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. If you’re in the midst of a confounding infidelity situation and you are ready to begin the process of resolving it in a way that is truly right for you, I can help you do it. When you’re ready to talk, you can schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com. If you want to learn more about my current pricing, and the coaching packages that I currently offer, you can find that information on the services page of my website.
Okay, as the title of today’s episode would suggest, today we’re going to talk about why you might not want to wait to get caught cheating. Now, I realize that I’m treading a fine line by talking about this topic in the way that I’m going to.
I don’t want to sow fear, and I certainly don’t want to suggest that if you cheat, you will most definitely get caught. I know some people out there will tell you that if you cheat, you WILL eventually get caught, it’s a for sure thing, and it’s just a matter of time until it happens. But that just isn’t the empirical reality. The reality is that plenty of people who cheat do not get caught, and it’s entirely possible that you might never get caught. And moreover, there are plenty of things that you can do to greatly reduce the possibility that you get caught.
However. It is also true that sometimes people DO get caught. It most definitely happens. And sometimes it happens because people are kind of sloppy about covering their tracks, but sometimes it happens because of some freak occurrence that might not have been preventable. Or because the person who you’re cheating on just picks up on the fact that there’s a disturbance in the force. You may not have given them any concrete reasons to suspect that something is amiss, but they might just KNOW that something is up anyway. And the longer you keep doing whatever you’re doing, the more chances you create to potentially get caught. A lot of folks keep their infidelity situations going because they “don’t know” what they want, or they don’t want to make decisions, and sometimes people think that this state of not knowing what they want will somehow protect them from being discovered, and possibly in dramatic fashion. But it doesn’t work that way.
Now again, I really, really want to stress that I am not saying all of this to stoke paranoia. I really don’t want to do that, so much so that I almost decided not to make this episode. But in keeping with my belief that it’s better to treat things that could happen with an appropriate level of concern, rather ignoring scary possibilities entirely, or becoming so terrified of scary possibilities that you become completely paralyzed, I decided to go ahead and create this episode.
And the basic points that I want to impress upon you today are as follows. You probably don’t want to get caught. Getting caught does not have to be the end of the world, and if it happens to you, you will survive, and so will everyone else involved. But it can be pretty unpleasant.
And so I want you to consider that in addition to minimizing your risk of getting caught to the best of your ability, you may also want to consider the possibility that you could get caught as one of the many reasons why it might be a good idea to take it upon yourself to resolve your infidelity situation as efficiently as you reasonably can. That doesn’t mean you need to panic and attempt to deal with it all in the next 48 hours. It just means you might want to take the bull by the horns and move steadily and tenaciously in the direction of sorting your situation out. And in case you don’t know this already, I can help you do this. You don’t have to do it all by yourself.
Now, as you may be well aware, sometimes we kind of want to get caught. Or sometimes we don’t KIND OF want to get caught, we really want to get caught. Because we think it will make things easier. We think that if we just got caught, then the cat would be out of the bag, and we wouldn’t have to make any decisions, because the person we’re committed to would definitely leave us, and although that might be sad, at least we wouldn’t have to DECIDE to leave them, and TELL them that we want to end our relationship with them. For some folks, doing those things seems so awful or so impossible that getting caught cheating actually sounds like a great alternative.
But I want to suggest that this line of reasoning may be a little shaky. For starters, just because you think someone will leave you if they catch you cheating does not mean they actually will. Even if in the past, your partner has explicitly told you they would do that, that doesn’t mean it will actually happen. You may think that someone catching you will mean that you won’t have to make a decision, but that might not happen.
YES, it’s true that sometimes when someone catches their partner cheating, the person who has been cheated on may tell their cheating partner that they are done with their relationship, and the situation is brought to a very swift conclusion of sorts. But sometimes the person who catches their partner cheating doesn’t do that. Sometimes they want their cheating partner to apologize and beg to save the relationship. And that could happen to you. So instead of being relieved of having to make a decision if your partner catches you cheating, you might have to make different decisions than you thought you’d have to make. Or maybe the same decisions – such as whether you want to stay married to your spouse, or stay in your relationship with your primary partner - but within an entirely different context. So that’s important to consider.
But on top of that, I encourage you to consider that getting caught cheating can be a pretty unpleasant experience for everyone involved.
Now again, I really want to stress that this episode is not about fear mongering. I am not saying that getting caught cheating is always a terrible experience, or needs to be a terrible experience. Sometimes people catch their partner cheating, and they aren’t exactly happy about it, but they handle the whole thing in a very pragmatic, non-dramatic way, and everybody deals with the situation with as much respect for all parties involved as possible. Furthermore, people can and do have good and even great relationships with ex-partners that they cheated on. People can and do have great relationships with their families, even if their marriage ended because of their cheating, and that led to some disruption in their family members’ lives. So I want to make it really clear that you getting caught cheating does not HAVE to turn into a cataclysmic disaster that will ruin your life forever. I am not saying that if you get caught cheating, it will necessarily, or by definition, be a terrible, terrible thing.
But. It is also true that if your partner catches you cheating, they may be very, very upset. They may be EXTREMELY upset. And when humans are very, very upset, and they do not know how to digest their very intensely uncomfortable emotions, they tend to act from those emotions in some pretty big ways. In other words, when people are really angry and hurt and they don’t know how to digest their anger and hurt, they may do things that are pretty dramatic, or intense. They may do things that strike us as hostile, or vengeful, or hateful, or defensive, or vindictive, or excessive, or whatever. And on the one hand, we may not like this kind of behavior, and that’s fair enough. If we’ve cheated on someone and scream at us and set our car on fire and then go to our affair partner’s home and tell their spouse that they’ve been having an affair, we may not like that at all. Right?! In general, we don’t want this kind of thing to happen. My guess is that you would not want this kind of thing to happen in your life.
So what I want to impress upon you today is that although you don’t have absolute power to prevent this kind of thing from happening, because you can’t control other people’s behavior, you do have the power to understand what may be going on with someone when they catch their partner cheating, and why it may behoove you to proactively deal with your situation instead of effectively waiting to get caught.
The first and perhaps most important thing you need to keep in mind is that most of us have never learned how to digest our own discomfort. Most of us have never learned how to deal with our most uncomfortable emotions, or even our MILDLY uncomfortable emotions, for that matter. And so what we so often do, when we feel tremendously uncomfortable, is to blame the supposed source of our discomfort. And many people, upon discovering that their partner has been cheating on them, are quite upset, are dealing with a LOT of uncomfortable emotions, and they blame their cheating partner for CAUSING their uncomfortable emotions. If you’ve been listening to this podcast for a while you've heard me talk about the sources of our emotions, or the causes of our emotions, and you know that no one ever MAKES us feel anything. But your partner may not know that; they may not have any understanding of how their emotions work, and moreover, if they’ve caught you cheating on them, they may not CARE how their emotions work. They may just want to be mad at you, and they may want to hold you responsible for them being mad at you.
In addition to not knowing how to deal with our uncomfortable emotions, in our society, we collectively think that cheating is a very bad thing, and we tend to think we are completely and totally justified for being very, very angry if someone has cheated on us, and moreover, we think we are totally justified for being very, very angry AT the person who has cheated on us, and perhaps whoever they have cheated on us with, too. The idea that cheaters are bad and people who are cheated on are victims is pretty prevalent. Right?! And so when we are cheated on, we have all of these readily available beliefs we can latch onto about how we’ve been wronged, and how legitimate it is for us to act on our anger in whatever ways we want to.
And in a sense, I think this is so fascinating and also so deeply ironic. Collectively, we tend to believe that cheaters are, by definition, doing something really bad. But collectively, we also kinda believe that if you’ve been cheated on, whatever you do in response to having been cheated on is fair, or acceptable, or at the very least, understandable – even if that includes doing things like yelling and screaming and throwing things, or damaging someone’s property, or physically hurting someone. At least to a certain extent, we have this idea that people who have been cheated on have been wronged and are allowed to behave as such, and cheaters deserve whatever they get on the receiving end of that. It’s like in this case we think that two wrongs make a right, or something to that effect.
I’m not agreeing with this line of thinking, mind you. What I’m getting at is that when someone finds out they’ve been cheated on, that’s happening within a particular context. And some of the features of that context that we want to be aware of are, One: most of us aren’t well equipped to digest our uncomfortable feelings in any situation. Two, there are all of these messages out there in the cultural fog that suggest that being cheated on is a very bad thing, and so we may well think that it’s a very bad thing indeed if we find out our partner is cheating on us. That’s the dominant way of thinking about being cheated on that’s out there, and there aren’t too many alternatives out there in popular culture. Right?! It’s not like there’s the message that being cheated on is really bad, but there’s also this relatively robust alternative perspective that holds that while being cheated on might not be something we’re thrilled about, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. There aren’t that many mainstream perspectives that say that being cheated on is anything other than REALLY bad. Third, we collectively believe that if you’ve been cheated on, you have the right to act on your anger in ways that might not be considered acceptable in many other circumstances.
What you want to understand is that these may be features of the context your partner is operating within if or when they catch you cheating. They may be pretty darn upset, and they may feel pretty justified in being pretty darn upset with you and taking their anger out on you in any number of ways.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that YOUR partner will go ballistic and erupt and go crazy, so to speak, but they might. And by the way, I have the utmost empathy for people who are cheated on. Sometimes people suggest, or tell me explicitly that I must not care about the experiences of people who are cheated on if I work to support people who are cheating, and nothing could be further from the truth. So I want to make it clear that I’m using this kind of language as lightly as I possibly can, here. I’m not trying to minimize anyone’s hurt by saying that they might “go crazy” or “go ballistic” if they find out they’ve been cheated on. I take the emotions behind their actions very seriously.
But it’s also important to stress that if your partner catches you cheating and they “go crazy,” it may be pretty unpleasant for you. You might think that telling them that you want to end your relationship with them, or you’ve been cheating – or doing both of those things - sounds like an awful experience to have, but them catching you cheating might be worse.
You probably don’t want your aggrieved spouse or partner to show up screaming at your affair partner’s home, or place of work. You probably don’t want your aggrieved spouse or partner to call every member of your family and tell them that you’re a cheater. You probably don’t want your aggrieved spouse to be so mad at you that they attempt to take you for everything you have in a divorce. Again, I want to be really clear in saying that these things do NOT always happen. But these things do happen sometimes. And even if your aggrieved spouse or partner does not fly off the handle and wreak havoc on your life, they may just – “just” – be really, really, really, really, really, really sad and hurt and disappointed.
And yes, they might be really sad and hurt and disappointed if you simply tell them that you don’t want to be romantically partnered with them anymore. That’s certainly a possibility. But you may want to consider that them being sad and hurt and disappointed in the context of you telling them that you want to leave your relationship might be a lot better, on the whole, than them being sad and hurt and disappointed in the context of them catching you cheating.
To that effect, what I want you to consider is that right now, you MIGHT have a golden window of opportunity on your hands. If you are as sure as you can be that your partner has no idea that you’re cheating on them, you probably have the luxury of deciding to end that relationship, and actually ending it, without your cheating becoming an issue in the breakup. You may have the opportunity to leave your relationship without having gotten caught cheating, for one thing, and in a manner that allows the focus of the breakup to be on your desire to move on from that particular romantic partnership. Now, this of course requires you to actually make a decision about what you want to do about your relationship, and then take action in the service of that decision. And those tasks may seem daunting. But recognizing that you have this opportunity to potentially exit your primary relationship without your cheating being the focal point of the breakup might be good incentive to step up to the task.
Now, some people would say that breaking up with someone in part because you are cheating on them but without telling them that you are cheating on them is super disingenuous. But here’s the thing. If you’re already cheating on them, and you want to be as caring towards them and respectful of them as possible, this strategy might be better than a lot of the other alternatives. Remember, if you don’t want to be in a relationship with someone anymore, the most important thing you need to tell them is exactly that. Ending a relationship but choosing not to disclose information that could be considered relevant to your decision to leave the relationship might be less bad, if we are going to speak in such terms, than staying in the relationship, continuing to cheat, and waiting for your partner to bust you before you do anything.
The other thing, of course, is that you could decide to tell the person you’re breaking up with about your cheating. If you think it’s disingenuous to end your relationship with them without telling them about what you’ve been doing, infidelity-wise, then you have the option to tell them! And you might want to do that, and if you do, that can be great. But you don’t have to want to do that. The point is that you can live by your own moral code here, and if that includes disclosing your cheating to the person you’re breaking up with, you can.
The problem is that so often, we use our own moral codes against ourselves, and we don’t even recognize we’re doing it. For instance, people often tell me that they don’t want to hurt the person they’re cheating on. But so often, not wanting to hurt someone translates into not wanting to make a decision about whether or not they want to end the relationship with the person they’re cheating on, or not wanting to actually end the relationship if they’ve decided they indeed want to. And that may mean that the cheating and deception continues, and as it does, the cheating person stays in a primary relationship they’re ambivalent about. These are all things that, if discovered, the cheater’s primary partner might find pretty hurtful indeed. But instead of doing something about this, the cheater often feels too paralyzed by their fear of hurting their primary partner, and the whole thing continues, and of course, the longer and infidelity situation goes on, the more chances you have to get caught. And then if your partner catches you, they may be very hurt indeed, and thus, your fear of hurting them has actually contributed to you doing things that they may find EXTREMELY hurtful. As opposed, perhaps, to simply very hurtful. Right?
So all of this is to say that if you’ve been thinking that it seems really hard to make sense of your infidelity situation and make decisions about what you want to do and potentially put an end to a romantic partnership with someone you really don’t want to hurt, I want you to consider that doing all of those things on your own terms might be preferrable to doing those things within the context of having been caught cheating. I want this episode to serve as just another bit of motivation to get your shit together sooner rather than later, and work towards resolving your situation in a way that’s right for you in a reasonably efficient manner. Because when we don’t do that, things may happen that change the context we’re operating within in ways we really may not like. Dealing with things as they are right now might seem hard, but things could change to make your situation even harder to deal with. And I don’t love saying that because it sounds like a threat, or like fear-mongering. In any kind of situation in life, it’s often true that dealing with something earlier rather than later makes it easier to deal with.
And when I say easier to deal with, I mean easier for you, and for others involved. Or “better” for you, and for other parties involved.
You might actually prefer, for your own sake, to deal with your infidelity situation by making decisions sooner rather than later, rather than waiting to get caught and have decisions made for you – or hopefully made for you. You might ultimately prefer for your marriage or your primary partnership to end within the context of you sitting your partner down and saying, “Honeypie, I care about you so much, but I don’t want to continue this romantic partnership” rather than having it end in the context of your spouse or primary partner discovering your cheating and feeling totally betrayed by you. Or you might prefer to tell your partner about your infidelity, rather than having them discover it on their own. Yeah, doing these things might be really tough for you. Looking your partner in the eye and saying, “I don’t want to be with you anymore” can be excruciating. Looking your partner in the eye and saying, “There’s something I need to tell you,” and that something being that you’ve been cheating on them can exquisitely uncomfortable. But even so, you might prefer to do those things than to take your chances and see what happens if or when your partner catches you cheating.
And you get to decide if you would prefer for your partner to have the experience of catching you cheating, or for your partner to have the experience of you initiating the end of your relationship with them before they have a chance to discover your cheating. Maybe you tell them about your cheating when you break up with them, maybe you don’t, but the point is, you initiate the breakup. If the relationship is going to end one way or another, how do you want it to end, for their sake? Do you want their experience of the end of your relationship to be kicked off with them catching you cheating? You get to make some decisions here about how your situation plays out.
Just to be really clear, I’m not saying that you can know for sure what kind of experience your partner would WANT to have, if given the choice. I’m not saying that you can ever be sure that your partner would prefer for you to break up with them and to have the quality of your relationship with them be the focus of the breakup, rather than catching you cheating. Who knows, maybe you they would prefer to catch you cheating! BUT you can make a judgement call about what you think they might want or not want, and you can decide how you are going to conduct yourself based on what you think would be most considerate or respectful of them. And of course, you can make a decision based on what behavior you’re going to feel best about having engaged in, once your current situation is in the rear-view mirror.
So in summary, it’s worth keeping in mind that sometimes people react VERY strongly when they catch their partner cheating on them. It’s worth keeping in mind that this is rather understandable given that we live in a context in which cheating is typically considered really bad, and we typically think that people who have been cheated on have every right to be REALLY angry. Add that to the fact that most of us are not very adept at digesting our most uncomfortable emotions, and you’ve got a recipe for people to potentially behave in some pretty extreme ways if they catch their partner cheating on them. And the point isn’t that they should get a free pass on their behavior. The point for you today is to be aware that your partner might react pretty badly to catching you cheating, and upon finding out about what you’re up to, they might behave in ways that can make life pretty unpleasant for everyone else involved. And that can be a real bummer.
As such, I encourage you to consider that it might be well worth it to do what you can to deal with your infidelity situation as efficiently as you reasonably can, so that you don’t have to deal with the unpleasantness of getting caught. That’s not the ONLY reason why I encourage you to deal with your infidelity situation as efficiently as you reasonably can. There are other great reasons to do that, too. Like being able to get on with your life, and devote your focus to other things. That’s a pretty great benefit of being willing to resolve your infidelity situation!
Last thing I want to say for today is if you do get caught and it’s super unpleasant for everyone involved, number one, I’m sorry, and number two, you will survive. And so will everyone else involved. The point of this episode is not that if you get caught cheating, you’ve allowed something really terrible to happen, and you’ve failed. No. That is not the point at all. If you do get caught, you can deal with that. And, if you have the luxury of dealing with your situation without having been caught, you might want to consider that a golden opportunity, and make good use of it.
And if you want my help doing this, let’s get to work! When you’re ready, 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. I can’t wait to meet you.
All right everyone, thank you all so much for listening. Have a great week. Bye for now.