If you've been cheated on, you might be experiencing a whirlwind of emotions. You may feel devastated one moment and angry the next. What's more, a broken heart can lead to a potentially overwhelming mix of feelings, including shame, doubt, confusion, and anxiety. Understanding and processing your emotions is an essential part of the process of healing from this type of hurt. As you begin your journey, it's important to remember that there's no one direct path to follow when recovering from a breakup, and some people might take longer to move through this process than others. Take the time you need to heal while also allowing yourself to grow and learn from the pain.
As sexologist Rob Weiss, PhD, explains, "Damaged relationships don’t heal overnight. Moreover, damaged relationships don’t heal simply because one party wants them to." As hard as it may seem, know that you are in charge of your own process and any closure you may need is entirely your own to give.
Meet the Expert
Robert Weiss PhD, LCSW, is a clinical sexologist and the chief clinical officer of Seeking Integrity, LLC. He is the author of Out of the Doghouse and Prodependence, and host of the Sex, Love, and Addiction With Dr. Rob podcast.
When trying to figure out how to deal with infidelity, these six steps can help you cope with what transpired and deal with the emotional roller coaster that follows betrayal.
Work Through Your Feelings
You’ll likely experience different emotions as you process what happened. For instance, it’s common to feel disappointed or betrayed after infidelity, so take a moment to recognize these feelings are normal. "In general, getting over infidelity follows the usual stages of grief: shock/denial; anger/defiance; bargaining; depression, remorse; and acceptance," explains Weiss. Rather than suppressing your emotions, work through them. Coming to terms with what happened is integral to the healing process. Maintaining a daily gratitude practice, like keeping a journal, allows one to self-heal over time.
Don't Blame Yourself
It's all too easy to blame yourself for what happened, but you're not responsible for your partner's actions. While some self-reflection can be beneficial to your own personal growth, spiraling into harsh self-criticism and excessive self-blame actually delays the healing process. Rather than finding fault with yourself or obsessing over what might have been, place the blame squarely on the cheater.
Don't Live in the Past
Are you questioning everything about your relationship, replaying conversations in an attempt to discover what went wrong? "There is an initial stage when the betrayed partner wonders what else she or he doesn’t know about," says Weiss. "It is very difficult to trust anything the cheating partner says or does in this stage." But obsessing over the past isn’t healthy or productive. Instead of dwelling on hypotheticals, focus on the future rather than negativity, working through all the stages of the healing process and eventually coming to forgive both them and yourself.
Think About What You Want
Moving on after infidelity means taking the lead on how you want to live your life. Do you want to break up with your partner, or do you want to work on your relationship? Weiss suggests weighing all of the factors: "First of all, has the cheating stopped? Have the lies and secrets stopped? Generally speaking, are there more positive than negatives to the relationship? Is the cheating partner ever going to be able to restore relationship trust? There is no set formula for deciding to stay or go, but these questions can provide clarity." These are important questions without right or wrong answers.
Regardless of what others say, your greatest concern should be yourself. For instance, if your partner’s actions are a deal-breaker for you, break up with your partner. On the flip side, you may feel hurt and betrayed by your partner but still want them in your life. "Betrayed partners should understand that it is normal to continue to love and care for someone, even after a betrayal," says Weiss. "Both parties have to want to rebuild trust and intimate connection. The good news is that after an infidelity, if both parties do their work in the process of healing, relationships can end up being stronger than ever—deeper vulnerability, deeper intimacy, and more rather than less support of one another."
Or, then again, you may also not be sure what you want. That's okay. The decision is yours alone to make.
Regardless of your decision, try to ensure that it's being made from a place of healthy authenticity or "prodependence" rather than codependence.
Take Care of Yourself
When you’re dealing with something as life-changing as infidelity, this type of news can take a toll on you emotionally as well as physically. For instance, you may want to shut out the outside world and not see or talk to anyone. You may notice that you have difficulty concentrating at work or even find it hard to get the energy or desire to take care of yourself. But it’s imperative when faced with hardship and disappointment that you practice self-love and self-care during these difficult moments in your life.
"I am a big fan of gratitude lists, exercise, journaling, and, of course, therapy and support groups for people in the same or similar situations," says Weiss.
Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help
If you want to get over being cheated on, don't be afraid to lean on those around you for support. Being cheated on by your partner can make you feel isolated and alone. However, it would be best if you weren't afraid to reach out to friends and family after this has happened and surround yourself with people who care about you and your well-being. "Betrayed partners need support for the trauma they’ve experienced, and that support should not (and really cannot) come from their cheating partner," explains Weiss. "There is nothing worse than sitting alone after a betrayal with absolutely no one to turn to. [They] need support from empathetic others, people who understand what they’re going through. Without that, it is very difficult for them to process and work through their emotions."
Plus, it would help if you also didn't hesitate to meet with a trained professional who can help give you personalized strategies to deal with your new reality. You don't have to face this alone, and having more people in your corner who have your back is only going to make it easier for you to see the light at the end of the tunnel. "There is no need to wait," says Weiss. "Find a therapist who can empathetically help you work through both your day-to-day distress and your longer-term relationship questions."