Finding out that you’ve been cheated on can be totally gut-wrenching, but the truth is, getting over it is often even harder. Finding out that your partner has been cheating, can create so anger, distance, and confusion. But it can also, understandably, create a lot of blame. As long as you’re still holding onto that blame in your relationship—getting angry at each other rather than looking at the bigger picture—it can be impossible to move on. So if there’s any chance of the relationship improving again, you have to let go of that feeling—obviously, it’s easier said than done.
The first step is to try to understand the cheating: what it was, what they were looking for, and what they get out of it. “For instance, if someone is a member of Ashley Madison, they may be pursuing one long term affair partner or, they may be looking for multiple short term affairs constantly seeking new experiences and new partners,” Dr. Tammy Nelson, sex and couples therapist and the author of “When You're the One Who Cheats,” tells BRIDES. Once you get a sense of whether this is was a one-time thing or an ongoing issue, you can start to process it and move forward.
But how do you let go of the blame? Here’s what to keep in mind.
Letting Go of What Your Partner Did
Once you are sure that your partner really feels remorse for what they did and wants to make the relationship work, you have to move past blame and start focusing on more constructive ways to rebuild your relationship. “If a person stops cheating and is committed to making their relationships work, an important aspect of their recovery is to stop blaming,” Dr. Nelson explains. Of course, knowing that you need to do it doesn't make it easy.
Talking to your partner to understand their point of view can make a lot of difference, as can talking to friends who have been in the same position. You also can think about the positive. Sit down and think about what you and your partner have, and why the relationship is worth saving, rather than focusing on the indiscretion. When in doubt, seeing a therapist—solo or as a couple—can be a huge help.
The Cheater Also Needs to Stop Blaming
It’s not just the person who was cheated on that needs to let go. “Cheaters should stop blaming their partner for their affair,” Dr. Nelson says. “No matter how unhappy or angry they are with their spouse, they should stop using the excuse that their partner ‘deserves’ the affair and stop cheating ‘at them.’” It may seem counterintuitive to think that the cheater would blame anyone, when they’re the one in the wrong, but it’s more common than you think.
Sometimes, it’s just defensiveness. It’s easier to say that it’s someone else’s fault than take responsibility for your own behavior. Sometimes there may genuinely be big relationship issues that led them to cheat, and maybe their partners do hold some blame for that. But even if that’s the case it doesn’t excuse the cheating. You are responsible for how you deal with situations and how you deal with difficult or complicated circumstances. If your partner isn't willing to accept their responsibility for cheating and stop blaming you, it’s going to be very difficult to move on.
Look at the Foundational Problems and Access if They’re Fixable
The truth is, not every relationship can survive cheating and, in a weird way, that’s OK—because it normally reveals that they had bigger relationship problems in the first place. If you and your partner really want to stop blaming each other and move on you need to take a big step back and look at your relationship as a whole. Cheating is rarely just about sex, so look at where your relationship has been struggling and the role that you both played in that. Again, it doesn’t excuse the cheating, but taking responsibility for your role in the relationship changing can help you both move past blaming. Once you do that, you need to decide whether or not the relationship can actually be fixed. Have you just been distracted and taking each other for granted? Or have you realized that you’ve changed into people who want different things or just may not love each other anymore? Taking a look at the big picture of your relationship is the best way to find out how to move on.
Getting over cheating can be tough, and for some couples, it never happens. But if you want to move forward and put your relationship back together, one of the best things you can do is take responsibility on both sides. Stop blaming each other and listen. It may not be easy, but for your relationship to survive it’s essential. When in doubt, seeking out a professional can help you let go and see if the relationship is salvageable; sometimes an external point of view makes all the difference.