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I found out my partner cheated years ago and I'm so angry

Ask Roe: I chose to stay, and ever since we’ve been more honest. But I’m still angry

Dear Roe,

A few months ago, I found out my partner was unfaithful many years ago. They were immediately remorseful when confronted, confessed to everything and said the reason they never said anything was because they feared I'd walk away. We talked it through and I decided I wanted to stay, and ever since we've been more honest. But I'm still angry. I'm the person who had to suffer the emotional whiplash.

While the “crime” is long in the past – one of the reasons I stayed was because my partner did not stray at all during the few years when we both dealt with some really tough things together and separately – my sexual confidence has been dealt a blow. I feel unattractive, and when I see my changed, ageing body I feel like I’m lazy and ugly.

Will it pass? How do I talk about these feelings with my partner?


I want to commend you on your bravery for deciding to stay with your partner and work through this painful discovery. There’s often a jump to tell people whose partners have been unfaithful that the only choice is to leave them. This rhetoric can sometimes be wise, if the infidelity is repeated or part of an overall pattern of hurtful behaviour.

But when it comes to one-off instances of infidelity, exceptional occurrences that aren’t indicative of the relationship as a whole, and in long-term relationships that are not easy to just leave, staying and committing to doing the emotional work of healing, of reconnecting, of recommitting, can be both a brave and fulfilling decision that should be respected.

Agreeing to stay together and work on this does not mean you have to rush to feel fine about what happened

Your partner failed to live up to their promise of fidelity, like many people do. They then compounded that betrayal by lying about it at the time, like many do – rightly fearing that you would leave them. Not only were these actions deeply hurtful independently, but it appears that they didn’t confess to it – you only discovered the truth accidentally. This years-long deception and failure of your partner to be honest and accountable until caught out adds another layer of hurt on to an already difficult situation.

I don’t say this to exacerbate your anxiety and anger. I say this to assure you that your anxiety and anger are completely valid, and natural, and to be expected. You have decided to try to work through this challenge with your partner, but to do so, you both have to be willing to confront exactly what that challenge is. Agreeing to stay together and work on this does not mean you have to rush to feel fine about what happened, or act like you’re fine when you’re not, or to conceal any of the emotions and insecurities that this betrayal has evoked in you.

Agreeing to try to forgive someone does not mean that the forgiveness must come easily, or immediately, or gracefully, or that once you feel it, you will always feel it. Giving forgiveness, just like earning it, takes work. It takes feeling every uncomfortable, difficult emotion; sharing it; working through it, together. And for you and your partner to get through this, you’re going to have to stare directly at the magnitude of that work, and accept that it will take time.

From your letter, I suspect you’re trying to rush through the process. You express emotion at everything apart from your partner. There’s resentment at the prospect of having to endure this. There are rationalisations about how your relationship has been good. There’s a turn towards self-blame and self-hatred. All of these are understandable coping mechanisms. Being angry at the process and being angry at yourself are ways of distracting you from focusing on the anger you are feeling towards your partner.

I think you’re scared of that anger. I think you’re scared that if you let yourself feel it, if you let your partner see it, then neither of you will be able to endure it, and your relationship will end.

But you have just come out of an experience where your relationship was lacking honesty and openness and transparency. You have just come out of a relationship stage where one partner concealed the truth just to keep the relationship going. Don’t get stuck there. Don’t repeat that dynamic in a different way. Discovering this truth about your relationship has caused you pain, but it has also offered you an opportunity: an opportunity to start a new phase of your relationship, where honesty, accountability and emotional openness are key.

Forgiveness is much like monogamy. It's not a magical spell, forever fulfilled once uttered. It is a daily practice, a ritual, an endeavour

Get both an individual therapist and a couple’s therapist, so you have both a safe space to speak about your emotions and feel supported and validated, and someone dedicated to helping you and your partner to communicate with each other through this process.

By doubling up, you can express your insecurity and anger and pain in whatever way you like in your own therapy – and in couple’s therapy, learn how to communicate these feelings to your partner in a way that is clear and honest without being destructive. Expressing your emotions and needs honestly will be important for you, but it will also call upon your partner to really listen to how their actions have affected you, address what led them to do this, and work with you to re-establish trust and intimacy again. The work can only start with honesty.

One part of this will be expressing how your partner’s infidelity has made you doubt your own attractiveness, your own self-worth, your own image of yourself. It will become important that you not only have time and space to focus on yourself, to accept that his actions are not a reflection of you; and also that your partner knows how you are feeling, so that they can make efforts to reassure you, to make you feel loved, and appreciated, and attractive.

Forgiveness is much like monogamy. It’s not a magical spell, forever fulfilled once uttered. It is a daily practice, a ritual, an endeavour. It is a commitment you make again and again to yourself and your partner, every day.

I will be honest with you. I will commit to you. I will do my best by you. I will do the work with you. I will do the work for you. I will love you.

These are the promises you and your partner will have to make to each other now; the ways in which you will have to show up for each other. But also make those promises to yourself. Show up for yourself. Take it one day at a time. Good luck.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies. If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at Only questions selected for publication can be answered.