Jackie A. Castro, LMFT
He Cheated On Me – Now What? A Psychotherapist Shares 5 Ways To Cope With Infidelity
Several talks and tears later, you agree to give it a go. You put on a happy face, but inside you're filled with grief, anger, and profound sadness. Here's what you need to do.
You notice he's been distant lately. He says, "Nothing is wrong." Still, you don't believe him. He's acting funny — something is off. The man you know and love definitely has something on his mind. Why won't he tell?
Finally, you've had enough. Even though you swore you'd never do this, you just can't help yourself. While he's in the shower, you meticulously go through his phone. You find exactly what you didn't want to see: a slew of text messages between him and Maria, the new co-worker he's been 'training' for the past six months.
But the messages aren't at all about business. There's an air of familiarity between the two of them. Broken-hearted and frightened, you dig deeper.
You confront him. He admits everything. Yes, he is having a fling, but he doesn't want to lose you. He knows it's wrong. "Please. Give me a chance. I promise this will never happen again."
Several talks and tears later, you agree to give it a go. You put on a happy face, but inside you're filled with grief, anger, and profound sadness.
Where do you go from here? Here's what you need to do:
1. Be Kind to Yourself
So often when something traumatic happens, we forget to take care of ourselves. We're so devastated that we forget about basic necessities like eating, sleeping, and recreating. Right now you are feeling emotionally wounded. How would you treat a little girl who lost her best friend to another girl? I bet you'd give her a big hug. You'd remind her that she's still a good, worthwhile person. You'd probably take her by the hand and treat her to an ice cream cone. Go eat an ice cream cone (or two. Or ten). Learn to give yourself the things you thought only your partner would give you. Most of us need love and nurturing — tune into yourself and ask, "What do I need to make me feel better?"
Allow yourself to enjoy activities that bring you pleasure. Focus on you.
2. Watch Out For Your Thoughts
When you are upset, ask yourself, "What am I telling myself at this moment?"
Though most of us are conditioned to believe that emotions are triggered externally, that is absolutely not true. Our feelings are based upon our own interpretations of the things that happen to us.
Yes, he cheated, but it's not that event in and of itself that has you spinning. It's the meaning behind the event. People in this situation often jump to conclusions; sometimes ones they know are unlikely: You may tell yourself that Maria is prettier, smarter, or better than you. You tell yourself that you made a bad choice when you decided to get married. Worst of all, you may decide that you will never trust anyone again. You think that life is not worth living and you'd be better off dead...see how quickly thoughts can spiral into debilitating depression?
Remember that one event or one aspect of your life does not mean that everything has changed. It only feels that way. Try hard to look at your reality and use reason to figure out the best course of action for you.
3. Empower Yourself
Everybody has what is commonly referred to as their "inner child," or original self. Emotional well-being is attached to early parenting. Security, love, and trust develop when we sense that our survival needs are met. Likewise, a sensitivity towards abandonment and shame come about in an environment that is interpreted as "insecure" by the infant. All this is very subconscious. Your awareness comes into play when you get hurt. That's when your inner child cries out in anger, fear, or pain. And nothing feels more abandoning than finding out that your partner has cheated. Your primal feelings rage out of control.
That's where you need to be the parent and develop a voice of reason. You need to acknowledge what you are feeling, but also take control. Find a gentle voice that reminds the inner child that she's OK. Remember that you are fine and that you can survive with or without him. Whatever you decide, you're going to be OK. You'll be fine because you have yourself. You are a good, capable person who has the ability to problem-solve. Remind yourself of other life challenges you've overcome. If you've done it once, you can do it again. Be kind and attentive to that hurt.
Stay present in your moment. What happened has happened. It can't be changed. That's the fact. You can worry, be vigilant, or become obsessive. Still, that won't change the truth of what has already occurred. Tune into your needs. The solutions will be clear when you are at peace and on good terms with yourself.
4. Observe His Behavior
He says he's sorry. He says he'll never stray again. But how is he behaving? Do yourself a favor and don't push or make demands. Nobody responds well to that, and it is bound to cause hostility and resentment. Step back and observe what's going on. If he's on the right path, he'll naturally want to prove his devotion to you. That means he will check in by phone or text frequently without being asked. He will remove passwords in order to make his phone and electronics available to you. And, most important of all, he will willingly provide something I call "relationship updates".
"Relationship updates" are the communiques that provide comfort to you. There will be times that you will feel unsure or doubtful. A man who is committed will be happy to listen to you no matter what. He won't say things like "I all ready told you" or "I'm tired of repeating myself." He will own up to the fact that he strayed. He will understand that your need for reassurance is merely a byproduct of his actions. Listening to you without judgment or condemnation goes a long way towards healing the damage of cheating.
5. It's OK To Leave
Sometimes it's best to say goodbye and let go, especially if the relationship is fairly new and there are no children involved. Trust is extremely difficult to rebuild, so if the situation can't be repaired, it's OK to move forward. Cut your losses and remember to put the blame where the blame belongs. Don't blame every man in the world — blame the bastard who cheated on you.
Infidelity triggers deep-seated feelings associated with shame, distrust, and abandonment. You need to heal yourself before you can forgive him. Trust the voice of your inner child before attempting to trust him. The ball is in your court now. You have the ability to have light in your life, with or without him.