Tempted To Cheat? Now What?

Should you ’fess up? Keep flirting? Seek help? Here’s how to make a choice you won’t regret.

By Mackenzie Brown

hings were just getting cozy: Your toothbrush had taken up permanent residence in her medicine cabinet; he’d finally seen you without concealer on. Then it happened. You developed a little lust in your heart for someone else, and understandably, you’re feeling a bit evil? Guilty? Panicked? All of the above? Relax. Just
Friends are great (not to mention free) sounding boards when you need a safe place to sort out what’s going on.
because your eye has wandered doesn’t necessarily mean your morals are down the drain. In fact, “the temptation to cheat can be a great catalyst to get a relationship back on track,” says Linda Olson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and radio host based in New Canaan, CT.

So now what do you do? Here, are five options to consider as you sort out this most personal of choices.

Option 1: Keep it to yourself
When the urge to stray isn’t overwhelming — a slight attraction as opposed to an all-out innuendo fest — and you know you’ll be able to stay away from your temptress/tempter, silence may be the best solution. “I never told anyone about the time I almost crossed the line with an attorney I’d been working with,” says Mary of Pittsburgh. “I’d been feeling insecure about my looks, and this man was giving me more attention than I was getting from my boyfriend, so naturally I couldn’t get him out of my head. But when he asked me out, I finally came to my senses and realized just how much I’d be giving up if I cheated. If I told my guy that I’d been tempted, it would only hurt him.”

Just be sure that you’re being honest with yourself — if not your partner — about what you’re feeling. Otherwise, the less-disclosure-is-more approach can backfire, warns Dr. Olson. “[Some people are in a situation where] the more they deny their temptation, the more likely they are to act on it,” says Dr. Olson.

Option 2: Come clean
Telling your partner about your fantasies of getting extracurricular action probably seems like romantic suicide. They may find it hard to trust you again, even if you never gave in to temptation. But then again, if your dynamic is strong enough to withstand brutal honesty, “telling your partner what’s going on can prevent a crisis,” says Dr. Olson. “Be specific about why you considered straying, in a non-accusatory way,” she advises. “Saying ‘I feel as if we need to be more spontaneous’ is far less blaming than ‘You’re not spontaneous.’”

Option 3: Vent to a friend
Friends are great (not to mention free) sounding boards when you need a safe place to sort out what’s going on in your hormone-addled head. Just be careful to whom you come clean, says Dr. Olson: Carefully consider whether you admire your friend’s moral standards and discretion. Quencey from Atlanta knows that from experience. “I loved my girlfriend, but this beautiful co-worker was making it clear that she didn’t care that I was attached. I turned to my friend DJ for moral support. At first he told me to be strong. But when I told him the woman had offered to ‘make me feel really good’ during a working lunch, DJ said, ‘I’d go for it! Why not?’ Thankfully, I didn’t heed DJ’s advice; I think he was a victim of vicarious thinking,” says Quencey, who ended up marrying his girlfriend. To avoid his dilemma, Dr. Olson suggests that, if you’re going to pour your heart out to a friend, tell them that the best thing they can do for you is to listen without editorializing.

Let’s face it: The temptation to cheat can sometimes signal that a relationship isn’t working.
Option 4: Shrink the problem
A little time with a therapist at the first sign of an illicit attraction can help you figure out why you were tempted to cheat and give you the tools to communicate your needs to your partner, says Dr. Olson. Even you do decide to ’fess up to your sweetie, go solo for at least the first few sessions. You’ll need to feel as if you can honestly discuss both of your needs, desires and shortcomings—which wouldn’t be possible if he or she is sitting right there. Once you’ve laid your cards on the table with the expert, you can plan the best way to broach the topic with your partner and see if couples counseling is in order.

Option 5: Get out
Let’s face it: A temptation to cheat can sometimes signal that a relationship isn’t working. “My boyfriend and I had been together for two years. But the real love of his life was his job,” says Tawny of Baton Rouge. “I was starved for attention. One day, I put my online profile back up on the Internet and started hanging out with an old male friend. Part of me wanted to cheat just to get some affection. But I finally realized that I needed to pull myself out of this go-nowhere relationship before I did something that would make me feel bad about myself. I’m single again, but at least I didn’t compromise my principles,” says Tawny.

When is it time to go? Ask yourself, What are my needs? Security? Warmth? A mind-blowing sex life? “Now, consider whether this person will ever be able to meet them,” suggests Dr. Olson. Another question: ls your supposed significant other still significant to you? “Once you’ve lost respect for the person, there’s usually very little left to work with. When you find yourself constantly tuning them out, that’s a bad sign,” says Dr. Olson. Should you decide to give up, know that it’s by no means an easy way out. “Having the sense to leave before a betrayal occurs is a very courageous thing to do,” says Dr. Olson.

Mackenzie Brown is a New York-based writer who has contributed to More, Brides, and other publications.
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