How Do I Fix Trust Issues After Being Caught Cheating?


I cheated on my girlfriend. Yes, I’m a cheater and I’ll never live it down. I don’t deserve forgiveness. I don’t deserve her, period! I made the biggest mistake of my life and now I’m on the verge of losing the only person in this world that I can’t live without.

The backstory is that I got too close to a coworker and let my worst instincts get the best of me. We were together 10 or 12 times and I kept rationalizing it somehow in my head. Like, I knew it wasn’t going to be a long-term thing, but I selfishly wanted “strange” sex before the prospect of no longer having it disappeared forever. There was also a time when my girlfriend made out with a guy in a bar. I know that’s not on the same level as what I did—not even close. I just think it was part of my stupid rationalization. I feel so ashamed and disgusted with myself.

I ended things with the other girl the same day I was caught, but obviously my girlfriend doesn’t trust me now. I don’t really blame her. She says she doesn’t think she can ever trust me again. I have offered to give her all my passwords and go to counseling, whatever it takes, but she says she’s not sure it would matter. Knowing I broke her heart is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to know.

She is taking some time to think about things, and she doesn’t want me to call or text her until she figures out what she wants to do. I am giving her the space she asked for. I am just hoping that when we talk again I can reassure her that I can be trusted. I want to make things right. I know I would never make a mistake like that again, but fixing her trust issues feels impossible. Help! I’ll do anything. —Astray

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Dear Astray,

Thank you for writing. I’m not here to judge. Besides, judgment befogs understanding.

I feel your remorse. This does not mean I want to downplay the harm your behavior has caused to all three parties, including yourself and, presumably, your coworker. Sometimes such actions are indicative of a deeper issue that is not resolved by altering the offending behavior.

I urge you to focus on yourself during this “trial” time needed by your girlfriend. (I would take it as a good sign, by the way, she did not end it outright. The two of you must have built a strong connection prior to your affair.)

You can’t make her trust you again. It may sound counterintuitive, but the best thing you can do for her is to come to a rigorously honest (and empathic) understanding of yourself and what might have motivated this. You might consider couples counseling—or, if she is not willing, individual counseling in the name of compassionate but unyielding self-reflection. Here is an opportunity for a reckoning that could greatly benefit you and your relationship, assuming it survives. Even if it doesn’t, it would benefit your next one.

There is a stark up/down contrast in your descriptions of your girlfriend versus sex with your coworker, which might reflect a good/bad way of perceiving yourself. To hear you tell it, your girlfriend sounds almost unassailably perfect or wholesome (“up”), while your desire for sex with the coworker is “strange” or almost seedy-sounding (“down”). This is a bit of a catch-22 in that you appear to judge something that also remains desirable, that you have misgivings about letting go of “forever.”

You can’t make her trust you again. It may sound counterintuitive, but the best thing you can do for her is to come to a rigorously honest (and empathic) understanding of yourself and what might have motivated this.

You might be surprised at the relatively simple human desires that become camouflaged in sexuality, which itself becomes a way of attaching to a desired other. Perhaps sex with your coworker was a way of soothing whichever vulnerable part of you felt “less than.” Perhaps sharing your vulnerability with your girlfriend felt too risky. (This is all speculation, mind you. I’m just reflecting on examples I have come across over the years.)

You also describe yourself as the lowest of the low, which indicates a struggle for self-esteem or perhaps some self-loathing that was likely present (perhaps unconsciously) before all this started. The behavior confirms what lies dormant. It is as if some part of you were saying, “Go ahead and mess around with your coworker. You don’t deserve your girlfriend anyway. You’re only going to lose her once she discovers the ‘real you,’ so why not?” I imagine this all fed into your rationalizing.

Or, quite possibly, there was a rebellion against feeling less than (“no woman will tell me what I can or can’t do!”)—an assertion of sorts of your freedom before giving up something “forever.” Maybe there was a combination of these two (or more) threads running through this sexual detour.

As for “fixing” your girlfriend’s trust issues, decisive action on your part would go a long way toward showing her you mean business: a genuine effort to understand not just that your behavior was painful, but that something else was “off”—and owning it, examining it, and working on it. Nothing is more courageous than facing one’s own psychological struggles. It never ceases to amaze me how many are simply too afraid or unwilling to do this. Many would rather just “change the channel” or “swipe left” and forget it.

Showing her that you want to use this crisis as an opportunity to better understand yourself, which can only broaden your relational and sexual options in the long run, might show her you intend to grow from this. You might even start to see her as an equal, as opposed to her holding a standard you can never reach (which might create unconscious stress, resentment, self-criticism, and so on).

The worst thing you can do is try to shove all this back in the closet and quickly move on. Doing so practically ensures it will happen again in some other form. I can assure you there is nothing innately “bad” about what is behind this. You may discover, with help and diligence, that what lies behind it all is something stunningly human.

In the meantime, be patient and accepting of what your girlfriend needs. Talk is indeed cheap. Show her you will do what it takes to make this right. If you’re going to earn back her trust, it will start with respecting her needs during this difficult time. If you use the space to work on yourself, you will be better prepared to provide what she needs in the future.

Best wishes,

Darren Haber, PsyD, MFT

Darren Haber, PsyD, MFT is a psychotherapist specializing in treating alcoholism and drug addiction as well as co-occurring issues such as anxiety, depression, relationship concerns, secondary addictions (especially sex addiction), and trauma (both single-incident and repetitive). He works in a variety of modalities, primarily cognitive behavioral, spiritual/recovery-based, and psychodynamic. He is certified in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and continues to receive psychodynamic training in treating relational trauma, including emotional abuse/neglect and physical and sexual abuse.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Carie

    June 19th, 2018 at 8:38 AM

    You messed up, dude, now let her find a better man. Hopefully you learned your lesson and won’t repeat the same mistakes in future relationships.

  • Nicole

    June 20th, 2018 at 3:10 AM

    Hi Darren,
    I have been a holistic psychotherapist almost 45 years and your comments are some of the best I’ve ever read on this topic. Not only are they beautifully written, in a compassionate caring tone, but they are incredibly insightful.
    Keep writing and sharing your wisdom, the world is definitely a better place for it.
    All the best,
    Nicole S. Urdang

  • Jody

    June 20th, 2018 at 5:23 AM

    “…give her space”?
    “…her trust issues”?
    Yes, it’s wonderful that this guy is seeking help. Fundamentally, he lacks respect for his gf (maybe women in general) and his choice in language/framing reveals much. May this guy indeed find a therapist who non-judgmentally attends to the aforementioned (rather than coddling that patriarchal stance), and may his gf realize that the problem runs very deep and will manifest in many ways (not just cheating).

  • Jennifer

    July 12th, 2018 at 9:33 PM

    I cheated on my husband with the same man and was caught multiple times last summer. I ended it last September and my husband, who had moved out, moved back in. This past year was very tense. My husband was traumatized but I saw it as controlling. He would pack up everything he owned every 2-3 days and load his car, only to go to sleep and unload the next morning. This went on for months. I never realized that he was in pain and I was not helping, I was hurting him by not being there for him. My affair partner contacted me in May and for 2 weeks, we talked, texted and I saw him in public briefly 2 times. My husband found out and moved out. I am COMPLETELY remorseful and very upset. I want my marriage to last! My husband has had VERY LITTLE contact with me. It’s been over 6 weeks. He blocked my phone, my facebook and did not respond to emails for 3 weeks. When he finally started responding to my apologetic, loving emails, he was SO VERY angry! He was responding to some of my emails for the past 3 weeks and now, as of yesterday is not responding at all! He has sent separation papers and told me that he will not open his heart to me again and that he is separating from me whether I want to or not and that if we are meant to be, then we will get together after that. I am devastated! I don’t want this separation of a divorce! We have 5 children and he has had VERY LITTLE contact with them. He has moved in with his parents but is moving into a condo soon. He told me 20 year old this yesterday. What does it mean that he refuses to see me(I have gently tried twice), refuses to hear my voice, and is not even responding to my emails anymore? He fought for our marriage for over a year. My counselor has told me how hard he was fighting when I was so involved with the affair partner. She said that she thinks he still loves me but he is so very angry and has lost all trust. I am afraid he is distancing himself from me and the kids so that he will not have any feelings until he has legally separated from me. In the agreement, which is very unfair, and I am not signing, he gave me the house and ALL of the furnishings. He didn’t ask for one thing, which to me says he doesn’t want any memories of our life together. He has loved me completely for 27 years(3 dating, 2 married). He adored me! He has told friends he thought he had the perfect life. He has NEVER looked at another woman and until this, I had never looked at another man. Finally, his lawyer told my lawyer(they are friends, I know…) that my husband told his lawyer to do this quickly so “I don’t change my mind”. He did send a separation agreement last summer when the affair was going on but ended up coming home. He was never gone more than 6 weeks, until now. It’s been 6 weeks and 2 days. Do you have any information that may help me figure out what I should do and if there seems to be any hope for my marriage? Help please!!

  • Sam

    June 23rd, 2019 at 3:09 PM

    You were making plans to do it again and you both know it. Leave him alone.

  • Jennifer

    June 24th, 2019 at 3:47 AM

    No I wasn’t!!! You do not know me!!! If that were the case, I would be with him now!!!! I never went back to him and he still pursued me!!! You need to do some research on affairs and limerence and mid life crises!! You shouldn’t be commenting negatively on something when someone is trying HARD to save her marriage! If you are only interested in destruction, then don’t comment at all I am looking for ways to HELP, not hurt my husband and family!! love my husband and him alone!!!Do your homework and stop judging when you don’t have any idea what happened!

  • Eugene

    June 25th, 2019 at 12:52 PM

    I am a husband who has a wife that has cheated on me repeatedly with multiple men and women. My thoughts on this are that number one if you love your husband so much and the relationship is and was so important them why did you spread your legs and invite someone else in repeatedly. Once could be a terrible mistake but doing it over and over again after being caught is totally different. And trust me, even thinking about your lover much less talking to him was strictly forbidden. Your husband put forth a lot of effort to make it work, you reward him with contacting your lover. You need to realize your husband is suffering from PTSD sometimes called PISD in this case. I am suffering from the same, I have been trying to keep it going for years now and the pain can be as severe today as it was the day I found out. You need to do some research on the cheated on partner to come even close to understanding his feelings. Seeing how much he was struggling with this and you still have contact with your lover pretty much tells it all, it was you first and hubby should just be happy to get the leftover. I think you have permanently destroyed your marriage, he might fool me but I don’t think so. He is taking the necessary steps to try to get some kind of a life back, and I don’t think you are going to be in it. I am sorry but you should leave him alone, you are only causing him more pain and suffering. All of this should have been thought about before you gave the most precious and intimate gift a person has to another man.

  • Amanda

    December 2nd, 2019 at 4:57 PM

    From reading this, you need to give him as much time as he needs as you were the one who jeopardized the relationship. From experience, trust is very hard to build up once lost but depending on how much he loves you, he will give you another chance. I just hope you two are able to be happy again because no one should not be with the person they love and especially if they are trying to prove their worth after messing up continuously and I understand how he feels. You need to constantly reassure him and keep his anxiety and mind sane, if you love him you will.

  • D

    March 2nd, 2020 at 7:49 AM

    “I am your husband” I am in the same situation but the ironic part you and my wife have the same name. I’m here if you need to talk.

  • Edward

    May 16th, 2020 at 4:59 AM

    Actions have consequences. You were a total jerk to your husband and you deserve to be alone. Too bad your husband and children have to suffer even though they did nothing wrong. In fact, it sounds like your husband was nicer than he needed to be given your behavior. I don’t think you love him, I think you are panicking now that it looks like you’re going to be the single mom of 5 kids. Stop lying to yourself and everyone else… you have no idea what love is! If you REALLY love your husband, you want what’s best for HIM. What’s best for him is not putting up with your selfishness and cruelty!! You deserve to be alone.

  • Pace

    May 21st, 2020 at 6:54 PM

    I don’t know why people want sympathy after totally screwing up. You made your bed so lye in it and take whatever your husband dishes out. Your actions show you have no respect for your husband, your marriage or your children. Let him be and wait just like he waited for you and you continued to disrespect him

  • Rosa anne

    May 30th, 2021 at 12:54 AM

    I cheated on my boyfriend in a moment of desperation, i jumped to the conclusion that he didn’t want me anymore at a time when i was at my lowest, there was no emotional or sexual attachment to who i cheated with, it was just a selfish wanting to feel, I’ve been ashamed of myself and hurt badly that I’ve broken the trust of the best person I know… he’s hurting really bad and i don’t really know how to help. He didn’t break up with me, we were trying to work it out, but i can see the hurt everytime he remembers because its a mirror of mine. What can i do to help, to make him understand it’ll never happen again

  • Katz

    June 19th, 2022 at 11:11 AM

    I cheated my Boyfriend with da same guy twice we started as friends sharing our problems to each other than my Boyfriend startedtrack my phone locations thats were he found out that m cheating reason for cheating i was not strong to face problems we had with him he used to be angry at me so i kept on telling guy wats happening in my relationship he was alway there for me when my boyfriend didnt answer his phone for days when my boyfriend was cheating on me different girls pictures i love my boyfriend with al my life and i cant compair him with guy now my boyfriend want nothing to do with me which its very hard for me i asked for transfer at work to come work close to him we dnt have families here only two of us now dis going back home without my job its something else
    Guy he hd that soft sport for me he was caring down to earth very understanding and he had baby Mom so he was cheating for baby Mama

    So i asked my boyfriend to fight for our relationship in aprofissional way

  • Deli

    October 27th, 2022 at 3:31 AM

    Judge Judy says that when people know doing something is wrong, but they do it anyway, they are being self-indulgent. You knew what you were doing was wrong, but you did it anyway. Over and over. Cheating is a choice not a mistake. A mistake is putting salt instead of sugar in your coffee because salt and sugar look so much alike. Cheating takes lots of planning so you can’t say that it just happened. BTW, with 5 children, when did you find the time to have an affair in the first place? I would think that you would be so busy and tired that you would not have the energy to take care of the needs of 2 men.
    As to your cheating, a counselor once said that in all her years of counseling, she has concluded that the person who cheats more often than not, is the one who is putting the least amount of effort into the relationship. Does this apply in your case?
    Cheating just tells your partner that you don’t love them. That they don’t matter. That you don’t respect them. That they are not worthy of your love and devotion. I think the kindest thing you can do after hurting your spouse is to divorce him, and let him find someone who will love him like he deserves. Your children are the ones who will ultimately pay for your sins. They are the innocent ones. They deserve to have a happy childhood with two parents who love each other. Your children have been changed forever. They are damaged goods. Get them into therapy if possible. They don’t deserve to have their lives turned upside down.

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