They cheated … a guide moving forward

One of the first thoughts that comes to mind when we find out our partner has cheated probably feels something like betrayal, or anger. We might ask, how could they do that to me. What does it mean to the relationship, about me, about us? Did I do something? Could I have done something different? Why?

1 – Don’t let your thoughts and emotions take control

It’s hard to know the answers, sometimes the person cheating may not have the answers themselves. Instead of mentally sorting through endless scenarios that only make you feel worse

A more helpful question is to ask yourself is, what are you going to do about it next.

You might ask, should the relationship be over, are they falling out of love, how do I get their love back? 

If you have been cheated on, you might think you’re the one being put out right now, but that isn’t so. Reign in your emotions and realize you are in the lead now. You know about their infidelity. There is some clarity, and you are the one who makes the next move. The ball is in your court. You have the power to decide what you are going to allow in, and what you’re going to cut out. But how do you make the decision, what do you base it on, what if you’re wrong, and what is the right move?

2 – Define what exactly is cheating – to you? 

The dictionary definition is to break a promise made to (someone, such as one’s wife or husband) by having sex with someone else. The dictionary is black and white, real life is not. Texting relationships, lunches with a co-worker, reliance on someone other than your partner for emotional support, strip clubs, porn, masturbating to another… those can all be gray zones.

What matters is how you and your partner define cheating.

When two people truly are in love with one another, the thought of cheating doesn’t appeal to them. But realistically, that is more common during the honeymoon phase of a relationship, often lasting about 1 year. Psychology, chemicals, dopamine, serotonin, puts it closer to 4 months. We live in a shifting society; responsibilities change, opportunities ebb and flow, people use relationships as tool to channel stress, and couples either grow together or they grow apart. The meaning of a relationship evolves.

 

a couple talking together

 

3 – Does a relationship mean monogamy?

Does monogamy mean love, does infidelity mean love is absent? What is important for you?

Defining a relationship irrespective of societal norms and expectations is entirely up to you. The important thing is you decide on that TOGETHER, with your partner. Let’s be honest, a relationship faces challenges from day one and it’s a wonder we end up together with another human at all. Outside of short-lived hormones

communication is one of the most important factors for making it work and ideally couples need to talk before anything happens.

TIP  [Even if you’re one of the lucky ones and didn’t find yourself on this page because you’re facing a cheating partner right now, sit down and have this discussion in the future (you could use this article as a reason to open up the conversation). It may save you heartache in the long run.]

If you have been cheated on, it sucks. Plain and simple. It’s not something you asked for. But like everything else in life, you have to figure out how you’re going to deal with it, and you can and will. You will get past it.

Do you forgive them? How do you forgive and move on? If you do, will they do it again? How will you trust them again?

It’s different for each situation. It depends on how you feel and the level of honesty, where you are in the relationship, and your communication levels. Is there a family to think about, is chemical dependency involved, what about finances? Additional thoughts likely come up – how long has it been going on, how deep is/was their relationship, is it still going on, do they love them, will they continue seeing them?

Men and women tend to approach these questions differently. Women psychologically worry about emotional infidelity and want to know does he love her more than me? Men focus on the physical with questions like, does he make more money than me, is he better in bed? A lot has to do with our social conditioning, our past history of relationships, and the status of the current one.

When I was an escort nearly all clients cheated on their wives, but most truly loved their wives. Based on 20 years of casual observer research, most who cheat still love and hide it because they don’t want to hurt their partner. However, hiding it only makes it worse, and almost anyone who has been cheated on would rather know.

Having the conversation to ‘open up a relationship’ or to ‘confess infidelity’ is hard but as a couple you’ve been through many difficult situations together, and you can get through this too.

If you want tips on how to have this type of discussion, visit this article. But if infidelity has broken the trust, what does it mean now? Should you forgive them? Support them? Or let them go because of broken promises, broken trust, pride.

list of common values in a relationship
For a full worksheet on values visit this link on my resources page. 

4 – It comes down to values

What is important in a relationship for you? It could be friendship, trust, commitment, monogamy, shared responsibilities or finances, tradition, support, family, home, love … what do you expect / want / need from a relationship partner?

My relationship values are friendship, trust and communication. Friendship because I want to know we will have something in common in 5 years. Friendship means understanding, that when I have pressing commitments, they’re not going to harass me over something minor like unloading the dishwasher. Friendship means that when I have a crisis they’ll be there through thick and thin. For me, after being in non-monogamous relationships for many years, monogamy isn’t a value that is super important to me. However, trust and communication are. That means my partner and I should communicate about non-monogamy and we can trust each other to be honest about it. Cheating to me is breaking trust and communication.

It’s important to define what your values are with your partner. The values created between you and your partner creates a bond, sort of like a contract, or an outline of what you strive to be, of how the relationship should function. If you are just getting into a relationship, or if you are trying to rekindle one, it is worth your time to define your values independently, and then together as a couple. For a worksheet on common values in a relationship, how to define them and work with them, visit this resources page. 

Then, make sure your values mostly align. If they don’t, there will be more problems moving forward.

a graphic that says "make your decisions based on love and not fear"

 

5 – Once the trust has been broken you have to make a decision

It’s helpful to ask yourself: Is your life better off without them, or will it be better if you continue letting them stay? Do you want to start over with someone new or do you want to be rid of their energies? Should you stay together for the kids? Has it happened before?

YOU decide to let them stay or cut them out. One of the most helpful tips is to make decisions based on love and not fear. 

What is guiding your decision right now? Is it love – in that you still this person irrespective of the hurt and betrayal they’ve done to you, and you will stick by them if they’re going through a phase and will support their evolution regardless?

Or is it fear that the ‘other’ may have a deeper connection and power over your partner than you? Think about what is guiding your decisions before you act.

Fear, insecurity, helplessness, uncertainty, those are all okay feelings to have but don’t let them take control.

 

6 – It’s hard, but empathy is helpful

It’s important and it’s the right thing to do. Try to see it from their point of view. When one of my partners started exploring the field, yes, I felt betrayed, but part of me felt selfish for holding him back, he’d missed out a large part of dating, and why would I want to lock him in a cage?  I preferred to see him happy. Plus, if he went out there and found someone who was a better fit, then we were both better off for it. If he didn’t, and came back, our relationship would be even stronger for it. For me, the value of friendship was more important than a desire for monogamy.

 

person standing in the middle of a long road

 

7 – Lastly, when you remain the logical one and try not to get all crazy and emotional, you are in the lead

When you keep your cool in a situation where you’ve been wronged, you will always come out ahead. This gives you time to sort through your feelings on your own terms, without playing any game and falling prey to their whims. You are the one who stays ahead of the game of life, of a partnership, of yourself, which gives you time to think about your needs, wants and values.

Anger, resentment, revenge, those feelings are also okay to have but don’t carry them with you.

Acknowledge them, feel them if you want, sit with them. There are stages of grief with infidelity,  but don’t give them any power over you, your actions, or your happiness.

 

8 – At the core of it, you have to think about yourself.

If you put your happiness over theirs, if their actions come at a cost to yours, it’s not sustainable. You may be able to hold on for a while, maybe they’re going through a rough patch, maybe they’ve been there for you in the past and it’s time to reciprocate. Only you will know that. Regardless what others do or expect you to do, only you are responsible for and in control of your decisions, thoughts, and values – and your responses to them.  When you act on your values you’re being true to yourself, and that’s ultimately what will make you happy and where you will find your answer.

If you make decisions based on what is important to you then you are making decisions based on love for yourself, and others, and not on fear. Don’t give fear your power. You only owe yourself in life, you are responsible for your own happiness. You’re not responsible for your partners happiness. You are the one who wakes up and looks at yourself in the mirror every morning. You are the one who answers to your actions when you go to bed at night. If you want to forgive, that’s your choice, but do it for you. When you make decisions for you, you are being true to yourself regardless of another’s actions, and really that is the only way to live that will bring you the most fulfillment.

If you decide to stay together, rebuilding trust is crucial, communication is critical, setting boundaries, goals, and defining values will help. That topic is covered in another post and you can find it here. 

a graphic that says you are responsible for your own happiness and not your partners happiness

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