You didn’t think it could happen to you, but unfortunately, your partner has been unfaithful. Read this before you make your next move.
Don’t try to get even
You may want to trash-talk your partner on Facebook, fantasize about keying his car, or maybe have an affair of your own. But acting destructively to even the score will do no good—and may even have financial consequences. “Trying to get even keeps your anger alive, and keeps you in a state of negativity, which will prevent you from moving on and going forward in your life,” says Jane Greer, PhD, a New York-based relationship expert and author of How Could You Do This to Me? Learning to Trust After Betrayal. “It will keep you stuck and won’t allow you to heal.” To recover from the infidelity, you need to try to be on the same team, not opposing ones. “Getting even will give the vengeful partner a momentary sense of satisfaction,” adds Irina Firstein, LCSW, a New York City-based marriage and couples therapist. “But ultimately it’s not going to move you toward any resolution and will only make things more complicated.”
Don’t fall apart
“It’s very normal to have a good cry (or two or three) after a break up,” says April Masini, a New York-based relationship and etiquette expert and author. “And when the breakup follows a long-term relationship, expect to need time to recover.” Realize that this situation won’t define you. Your life isn’t over. “Holing up in your apartment, eating ice cream with the blinds closed, watching any random show streaming on your laptop, and showing no interest in answering your phone is a bad idea,” says Masini. While what’s happening may be scary, it’s a chance for you to start over. Yes, it may be a different life, but things may turn out even better. These breakup survival tips can help the healing begin.
Don’t play the victim card
It’s true that in all likelihood, you didn’t deserve to have someone cheat on you, but it doesn’t mean you should wallow in self-pity. Playing the victim will keep you feeling helpless and damaged, and it will continue to keep you feeling badly about yourself,” says Dr. Greer. “As a result, your self esteem will drop, and you’ll find it difficult to participate in your life in a fulfilling way.” These science-backed tips can help boost your confidence.
Don’t get the kids involved
If you have children, do your best to keep them out of it until absolutely necessary. The situation should stay between you and partner. “Otherwise, it puts kids in a bind where they may feel they have to choose between the two of you,” Dr. Greer says. And only give kids information on a need-to-know basis, ensuring that they know that you all will survive this situation. “They can know you’re disappointed, but they really need to know that they’re not going to lose you,” says Masini, no matter how old they may be.
Don’t let someone else decide if you’ll leave or not
Your mom says to leave him; your bestie says give him another chance. But it’s your choice whether the relationship is worth salvaging and repairing or not. “You know what’s best for yourself,” says Antonia Hall, MA, a psychologist, relationship expert, and author of The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Orgasmic Life. People will always have their own opinions, but the final decision on how to proceed is yours. “Nobody else really understands the dynamics that go on between two people,” Dr. Greer says. “No one else can appreciate what is best for you, and what is going to work for you going forward. You’re the only person who can decide whether you want to continue being in the relationship or not.” Remember, this is your life. “There is no shame in staying, and there is no shame in leaving,” says Samantha Burns, a licensed counselor and dating coach.
Don’t ignore what happened
It may ease the pain to just ignore your partner’s infidelity. But doing so won’t address the underlying issues in your relationship. “Trying to ignore the unfaithfulness that occurred will only leave the relationship on shaky ground,” says Hall. And your resentment will likely build and eventually rear its ugly head. So, ask all the questions you want, even knowing that you may not get all the answers you want to hear. Before you know whether to invest in rebuilding the relationship, you need to figure out why the infidelity happened. Read more about how to determine who is trustworthy.
Don’t try to get things back to how they were
Your marriage is already different, and “the way things were” is what led to the situation at hand. “Something needs to change going forward to keep your relationship strong and healthy,” Greer says. Focus on building a more fulfilling relationship using the lessons you’ve learned. “Rather than looking backward, think of creating a new chapter, or even a ‘second marriage,’” says Burns, “where you can learn new skills, repair the dysfunctional dynamics, and come out as a stronger, more connected couple.”
Don’t dismiss therapy
Sure, you may have benefited from the help of a mental health professional before the unfaithfulness happened. But counseling after cheating can help you gain insight and understanding into what went down, says Burns. It can help you communicate better and process feelings of guilt, shame, and whatever else you might be feeling. “If you decide to walk away from the relationship, at least you can leave with peace of mind that you tried your best to make it work and didn’t act impulsively,” says Burns. Therapists have seen it all, so don’t be embarrassed by your situation. And if you’re worried about the financial and time commitment, consider the bigger picture. “I like to remind couples of the time and money and effort they put into their wedding as a touchpoint for how much time, effort, and money they should be willing to invest in their marriage,” says Megan Costello, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Los Angeles.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself
“This traumatic experience can negatively impact your mind and body,” says Burns. “In order to bounce back from this, self-care is essential. You can’t make rational decisions, such as whether to stay or leave, when you’re not taking care of your physiological needs.” Make sure to eat, exercise, sleep, and have fun. Laugh and live a happy life despite what’s going on. Try coping techniques like therapy, mediation, writing in a journal, hanging with supportive friends, or reading self-help books, says Burns. Do activities that bring you joy and pleasure. “Buy yourself flowers, get a massage, spend time outdoors,” says Hall. And visit a healthcare provider if you’re having physical reactions such as shakiness or nausea.
Don’t rush the healing process
“Healing from a breakup is one of those things that doesn’t have finite ending,” says Masini. “No gong goes off and no buzzer sounds when you’re done healing. The process, like life, is fluid and unique to you.” Be patient with yourself as you try to figure out what to do next. “Don’t put pressure on yourself to ‘get over it,’ or preemptively offer forgiveness,” says Burns. “There are no time restrictions. Talking about it and processing what happened is most helpful in starting the healing process.” You’ll heal and be happy again on your own time.