Y’all. This is a heavy topic and will come in two parts. For the injured and the partner(s) who engaged in infidelity. This post is for the injured, who are looking to move forward from infidelity.
If you are the one who cheated, we recommend you to read part two of this blog series on infidelity: How to Stop Cheating? When You’ve Created the Rupture.
Usually, I write about how to keep things moving smoothly in relationships, and how to bring you and your partner(s) closer together. How to maximize the experience of — as the late poet Mary Oliver would call it — your one wild and precious life.
But what if a relational rupture has already occurred?
There’s a profusion of answers out there. Some are better than others. I like to think that what I have here falls on the better end of the spectrum, whether you’re thinking about staying or leaving.
Before we dive in, a few things: it’s okay to feel however you feel. Being cheated on produces a distressing mix of anxiety, rage, hurt, doubt, grief, disbelief…and…yes, love. For many, infidelity is a trauma and a profound loss. You face the loss of who you thought someone was. The loss of safety, perhaps the loss of health status. The loss of a future (and past) you imagined with this person. If you don’t have an individual counselor, get one.
This is a hard thing to do alone.
Second, cheating does not have to look a certain way for the above to be true. For many relationships, cheating is defined just as much in terms of the social and emotional. Not just the physical.
3 Tips to Move Forward from Infidelity
1. Let go of self-blame
You didn’t make your partner cheat. There. Finally an absolutist statement I’m comfortable with.
It can feel tempting to search for reasons that are about you because, if the cheating was about you, then it implies that you have some measure of control. It provides a painful, self-harming, illusion of certainty at a time when a lot feels uncertain. People cheat for many reasons, and frequently it has little to do with the physical elements of the relationship or who their partner is.
If your partner frames the infidelity as your fault: we have a larger problem. A person who can’t own their actions may not be mature enough to do the self-reflection and work needed to repair the relationship.
2. Consider incompatibilities
When choosing to leave or to stay examine the broader dynamics of the relationship. Consider your partner as they are now, not who you think they can be. Definitely not who you think you can make them be. (See the painful illusion mentioned above.)
Love and cultural norms can lead us to overlook areas where we’re incompatible with our partner(s).
Consider these questions:
- Are there conflicting sexual needs in the relationship? (Sexual novelty can be a need.)
- How about what you both want emotionally from the relationship?
- What about the structure of the relationship itself?
- Do one or both partners have attachment wounds?
- Does your partner have interpersonal challenges you’ve hoped would change over time?
Time and again I see partners who’ve attempted to make “choices” or “sacrifices” for the relationship that are unrealistic. Suppressed needs will eventually manifest. If your partner knows they struggle with monogamy — this may not be a “choice” they can make, but rather a deeper orientation to love and relationships. If emotional communication is a need you have but feels challenging or impossible for them — are they willing to work on that in therapy? Are you willing to wait while they do?
Recommitting to unexamined dynamics that don’t work, hoping character or willpower will make the difference, is a road to future hurt. The existence of differences doesn’t necessarily mean you need to end the relationship, but cheating can indicate a larger disconnect somewhere in your social contract.
A couple’s therapist can be invaluable in working through this and helping you move forward from the infidelity. In fact, many couples may find it impossible to do this work without a neutral third party.
3. Avoid unsustainable “fixes”
Rituals of distrust as I think of them will push you further apart. It can feel tempting to think that the ability to check your partner’s phone, social media, email, or location will provide you with security and relational success. That having them block their partner(s) in infidelity will provide you lasting solace.
It will not.
A dynamic in which one partner must anticipate and police the worst instincts of the other is unsustainable. If your “fix” is any of the above, you no longer have a relationship. You have a conservatorship. Security must come from your bond, not surveillance.
Vague Promises: if your partner expresses that this was a “one-time mistake” that will not happen again, or blames the event(s) on extenuating circumstances, you, or the other person: this is the hallmark of someone who doesn’t understand themselves and their behaviors well enough to make such promises. It may be said in good faith, but it’s a promise they probably can’t keep.
Y’all, there’s a lot more I would like to say here, but we’re verging on an essay instead of a blog post. There are more considerations and tips for moving forward after infidelity and therapy can be an invaluable tool in helping you navigate whether to stay or go.
Marriage Counseling and Couples Therapy in Baltimore, MD
Did you find out you have been cheated on? Are you wondering if you can move on from infidelity? An affair can damage your relationship and also your mental health, contributing to depression, anger, and guilt.
Marriage counseling can be crucial in helping you and your partner(s) heal and work towards a healthier and happier path. Our therapists at New Connections provide a safe and supportive space for sharing your feelings, needs, and relationship goals. Reach out to know more!