My partner knows I cheated. What do I do now?

Psychologies' agony aunt, Mary Fenwick offers advice on your life problems

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My partner knows I cheated. What do I do now?

I have been cheating on my partner by flirting and having sexualised chat and photo conversations for the past eight months. She found these messages while going through my phone today, and I feel like I’ve woken up from a dream and now have to deal with my horrible, selfish actions, which seemed very abstract until they became very real, creating much pain. Is there any advice you have for me? Name supplied

For shorthand, I’m going to call this an affair, even though we could argue all day about the definition. You have been sexually intimate with someone other than your partner. Even if the affair itself wasn’t physical, you have both had the physical effects of feeling sick, hot and cold about the confrontation.

I hope it is not too laughable to suggest that you read a book when your head and heart are all over the place, but I do recommend Julia Cole’s After the Affair. Each page in chapter six is divided into two columns: ‘The person who has had the affair’, and ‘The person who has not had the affair’. The first pieces of advice for you would be: don’t rush this discussion, be honest, but avoid intimate details. Unfortunately, the details that have already emerged are hurtful, but not the main point.

The gold standard would be couples’ counselling to explore whether you want to rebuild or escape your relationship. Possibly you were seeking something that felt at least temporarily lacking – fun, sex, the feeling of being mysterious perhaps? Or was there an element of avoiding intimacy in your relationship by seeking it elsewhere?

Please note that I am not using intimacy as a euphemism for sex. Intimacy can also be about an unconscious voice saying we will not be lovable if we are truly known, and that makes us drive away other people when they get close to us. Sometimes it’s a bigger challenge learning to live with ourselves, than it is learning to live with someone else.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line

Photograph: iStock