We're used to hearing about the physical kind of cheating, whether it’s a scientific study showing how pheromones play a role in infidelity or a guide on how to tell whether your partner is unfaithful. But emotional cheating is a little trickier to tackle. There are lots of gray areas, parts of the puzzle that are ambiguous and confusing. Dr. Tammy Nelson, author of The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity, says physical affairs are much easier to pinpoint than the emotional ones. However, deep intimacy with a third party can be just as hurtful, if not more, and it's known to break people's hearts.
There are a lot of couples out there going through these issues, especially now that cheating is at an all-time high. I know what it feels like to have your significant other get emotionally cozy with another woman. It sucks on so many levels, but things can be mended if the both of you are truly willing to give it a shot. It takes a lot of honest communication, and you'll need to redefine boundaries and build up each other's trust once again. Once you get through the messy parts, though, there is potentially a more fulfilling relationship waiting for you on the other side. Here are seven tips to follow if your boyfriend or girlfriend has been caught in an emotional affair.
1. Take Time Apart
Emotions run wild when the truth comes out. Just like there are stages of grief, there are waves of feelings that come and go when infidelity knocks on your door, such as anger, sadness, and even guilt. It's a good idea to remove yourself from your partner, even if that means you have to go stay with your sister for a week or so. The more time you give yourself to process what has happened — alone and without distractions — the more clarity you will find.
Try to refrain from texting and calling and discussing the dirty details with your significant other. You'll only add fuel to the fire by staying in a constant ring of emotions. When you spend time on your own, you can even write down all the things you want to say; so, when the time comes, you can speak your mind in a clear, thoughtful way.
2. Steer Clear Of Social Media
High emotions and Facebook do not go well together. The last thing you want to do is post something revealing that will cause your inbox to fill up with email after email of people's unnecessary commentary. Social media has enough influence on our lives as it is; don't get caught up in Twitter and Instagram when you're already feeling vulnerable.
When you're angry, you run the risk of updating your status in a way that might be uncharacteristically vengeful. And what we say online is more permanent than our verbal conversations. So take a break from the Internet and instead focus on your own healing.
3. Reassess What's Important To You
This is a good time to sit down and sort out the priorities in your life. I don't just mean family, friends, and work. I'm talking more about what values you hold to be of utmost importance. Are you independent enough? Could you use some more forgiveness and reconciliation in your life? Answering these questions will help you decide how to move forward.
When I found out my ex had feelings for another woman, I did some serious thinking about healthy communication in my past relationships. I realized that, even though I demanded vulnerability from my boyfriend, I wasn't so great at being honest myself. I made a commitment to being more open with people in my life.
4. Talk To Someone You Trust
Chatting about what you're going through is a healthy thing, as long as it's being said to the right person. Whether it's your BFF, your therapist, or your hairstylist, find an individual who has always been there for you in a positive way. But make sure this person won't antagonize the situation further and add drama to everything.
Try to avoid confiding in someone who is close to both of you, though. This might create unwanted tension, or, even worse, what you say might travel along to your boyfriend or girlfriend. Mutual friends tend to make things a little messier, even if they have good intentions.
5. Keep Yourself Busy
While you should allow yourself to grieve and go through the range of emotions, don't get too caught up in your own despair. Investing time in a new project will help you find a healthy balance, and you won't dwell on the pain as much. Join a new book club or enroll in a cooking class. You'd be surprised at how much better you feel after baking a warm apple-strawberry pie.
It's easy to hole up and do destructive things when we feel down, but cutting yourself off from the little joys of the world will only make you feel worse. Positive distractions stimulate the brain, reminding you that you are still your own person.
6. Be Open To Couples Therapy
I know, when you picture couples therapy, you probably can't imagine yourself there. But there are so many resources out there available to us, and we shouldn't shy away from taking advantage of them just because it seems lame from the outside. Seeing a professional with your partner could potentially result in transformations you never dreamed of — even if you don't stay together.
Esther Perel, Belgian author and psychotherapist, says when she works with couples who have experienced infidelity, she finds that the person who cheated was looking for a lost part of themselves, not searching for what their partner couldn't give them. Professionals like her can help you hash out these issues in a safe space.
7. Pamper Yourself
Go get a deluxe mani/pedi or take an extra long Yin Yoga class. The body goes through stress when the mind is racing with strong emotions, so you could use a little extra loving. The small luxuries you give yourself will reinforce the notion that you deserve to be treated well.
When you take care of yourself, you'll have even more to offer to the relationship because you'll be in a better place, mentally and emotionally. The happier you are, the happier the two of you will be together. If that's what you decide you want.
Images: Daniel Zedda/Flickr (1); Giphy (7)