First, let's look at why most partners cheat.

  1. To feel connected to someone. Since cheating involves sexual intensity, the brain's love and attachment chemicals such as oxytocin and endorphin increase—which make you feel close.

  2. To feel appreciated and to matter to someone.  Affairs make people feel overly-important.

  3. To feel emotionally alive and vital. Sexual highs also translate as life-highs.  Suddenly you feel like a "new and improved" person-especially if work and financial issues are not going well.

  4. To feel attractive. If you have a poor self-image, it's easy to feel that being desired by someone else "proves" that you are appealing.

  5. To get back at your cheating partner. Revenge sex is never a good idea, yet many people think it is the best way to "teach your partner a lesson"—and to let him or her feel the hurt that you feel.  But revenge sex only increases the anger, hurt and feelings of isolation.

  6. To "heat up" an emotionally dead relationship. Wow, there's nothing like letting your partner discover that you've been cheating in order to get a reaction out of him or her. But be careful, your relationship could heat up to the point of exploding.

  7. To fall back into the trap of self-destructiveness. Some people "tempt fate" by tossing caution to the wind.  These people may seem like free spirits, but they are often very self-destructive and ruin the relationship whenever true intimacy and commitment are required. 

What can you do if you are the cheater?  There is no "one-size" solution for all.  However, here are some tips.

  1. Don't end your primary relationship. 
  2. Put your affair "on hold" for a while.
  3. Seek therapy.
  4. Consider NOT "'fessing up" to your partner.  It's very difficult to know when to "spill the beans."  Some therapists insist on honesty; others say use judgment.  There is no one right answer.  What some people do is not reveal one-time missteps.  Instead, they use the incident to learn more about their unhappiness.  In therapy, they then discuss what is making them unhappy in the relationship and then work with their partner to improve it.

Even if you think you are in love with the other person, at least still work on learning about your existing relationship.  Don't "toss out the baby with the bath water."  You will still need to learn why you chose each of your partners, why you chose to cheat and how to fix yourself.

What can you do if your partner is the cheater-and you know about it? It seems as though there are only a few choices:  split up, brush the incident under the rug and go on; get vengeful; go to therapy to deal with it or use it as a springboard to work on the relationship on your own.  No matter what you do, learning about your partner's affair hurts.  Here are a few of my top tips:

  1. Don't get vengeful and have an affair to "get back."

  2. Mourn the loss of your view of your relationship.  Discovering that your partner is cheating is a form of trauma.   You've lost safety, trust, love, commitment and certainty.  Work with a therapist-even if your spouse won't go-to grieve and understand yourself and your relationship.

  3. Evaluate very, very carefully whether you want to separate physically. Don't panic or act hastily such as getting divorced.. Some people, for example, have one-time affairs and really don't want to lose the original relationship.  Therapy can help sort out your feelings and strategies.

  4. Use the incident as a warning sign that something is wrong.  Seek therapy.

Roughly, without therapy, a third of couples manage to strengthen their relationships after an affair has occurred.  You can greatly increase your chances of improving your relationship, learning about yourself or moving on more effectively and wisely if you seek therapy.