News, Culture & Society

Tracey Cox reveals whether you should ever spill the beans to a partner if you stray

Every few weeks, I talk to people about their sex and relationship problems and give my advice on how to fix them.

The names are always changed to protect each person’s identity but the problems are real – and things lots of us struggle with.

This week, I talk to a man who cheated on his girlfriend of three years with a close friend of hers.

Is he better off confessing or should he keep his mouth shut? And is there any hope for a relationship after betrayal?


I cheated on my girlfriend Ella with one of her best friends and I don’t know what to do now. I feel dreadful about it and think I should probably confess but I know it’s going to break her heart and probably break us up.

We’ve been together for three years. I’m 33, she’s 30. I love her dearly but our sex life has always been a problem. We’ve talked about it and she admitted she doesn’t like sex much. 

Tracey helps one man struggling with the guilt of having sex with his girlfriend’s best friend, and advises him to tell her in a clear and simple confession (stock image)

We do it once on the weekends: always at night, always the same position and under the covers. Oral sex is a ‘treat’ rather than something that happens regularly. I’ve tried to get her to experiment and be more adventurous but she says no to everything I suggest.

Ella wants to start a family and get married and I worry that sex will completely stop once she has a baby. That’s happened to a few of my friends.

One of Ella’s friends, Chloe, always flirts with me.

It’s kind of a joke between all of us. Chloe is single and sex mad and she tells us all about what she gets up to with other guys. Ella asked me once if it turned me on, hearing about all the stuff she gets up to. I said no but of course it does. She asked if I wished sometimes that I was single. Again, I said no but of course I wish I could be out there having wild sex. What bloke doesn’t?

About a month ago, Chloe texted me after she’d been over to say thanks for listening to all her troubles. She’d broken up with a guy and wanted the man’s perspective. I texted back to say no problems and she sent one saying she wished she could find a guy like me.

We started flirting and then late one night, while she was out with my girlfriend, she asked me if I wanted to see a photo of her breasts. She knew it was safe to send it to me because Ella was out with her.

I was out with my friends and also drunk and we ended up meeting back at hers at the end of the evening (my girlfriend and I don’t live together).

We had sex. It wasn’t even good sex: we were both wasted and awkward because we both knew what we were doing was wrong. I used a condom, at least I got that right, and it was over pretty fast. I left straight away and went home feeling disgusted about what I’d done.

We both feel terrible about what happened.

The next day Chloe rang and we talked about it. She said the whole thing was her fault and that she felt ashamed for leading me on. We agreed never to mention it again, never to talk privately – and never to tell Ella.

That was three months ago. Every time I look at Ella, I feel like the biggest piece of s**t. I hate what I did to her. It’s tense when Chloe comes over and Ella asked me once if something had happened.

I think she thinks we’ve had a row or something. I know Chloe is tormented by it as well: I can see it in the way she looks at Ella.

I’m so confused but don’t know if confessing will help anything. How can I start a family with this secret between us?

Tracey Cox says there 'no saint or sinner' in this scenario

Tracey Cox says there ‘no saint or sinner’ in this scenario 

Part of me thinks I was justified in cheating because the sex is so bad and she makes no effort to make it better. But doing it with one of her best friends makes it a million times worse. What do I do now?


Not all people who cheat are bad and not everyone cheats because they’re unhappy with their partner.

The classic scenario people imagine – that the cheater has fallen out of love, is bored with their relationship and wants the thrill and excitement of an affair – does happen.

But there are many other reasons why people cheat.

If you got together with your partner early in their life, you might have an affair purely for self-exploration. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them, you just want to have an adventure with someone other than them.

If you want out of your relationship but haven’t the heart to break it off, being caught cheating does the dirty work for you.

The reason why someone cheats is important because it usually dictates what you should do next – and your scenario, Oliver, is no exception.

Neither saint nor sinner 

You feel like a s**t for cheating on your girlfriend because it’s a really s****y thing to do to someone you love. That’s without even going there with the ‘and I did it with her friend’ thing (more on that later).

Clearly, you’re no saint. But you’re not a villain either.

What you are is a 33-year old man, with a healthy sex drive, three years into a relationship with a woman who has none.

The sex you’re having is passionless and dull. There’s no intimacy, no enjoyment in each other’s bodies and, I expect, no eager anticipation of this joyless event.

Your girlfriend never initiates, never lets you see her naked and refuses any attempt on your part to make things more exciting.

Lots of people may judge you harshly for what you did. But no-one’s going to be scratching their head and thinking ‘I wonder why that guy cheated? It doesn’t make sense’

When you commit to monogamy, you agree only to have sex with each other. There is (or should be) an obligation that goes along with this – to make sure the sex you have is making each of you happy.

You aren’t happy, Ella knows it but still does nothing to fix the problem.

Are you willing to kiss goodbye to good sex?

There are several things going on here. The first is that you cheated. The second is that you cheated with a close friend of hers. The third is that you have a major problem in your relationship. Your sex life is, let’s be honest here, dire and it’s highly unlikely it can be rescued.

Tracey suggests those who cheat should consider if they want to be with their partners - and not to confess if they choose to leave. But if they want to stay and work on the relationship, or may be eating up by guilt, then she advises revealing all (stock image)

Tracey suggests those who cheat should consider if they want to be with their partners – and not to confess if they choose to leave. But if they want to stay and work on the relationship, or may be eating up by guilt, then she advises revealing all (stock image) 

You say you love Ella ‘dearly’. This is how we describe the fondness we feel for an aunt, not the love of our lives. You might be a good love match but you sure as hell aren’t sexually compatible.

Sex becomes routine and less frequent the longer couples stay together but you’re only three years in. You’re 33 not 63. If you do marry and have kids, are you happy knowing the only hot sex you’ll ever have from now on will be with you and your computer or phone screen?

You’re right in thinking sex will become even less likely once you have children. Trust me: sexual dissatisfaction seamlessly slides into a sexless marriage once a baby arrives.

Change is only possible if both people want it

You could see a sex therapist together and try to fix things. Ella might well have some issues going on there that might fade with the help of a good therapist.

But a lot of how we feel about sex and how much we want it is genetic. Ella might simply have inherited a low sex drive and be uninterested in challenging that. She certainly doesn’t seem willing to meet you halfway when you do try to make things more interesting.

Sex is important to you. So important, you cheated with a close friend of hers to get some.

Does this sound like a match made in heaven to you?

That’s the first decision you need to make: do you want to commit to having a family and staying together?

If you decide to leave, I see no point at all in saying ‘Right, I’m off. And by the way, I slept with one of your best friends’.

What does that accomplish other than deal a cruel triple whammy? You’re leaving her, you cheated on her and the person she would have gone to for support and comfort is the person you cheated with.

If you leave do it kindly and gracefully and don’t mention what happened.

Will Chloe crack under pressure?

But don’t be surprised if Chloe sees your exit as a reason to clear her own conscience. It will be reinvented, of course, with you as the person pursuing and seducing her, but she might well own up to what she did. If she does and your girlfriend calls to challenge you on it, obviously do the decent thing and confess.

Personally, leave or stay, I think the chances of Chloe cracking and dropping you in it are high. She drinks. She’s tormented by what she’s done. The chances of her blurting it out one drunken night to your girlfriend is a huge risk.

Living with the guilt of cheating is sometimes punishment enough for people who’ve been unfaithful. Coming clean is often done for selfish reasons: you can’t live with the guilt, so unburden your sordid secret. The innocent person is then left to deal with the devastating knowledge of betrayal.

But better a voluntary confession than an unwanted discovery.

A recent US study (UCLA and University of Washington) found married people who admit infidelity to a spouse are a third less likely to divorce than those who keep their infidelity a secret.

Tracey says that those who want to stay with their partners should be open and give a voluntary confession. She suggests keeping the explanation simple and concise (stock image)

Tracey says that those who want to stay with their partners should be open and give a voluntary confession. She suggests keeping the explanation simple and concise (stock image)

Yours was a moment of weakness versus a long-term affair. You used a condom. so at least her health isn’t at risk, and you’re remorseful.

Put in the same situation, I’d say it’s unlikely you would say yes to sex outside your relationship in the future. These are all good signs this was a one-off rather than something that’s about to become a habit.

My question to you is: how do you plan on surviving in a relationship where the sex is so uninspiring you might as well not bother, without seeking it elsewhere?

It’s obvious what I think you should do: leave and allow both you to find someone more compatible to settle down with.

But if you decide to stay and tell Ella what happened, here’s how I’d do it.

If you confess, keep it simple.

Say you’ve made a terrible mistake and don’t know if she will forgive you. Tell her she was right when she said something happened with Chloe. Then, sticking to the facts, take her through what happened, including how awful both of you felt during it and afterwards. Warn Chloe you’re about to confess before you do, obviously.

Most people go through several stages when they find out they’ve been betrayed. Ella will be hurt, upset and angry. Then she’ll want answers. She will hate you for what you did but, perhaps, might also think about why you did it and if she could have behaved differently to prevent it.

She may also feel sad and miss the relationship and you. If she dumped you on hearing the news, this period is when most people attempt reconciliation and try to forgive.

It sometimes works.

Couples do get through infidelity but cheating is tough enough to deal with without the double betrayal of you having done it with a close, trusted friend of hers.

Kinder, I think, to exit gracefully with the hope that she remains forever blissfully unaware of what happened that night.

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