Infidelity hurts. There’s no sugar coating it, an infidelity is a betrayal and while partner’s can betray one another a variety of times and in a variety of ways throughout their relationship, there is something about the betrayal of infidelity, whether emotional or physical, that strikes a chord that is a bit more piercing than any other form of betrayal.
This blog is not about who is right or who is wrong. There is no blame here and no labels. When infidelity occurs, it is usually indicative of hurts and wounds experienced by both partner’s during the course of their relationship. While there is no justification for cheating, there are drivers to that behavior. This blog is about what you can do and how to take care of yourself, when you first learn about the infidelity. The focus is on self-compassion throughout the process.
As a human being, I have been impacted by infidelity. I have felt my heart stop and then race uncontrollably. I have felt numbness, fear, and insecurity. I have felt the disappointment and the anger.
If you are experiencing an infidelity, I know it is hard, and if your heart is hurting, I am sorry you have to feel that kind of pain. I recognize finding out your partner has cheated brings up different thoughts and feelings for people. We are all so unique and our views about relationships, cheating, and ourselves vary. Although, there are differences in perspectives, most people will agree that infidelity hurts.
As a licensed marriage and family therapist, who has now worked with hundreds of couples, and individuals impacted by infidelity, I have held space for people in the midst of the trauma, in the middle of confusion, and have helped them ground themselves after experiencing days, and sometimes weeks of deep sadness, anxiety, and denial. Their coping skills vary from seeking out support to maladaptive behaviors that can be harmful to them or others.
Breaches hurt, especially when they are made by the people we love and trust the most. That initial shock can be the most difficult time in your process. Whether you are the person who stepped outside of the relationship or the partner who recently learned that the person they trusted has been unfaithful, infidelity hurts all those involved. Most partners do not set out to “cheat,” and what this indiscretion can mean for the relationship may still be undetermined. It is true that some couples come out of this shake up stronger than ever, however, there are times when that is not the case.
One truth is that infidelity changes things. It changes the people involved and it changes the couple dynamic. It can be the catalyst to growth and expansion, whether it be together or apart.
I have heard a lot of perspectives around whether a couple should stay together after an infidelity or part ways. Common questions I receive are:
Can the relationship be saved?
What does it say about me if I stay?
What does it say about me if I go?
These are heavy hitter questions. They are the questions we hope to never have to ask ourselves. For many, infidelity is their greatest fear.
The question I have for clients when they come into my office after learning about the infidelity is…
Question: What does it say about you if you give yourself the time, space, validation, and energy you need to figure this out?
Answer: This is a person that is not reactive, that gives themselves permission to not rush their process, and will hopefully come to a decision that they believe is best!
You get to give yourself the time you need to heal. No one else gets to tell you what to do or how to do it.
When you learn about a betrayal, it can be traumatizing and trauma takes time to process.
You get to allow all your feelings to be felt and acquire tools to learn how to sit with and validate uncomfortable feelings so you can move away from guilt, blame, and shame and get to non-judgment, validation, and acceptance.
Judgment is never helpful, whether it is judgment about your partner, yourself, or your feelings. It is not the time for judgment, it is a time in which high doses of self-compassion get to be taken throughout each day, because you truly need your love and attention as you move through this time.
You may feel overwhelmed. You may feel numb. You may feel angry. You may feel all or none of the above and I am here to tell you that your feelings are valid and you get to feel how you feel! The initial shock is tough and people handle it differently due to a bunch of different reasons ranging from how you were raised, to the current state of your relationship, to whether or not there are children involved.
No two relationships are the same, and the reasons why people decide to cheat vary, so there is not going to be a quick, fast, absolute, or “right” decision to make in terms of your next steps.
The one move that can be most helpful is to seek support. Yes, I am a therapist and I do believe in the therapeutic process wholeheartedly. I am also a person who has experienced infidelity and will share that no one should have to go through that alone. Seek support. Whether it is a friend you trust, a family member, a religious/spiritual group, or a licensed professional. If you are struggling, confused, feel isolated, anxious, and/or it is impacting your job, other relationships in your life, and the way that you are taking care of yourself, I encourage finding someone to support you.
You deserve your time.
You deserve your care.
You deserve your self-compassion.
You deserve your self-love as expressed through your boundaries, using your voice, and taking the time you need to process how the infidelity has impacted you. You get to make the decision that is best for you at this time.
The purpose of this post is to encourage you to take a breath, to slow down, and to give yourself permission to take the time needed to figure things out. Oftentimes, people feel compelled to take an immediate action and make a decision around next steps for their relationship right away. While you do not want to prolong the process, you also do not want to rush it.
People will have their opinions, and their opinions may support you, but your opinion matters most. Again, an infidelity will be the end for some relationships and for others, it will be the catalyst for change within the relationship that supports them with creating the relationship they desire together.
If you decide to work on the relationship and the infidelity opened the door to having difficult conversations, and creating a new, more fulfilling, relationship together, I absolutely wish you the best. The fact is that for some couples, with therapy and support to help identify the drivers that led to the infidelity, solutions and interventions can be discovered to help resolve them, and couples decide to stay together and can have a stronger relationship than they did before.
There are times that with or without processing some couples decide not to stay together. Sometimes that decision is mutual, other times one partner makes the decision for both. When infidelity is involved, it is often unpredictable how a couple will proceed until they have both had time to unpack what it means for them individually and what it means for their relationship.
I would never recommend staying in an abusive relationship. If your relationship is abusive or you feel unsafe, get immediate support.
7 PRACTICAL TIPS TO SUPPORT YOU AFTER LEARNING ABOUT THE INFIDELITY:
I have worked with hundreds of clients who have gone through infidelity, while in group practice and currently in my private practice. Here are some immediate steps:
- Prioritize your mental health and well-being: by putting yourself first as you work through these steps.
- Validate your emotions: accept all of the feelings you are experiencing without judgment and allow them to flow through you.
- Try not to be reactive: try not to make an immediate, emotionally charged decision.
- Seek support: either a therapist or someone you can trust.
- Practice self-care: nutrition and proper sleep are vital. Practice compassionate self-talk, take care of your hygiene and if you are struggling with self-care, please refer to #4.
- Identify your needs: reflect, journal, and check in with yourself around what you need in this present moment.
- Establish boundaries: create your own emotional safety by creating boundaries.
I have created a journal that includes prompts, practices, affirmations, and exercises that pull from mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and attachment theory to better understand your feelings at this time. It was created to help individuals work through their initial shock and uncomfortable emotions, create healthy boundaries, and nurture self-love by providing information, validation, and tools that will be useful throughout their lives, long after they have processed the infidelity. I have used the tools in my own life and many of the tools have supported hundreds of clients. I am happy to be able to share them in the form of a journal. The journal is called, “Healing from Infidelity: A Guided Journal,” and is currently on sale on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Target. It is not meant to be a replacement for seeking support at this time. It can be a useful tool on your healing journey.
Sending you love and reminding you that you get to be the author of the story of your life. An infidelity does not have to define you or your relationship.
YOU ARE WORTHY OF LOVE AND DESERVING OF TRUTH
Follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/therapy_tam/