Cheated On? Here's How You Can Actually Move Forward
Yes, there's a way through this hard situation and a chance for healing, learning and growth. Whether you choose to stay together or break up for good, here's what you can do to move forward after you've been cheated on.
When your partner cheats, it’s as if the world as you know it has been seriously altered. What you thought was true about your life — that you were in a loving, committed, monogamous relationship — comes into question, making you doubt your partnership, your partner and yourself. But there is a way through this difficult situation and a chance for healing, learning and growth. Whether you choose to stay together or break up, here’s what you can do to move forward after you’ve been cheated on.
1. Give yourself some space.
To begin the process of moving forward, it’s important to clean the slate, so to speak, by taking a break from the person who cheated. Of course, if you’re living together, married or have children together, this can be more difficult. But you do need some space to process your feelings about the situation without contact with them, even just a day or two, says Anna Gonowon, a breakup coach from ExBoyfriendRecovery.com.
“For example, people should not text, email, call, Facebook or message the person who cheated,” she says. This also includes not communicating with the cheating partner's friends or family or the other woman or man, she adds. If you choose to break up, Gonowon suggests no communication with your ex for 45 days, since it can take anywhere from 21 to 66 days to form and break a habit, making her recommendation an average of the two.
2. Process your emotions.
“Processing the emotionally devastating experience of being cheated on is especially important to being able to move forward,” breakup coach Anna Gonowon says. “Even if [only] for a handful of sessions, there are many benefits to speaking with a psychiatrist, a therapist or counselor.”
Careful reflection guided by an objective third party, she says, can give you a way to process the relationship, the cheating and its aftermath as well as the behavior or personality of the cheater (see No. 5). If you’re not comfortable speaking with a professional, she recommends journaling or art therapy to help you express and process your feelings.
3. Assess what happened without blaming.
Resist the urge to play the blame game, says relationship expert Samantha Daniels, founder of The Dating Lounge dating app, but be realistic about how and why cheating happened. Don’t blame yourself if your partner cheats on you, because, regardless of the health of your relationship, cheating is wrong, she says. But sometimes both parties have a hand in hurting the relationship. It can be a good learning opportunity for you to understand if and how you contributed so that it doesn’t happen again, Daniels says.
Los Angeles-based relationship expert Jackie Viramontez, author of “I Can’t Believe I Dated Him,” agrees, noting that blame will keep you stuck in a cycle of anger, shame and grief. “To move forward, shift your focus from who is at fault to who you want to be and be with in the future,” she says. “In other words, swap ‘I blame you for the past’ to ‘I choose you in my future.’”
4. Acknowledge the deeper wounds.
Cheating is a big deal. And being betrayed by a partner can have profound effects. “When someone cheats, they trigger deeper fears like: ‘I will end up alone,’ ‘I will never be truly loved,’ ‘I can’t trust’ and so on,” relationship expert Jackie Viramontez says. While you can’t control what your partner did or said, you can control what you continue to believe about yourself and your worth. “Use the betrayal as an opportunity to bring your fears to light, healing them so you don’t carry them into your future,” she says. Talking to a therapist or trusted friend or journaling about them can help you dig up these ugly emotions and begin the healing process.
5. Analyze the cheater.
Relationship expert Samantha Daniels recommends objectively “dissecting” the person who cheated on you so you can better understand who they are — the good traits as well as the flaws. “It’s easy to keep someone on a pedestal, but you are better off recognizing the negatives in them so you won’t feel as badly that you are no longer together and so that you can move on,” she says. By analyzing patterns of behavior and any changes your partner went through, you may better understand their decision to cheat.
6. Heal your self-esteem.
It’s normal to feel rejected when someone cheats, but it’s also critical to understand that your partner’s choices had nothing to do with you. No, you may not have always been the perfect partner in the relationship, but that shouldn’t excuse your partner’s decision to be unfaithful to you.
“If you take their choices personally, you will not only have to heal broken trust, but also broken self-esteem,” relationship expert Jackie Viramontez says. “Repeating a mantra like ‘Their choices have to do with them, not me’ will empower you to get over the betrayal with your confidence intact.”
7. Find fulfillment elsewhere.
Working on yourself will really help you move on, breakup coach Anna Gonowon says. “It’s important to remember that there was life before the cheating, and there will be life after the cheating,” she says. She advises making two lists: The first should be activities and interests that make you feel alive, happy and excited. The second list should be adventures for the next 12 months — classes you can take, goals you want to meet or places you want to go. Then start making plans. “This often helps people look forward to an interesting and exciting schedule, and it changes their focus from the past to the future,” she says.
8. Do good for others.
A great way to fill up your emotional tank with good vibes is to volunteer or work for a worthy cause. “People feel good by helping others, benefit by being surrounded by people interested in making the world a better place,” breakup coach Anna Gonowon says, explaining how helpful this can be for finding fulfillment outside of a relationship. Whether you walk dogs for the local animal shelter, give out food at a soup kitchen or sign up for a fundraising 5K, you’ll instantly feel a higher sense of purpose.
9. Get back out there.
If you’re choosing to leave the relationship, don’t wait until you’re completely healed and totally over it to start dating again. Give yourself some time to process, but then get back out there. “It’s only natural that after you have been cheated on, you feel badly about yourself and wonder what’s wrong with you,” Daniels says. “A great way to combat the ‘I am not worthy’ blues is to get out there, meet other people and let them remind you that you are great, interesting, smart, attractive and a good person.” While it may feel awkward at first, embracing the challenge will help you move toward the next great love of your life.
Read more: The 7 Healthiest Ways to Deal With a Breakup
What Do YOU Think?
What’s the best way to get over a cheating partner? Should you stay with someone who cheated on you? What’s the hardest part about getting over infidelity? Share your thoughts in the comments!