What should you do if you’ve just found out that your spouse cheated on you years ago?
Firstly, how do you feel? Just because the cheating happened years ago, doesn’t mean that the shock of finding out hurts any less. At the same time, maybe it does feel less relevant because your spouse made the mistake in the past.
People might have different opinions on how you should respond, but the only opinion of importance is your own. You might need some time to fully process all the different thoughts running through your head, before deciding if this is a relationship you still want to be in.
It’s a complicated situation to face and not one that has a rulebook for how or what you should do. The main thing is not to put pressure on yourself to feel a certain way, but to work on understanding the emotions you are faced with, whatever they are.
If you’re in this position and are feeling lost as to what to do next, start by reading some of the suggestions below to work out your next move.
Speak to a certified relationship counselor about this issue. Why? Because they have the training and experience to help you deal with the revelation that your spouse cheated on you a long time ago. You may want to try speaking to someone via RelationshipHero.com for practical advice that is tailored to your exact circumstances.
1. Give them the opportunity to be honest with you.
You know that your spouse wasn’t honest with you when they cheated years ago, but now is their chance to prove to you that they’ve changed.
Mistakes are part of life; we all make them. The way you move on from them is by learning and making a positive change. Knowing whether or not your spouse regrets their decision— and has changed enough to show you they would never stray again—could be the difference between you wanting to stay or leaving them.
Give them the opportunity to come clean to you about what happened. Try to understand why they felt they couldn’t tell you at the time and see if they will take responsibility for their actions.
If they can’t come clean when you give them the opportunity, you have to question whether you can trust them moving forward.
2. Think about how much you want to know.
Anyone would have questions if they found out their spouse had cheated on them, but you’re likely to have even more if you found out that they cheated on you years ago.
The shock of finding out could be difficult to process as you take in the fact that not only were you cheated on, but that you’ve shared so much time together since.
To help you cope, you might think that you want to know as much detail about the infidelity as possible to make up for the fact you were oblivious for so long.
But no matter when your spouse cheated on you, there’s only so much you need to know.
Hearing all the grisly details of the affair isn’t going to make you feel good, and it’s not going to change the fact that it happened. It will likely make you more upset and the divide between you and your partner harder to overcome.
Knowing enough can stop you from imagining a situation that’s worse than reality, but think about how much you really want to hear. Once you know, it’s going to be hard to forget.
3. Try not to start a fight.
It’s hard to do when you feel blindsided by someone you trusted, but picking a fight with your spouse over their cheating isn’t going to get you the answers you want.
Shouting or screaming might make you feel better in the short term, but starting an argument with your partner over what they did is only going to make the situation worse.
They can’t change what they did, no matter how much you both want it to be different. You have a right to be emotional and upset with them, but starting an argument over this will only push you and your spouse further apart.
An argument makes it hard for you to communicate effectively and work through the issue. If you’re hostile toward your partner, they could become defensive, causing both of you to get overemotional and more hurt in the process.
You won’t find out the truth from someone who is defensive and doesn’t want to talk to you, so think carefully about how you approach the subject.
Stopping yourself from getting overly emotional and losing control will help you articulate your thoughts and feelings more clearly and hopefully receive a more honest and apologetic response from your spouse.
If you want to work through this rough patch together, then you need to encourage communication, not shut it down between you. An argument will only add to the pain you’re already feeling, so pick your battles and try not to make the situation worse than it already is.
4. Take some time for yourself.
Being rocked in your marriage by finding out that your spouse cheated on you years ago might feel like everything you knew has been thrown off balance. Everything that you felt comfortable about and trusted your partner with is thrown into question when you find out they’ve betrayed you. It leaves you questioning what to think and feel.
Your spouse, if they’re regretful, might try to help you understand that what they did those years ago means nothing to your relationship now. They may desperately want you to stay. But their desperation could be making you feel claustrophobic and pressured into being with them when all you need is time to think.
Don’t make any decisions you’re not ready for or rush through the emotions you feel. Taking some space from your relationship doesn’t have to mean the end of it, but instead can be a chance to remove yourself from an emotionally charged situation to somewhere where you can breathe.
Don’t feel guilty for removing yourself from the situation. Sometimes physically moving somewhere else can give you the space you need to find clarity on how you really feel.
Having less contact with your spouse for a short while can help you realize what you value most about your marriage. Then you can decide if it’s something you want to fight for or if you’ve been affected too deeply to move on.
Time is a healer, and if you feel overwhelmed and just need some space for your own thoughts, put your own needs first and take it.
5. Think about how you view your spouse.
When you think you know someone so well that you trust them implicitly, and then find out that they’ve been keeping a huge secret from you, how do you reconcile with the fact that they’ve been lying to you for so long?
It’s difficult to process when you are hurt by someone who you wholeheartedly trusted. A betrayal can change your whole perception of someone as you notice a different side to their character for the first time.
To move on in your relationship, you’re going to have to forgive your spouse and find a way to adjust so that you can trust them again.
Knowing that your spouse is capable of both lying and cheating on you—even if it did happen years ago—might make you feel as though they’re a different person to who you thought they were.
You will either have to accept that your spouse is the same person they always were, but that they made a mistake in their past, or learn to live with the new person you see them as now, with the knowledge that you may never fully trust them again.
It really comes down to how comfortable you are around them. How far will they go to gain your forgiveness? How can they prove to you that they are still the person you need and want them to be?
6. Decide whether you can trust them again.
The strength of a marriage is dependent on the trust that each spouse has in the other. Your spouse is the person you are at your most vulnerable with. You need to be able to rely on them and know they’ll be there for you no matter what.
If the trust between you and your partner falters, then the rest of your relationship could start unraveling too. Finding out that your partner cheated on you destroys the trust that you shared. If you’ve found out that your spouse cheated on you some time ago, you might find yourself questioning everything that has happened in your relationship since.
Your spouse kept such a huge secret from you for all this time, and it’s natural to feel uncertain about whether you can ever trust them again. Realizing that your trust in them has been taken advantage of, even if it was a long time ago, is still a hard thought to come to terms with.
Cheating can happen for all sorts of reasons. Every situation is unique and it’s up to the couple to decide how and if they want to move forward. The real question you should be asking yourself is, can you trust your spouse again knowing what they did?
Will you be satisfied knowing that it was a one-time thing that happened years ago? Do you feel confident that they won’t stray again? Or has this discovery rocked your faith in your relationship? After such a gut-wrenching betrayal, can you ever trust them in the same way as you once did?
You can’t have a relationship without trust. If you want to move on, you have to find a way to let go of your reservations and learn to be vulnerable with your partner again. But be realistic about whether that’s still an option for you or if, this time, the hurt runs too deep.
7. Know that your feelings are valid.
Finding out that your spouse cheated is difficult in itself, but finding out that they cheated on you years ago and you never knew can bring with it a lot more questions to process.
You could be feeling betrayed, hurt, and shocked. You may question everything that has happened in your marriage to try to understand why your spouse never told you. But at the same time, you might find yourself not as upset as you expected you would be.
Finding out that your partner was unfaithful years ago, rather than recently, removes the event from where you currently are in your relationship. You might feel as though you were different people back when the cheating occurred. Although you’re still shocked and upset to find out about it, the person your spouse is now is different from who they were back then.
They’ve proven to you that they want to be with you because of the years that you’ve shared since then.
After so many years, the lie—rather than the cheating itself—could feel like the hardest part to get over. You may be able to reconcile that the cheating remains in the past, but the fact that your partner kept what they did to themselves for so long could feel like a bigger betrayal to try to move on from.
There’s no right or wrong way to deal with a cheating spouse, whether they cheated on you last week or 5 years ago. Accept your feelings as they come and take the time to process them, whatever they may be.
No one can tell you how you should feel because they aren’t the ones living your relationship. Your feelings are valid whatever they are because your life is your own to live.
You are the one that has been hurt, and you are the one that will have to live life with the person who hurt you if you decide to stay. It’s not for anyone else to comment or judge. Your relationship is unique and you don’t owe an explanation to anyone.
One thing to be aware of, however, is something called hysterical bonding. This is where you feel very physically attracted to your partner after they have cheated. You may want to have sex more regularly and in more passionate ways than before. It’s a confusing feeling and you should try not to let it cloud your judgment with regards to your long-term decision.
8. Don’t let your spouse dictate your feelings.
Don’t let your spouse tell you how you should be feeling, especially if they are trying to brush the whole situation under the carpet.
They may expect you to quickly move past the affair because it happened so long ago. But just because your partner has had time to reconcile with their mistake and move on, doesn’t mean you have.
Don’t let your spouse shut down the conversation when you try to ask them questions about what they did. They may have left their mistakes in the past, but you need time to process the new information and decide how you feel moving forward.
They need to own up to their mistakes and take responsibility for the hurt they’ve caused you. It’s up to your partner to help you feel like you can trust them again which means they should not dismiss your feelings.
Watch out if your partner repeatedly tries to shut down any conversation about their cheating—they may even try to blame you for making the issue worse. Making themselves the victim to shift the blame is a form of gaslighting which can become toxic in a relationship.
What they should be doing is respecting your feelings, even if they don’t agree with them. You are both entitled to feel whatever emotion you’re going through, and just because they don’t feel the same way or understand why you feel how you do, it doesn’t mean they have the right to tell you any different.
Your partner got away with not facing up to what they did for years and now is the time for them to be put on the spot and be truthful about what they’ve done. They don’t have the right to ever tell you how you should feel, especially now, so stay strong and use your voice.
9. Talk to someone about what you’re feeling.
Emotions can be hard to process at the best of times, and even more so when you’ve had a shock revelation from the person you trusted most in the world.
Your partner may not know how to give you the answers or reassurance you need, just as much as you might not yet know the ways in which you need them to show you. Speaking to a trained professional can help you navigate a way through the confusion and heightened emotions you’re feeling so you can find a clearer way to process the situation and communicate with your spouse.
A trusted friend or family member can offer you heartfelt support, but their love for you can influence their advice and make it biased against your spouse, subconsciously affecting the decision you make.
Speaking to a neutral third party means that they will always keep your best interests at heart. A relationship counselor will allow you the opportunity to offload and process some of those crazy thoughts swimming around your head.
They can empower you to ask the right questions and help you better come to terms with whether or not you can move on from this moment.
Relationship Hero is a website where you can connect with a certified relationship counselor via phone, video, or instant message.
10. Tell your spouse what you need.
If your spouse wants to reconcile and find a way to move on in your marriage, and you do too, then you’re going to have to work together to find a way.
Your spouse may have cheated on you years ago, but the effect of it is only being felt now. You need to work on building the trust between you again and bringing back the closeness you once had now that everything’s out in the open.
You may find a sense of relief knowing that there are no more secrets between you. Alternatively, you could feel that it’s difficult for you to trust even the simplest of things from your partner because of this one lie.
The only way to move through this unsettling period is to be honest and open with each other from now on. Tell your partner what it is you need from them so you can begin to trust them again. You can’t change the past, but you can think of physical, practical things your partner can do to show you they care.
Expecting them to “fix” the situation they created without giving them any guidance is going to leave both of you feeling frustrated and distant.
Think about what you need from your spouse to help you move on, even down to the simplest of changes like messaging you occasionally when they’re out or putting more effort into your relationship. Practical, achievable changes are tangible ways for your spouse to show you that they want to make up for what they’ve done.
11. Think about what you have to lose.
The point of your relationship should be that it makes you happy. Don’t let the opinions or expectations of other people influence the choices you make in this situation.
If you found out that your spouse cheated on you years ago, you may feel pressured to split up. Friends and family may expect you to hate your spouse and to never speak to them again. But just because other people have strong opinions about how they think you should act, doesn’t mean you have to listen to them.
Don’t act on impulse or the opinion of others, and instead consider carefully how you feel about your spouse. Do you want your relationship to end? Can you really see no way forward?
A marriage is a lot to throw away because of one mistake. If you’re not ready to let your partner go, even though they’ve hurt you, then you don’t have to. If your spouse shows you they’re remorseful, willing to do whatever they can to make things right, and that it was a one-time mistake, then there is still hope for your relationship if you want to believe in it.
Alternatively, you could be feeling the pressure from some people—including your spouse—to stay in your relationship for the sake of keeping your family together or to avoid being single again.
Don’t rush a decision based on your initial feelings because those may not reflect what you truly want to happen. Think carefully, weighing all relevant options and consequences, but be sure your happiness remains at the heart of your choice.
Keep in mind that staying in an unhappy relationship could be far more damaging to all involved than making a change and moving on, however hard those first steps are.
12. Think about whether you can move on from this.
Some hurts are too hard to let go of, and just because your spouse cheated on you years ago, doesn’t mean that what they did hurts any less than if it had happened yesterday.
You’re still dealing with the effect their actions have had on your relationship. The trust between you has been compromised, and you need explanations, time, and dedication from your partner if you’re going to make it through together.
Just as if you’d found out your spouse cheated on you recently, you need to think carefully about whether or not you can move on from what your partner has done to your relationship.
For some people, the fact that the infidelity happened years ago makes it less painful. You might feel secure knowing that your partner isn’t the same person they were years ago when the cheating happened and that they’ve shown that this is a marriage they want to be in.
But having this new knowledge about your spouse can bring up more questions because of the secret they’ve kept from you for such a long time. Not only are you wondering why they cheated in the first place, but you could be asking yourself why they didn’t tell you at the time, making it harder for you to let go and move on.
A part of you might want to brush your partner’s cheating under the carpet and get back to your happy life and happy relationship, but think carefully about whether you can truly let go of what they’ve done before you try.
You don’t want to keep returning to the same argument every time you get upset with each other. If this happens, you’re never going to be able to move on. You might need certain answers or time to process what you know, but once you make the decision to move on from it, you must try to leave everything you feel about your partner cheating in the past.
To be able to move on together, you both need to be able to give each other a clean slate. It will take a strong mind and a lot of resolve to forgive your cheating partner so you can truly move on. If this is what you want to do, do your best to stick with it, but know that your decision is not final and if your emotions still show in your actions, you can change your mind.
Every relationship is entirely personal, and what one couple can work through, others may find too hard.
If you feel as though you’ve come far enough in your marriage that you know your spouse is fully committed to you, even if they’ve strayed before, then don’t question it. Stay in your relationship and work through this rough patch if that’s what will make you happiest.
On the other hand, finding out about your spouse’s past could leave you feeling disappointed in them and may even make you question whether you want to continue with the relationship.
You might realize that they’re not the person you thought they were and that you’ll never quite see them in the same way again.
More than anything, decide whether you still like being around your partner and if you feel you can trust them. Your marriage and the decisions you make in it are something you must live with every day. In the end, only you will know if and when to walk away after infidelity, so have faith in yourself to make the right decision.
Take your time and don’t rush a decision, but don’t dwell in relationship limbo for too long because that will only add to the strain.