Buddhism says that sexual misconduct like infidelity or cheating creates suffering. Period. Whether we are the ones engaging in adultery or are the victims of it, everyone involved suffers. To understand just how corrosive and harmful adultery is to forming a true partnership and how it interferes with an intimate connection to another person, we only have to look at our own community and perhaps our own family and friends. Who doesn’t know someone who has been affected by the misuse and abuse of sex? 2,600 years ago, Buddha, a human being just like you and me, knew how destructive cheating in a relationship could be. The good news is that he also prescribed a way out of our suffering and offered us a clear path to liberation from our suffering and from our own misbehavior.

In this article we cover the following:

What Did the Buddha Say About Infidelity

The first of the five hindrances that Buddha warned us about is lustful desires. In the Dhammapada, a concise collection of his teachings, Buddha said: “Lust and greed ruin the mind as weeds ruin fields.” This is an image that we can all relate to and have probably, at one time or another, experienced for ourselves.

So, if we have been a victim or a perpetrator of sexual infidelity or cheating in a relationship, how can Buddha’s wisdom help us today in the 21st century to understand, cope, and deal with it? How, according to Buddhism, can we move from ill-will, hatred or anger toward our self or our partner, to healing and forgiveness of everyone involved?

Buddha’s Advice for You if You Are a Victim of Your Partner’s Infidelity

Whatever we’re feeling about this transgression, chances are we are feeling some level of anger and jealousy. The first step is to find our way out of this murky depth of distraction, so that we can see clearly what there is to do. If we get stuck in blaming, shaming and keeping the focus on someone else’s faults, there is no way out for us.

5 steps to deal with your emotions towards your cheating partner

  1. Begin practising mindfulness by taking the focus off the other person and turning your attention to your self and your feelings.
  2. Find a quiet place to sit, with as few external distractions as possible. Then turn your attention to your body, your breath and your inner landscape. Take note of what keeps coming up:
    “I hate him/her for doing this to me.”
    “I’m a fool for believing in him/her.”
    “I can’t believe he/she cheated on me with that person.”
  3. How does your body feel? Where is the tension? Can you breathe into those places one by one and, every time you exhale, breathe out some relief?
  4. Then start to remove the pronouns, the names and the specifics about this betrayal from your thoughts. How does it feel to admit hate or foolishness or worry?
  5. Then sit with just the feelings that are coming up; part the feelings from the individuals attached to them. Most likely there’s some anger in there. How about fear? Are these feelings new to you or have you felt them before? Can you try to accept that you are feeling these things and make an effort to not act on them? Can you accept that these feelings are inside you and the actions of your partner simply triggered them? Can you believe that you have the power to ignite these feelings or not?

Mindfully Meditating on Your Partner’s Adultery

Can you feel anger without being angry? Sit with this idea for a few moments, without feeding your emotions with a story. Notice what happens to the emotion if you just allow it to exist. You can practise this during the course of any day: first take note of your reaction to minor incidents, a pedestrian or co-worker being rude, traffic stalling when you’re in a hurry, a slow moving line or late train. What is the feeling that arises? Impatience, anger, fear, worry, frustration? What do you say? How do you act? Then after some time passes, notice how you feel: helpless, out of sorts, tense, ashamed?

Let’s go back to the initial feeling that got triggered when your needs were not met. If you can acknowledge that you had an expectation followed by disappointment followed by your particular set of feelings, then the real work of healing and self-empowerment can begin. Name the feeling, feel the feeling and don’t give in to your habitual way of coping. Don’t say or do anything, just sit with the feeling; breathe, notice and stay put. If you can begin to master these minor uncomfortable interactions, when it comes to the big ones like infidelity you’ll be ready. It doesn’t mean you won’t be hurt like crazy, but you will be able to deal with whatever life brings you, with equanimity and understanding.

Related » 6 Trust Building Exercises For Couples

What Does Buddhism Say to the One Indulging in Adultery?

As humans, we have a deep need to connect with others, to be intimate, to love and be loved. So when we meet the person with whom we want to spend our lives and we make a vow to be true to that person, we often tend to think “This is it! The end, we’re committed, it’s done!” And that is when the relationship can begin to break down. Think of this vow, this commitment to each other as a living, breathing thing that needs continual attention in order to survive.

Too often we become lazy in relationships, both with ourselves and with others, so that one day we wake up and don’t even know the person sleeping next to us or the person we’ve changed into. We think: “It’s his/her fault for making me stray from our marriage. If he/she paid more attention to me, spent more time doing what I want, this wouldn’t have happened. I’m the one who initiates everything and I’m tired of it.”

Other-awareness often comes before self-awareness, which can help us to justify our bad behavior — adultery, cheating or any other misconduct that hurts our relationship.

Dealing with your emotions after committing adultery

So, first and foremost, it is important to pay attention to every moment, day, word, exchange and action we take with our loved one. We must first become aware of our reactions to our partner and then learn to communicate, in a loving and respectful way, what it is we feel and what it is we need.

If you’re reading this and you have already moved into unfaithful behavior, it is not too late to save your relationship. You owe it to yourself and your partner to explore what happened and what can be done.

But before you approach your partner, you will need to come clean with yourself about your actions, your infidelity. Investigate your history of relationships. Not just the one you’re in, but the ones that came before.

Introspecting your own patterns of infidelity

Can you see a pattern? How open and honest were you? If you can’t be honest with yourself right now, you won’t be able to be honest with anyone. This is a rigorous spiritual work, but it can lead to a satisfying, long-lasting, love partnership. Were you able to ask for what you needed and wanted from your partners? Or did you expect them to know? How did you give and receive love from others? Be careful as you go through this self-exploration, not to shame and blame. And find a trusted friend, advisor or therapist to work with. You do not have to go through it alone.

If your relationship history includes a pattern of jumping from one relationship to the next to find the perfect person, you are not alone. Many of us do it. But that hole in you that you are trying to fill can never be filled by anyone else. That is not the solution to your loneliness and desire to be loved. Deep inside you know this to be true.

Adultery can affect those outside the relationship too

It is no coincidence that the third precept in Buddhism, after “do not kill” and “do not steal”, is do not engage in sexual misconduct—do not misuse sex and give in to lust. It causes so much harm, so much suffering. Even spiritual communities and Zen Masters are not immune from this. My own sangha was blown apart as a result of the sexual transgressions of our teacher. His actions harmed every member in our community—not only the students that he took advantage of, but also the ones who defended him. But just as I can recover from his infidelity, so can he.

Also read » Extramarital affairs: Why do we stray?

Dealing With Adultery According to Buddha’s Four Noble Truths

The first noble truth of Buddhism tells us that we all suffer. Some suffering, like birth, death and illness cannot be avoided. The second noble truth tells us that our craving to have things different than they actually are creates much of our suffering. Buddha’s third noble truth tells us that if we see things as they are and let go of craving and clinging, we can reduce our suffering. And the fourth noble truth offers us a path to liberation from craving, toward a compassionate life, free from suffering.

Of course, following these noble truths prescribed by the Buddha does not mean that you or your partner will never commit adultery. What it does mean is that you have the power to care for yourself and to become aware of your reactions to whatever life brings you, and not act out on your own impulses.

If you become honest with yourself and become willing to open up a dialogue with your partner about how to proceed, then—and only then—is there the possibility of healing. If you can be honest with yourself, then you have a better chance of being honest with your partner, even if you are the one misusing sex.

If we want to have a truly intimate connection with our partner, we must first have such a connection with ourselves and understand that sex is not love, nor is it the only path to intimacy. Healing from any sexual transgression or cheating that we experience requires some detachment, a great deal of self-love and moment-by-moment attention to what it is to be truly human. And then compassion and forgiveness of ourselves and others will follow in time.

A version of this article first appeared in the July 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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  1. i think my dad is cheating on my mum and it hurts to even say it. I’ve known this for about almost a year now and I’ve not told anyone. its really affecting me and i feel scared that if i confront my dad or tell my mum, my family will tear apart. its really affecting my mental health.

  2. Without deliberate intention, I’m on a spiritual journey, though I’m completely entwined in an affair with a married man. Who I feel I absolutely love. But I am suffering regularly because of the hurt that he won’t commit to me.
    Writing this, I know exactly how it sounds. And any other time I would know that somebody who doesn’t want me fully, shouldn’t have me at all.
    But this feels like a deep soul connection. A cliche I know. The first meeting was like recognising someone. And there is beautiful love there. It hurts to write this and know this connection is powerful, while knowing he says he can’t leave

    • As a wife, of a man who had an affair, this really hurts to read.
      You sound selfish. You’re hurt he wont commit to you, but he is already committed to someone else. You knew he was married, so you should have stopped and could have cultivated a deep friendship with him and his family instead. You could have loved them all.
      He sounds selfish. Is this really a person you want to be with? Someone who lies to the people he claim to love (his wife, you, and himself) .
      And absense makes the heart grow fonder. You are living in an affair bobble. Imagine every day life with him, picking up his socks and dirty dishes for the umpteenth time, or his vomit when he has been sick. Does is still sound romantic?
      You are merely guided by hormones and biology, maybe it helps you to think of it that way. Dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin are strong. You can read up on the physiological responses to sex to learn more.
      He says he can’t leave? Trust him, – he wont.

    • How did you overcome this. Are you still in a relationship with that man or have you moved on . And what things hurt you in this relationship?

  3. In practicing mindfulness, is it true that if I do not “move past this (infidelity)” then I am not being forgiving or mindful? My ex cheated on me, then came back saying he had gone to therapy and learned mindfulness. He says that I cannot move forward if I don’t “let him love me” and that I am not living in the present by not moving forward with him. Please note, I have no ill will toward him. I was angry about the cheating but now just dissapointed. I do not want to reconcile, but its almost as if, if I do not then there’s something wrong with me. Please help.. thank you

    • I’ve been there – and it sucks. But you must know you are absolutely not obligated to reconcile with him. You should eventually allow yourself to come to a place of forgiveness (for your own sake), but you can do this on your own. You are still living in the present – even without him. Your ex should realize that actually saying this stuff to you isn’t helping you.

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with you. You are completely entitled to feel disappointed, and to move on without this person in your life. You should not have someone essentially trying to force their love onto you. If he really loves you – he would acknowledge his wrongdoing, apologize, continue with his therapy, and allow you to move on. But you must communicate how you really about this to him! There is nothing wrong with wanting to move on with your life without someone.

      I do hope you can find some solace friend! Infidelity is never easy to deal with, moreover to move past from. You’re strong Teri! You had a life before this man and will continue to have one after him. Wishing you all the best xo

    • Sincere thanks and gratitude for your response. I am healing and I will not allow myself to be pressured into forging a connection with this man. I feel it is another manipulative tactic. He has been staying with me during quarantine and I realize I cannot properly heal with him here so I will be asking him, sternly, to leave. Because I’ve made the suggestion but he did not accept. So now I have to try a different method. I know I can do this and still be mindful and compassionate. Thanks again.


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