There’s no denying that cheating can completely destroy a relationship. It’s one of the biggest issues—if not the biggest issue—that can come between a couple. And while some couples can get through it, it's not without a lot of healing, processing, and commitment on both sides. But as much as cheating can wreak havoc no matter when it happens in a relationship, whether it's during the first few months or years of living together, there’s a special type of panic that can arise if you find out your fiancé has been cheating before your wedding.
"There are certain scenarios where a person decides that they simply cannot go through with the marriage, and I tend to think that finding out your partner is cheating very close to the wedding is one of them," says relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW. "That said, there are some distinguishers that determine whether or not a person can stay in the relationship and go through with the wedding."
Meet the Expert
Aimee Hartstein, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker. She has over 20 years of experience as a therapist with a focus on relationship struggles, infidelity, depression, anxiety, and body image.
Whether it’s a last-minute confession because of the pressure of the impending wedding, a bachelorette or bachelor party gone wrong, or a friend or acquaintance who feels the need to tip you off before the big day, sometimes cheating is revealed at the worst possible time. If you find out your partner has been cheating on you, and it’s right before your wedding—especially if we’re only talking in terms of hours or days—take a deep breath, because you have a lot of thinking to do. We're not going to tell you there’s one right thing to do, because there just isn’t, but here’s what you should consider.
Talk to Your Partner
First, talk to your partner. Ask them to be honest and explain everything, and then give them a chance to share their point of view. This isn’t only about learning exactly what happened, but it’s to see how they respond to the situation and to you. Are they truly sorry and distraught? Are they defensive and arrogant? Are they still lying despite the proof? Seeing how they react is crucial, because it will tell you a lot about the person you may or may not decide to marry.
Consider the Incident
Cheating can manifest in many different ways, so it’s important to consider the incident itself. "If you find out that your partner is a compulsive or serial cheater, this is probably not a person that you should feel comfortable making a permanent commitment to," says Hartstein. "If you find out that your partner has a longstanding love affair with one other person, this is also a very bad situation."
If the situation was a one-time hookup from the bachelor or bachelorette party getting out of hand, there may be some room to give a bit of grace, but it's all up to you. "In this case, it’s possible that this was 'situational cheating' and not something that they are going to continue throughout the marriage," says Hartstein.
Look at the Relationship as a Whole
As much as you are probably seeing red—and you have every right to—do your best to take a step back and look at the relationship as a whole. If your partner has a long history of cheating or being dishonest, and this just feels like one more confirmation of that, then you need to take a long, hard look at why you’re marrying this person. If this was an absolute drunken mistake or a slip-up and it’s never happened before, you might want to be forgiving. It's totally your call, but a good rule of thumb is to consider whether or not it fits a pattern of behavior.
Think About Whether the Relationship Is Fixable
A situation with cheating may provide time for reflection on your relationship. What do you think isn’t working? What does your partner say isn’t working? Is it fixable? The only way you can ever move past this—really move past it—is if you address the root issue. You have to decide whether you think that’s a realistic option.
If you're having a hard time coming to a decision, don't be afraid to ask for input from your friends or family. This can help you get an objective look at the relationship as a whole.
If you decide to stay, Hartstein suggests looking at the option of couple's counseling, even if just for a few sessions. "A key determinant to help you decide if the marriage is worth fighting for is how hard your partner is willing to work to keep the relationship," she says. "Everyone makes mistakes and it’s important that they acknowledge just how deeply cheating before a wedding (or at any time!) impacts their partner and the relationship. If they try to blow it off and insist that you are overreacting, it’s not a good sign. If they are willing to continue to have discussions and perhaps enlist a therapist, that’s a better sign."
Don't Be Afraid to Walk Away
Finally, try to forget the big day looming. It’s hard—in fact, it’s almost impossible. But this is your life, and the choice you make is going to live far past the wedding. Forget the guests, forget the pressure, forget the family, and don’t worry about how it looks. If walking away is the right decision, then it’s one you have to make.
"If you decide to leave, remember that you don’t owe anyone other than perhaps your immediate family an explanation," says Hartstein. "You’ll likely feel uncomfortable and exposed having to make such a public about-face, but your only real responsibility is to yourself. Feel free to make whatever public statement you like, or even none at all."
Remember that this is a difficult situation to deal with, and be sure to give yourself permission to feel whatever you want to feel. It's important to focus most on taking care of yourself.
You can cancel the wedding, but you can also just postpone if you’re on the fence. Yes, guests might be gossipy or confused, but this is your life, and you need to do what’s best for you.
Cheating is always devastating in a relationship, but if it happens right before the wedding it can call so many things into question—not the least of which is the wedding itself and whether you want to be with this person. Look at the cheating, look at your relationship, and trust your gut. Ultimately, it needs to be about what feels right for you.