You’re not the one who did it, but you’re going to have to be the one to get through it.
When Daniel* began working with me, he was still smarting from his third consecutive relationship ending because of his partner’s infidelity.
His experiences with unfaithful partners pained me to hear. His ex-wife started up an affair with one of his co-workers. A girlfriend returned home one night with the back of her hair matted, saying she’d been hanging out with a “friend.” His fiancé also had a boyfriend.
“I found out later that every morning she sent us both the exact same text message: Good morning, handsome,” he told me, shaking his head.
Daniel had some work to do. Despite his fears though, he knew he needed help, and he did eventually want an exclusive, mutually respectful romantic relationship.
These are the steps we implemented to get him back to being himself:
1. Take care of yourself.
After something as awful as infidelity happens to you, taking care of yourself must become your top priority.
Daniel drank too much to deal with his and almost got a DUI. He stopped eating anything other than what he could pick up in a drive-thru lane.
“They didn’t want me, so I felt like I didn’t deserve any better,” he said.
We internalize betrayal. We make it all about us as a way to try to understand it, but the thing is, there’s never a good answer for why someone else cheats. It could be because they were unhappy with themselves. It could be because they had a need they’d never expressed, or something wrong with the relationship.
You only know that it happened to you, and it sucks. Just because you were treated shitty doesn’t mean you deserved it. No one does, actually, and no one should be treating themselves shitty either.
Try to get a good night’s sleep.
Spend time with people who love you.
Take your dog for a walk.
Get a massage.
Take at least one small step every day towards caring for yourself. It’ll help your healing in both the short and the long-term.
2. Feel your feelings.
There are two acronyms for “fear” that are often repeated in the rooms of 12-step fellowships:
Fuck Everything And Run or Face Everything And Recover
The message is clear. Either we face our feelings and heal, or we try to run from them altogether. It is that black and white.
No one likes to sit in their feelings. I absolutely don’t, but you can face your feelings now or postpone them. There’s no way to avoid them forever. Eventually, they’ll smack you in the mouth, and you’ll have to let them rip through you because you’ll be helpless to do anything but.
There is a difference though between feeling our feelings and wallowing in them. If you stop doing things to take care of yourself, you’re wallowing. If you’re staying in bed all the time or not eating, it’s probably time to reach out to a friend or professional for some help.
3. Don’t blame yourself.
Look, why they cheated has nothing much to do with you. They did it. They broke the promises you made to each other in your relationship. They might say, “You were never home,” or “I was lonely,” or “We never have sex!” But those reasons don’t really matter.
What matters is that it happened, and nothing can change that. Don’t blame yourself because, unless you were holding a gun to their head, you didn’t make them do anything. You are not to blame for your partner’s transgressions.
Own that truth for yourself. It’s a powerful one.
I hate to say it, but we always have a part in whatever happens to us. We’re never solely victimized or solely responsible. We’re usually somewhere in the middle.
Before moving onto another relationship, it’s always a good idea to better understand your part.
Here are some questions for you to consider:
Why do I think this happened? What has been taken from me? What do I wish my partner(s) would understand? How have I allowed my partner’s(s’) words or actions to define me? Have I gotten any insight from this (these) experience(s)?
What Daniel learned from answering these questions was extremely telling. He’d often “fallen” into relationships, moving from dating to commitment at lightning speed. By the time he learned something out about his partners that he didn’t like, he was already committed to them.
Further, he didn’t have good boundaries and ignored red flags.
While working this step, make sure not to put blame on yourself. Again, YOU didn’t commit infidelity. No stray vagina or penis ended up near your vagina or penis. Focus on what you did while trying not to place a lot of blame or judgment on yourself.
5. Think about what you want to do differently.
You may choose to stay with your partner, but with specific boundaries and expectations in place. You will need to actively work on forgiveness and trust every day, and you should think about how you will do that and what you will need to be able to do that.
It’s not reasonable for you to ask for unfettered access to all of your partner’s text messages or social media accounts. They will always deserve privacy, but you may define what you believe is monogamy and have them cut off any inappropriate relationships. You may also want them to check in with you more regularly, or to be clear about where they are going and when they are returning.
When Daniel began dating again, he took things slowly while practicing good clear boundaries. He didn’t set up walls and obstacle courses that no woman could conquer, but he did choose to make sure he was taking care of himself and being realistic about who he was dating.
It was new and hard for Daniel, but worth it. He wasn’t rushing into anything before knowing someone, and he paid more attention to red flags upfront so he wasn’t left surprised on the other side.
You may choose to change how you date as well, but you also may choose to change who you date. You might want to evaluate your “type,” especially if you’ve been cheated on more than once. Maybe you’re subconsciously or unconsciously pursuing people who will cheat on you. Or there’s some character trait that you’re attracted to that tends to appear in cheaters as well.
6. Ask for help.
I can’t say enough good things about working with a therapist, counselor, or coach. Any of these professionals can help you set up a plan for change and help you keep to it, but their professional expertise is different, and one might be better suited than others.
If you’ve experienced any trauma or abuse, start with seeing a therapist or counselor. When you’re ready to move toward a new relationship and want a specific plan, find a coach.
Getting cheated on is like some untouched part of yourself getting thrown on the floor of a gas station bathroom. It’s devastating. You’ve been changed irrevocably, and now you’ve got to accept this new sense of yourself and your life and what you thought of it and move forward.
While it’s not easy, it’s possible. Just remember to be gentle with yourself. You deserve that. *Name has been changed with the permission of the individual.
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