you don’t really know for sure if you want to be with them or not!  I’m not saying that everyone would see it this way, but it is a perspective that I encourage you to consider.  That’s not to say that the cheating doesn’t matter, or that your partner won’t care about it, but your ambivalence about your relationship with them may end up being the bigger issue.  Sometimes people interpret being cheated on as less than ideal, but interpret their partner’s ambivalence about their relationship in conjunction with the disclosure of cheating as utter cruelty.  

Even if your partner is really grateful to you for being honest with them about whatever it is you’ve been doing, they will probably still want to know where you stand in regards to your relationship with them.  They might say, “Okay, you did the bad thing, so it’s over, we’re done” but they might not.  They might instead say something like, “Okay… you cheated… now what do you want?”  They might be open to working things out with you and they may really want to know if you are open to working things out with them!

Thus, there is the chance that all of the decisions you thought that disclosing your cheating would relieve you of may not go away.  So if you take nothing else from this episode, please consider the possibility that telling your partner that you’ve been cheating on them is not a substitute for your own decisions about your relationship with them, and may not even end up being much of a catalyst for your decisions about your relationship with them.

Now listen.  This is really important.  It is totally possible that in the context of your life and your relationship, you really DO want to tell your partner you’ve been cheating on them even if you don’t know what you want the future of your relationship with that partner to look like.  You might have reasons that you really like for just spilling the beans and figuring things out from there.  And it is your prerogative to make that choice if you want to.  But there is a big difference between choosing to do this consciously, for clear reasons that you like, and thinking that doing this will serve as some sort of a magic bullet for you.

Ultimately, if you want to make a decision about whether you want to stay in a relationship or not, you need to make a decision about whether you want to stay in that relationship or not.  It might not be possible to have someone make that decision for you.  I know sometimes we want that so badly, I know sometimes we want someone to make a decision about the fate of a relationship for us, or more specifically, we want someone to decide that a relationship is over so that we don’t have to.  But sometimes that just isn’t an option.  Sometimes in order to live the way we really want to live, we have to do things we would rather not do – and that may include deciding that you want to end a relationship with someone you’ve cared a lot about, and be willing to tell them that.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting an easier option, but sometimes an easier option just doesn’t exist!  And that may effectively be true about your current relationship situation.  You may not be able to get anyone to make decisions that relieve you of making decisions.  And you may not be able to change your circumstances in a way that effectively makes your decisions seem easier.

But the good news is, you always have the opportunity to decide that you’re willing to step up to the plate and start making decisions, even if it seems hard or scary or impossible!  That much is always within your power to control.  I can assure you that your situation is not impossible to resolve, and that although dealing with it may be uncomfortable, it doesn’t have to be complicated.  That might not sound like great news, but it actually is.

And of course, if you’re ready to get to work and start making some decisions about your infidelity situation, I can help you do it.  As your coach, I help you apply the topics I talk about on the podcast to the specifics of your own life.  Listening to a podcast, or passively consuming any other informational resource can be GREAT.  But the transformation comes with the application of the information you consume, or the utilization of the information you consume.  And sometimes we can put information to great use all by ourselves!  And that’s wonderful.  But sometimes we really benefit from having some help, and that’s what I’m here for.  So when you’re ready to get to work, you can schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com.  I offer confidential, compassionate coaching via Zoom, which means we can work together no matter where you’re located.

Before I say goodbye for today, I want to ask you to please rate and review this podcast on iTunes if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve heard!  Your ratings help other people who would benefit from hearing what I have to say find this podcast, so please share the love and leave the show a five-star rating today.  You can do this anonymously.  Thank you for doing that, and as always, thank you for listening.  Have a great week! Bye for now.


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