Let’s cut to the chase, you’re reading this because you strayed from your girl. Whether it’s because you’re hopeless with relationships and can’t seem to stay faithful, don’t believe in monogamy, or got caught up in a moment, you’re in deep s%$&—especially if this is a woman you want to hold on to.

Conflicted by whether to stay quiet and hope it doesn’t come out, or confess and risk losing her? Stop. To make the whole ordeal easier to navigate (not necessarily any easier), we’ve enlisted the help of relationship expert Simon Marcel Badinter, host of love, sex and relationships talk show The Rendezvous with Simon and Kim on iHeart Radio. Follow these tips.

First order of business: Fess up

Man up and own your mistake. “Admit it, and be 100% honest to allow the possibility to clear the past,” says Badinter. Yes, she’s going to be stark raving mad. Accept that and brace yourself for some serious anger. It’s warranted. You crossed a line and broke a serious promise.

You might think otherwise, but there are no scenarios where you should consider covering up a case of infidelityeven if you sleep with someone at your own bachelor party. Badinter adds: “Never try to lie more to your significant other to cover or soften your admission.” Say she finds out; that could damage your relationship even more than confessing in the first place and cut off any chance of you two working past this. Even if she went through your phone and read your texts (which, for the record, isn’t in good taste and exposes some major trust issues between you two), it’s definitely not up to par with your indiscretion. And if you don’t tell her and she never finds out, odds are good you’ll be inclined to cheat again. 

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Even though the trust is broken, you can still show her you’re not a liar or a coward. 

Bottom line: “Tell your girlfriend the truth, but don’t ever give her intimate, visual details of your cheating, even if she asks you,” Badinter says. What she’s imagining is bad enough; if you give her the complete play-by-play, that’s absolutely poisonous. Just answer her need-to-know questions. She’s entitled to know how many times it happened, if she knows who you cheated on her with (note: if she does, this is more damning; but you must tell her the truth…), and if you have feelings for the other woman. 

Apologize, the right way

Some hard and fast rules: Never confess or apologize over the phone, via text, or phone call. Otherwise you can add ‘asshole’ to your list of character traits, right behind ‘cheater.’ Also, don’t bring her to a public space in hopes she’ll contain a meltdown. Sit her down when you’re in her space (her apartment, home, wherever), alone; she’ll feel more comfortable on her turf. 

Once you tell her everything she needs to know, and let her cry, scream, rant, etc., you need to express how truly sorry you are in your own words. Don’t quote song lyrics or a movie script, or summarize what your buddies offered up. In your own honest way, tell her the magnitude of your regret, and how upset you for hurting her. “Say what you feel, but don’t act up, dramatize, or be fake,” Badinter says. “If you still love your girlfriend, and you really are sorry, your apology will be sincere and she’ll feel it,” he adds. 

If she asks for reasons why she should forgive you, indulge her. If it was a moment of drunken lust in a bar with a stranger, admit your moment of weakness. Obviously this will be more difficult if you had an emotional affair, talking to another woman for months before you acted on your impulse. This type of cheating is incredibly difficult to get past.

If she wants you to leave and needs time and space to think things through, give it to her. Don’t text, call, or show up at her place every day to excessively apologize and beg for forgiveness. Respect what she needs.

Prove you’re willing to change

You need to show changes in your behavior and have full transparency—with everything, Badinter says. For starters, you need to break all contact with the person you cheated on her with. Delete her number in front of her and remove her from your social media. 

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“You need to re-engage in dialogue and get reinvolved with your girlfriend, emotionally and intimately,”  Badinter explains. Women are intuitive. If she feels you’re honest and believes you aren’t lying or acting deceitful, you have a chance. Apologizing is the second step in repairing your relationship, but regaining her trust is the path to redemption. You shouldn’t feel like you’re being punished or reprimanded every day, but you should show your remorse and a real desire to win her back.

“It’s very, very difficult to do, but with honesty and patience, it’s possible to come back from this,” Badinter adds. “Forgiveness is the deepest sign of true love.”

Realize why you cheated

While she’s cooling off, figuring out if you’re worthy of a second chance, you should have some internal dialogue to determine why you cheated on her in the first place. Is this something you’ve done in every relationship? Are you afraid of commitment? Insecure? Having a difficult time coping with another facet of your life or childhood?  

If it wasn’t just a one-off and you self-destruct every solid relationship you have, then consider going to a couple’s therapist or a psychotherapist (either alone or with her, if she’s willing) to solve the root of the problem.

“Once you know why, you can make sure not to repeat the same mistake,” Badinter says.

Recognize she might not take you back

Just because you apologize, doesn’t mean you’re absolved from your crappy act. Know it’s very possible she chooses to walk away. She might not be capable of forgiving you—ever.

How to make your relationship stronger if she does take you back

One of the biggest mistakes guys make when trying to repair a relationship after cheating is lying or making the same mistake again. If she gives you a second chance and you screw up, you’re the one damning the relationship. 
What’s more, when you’re in the process of apologizing or giving her an explanation for why you cheated, don’t point the finger at her. Blaming your indiscretions on something that was missing in your relationship is a cop out. You work on strengthening weak points in a relationship, not bypassing them and looking for the answer with someone else.

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Also, “don’t focus on your guilt, focus on showing her love,” Badinter says. She won’t pity you; if anything it’ll piss her off. “There is a fundamental difference in wanting to repair the infidelity because you still love your girlfriend and just repairing the relationship because you’re filled with guilt but have no real love for her,” he explains. 

When it comes down to it, if you want to re-build a stronger, more honest relationship, come clean, be honest about where you’re coming from, why you did what you did, and what you’re willing to do to make it better. People might not change, but a mistake’s a mistake, and something a solid relationship can push past so long as you had a solid foundation to begin with.

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