When your partner has admitted to infidelity, it can feel like your entire world is crashing down. This is a completely normal emotional response, and you should take your time with processing it.
Once you’ve gotten over the shock, however, it’s time to give some serious thought to your relationship. Can you fix it? Do you want to fix it? Are you willing to put in the time and energy to repair the bond between yourself and your partner?
If the answer is no, that’s okay. You’re under zero obligation to continue a relationship after your partner has been unfaithful. On the other hand, if you still want to make things work, there are a few ways you can start to rebuild trust and commitment with your loved one. There are ways that you can make sense of the madness.
If you’re wondering how to cope with infidelity, here are 12 steps that can help.
1. Don’t blame yourself.
This will be one of your biggest hurdles after you learn of a partner’s cheating. Even if you’re angry instead of weepy, there will be a little voice in your head that wonders what you did wrong.
This is called the “just world” fallacy (1). It’s a psychological defense mechanism where people seek to assign blame to themselves and others instead of just accepting that life is terrible sometimes.
Why do we do this?
“Because it’s far too frightening for many to accept that bad thing can happen to good people,” says Psych Central, “and that therefore they themselves have no control over whether bad things might happen to them someday.”
Your partner cheated on you. There doesn’t have to be a burning reason for why it happened. There doesn’t have to be some sort of major flaw on your part that led to it. Sometimes, bad things just happen, and you have to pick yourself up and move on.
2. Get some help.
You shouldn’t wade through the aftermath of infidelity on your own. If needed, seek professional help from a therapist or counselor to help you overcome it.
Ideally, you and your partner will attend therapy both separately and together. You might balk at the idea of sharing your deepest, darkest feelings of betrayal with the perpetrator of that betrayal sitting right beside you, but it’ll be a good thing for your relationship in the end. They need to know how much their unfaithfulness hurt you, and they need to understand what you’re struggling with as you try to forgive them.
3. Cut off contact with the other man or woman.
This is a no-brainer. You’ll never be able to get over the affair if the other person is being flaunted in your face, and you’ll never fully trust your partner when you know they’re spending time with someone who tempted them to unfaithfulness in the past. It’s okay to make this a non-negotiable clause of staying together. Your partner should stop all dates, calls, texts, meetings, and coffee breaks with the other man or woman. If they work with them, they should make sure that they’re never alone in a room with them. It’s the least that they can do as an apology towards you.
4. Understand that you might not be ready to hear everything all at once.
When reeling from the shock and hurt of an affair, it’s tempting to demand answers like they’re going to make you feel better. Who was she? What did she look like? What did she and your husband do together?
Before you start the interrogation, however, you should realize that the truth-telling process is a bit like cutting open a wound. It might be necessary for healing, but it should be done in careful stages when everyone is emotionally prepared for it.
Your husband might feel too guilty to share all of the details of his affair at once. You might be too fragile to handle them. Allow some time for both of you to regain your equilibrium before you begin the deep, soul-searching talks.
5. Take stock of your emotions.
People can have very different reactions to affairs, so it’s important to identify the specific feelings that are swirling around your brain and your heart.
– If you’re furious, it might help to learn some anger management techniques.
– Should you find yourself feeling depressed, your recovery efforts might focus on turning your negativity into positivity.
– If you’re anxious, some mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) can draw the tension out of your body and leave you more open to better feelings and outcomes.
6. Identify where things went wrong.
This can be a difficult piece of advice to hear. The affair wasn’t your fault, and you bear no responsibility for the actions of your partner.
However, certain triggers and stressors can increase the likelihood of infidelity. If you’re able to trace any of them back to your partner’s cheating, you might be able to prevent it from happening again. For example, studies have shown that couples with attachment anxiety are more at risk for infidelity (2). Attachment anxiety is something very fixable with the right kind of therapy, so you can move forward with a solution-based strategy for keeping the faith in your marriage.
7. Look for signs of change.
If your partner is truly sorry about their affair, they’ll behave much differently than someone who is feeling sulky, petulant, or dismissive about what happened. Looking for these signs of change can be one of the better ways to cope with infidelity.
For example, have they stopped flirting with other people? Do they make a conscious effort to ignore baristas and waitresses when they’re on a date with you? Do they text you when they’re out late so that you don’t worry about what they’re doing? Have they become very open and affectionate?
Take these signs to heart. They’re signs of someone who understands their past mistakes and doesn’t want to repeat them.
8. Remain empathetic.
This might be difficult when you’re feeling hurt and humiliated by an affair. However, empathy is a two-way street. If you want your partner to understand what you’re going through, you need to understand their own thoughts and emotions as well.
Why did they cheat? How did they feel about it? What are they feeling now?
It isn’t easy to cope with infidelity, but it might be a little less difficult if you don’t lash out or let your baser instincts take control. Stay as calm, rational, and reasonable as possible.
9. Identify the unique patterns and danger signs of your relationship.
Did you know that only five percent of married individuals use social media to cheat?(3) It’s also rare for people to come home with strange phone numbers in their pockets or lipstick stains on their collar.
If you want to watch out for signs of adultery, you’ll need to figure out the signals that your partner was sending the first time. For example, maybe they always came home late, or maybe they stopped going to bed with you. Maybe they developed a nervous tic like jiggling their leg during relationship talks.
No matter how big or small, if you can identify the signs of an affair, you can head them off at the pass. Just make sure that you’re looking for the right things and not movie cliches.
10. Don’t assume that infidelity works like in popular media.
Speaking of movies, if you’re feeling unmoored after your partner’s unfaithfulness, you might find yourself looking at movies and TV shows for “guidelines” on how to behave. Resist this urge! You don’t have to slash his tires just because that rom-com heroine did it. You don’t have to complain about her to your friends just because griping with your bachelor buddies seems like the thing to do. You are in control of your own response to your partner’s infidelity, so don’t let a Hollywood screenwriter dictate your thoughts and behaviors.
11. Agree to a specific plan of action.
This is something that you and your partner should work out together. It’s basically a blueprint for your relationship and how you’ll overcome the affair together. Here are some things that you might want to discuss:
– How can you improve your communication moving forward?
– Is your partner allowed to tell you if they feel any unfaithful urges again, or will that just make things worse?
– How will you handle long nights or overnight work trips? Will your partner need to check in with you at specific times? Will you need calls, texts, or receipts to feel satisfied that they didn’t cheat?
12. Focus on the future.
You should take all of the time that you need to cope with infidelity. If you’re serious about moving on, however, there will come a point when you have to say goodbye to the past and devote yourself to the future.
Can you take a trip together? Perhaps you can reaffirm your vows. Should you make plans for regular date nights so that you don’t feel distant anymore?
Lingering on a partner’s affair will only make you miserable. If you’re ready to dust yourself off and try this whole “relationship” thing again, you’ll need to keep your eyes on the path ahead and not the one behind you.
Final Thoughts on Infidelity
Getting past an affair can be one of the most difficult things that you ever do. If you’re willing to commit to it, however, it doesn’t have to be an impossible task. People overcome infidelity every day, and with the right attitudes from both parties, you can be another success story. Good luck!