It’s not easy to heal after being cheated on—after all, everything about infidelity is powerfully painful. It doesn’t matter if it was a one-time indiscretion, a series of micro-flirtations, an emotional affair, or finding out your partner has a secret family in Toledo. Whatever shade of infidelity you’re dealing with, it’s totally natural to feel a sense of betrayal, anger, and grief. (Among the many other emotions that can arise when a once-solid relationship’s foundation is tested.)
If you learned about your partner’s infidelity while being quarantined with them, it may be even harder to come to terms with the news. In such close quarters, you may not have been able to grant yourself the physical or mental space you need in order to process the situation. But if there’s one thing relationship pros want you to know, it’s that with time and patience, healing is possible, whether that means with your partner in or out of the picture.
Below, experts provide 7 steps to help you heal after being cheated on so you can move on—with or without your partner.
1. Turn inward rather than lashing out
When one person steps out of the confines of a relationship, it isn’t usually just shrugged off with a casual “we good.” If you’re reeling from the whiplash of information you really didn’t want to know but very clearly needed to know, you may feel like you’re in a tsunami of negative emotions. But rather than lashing out at your partner to “even the score,” it’s important to step away and process those emotions privately.
“Take the time that you need to move through the shock and initial gathering of information. Time does not heal all wounds—however, it will give you some perspective.” —Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT
“You don’t want to make an impulsive decision out of anger and hurt that you may regret later on,” says licensed marriage and family counselor Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT. “Take the time that you need to move through the shock and initial gathering of information. Time does not heal all wounds—however, it will give you some perspective.”
Related Slideshow: 15 signs it might be time for couples therapy (Provided by Best Life)
2. Get support from a loved one or professional after being cheated on
Infidelity is a particularly lonely and isolating experience. While we can all benefit from inner work when we lose our sense of self (and we’ll get to that in a second), you need other people to lean on as well. As much as you may not want to share what you’re going through, opening up to a trusted friend or family member can help you heal after being cheated on.
“Dealing with an infidelity alone is extremely difficult and can lead to more pain in the future,” says Thompson. If you have the funds, consider reaching out to a mental-health professional. Even in quarantine, virtual therapy sessions and text therapy allow us to get support without leaving home.
3. Ask yourself if the relationship is worth fighting for
Infidelity isn’t necessarily about a person not loving you and an indiscretion doesn’t necessarily point to a toxic relationship. (Although, in some cases—like when your partner gaslights you or otherwise makes you feel responsible for the affair—it absolutely does.) But if you know your partner to be generous, loving, kind, and they seem truly committed to working things out, the relationship could be worth another shot.
“If there were some good things about this relationship before the infidelity, it may be worth hanging in there,” says Thompson, and relationship therapist Esther Perel agrees. “[When asked why they cheat], what people tell you all the time is not that ‘I wanted to find another person’, it’s that ‘I wanted to find another self,'” she says. In these cases, Perel believes the relationship can be salvaged with patience, communication, and understanding.
On the flip side, infidelity may be the catalyst that helps you see you and your partner aren’t right for each other. Again, a therapist can help you navigate this process for yourself.
4. Communicate with your partner, especially if you need facts to move on
It’s tempting to shut down when you’re hurt, but communication is vital to heal after being cheated on. If you want to stay with your partner, having an open dialogue about your needs and feelings can help mend your trust in them. You may also want to wade through the details of what happened before you can move forward, either alone or together. More often than not, it’s a journey that’s best navigated with a professional.
“Find a therapist to help you practice a new kind of dialogue—one that focuses on your feelings and lets you talk about your needs,” says relationship therapist Tammy Nelson, PhD.
5. Assess the relationship to see if something wasn’t working
Okay, this one comes with a major disclaimer: You are not at fault if someone cheated on you. If your partner tries to blame you by saying that you “made” them seek other bedfellows, that’s an unfair deflection. Nonetheless, objectively examining your own role in the relationship can help you heal after being cheated on.
“Chances are that there were some [repetitive] patterns—like in all relationships—that were dysfunctional or negative,” says Thompson. “[This] does not excuse infidelity. However, it’s important to own your own part of the negative cycle that perhaps was created between you and your partner.” For instance, let’s say that you felt like you and your partner were growing apart, but neither of you opened a conversation about it. Once you shed light on this dynamic, you can move forward with a new awareness of the importance of clear, honest communication—either in this relationship or your future ones.
6. Do things that reinforce the awesomeness of you
Infidelity can bring up feelings of not-enough-ness—and if you and your partner were extra tight before, cheating can make you feel like you’ve lost part of your identity. “Many times when someone has been cheated on, they’ll [feel like] there is something wrong with them and that their partner is rejecting them,” says Thompson. “This is absolutely normal. What can help heal you through this is remembering who you are, what gifts you bring to the table, and what your interests are.”
This is especially true if you downplayed these parts of yourself while in the relationship. So if you and your partner always bonded over college football games, but that meant you had to give up your weekend art class? Break out the watercolors and reclaim your Saturdays.
7. Commit to start over and heal after being cheated on
Give yourself some time to assess how you feel and make the choice to stay or go. You may even want to give yourself a concrete timeline to keep yourself accountable. Once you’ve made that decision, embrace fresh-start energy and stick to it.
Moving forward on your own means setting firm boundaries with your ex and keeping an eye toward the future. And if you choose to stay with your partner, that requires a fresh start of sorts, too. “If you choose to stay together with the partner who had an affair, take time to explore a new relationship together,” says Dr. Nelson. “Even if you are feeling intense anger and hurt, you can begin again, but it’s got to be a totally new relationship and a new monogamy.” Couples who are committed to forgiving, seeing the big picture, and communicating honestly are well-equipped to overcome infidelity, according to experts.
Overall, healing is about looking honestly at the state of your relationship and getting in touch with yourself, all while giving yourself outside help and time to process. Deciding to stay with your partner or not—well, that’s a decision you really need to make on your own. But in either case, forward motion is essential, even if you’re feeling extra stuck right now.