The world just ended — you found out your significant other cheated on you. You’re probably wondering how to trust anyone again after someone cheats, whether you decide to stay with the same person or date someone new. “Discovering your partner has been unfaithful is a terrible blow — it changes your whole set of expectations and beliefs about your relationship,” Tina B. Tessina, PhD (aka "Dr. Romance"), psychotherapist, and author of The Commuter Marriage: Keep Your Relationship Close While You’re Far Apart , tells Bustle. “Suddenly, you have a whole set of questions you may not have ever thought of before. Why didn't I know? Did my partner ever love me? How can I ever trust my partner again? Can our relationship survive this?”
In a recent study by Kayla Knapp, a Denver University grad student, she looked at the relationships of 484 unmarried 18-35 year olds and discovered that 32 percent confessed to cheating, and 45 percent of them cheated in a later relationship. Overall, she found that people who had cheated on someone in the past were 3.5 times more likely to do so in another relationship. So, no wonder you or I need some survival-and-moving-on tips.
I take it you don’t want to be among the cheating statistics. When you start a new relationship after the cheating one, though, how do you stay on guard (trust the person, but also be cautious)? And how do you know you’re ready to date again without being paranoid about every little thing your partner does—that could trigger old feelings of suspicion and insecurity, like are they checking their phone often? Only, this time, it could actually be their office contacting them.
I spoke to some experts to get the scoop on how to trust someone again after being cheated on, as well as used my personal experience. Here’s the DL.
1. Work On Yourself
Yes, you may think that they’re the one who needs help, but the truth is, you probably both do. After all, the cheating probably scarred you, and you want that scar to heal before jumping into another relationship. Chances are, you’ll have some trust issues. Plus, as was mentioned above, you don’t want to live in a paranoid state of mind 24/7 with the new person (or the current person, if you decided to give them another chance).
“The truth is, ‘Once bitten twice shy,’” Danine Manette, speaker, criminal investigator, and author of ULTIMATE BETRAYAL: Recognizing, Uncovering, and Dealing With Infidelity , tells Bustle. “However, this is why I feel one should be emotionally healthy and fully healed prior to entering a new relationship following one during which they were cheated on. Of course, betrayal leads to a heightened sense of awareness, but you cannot punish the new partner for the sins of the last. It is possible to keep your head out of the sand without being in constant investigative mode, and if you find that you are in a perpetual state of mental unrest and anxiety, then additional healing should be your goal, not a new partner to terrorize.”
2. Work On The Relationship
If you want to give the relationship a chance after the cheating, it’ll take work. Sadly, no one just “forgets” about the cheating after it happens. “While I don't think you should stay and suffer if nothing's working, in my practice I see many couples who do the work and wind up happier than before,” Dr. Tessina says. “The affair may have happened after long-standing problems in the relationship, which can actually be corrected to the satisfaction of both partners. Often, dissatisfaction grows from resentment, and the root causes can be fixed with the help of counseling. Once the problems have been identified, if both partners are willing to change what's not working, a relationship can be improved. Doing things the same way you always have will give you the same results. Again, it may take the objectivity of a counselor to help you figure out what changes are needed.”
3. Take A Break From Dating
If you decide to call it quits with the person who cheated, definitely consider taking a break from dating. This goes along with the “work on yourself” idea and how it’s great to spend time alone — doing things that make you happy — so you get your sense of self back. You can try new hobbies, as well as healthy current ones you have. Plus, you’ll learn that you’re perfectly fine on your own. You probably know those people who go from partner-to-partner (I used to be one!), and maybe you’re one, but if the same patterns keep repeating, there’s your cue that something’s got to change. And if you do date too soon after the cheating relationship?
“Every potential partner must be given the opportunity to enjoy a relationship with a healthy companion,” Manette says. “Therefore, if you do not feel that you are in a mental or emotional position to give clean slates to new individuals, then additional time spent alone and being introspective is likely the best course of action.”
4. Look At Others Who Have Survived It And Moved On
Getting cheated on has happened to the best of them. So, think of some friends of yours who were cheated on. I bet you can think of someone. How did they get past it? What tips and advice can they give you? Chances are, after lots of tears, coping mechanisms, and some of the above, they survived, have moved on, and now have the best partner ever. That can be you, too! But, in the meantime, let their success stories motivate you to keep on healing and having faith that this is survivable, not everyone cheats, you’ll meet someone even better than the person who stepped out on you (I swear!), and you will stop crying someday (I swear!). All in all, you’ll feel whole again and that you’ve found your ability to trust someone again. Someday. But right now, keep doing the above and talk to people.
5. Forgive (But You Don’t Have To Forget)
Every time you close your eyes, even randomly throughout the day, you picture the cheating — the night your loved one told you they were doing one thing, but they were really doing (quite) another. You try to imagine the scene (why?!) — how it went down, what they were like. You want to forgive, yet you can’t forget.
“Admitting and correcting bad behavior, rebuilding trust, and forgiveness are the main issues you need to face,” says Dr. Tessina. “If there is a sincere change in behavior, and if the problems that led to the infidelity are addressed and corrected, and both parties approach the problem with a sincere wish to discover what went wrong and fix it, then forgiveness is an important part of the healing process, whether the couple stays together or not. As long as you're stuck in blaming each other and defending yourself, you won't be able to move forward. Forgiving each other doesn't mean condoning what happened, or that it would be OK if it happened again. What it does mean, is that you're willing to close that chapter and move on.”
6. If You Stay With The Person, Practice Patience
If you decide to work on your relationship with the person who cheated, get ready to exercise some (or a lot!) of patience. “One of the most important things that must happen after the cheatee discovers the cheating is to allow the process of emotional reaction to occur before even attempting to make rational decisions,” Jeffrey Sumber, MA, MTS, LCPC, Psychotherapist and Best-selling Author of Renew Your Wows !, tells Bustle. “As I detail in my book, Renew Your Wows!, mixing facts and feelings is a losing proposition. The wounded party must have the opportunity to express their hurt, disgust, anguish, etc., without the other attempting to rationalize, defend, or plead for leniency. We must feel safe to express ourselves, especially in situations where we feel out of control. Once the emotional roller coaster takes place, it is essential to then attempt to regain a sense of control. We typically do this through collecting information and grasping the situation for ourselves. The wounded party must find out what they need to find out within reason. If they are still interested in remaining in the relationship, they typically will need access to social media, phone passwords, emails, etc., and if the cheater isn't willing to forego their freedom for a time, typically 3-6 months, then there is little likelihood that the relationship will make it past the wound.”
7. If You Don’t Stay With The Person And Start To Date Again, Practice Patience And Start Slow
The next person you date doesn’t have to become your future wife or husband, so start slow. Trust with anyone builds over time, so, date-to-date, you can learn to trust your new partner. Do they call/text/show up when they say they will? “Actions speak louder than words” is a cliché, but it’s so, so, so true when it comes to dating (and non-dating relationships, too). But, if your new almost partner is following through on things they said they’d do, they’re taking steps in the right direction to gain your trust, one trustworthy example at a time.
Yes, a very bad thing happened — you were cheated on. (If it makes you feel any better, I was, too… multiple times.) It’s obviously never fun. But for every person that’s cheated on you, there’s someone out there who won’t. Actually, there’s probably plenty of someones who won’t. You have to stay positive, though, and keep the faith that you can — and will — meet someone great. So, like George Michael so famously sang, “I gotta have faith!” Make this your mantra, and you’ll be well on your way to trusting potential partners in no time.
Images: Hannah Burton/Bustle; Giphy