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  • Mark D. White, Ph.D.,

Should You Really Want to Know If a Partner Is Cheating?

Choosing not to know reveals a lack of self-respect.

Should You Really Want to Know If a Partner Is Cheating?

  • Adultery damages your relationship whether or not you find out about it right away.

  • Choosing not to know about your cheating partner is deceiving yourself.

  • Healthy self-respect demands that you know whether your partner is cheating, no matter who tells you.

Anywhere you go in the real world or on the internet, adultery is a constant topic of discussion. Although people mostly agree that it’s wrong in general, they disagree on whether you should tell your partner if you’ve cheated on them or whether you should tell a friend that their partner has cheated on them. (This, of course, assumes that fidelity is an important aspect of your relationship, no matter how you and your partner define it.)

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The view from the other side is discussed less often, though. Although there are a lot of opinions about what to do after you find out your partner has cheated on you, I see much less written about the question of whether you should want someone to tell you if you've been cheated on (regardless of who tells you, your partner or a friend).

On the simplest level, of course, it is up to every person to decide for themselves whether they want to know if they’ve been cheated on. This is based on the basic concept of autonomy that says we all have the right to conduct our lives as we choose, given that our choices do not infringe on the equal rights of others to do the same.

Even though you have the right to determine for yourself if you want to know if you’ve been cheated on, several ethical and practical considerations suggest that you should want to know.

1. What you don’t know can hurt you.

This obviously contradicts the common belief that “what you don’t know can’t hurt you.” This is true if we're only considering the feeling or experience of being hurt, which is certainly prevented as long as you're unaware of the hurtful event. But the injury still occurs, just like if your house is damaged or broken into while you’re on vacation: Your interests are still set back even if you don’t learn about it for some time. In the case of adultery, your relationship is damaged from the moment it happens, whether or not you’re aware of it—and given enough time, it is likely you will be, at which point the pain may be much worse for all time you didn't know.

2. You deserve to know what’s going on.

If you don’t know you’ve been cheated on, your relationship will have continued under false pretenses. It is no different than if your partner lies to you about cheating, even though in this case it was your choice not to know—either way, the result is deception. Of course, we can never know everything about our partners, nor should we want or demand to. But there are some things you should want to know, things that are directly relevant to your relationship—and if you value fidelity in your relationship, violations of that are definitely relevant.

3. Choosing not to know shows a lack of self-respect.

Intentionally remaining ignorant of your partner’s infidelity and continuing in a deceptive relationship is a sign you don’t respect yourself enough. It’s saying to your partner, your friends, and—worst of all—yourself that you aren’t important or valuable enough to be told the truth about your partner’s behavior. In practical terms, you are effectively giving them permission to cheat (and keep it from you), and if you do this you will always wonder if they have. This constant state of uncertainty may be just as bad as finding out they actually did cheat, and much worse than knowing they have not.

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Why do you feel you don't deserve to know?

All three of these reasons argue against telling people that you don’t want to know if your partner cheats on you. It may seem like it is saving you pain, but if your partner does cheat on you, you have been hurt even if you don’t realize it at the time—and chances are you will find out, at which point it may hurt even more. In the meantime, you are deceiving yourself by closing your eyes to what’s going on, and your relationship will be a lie.

Most importantly, by saying you don’t need to know about things that are relevant to your life, relationship, and happiness, you are denying yourself the respect you deserve. Again, you are free to do that, but before you do, ask yourself why you feel you don’t deserve the truth from the person you have dedicated an important part of your life to.

  • Has your partner said or done something to make you feel this way? (Then consider if this is the right person for you.)

  • Are you worried you'll lose them if you don't look the other way? (Then you need to ask if you feel like you're less worthy than your partner, or what shortcoming you feel you need to make up for—and why.)

  • Have you been hurt by infidelity in the past, and you think that not knowing will prevent you from feeling that pain again? (Then you need to consider the chances that you will find out eventually, and whether you're actually saving yourself from anything.)

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In the end, all of this point back to how you perceive your own self-worth, both as a person and as a partner—and none of them justify treating yourself as anything less than a person who deserves to know what's going on in your relationship.

Mark D. White, Ph.D., - Website -


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