Chances are I certainly don’t have to open the article droning on about how deeply painful cheating can be — you certainly know that already. Nevertheless, it bears repeating because the trauma can lead us to make impulsive short-term decisions which lead to long-term guilt and anxiety.
In this article I will detail what I feel is the best objective course after having found-out about his infidelity. Obviously, context is also important, finding out by chance is an entirely different scenario than a voluntary tearful confession. I’ll do my best to cover as many bases as possible as we progress through the article.
Before you even begin processing the event, it is imperative to regain control. I’m aware how redundant this surrounds, but bear in mind that there is a chemical component (trauma) that will temporarily alter our decision-making, once the initial shock begins to diminish, your options will become a lot clearer.
You may feel like forgoing the pleasure of having the moral edge, and giving him and the relationship the middle finger, but long-term healing requires acceptance, and acceptance requires forgiveness. There’s no way to reason your way out of the pain, but “talking yourself out” with friends and family can make it manageable. In short, focus solely on regaining your emotional stability and survive long enough for the initial emotional storm to pass. This is usually best accomplished by a little time-off with limited or no contact.
Assess the context
Despite the pain, once you feel you’re able to disregard the blow to your relationship without erupting in flames, it is time to assess the event in a brutally honest way. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Was he at least honest in telling me it happened, or was he dishonest the whole way through?
My take: Cheating tends to uniformly be game over for me, unless there are very compelling reasons for it happening (none so far). Nevertheless, I feel it is important for my own healing to know the extent of the dishonesty involved. Premeditated and systematic cheating warrants a restraining order, but a heat-of-the-moment escapade may yet lead to friendship at some point down the road. Of course, many couples do recover from cheating, and the livelihood of kids may be involved, if that is your aim then gauging his intention is paramount.
- Has your trust in the relationship been terminally affected, or are you still hopeful?
My take: Even if you still wish to reconcile and move on, cheating tends to lead to a terminal case of lack of long-term trust. The future may be littered with arguments stemming, rightly or wrongly, from cases of insecurity. While you still may like him, I feel it is usually better to break up and bite the bullet.
- What led to the cheating?
My take: In most cases the answer is pure speculation, but you can make some educated guesses. Often the answer is as superficial as a declining sex life or a subconscious resentment of your everyday routine. These things can be worked on by adding a sprinkling of spontaneity or creativity to the relationship.
Remove fear from the equation
I find that by far the most important question to ask yourself after an episode of cheating is asking yourself what you feel you deserve. Cheating is a very common relationship affliction, meaning that not all cheaters are animals, but it does say a lot about your partner’s willpower and sense of responsibility. It is, you could say, a character trait. For some, myself included, it is a flaw that I simply cannot digest. Others see cheating as merely the extension of an animalistic impulse, and are able to forgive their partners based on their humanity. But bear in mind that if it happened once, statistics show, that somewhere down the line it will often occur again.
Whatever road you choose to take, it is imperative that you rid yourself of fear. The role of fear in relationships is tantamount to self-inflicted emotional blackmail. Many people trick themselves into believing that their partners are well-meaning and loving, despite the evidence, in order to assuage the part of them that cannot accept living without them — solely out of fear, and not because of any amazing qualities they actually possess. Take the cheating at face-value, do not seek to mentally excuse it, blame yourself, or otherwise find reasons to justify it. Make sure that whether you choose to carry-on with the relationship or not, you do so understanding that it is a gross betrayal of trust no matter which way you look at it. Frankly, and excuse my bias, you can certainly demand better than that!