My Partner Cheated On Me. Now What?
There’s no two ways about it. Being cheated on really hurts. While profoundly destabilizing, cheating is common both in marriages (estimated at 25%) and dating relationships (higher still). Even in non-monogamous relationships, people still may be inclined to cheat, bend the truth or even break the rules. The days and weeks immediately after discovering an infidelity or betrayal can be really rough, leaving you wondering what happens next.
There is no rule book for managing infidelity in relationships – you make it up for yourselves. And when the chips are down, you need all the help you can get. Here are some suggestions to help you decide whether to stick it out for the repair - or call it a day.
Get Clear About What’s Actually Happened!
If discovering an infidelity means your relationship is on the line, make sure you have the facts about what happened. If you suspect your partner of cheating, or if you got a tip-off, avoid jumping to conclusions immediately. Remain calm. Get to the bottom of it with a respectful conversation. It may be deeply uncomfortable to have to confront this information, but you want to get a few facts in perspective including:
- What is actually going on? Or what went on? Was it an online dalliance and a bit of flirting and texting? Was it an in-person hook up? Which agreements were broken or ignored?
- How did it happen? Was this a drunken ‘mistake’? A planned event? A deliberate set up with online dating apps? The lines of what constitutes cheating are up to you both, but knowing what’s gone on is useful.
- When did this happen? How many times has it happened?
- Are there emotions involved?
- Where are things at right now? What does the third party think is going on?
- Has your partner told the third that it’s over? How did they tell them?
- Enough information about the sex to determine whether there has been an STI risk for you to consider getting tested yourself. File this under selfcare.
- Super painful, but find out if your partner actually wants to still be in a relationship with you or not.
As much as you may be driven to get all the information you can about the sex, who was better, who wore it better, how much they liked it etc – really, truly, avoid putting yourself in a situation where you hear things you can’t unhear.
If you are prone to visual imagery, ruminations and a little sexual insecurity (frankly, who isn’t?), this kind of information can be debilitating and corrosive to your well-being and to any chance of the relationship getting back on track in the future. Be very careful before demanding this kind of information. Ask yourself if it will help you and how. Write down 5 ways it will help you feel better if you insist on knowing. If it doesn’t make you feel better in the ways you planned, how will you manage processing this and with whom? Have this plan in place before you dig around for dirt. Yes you have been hurt, but you also need to be responsible and care for yourself. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.
It’s likely after an emotional blow you’re going to be feeling sensitive. Some of us respond with emotional volatility. Some with anger. Others with depression. Others with all three. Give yourself time to process. Give yourself time to let your emotions settle to guide you to what happens next. It’s likely you’re going to need a bit of time before deciding how you will handle it, so be clear in asking for what you need including time frames and counseling.
After hearing your partner’s side of events, be clear in stating your needs and don’t allow them to pressure you into making any major decisions. If you live together you may want to make temporary changes to your domestic situation. If you need time away from them, ask them not to contact you for a while (several weeks perhaps) or until you reach out to them. It may be helpful to offer a timeline and then as the time approaches, if you need more time, tell them then.
Big emotional upheavals can lead us to make knee-jerk decisions that are not always for the best. You might feel the impulse to want to repair the relationship immediately. When relationships come under threat, it’s not uncommon if you want to be closer to your partner than before, others may want to cut and run. Resist the temptation to be impulsive and invite your wise mind, higher-self or best judgement to come on through.
Don’t be surprised if you’re felling less than great and need a little time to adjust. If you need to take little time off, arrange that as best as you can. Surround yourself with trusted friends / family, but be attentive to not telling people who will judge prematurely or jump to conclusions too quickly. One problem in this situation is everyone having an opinion and everyone feeling entitled to telling you what to do. This can cause a lot of problems for you and your partner later (especially if you don’t do what your well-intentioned friends suggest).
Drink water and try to relax if you can. Consider magnesium supplements and B vitamins to support your nervous system. Get fresh air and move your body. Collect your anguished thoughts by journaling and paying attention to your feelings. Do whatever it takes to help you get through the next little while. Selfcare may be the last thing on your mind right now, but managing yourself at this time really is crucial.
Find a counselor or therapist to talk things over with as they can offer you a confidential ear with no threat of interfering like well-meaning family. If they are experienced in such things, they can also offer you reassurance about what to expect during this time. They’ll also help you manage yourself in such a way that you can plan what to do next.
What Will You Do?
While this sucks that you have to go through it, getting some of your thoughts clear helps to make things a little less overwhelming. Consider this:
- What’s really at stake here? Was this a one-off passionate accident or a longer term ongoing relationship? Reflecting on the circumstances matters a lot.
- Has this happened before? If this is an ongoing, recurring problem you will need to ask yourself if this really is the best relationship for you. If your partner has a history of irresponsible emotional behavior, it may be time to move on.
- Is this relationship worth saving? How much energy have you invested in this relationship? Is it time to call it a day? Or is there love worth saving on both sides? What’s good about this relationship? What’s bad about it? Make a pros and cons list and really let it sink in.
- How is your partner behaving? Do they recognize the effect this is having and the impact of their actions? Are they willing to commit to behavior change? How will they do that? How will you know that they are making the changes they say they are going to? Are you making excuses for them so you can stay together? Or are they actively participating in the repair process and taking initiative with that?
- What’s your history with forgiveness? Are you a forgiving type or are you a grudge-holder? What will need to happen for you to forgive? You can have the most devoted apology and behavior change in the world, but if you don’t want to forgive them, nothing will heal. It’s a really confronting thing to realize, but if you’re never going to be willing to forgive, you may need to consider ending things for your own mental health as well as theirs.
If you know in your heart of hearts that you will never be able to forgive and get past this situation with this partner, try to remain civil and dignified as you make your exit. Avoid deliberately harming them, getting even, being mean and manipulative for the sake of revenge and avoid the urge to reach out to the third party as you have no idea what their situation is, (nor are they answerable to you). Short term gratification for long term losses never works out well. Try to make a clean break and move on with your life respectfully. Get all the support you need and find an accountability buddy ( a friend you can vent to stop you doing or saying something you’ll regret) for times when you may feel tempted to lash out; - talk to them instead.
Recovering from betrayal is really rough. You’re likely to be sensitive and vulnerable for some time, but some tips for supporting the healing process are:
Get Thee To Counseling
You need the support to manage this. It may not be long term, but something targeted and intensive to help get the ball rolling in the right way and start off on a good foot.
Your sex life might be strange for a while. Expect this and know it’s normal. Things may be a little icy, super hot, luke warm or something else entirely. Try focusing on how you want to feel and make this a time for really connecting and prioritizing pleasure.
Manage Your Sensitivities
No matter how you slice it, betrayal is rough. The pain of this can surface in many ways and at the most inappropriate times – like the middle of sex. Or maybe everything is fine one minute and the next, you’re in a pool of tears in the supermarket, weeping over the fettuccine for no obvious reason. This is normal and your body and nervous system’s way of managing the feelings and healing the pain. Trying to repress this part only prolongs the pain, so let it all out. Feel it all. Write, scream into a pillow, dance, swim, run, masturbate – do what it takes to care for yourself and your feelings at this time.
Betrayal can land in the body like a kind of trauma. Because in effect, it is trauma. And trauma can leave us feeling discombobulated. The trouble is, trying to make sense of nonsensical situations rarely helps. Emotions are there for processing, not for judging and analyzing. While looking for answers is an impulsive response, it’s not always the one that will bring the most healing. If you catch yourself spiraling with out-of-control thoughts, try applying a circuit breaker. Something that shocks your nervous system into focusing on something else. Crunch a piece of ice, take a cold shower, do 50 jumping jacks, do a headstand or handstand (carefully), call a friend, punch it out at the gym or in an online exercise class, swim, get into nature… basically anything to jolt your body into a new state.
All the questions circling in your head are reasonable but not all of them deserve answers. Some things are better left unknown like the explicit details and comparisons – (see above). Be sure you really want to know – because it won’t help anything.
Avoid The Temptation to Cause Harm
One of the ways people tend to manage big painful emotions is by attempting to regain control of the situation by trying to control the person who hurt them. This never works. Demanding access to their private information won’t help heal the rift between you. If your partner is a cheater and continuing to cheat, they will find other ways to do so. Insisting you have access to their private accounts just places more pressure on you and keeps the wheels of insecurity spinning. Worse still is if you snoop without their permission. Setting up a dynamic where you partner is responding to you like a child rather than a partner, makes for complicated dynamics long term and can even lead to you being abusive. Even though you desperately want reassurance, demanding it this way won’t give it to you. In fact it could even drive your further apart.
Focus On Creating The Kind Of Relationship You Both Want to Be In
After you’ve made the decision to remain together, the next part of the healing work is taking the long, hard look at what led to this and what changes the relationship needs to thrive. Find out how the relationship was going before the affair / incident happened. What has it brought to the surface for you both to address? How can you use this information to make you stronger? If you need more variety in your sex life, what might that include? Is it time to open up if you haven’t before? Is it time to take some classes, read some books to see what’s out there? If you were already open and cheating still occurred, what made your partner feel they couldn’t say what was going on sooner?
Here’s hoping your partner recognizes the error of their ways and what it means for you to be willing to labor with them on the repair. They will have to work earnestly and diligently to regain your trust, showing integrity and behavior change as part of a sincere apology. Eventually you will have to make the decision to leave it in the past and not bring it up again. Making them pay for the rest of your relationship will corrode any of the good work you do. If forgiving and letting go is just too hard, consider that you both may be better off apart as retraumatizing each other with this will become untenable soon enough.
The bottom line is some couples thrive after a situation like this, and others break. But with diligence, an open heart and an open mind, you can both come back from this bigger, better and stronger than before.