While it's common to have all kinds of self-doubt after being cheated on, asking yourself this one question can do you a lot more harm than good: What did I do wrong? The truth is, nothing at all. But at the time, it seems like nothing can kill your self-confidence more than finding out that you've been betrayed by someone you truly love. As a recent study found, placing the blame on yourself can even make the physical and mental effects of infidelity so much worse.
"Being cheated on plunges our bodies into a primitive stress response," licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Paul Hokemeyer tells Bustle. "It tells our brains to produce a host of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. While these hormones can in the short run get us out of harm's way, in the medium to long term, they can have a destructive toll on our lives by causing us to act in compulsive and self-destructive ways."
Those immediate self-destructive ways could include substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, and overeating or not eating at all. Furthermore, the anger, obsessive thoughts, depression, and self-doubt that you may experience after someone cheats on you can stay with you.
"Don't ask what you did wrong. That question assumes you had some culpability and makes you out as the villain or a shady character who deserves to be punished."
But placing blame on yourself is never the answer. Instead, the best thing to do in the wake of a romantic betrayal is to bounce back stronger than ever. "Focus on resilience rather than regret," Hokemeyer says. "Don't ask what you did wrong. That question assumes you had some culpability and makes you out as the villain or a shady character who deserves to be punished."
Instead, Hokemeyer suggests, you should be asking yourself what warning signs you missed. What traits in your partner did you fail to see or ignore? "These are the traits that made them shady and ultimately untrustworthy," he says. "By shifting the analysis away from you to them, you'll put the blame squarely where its due and help yourself avoid similar [partners] in the future."
So instead of asking yourself what you did wrong, ask yourself these questions instead:
1Have I Been Getting My Needs Met In This Relationship?
"Asking yourself this question after being cheated on is an opportunity for your to reflect on the quality of the relationship from your own perspective," psychologist Lauren Appio, Ph.D., tells Bustle.
It's the type of question that umbrellas other important ones such as, How connected have you been feeling to your partner? How cared for have you been feeling? "If you notice that the connection has been distant, strained, or superficial in some way, you have the opportunity to decide whether you would like to move forward with healing and repairing the relationship or move forward on your own," Appio says.
2Am I Able To Forgive Them?
"Because I'm usually helping people — women in particular — put the relationship back together after cheating, the questions I think you should ask yourself after being cheated on should lean toward fixing it rather than breaking up," relationship coach, NaDasha Elkerson tells Bustle.
Some questions to ask are:
- Is this really a deal-breaker?
- Do I want to stop being with this person because of the fact that they cheated?
- Do I still love them?
- Am I able to forgive?
- If I can't forgive, am I able to let them go without causing myself more distress?
- If I stay, will I be able to move forward with them and let this be in the past so we can continue to grow together?
Remember that this should be all about you, not your partner. Is cheating a deal-breaker for you? Can you forgive them? If you feel like forgiving them is difficult to do, ending it sooner rather than later might be your best call.
3Is This Relationship Worth Saving?
Instead of being stuck in the now, look to the future. What are the next steps? "Couples can heal from affairs," Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, licensed clinical professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship Therapist tells Bustle. "It just really depends if you want [it to] or not. We usually encourage you to work it out, especially if children are involved, though we understand how difficult it can be to trust again."
Remember, being cheated on is not your fault. Your partner cheating on you is just one of those things you can't control. What you can control, however, is how you move on. So keep moving forward, and do your best to not let one bad incident or relationship keep you from pursuing your happiness and what you truly deserve. Because trust me, it's out there.