Infidelity almost seems like a forbidden subject, as if you'll speak of it and unwillingly welcome it into your life. According to the theory of manifesting destiny, there might be some truth to that. But save theories abound, infidelity often happens without a single thought or warning.
While there's usually some problem that leads to the "solution" of cheating by one or both partners, the act of infidelity is, more often than not, a personal choice with the power to inflict great harm and pain onto an existing relationship. Whether you've been cheated on or done the cheating, you're familiar with the domino effect of infidelity, which has the potential to sabotage trust, bonds, and future relationships.
Recovering from cheating in a relationship, like many things, feels impossible until it's done. "There is not one way to handle the aftermath of infidelity; we all react and adapt differently," marriage therapist Dr. Talia Wagner tells me via email. No matter how you choose to cope with the pain of being cheated on, here are 10 ways to move on once and for all.
1. Don't Take Pity On Yourself
"The pain of infidelity is often all-consuming, and in that, it is not always easy to see our role in how the relationship got to this point. Seeing ourselves as victims may rob us from taking accountability and looking at our own behavior and choices, which may save us down the road from making the same mistakes," Dr. Wagner says.
Try to remember that while you are not entirely to blame for this situation, a relationship requires effort from both partners to make it work. Reflect on what went right and what went wrong in your relationship, and take responsibility for how you may have contributed to this outcome.
You may not have done the cheating or caused the hurt, but that does not leave you the victim. Stomp out that thought before it grows roots.
2. Let Go Of Negative Emotions
"Infidelity often leads us through a host of complicated emotions. Ranging dramatically from shock to anger, anxiety to fear, extreme loss and mistrust. It takes a while for our mind to stop cycling around the betrayal, as we seek more information, going through times and dates trying to make sense of the hurt," says Dr. Wagner. "This constant internal cycling keeps the sense of hopelessness and despair we feel inside alive for a long time after initially learning of a mate's infidelity. It is important to try and let that go or these negative thoughts consume us."
Basking in negative emotions will only act as a ball and chain, dragging you down in a time when you're in desperate need of uplifting behaviors and thoughts. Women who don't drop the habit of thinking negatively often struggle with confidence and self-worth issues, Dr. Wagner claims, ultimately blaming themselves for not being good enough.
Dr. Wagner adds, "Some even seek out revenge, but this is unhelpful and keeps us locked into anger and a host of other negative emotions." Dismiss the negative, and seek out the positive.
3. Take Time To Grieve
We've all heard that rebound relationships are a surefire way to get over someone. While coping methods vary person to person, however, it is important to mourn the loss of your relationship and friendship with your partner before you jump into another one.
"Understanding the stages of grief and loss is a good place to start. In order for this pattern not to repeat itself, we have to figure out what went wrong. Not understanding this portion of where things went off track may create a situation where we put the blame for the infidelity solely on our partner, not understanding our role in how we got there," Dr. Wagner tells Bustle.
As Dr. Wagner says, failing to recognize what went wrong in your relationship, including your role in its downfall, will only lead to reoccurring unhealthy patterns in your next relationship.
4. Lose The Baggage Before Moving On
"Carrying baggage from one relationship to the next is unadvisable; we need to let past hurts, disappointments, and despair come to an end before unleashing it on someone new. Automatic mistrust in your new partner can unconsciously create a self-fulfilling prophecy," says Dr. Wagner.
Give yourself time to cope with the aftermath of infidelity. Time spent alone to introspect is as important as time spent surrounded by a strong support system. You'll know when you're ready to move on, as you will have unloaded the weight you've been carrying around.
5. Determine Your Needs Moving Forward
"When entering new relationships, it is important to remember what our non-negotiables are. Having gone through times where you were not happy and did not get your needs met, should give you an idea of what those non-negotiables should be in future relationships," Dr. Wagner tells Bustle.
While mourning your relationship and coping with the infidelity, identify not only what you plan to do differently to contribute to a healthy relationship but also what you need in a new partner that was missing from the last. Each relationship will teach us something new about ourselves and our needs; put that knowledge to use.
6. Protect Yourself
"There are always warning signs at the beginning of a relationship, we just refuse to see and accept them. Protect yourself from hooking up with people that are going to hurt you down the road by being mindful of these warning signs. It will help to avoid situations where we fall into relationship patterns with partners that will reintroduce us to infidelity," says Dr. Wagner.
More often than not, your intuition is pretty spot on. Trust your instincts when meeting new people; if the alarms are sounding, don't ignore them.
7. Take It Slow
When you do meet someone new, don't hesitate out of fear, but out of necessity. Get to know a person before you decide you're ready to commit to another relationship.
According to Dr. Wagner, "Don’t be afraid to bring up difficult subjects. Talking about ourselves is the only way two people can really get to know one another. Take time to get to know a potential love interest and utilize that time to develop effective communication with your partner that will promote trust and security. Base your relationships on the same values you seek in friendships."
8. Remove Yourself From The Situation For A Better View
"Be honest and truthful with yourself, even though it may be painful to do so. Utilize your support system during this time. Have friends and family on hand to help as you go through this, by keeping you busy and reminding you of why the relationship needed to end," says Dr. Wagner.
The end of a relationship, whether infidelity was the cause or something else, is a painful period — there's no denying that. When trying to make sense of being cheated on can feel fruitless and lead you to negative thoughts and self-blame, remove yourself from the situation.
As an outsider looking in, what were the warning signs in your relationship? It's often difficult to see the truth when we are living it. As Dr. Wagner suggests, your support system will also be a helpful reminder as to why your relationship needed to end, but you must also recognize these reasons for yourself.
9. Take Ownership Of The Silver Lining
"Always be willing to own your part in what went wrong. Even if you were the one who was cheated on, be willing to learn and grow from what happened," Los Angeles-based dating and relationships coach Lisa Shield tells Bustle via email.
As previously mentioned, there is a lesson to be learned from this unfortunate circumstance. When you're ready to move on, you'll be able to take that lesson with you, whether it be a new discovery in your relationship needs, how you can be a better partner, or a step in the direction of becoming a better version of yourself.
Walk away from this sour period with a renewed appreciation for what it taught you, rather than resentment for what you lost.
"Forgiveness is for you, not for the other person. If you harbor resentment, you will stay in the story of what happened and continue to suffer," Shield tells Bustle.
It's OK to forgive your partner for cheating on you; it does not make you weak or lesser of a person. In fact, forgiveness will only contribute to a healthier mindset, as you move forward and beyond this unhealthy relationship.
The aftermath of infidelity will bring with it an ocean of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, all normal and fleeting, no matter how long they may seem to last. Succumb to this overwhelming time to ensure you've allowed ample space to cope and recover, all while reminding yourself that this too shall pass.