The feeling when you find out you’ve been cheated on is almost indescribable. There’s such a potent combination of shock, sadness, rage, self-doubt, insecurity, disbelief, denial, and even feelings of competitiveness, that it can feel like you’re living in an alternate universe. It’s hard to reconcile the person you love with the person who would hurt and disrespect you so badly. It’s hard to know where to go from here.
If you tell your friends or family, many will advocate that you leave immediately. They will sigh and shake their heads over your doubts and suggest that you have low self-esteem if you stay. While their intentions are good, their reactions can make you shut down and stop telling the truth about what’s happening in your life.
What’s worse is that you have doubts about yourself and your own worth, too. Why did he cheat? What didn’t I do? How am I not enough? It will drive you crazy if you let it. You may wonder how in the world you could ever trust him enough to stay with him; you may also wonder how in the world you will live without him. It’s confusing to have so many conflicting thoughts and emotions swirling around your head and you may not know what to do to possibly begin recovering.
Here are some suggestions:
1) Find someone to talk to about the infidelity. Regardless of whether or not he’s willing to go to a couple’s therapist (something that may help you effectively address the underlying issues behind the infidelity, rather than just glossing over them), consider seeking out your own counseling. You need time to sort out how you feel in a safe environment where you won’t be judged.
2) Don’t offer forgiveness too soon. Most of us don’t love to live in a state of perpetual conflict, especially not within our own homes. It can be tempting to gloss over the issues to alleviate tension but ultimately that doesn’t solve anything. Forgiveness should be earned with a sustained effort to change behavior over time; allow for there to be enough time for that to happen. You won’t be able to trust again without it.
3) Focus on your overall health and wellness. Whether or not you are going to stay or go, we don’t know at this point. However, we know your self esteem has taken a hit because of what he’s done. So why not use this time as a chance to focus on yourself and begin to take good care of yourself? Yes, a day at the spa is nice but I’m talking about making new patterns and behaviors around exercising, good nutrition, and rounding out your life with friends and fun. Looking and feeling your best will help you feel more powerful around him and hey, if you decide to leave, it will help give you confidence when you look for a new relationship — not a bad thing at all.
4) Stop yourself when you begin to make excuses for him. When you start to think, “I just had a baby and he was feeling neglected,” or “I haven’t been as available as usual because of work,” you need to catch yourself. These are helpful explanations to unravel the conditions in your relationship that allowed infidelity to happen; they are not excuses. He is an adult and should have an adult-sized capacity to address problems in the relationship. He does not get a hall pass to cheat.
5) Insist on digital transparency for a while. Unlike days of old when lipstick on the collar was the telltale give-away, most infidelity that’s detected today is found through electronic means: texts, emails, or inappropriate cellphone pictures. When age-old vices meet up with new-age devices, there’s a digital trail that’s left behind — one that can reveal unsavory secrets about your partner. In order to begin to rebuild trust, I’d suggest that you make an agreement with your partner about open access to email accounts and cell phone histories for a while. Obviously, you will strive for trust and privacy long-term; in the short term, be upfront about your need for access.
Want to talk more about your experience with infidelity? Please be in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if I can help.