The INSIDER Summary:
- When you cheat on someone, the first step is to come clean, regardless of what you want the outcome to be.
- If you’ve been cheated on, protect yourself and honor your feelings. Take it one day at a time.
- It’s up to both of you where the relationship goes from here.
- Good communication is key.
Being cheated on is one of the worst experiences you can go through in love. It has lasting effects on your confidence and psyche, which is probably why even thinking about the times I’ve been cheated on makes me want to throw up.
It’s a fairly common experience to go through, even though it’s hard to get reliable numbers on the subject. Obviously no one wants to own up to cheating, but it’s estimated that 30 to 60% of married people cheat or have cheated, and one survey found that 21% of men and 19% of women admitted to cheating.
It’s a taboo subject, which is why we hear about it a lot as a bad and horrible monster, but not a lot about why or how it happens — or what to do after. Unlike cliché movie montages, it’s not always easy in real life to move on from your partner.
If you are the one that cheated, step one is coming clean.
This is important because it shows that you take ownership of your actions and that you are willing to do the work to make things right — even if you don’t plan on trying to stay together — according to relationship expert and psychologist Vijayeta Sinh.
“Own up to what you did and take responsibility for your actions,” she told INSIDER. “You may or may not have thought about the repercussions of having an affair but being an adult means fessing up when we know we are in the wrong about things. This allows you to give the other person the dignity and respect they deserve.”
Unfortunately, this step may have been done for you if your partner found out about your infidelity on their own. But coming clean about the details of the affair is just as important, even if you’re not breaking the news to them first.
If you were cheated on, you need time to process what you want to do next.
Processing a betrayal this large is extremely difficult for both parties, but the victim here is the person who has been cheated on. It’s a tough situation to be in whether you want to stay in the relationship or not because someone that you’ve loved and trusted has broken that trust.
“If this is is new or surprising information — someone we’ve known or trusted for years is cheating on us — then we must be willing to face the reality that somehow and somewhere we were not on the same page as our partner in terms of friendship, romance, support or communication,” Sinh said. “And if so, is that something we are willing to work on or does the betrayal feel so out of left field and try as we may, we cannot see our role in things that we want to let things be and walk away.”
As you’re processing the betrayal, be kind to yourself. Only ask for details that you think will help you move on and honor your own feelings. Take breaks and surround yourself with people that love you. You are not obligated to do anything besides respect yourself.
Once you’ve gotten everything out into the open, it’s up to both of you to decide if the relationship is something worth pursing any more. At first, you might feel like the obstacles are too large and then come around to realizing you want to work on your relationship. Or, on the contrary, you could begin this journey never picturing yourself without the other person and then realize that it’s just not worth saving.
No one’s journey looks the same.
It’s estimated that about 35% of couples stay together after an infidelity. If you’re one of those couples that decide to stay together, chances are you’ll both wonder: Will the person who cheated always be a cheater?
Experts seem to be torn on this, but most agreed that, with some hard work, people can fight their tendency to cheat.
“I don’t believe ‘once a cheater, always a cheater’ as a hard and fast rule,” clinical psychologist Lynn Saladino told me. “While patterns of behavior often predict future behavior, I have seen several cases of cheating being a one-time occurrence. Each circumstance is different and there are a lot of factors that go into whether someone becomes a serial cheater. These include family history, value system, and reasons the person cheated in the first place.”
But most experts INSIDER spoke to agreed that if a couple wants to stay together, it’s up to both partners to work together and want to fix the relationship.
“If admission brings about the destruction of the relationship, that is the price you pay for cheating,” speaker and spiritual counselor Davida Rappaport told INSIDER. “However, some partners can discuss this intelligently rather than emotionally and may come to some agreement as to what they will do going forward. Sometimes they can be forgiven and both partners will need to work toward mending the relationship and regaining trust.”
No one can know for sure if your relationship will last. It can end because of the betrayal, it can end for a completely different reason, years down the line, or it can grow into a healthy partnership that can last forever. But no matter what happens, this painful time is a lesson.
“Mourning the death of the relationship you had or thought you had can sometimes lead you to understand each other and the relationship better, but it’s hard, painful and takes courage,” Sinh said. “It can, however, help you from repeating similar mistakes in other future relationships.”
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