Five common responses to being cheated on and four important things that will help you recover.
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Being cheated on by someone we love and care for is a horrendous experience that many of us have had to go through. What do you do to get past such heartache? How do you recover from being cheated on? Sara Russell writes about five common responses to being cheated on and the four important things that will help you heal.
Sara Russell is a Skills For Change Coach from a Radical lineage, a Qi Gong instructor, and a Relationship Anarchist in the Santa Cruz Mountains, who helps her clients analyze behaviors, relationships, systems, and transactions to see where old habits are no longer serving them.
She guides them in cultivating awareness of where they have power, how to use it, and how to create spaciousness to accept where they are powerless. Finally, Sara teaches radical self-love – bringing compassion to all of the above work, because change is hard, and being in a body is hard, and we don’t have to do it alone.
I knew what I was supposed to do if I ever got cheated on: quit the relationship, socially shame my ex, and walk away with my head held high in self-righteous confidence that I wouldn’t be treated that way, and never look back.
But when I found out I’d been cheated on, I didn’t get out. I felt turned inside-out and upside-down. Sure, I had my suspicions. I had them in my previous relationships, too. Little things didn’t add up – somebody wouldn’t be where they said they would be, or a “friend” would feel a little too charged – but it was nothing overt, just enough to make you question whether something was going on or wonder if you were crazy.
I thought I needed to keep track of such things, that it was my job to protect myself from people lying to me, and if I maintained a heightened sense of vigilance, I could protect myself from the heartbreak of an infidelity. I could get out before something terrible happened.
But when I actually found out, I was blind-sided. My partner had offered me so many reassurances, given so many explanations that I was all too ready to believe, because the alternative felt too awful. Sometimes, they would even guilt me for over-reacting, and ask me, “Why can’t you just let us be happy?”
Faced with the infidelity, I didn’t feel certain of what to do. Instead, I felt paralyzed by my confusion. How did this happen? Why did this happen? How can I fix this awful feeling? Am I broken now? Will I ever be able to trust a partner again?
How can I recover from being cheated on by someone I love?
Common Responses to Being Cheated On
When we learn that someone has acted unilaterally, without our consent, in a way that breaks trust, and harms our emotional, mental and physical well-being, common responses include:
1. Fighting: persecuting our partner and trying to take control of the situation.
2. Ignoring: acting like it didn’t happen.
3. Giving In: giving up what we want and need and tolerating how someone treats us.
4. Negotiating: attempting to figure out a way to change the behavior.
5. Taking Collective Action: soliciting support from our allies to help us escape a situation that is oppressing us.
You may find yourself cycling through any and all of these responses, hoping for a way to relieve your distress and recover from being cheated on. There’s no right answer, and the uniqueness of your context will determine your path towards healing.
Take Your Time
The journey toward healing begins with taking care of yourself. You need time to go through everything you are feeling. It’s tempting to want to continuously process what happened. There is an urgency in our bodies to figure out a solution to ease the almost unbearable level of agitation in our bodies.
This desire to act with immediacy makes sense (who wants to feel terrible for any amount of time?) but acting quickly doesn’t produce satisfying, sustainable results.
Instead, you need to give yourself time to feel all of the messy, ever-changing, ever-evolving feelings that come up for you. Get clear on how you are actually feeling, and not how you wish or think you should be feeling.
It’s best to do the heavy work of grieving, raging, and accepting, away from the source of your trigger.
That means a period of no contact with the person who hurt you. It’s too easy to get re-triggered, or be influenced by someone who has an agenda for you – someone who has shown they will prioritize their wants over an honest, transparent conversation with you.
While you are taking space, name all of the hard, heavy, complex, and sometimes contradictory things you are feeling: sad, hurt, angry, confused, hopeless, but maybe also the loneliness of missing your partner, and longing for love and connection.
It’s a confusing storm, but it will pass with greater ease if you can hold the full truth of your narrative rather than trying to oversimplify it for quick and easy answers.
Recover From Being Cheated On Tip #1: Build Trust In Yourself
Before doing the work of trusting another person, it’s important you trust yourself.
Be sincere with yourself about what you are feeling, and what you want.
Take care of yourself- don’t deplete yourself to the point of exhaustion because of somebody else’s behaviors or needs. Teach your body, heart, and mind that you value ease and peace, not just effort and grinding through painful experiences, and that your well-being matters.
Make sure you have the time, energy, and resources you need to show up for yourself.
Learn how to self-regulate, and self soothe – don’t rely on your partner to fix this for you. Cover your basics: try to get enough sleep, water, and nourishing foods. Do those things that make you feel centered, happy, creative, calm and inspired as a way to get back the energy you lost from dealing with your heartache.
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Recover From Being Cheated On Tip #2: Stop Reliving The Hurt
Resist the urge to relive the painful realizations, conversations and experiences that took place.
You’ll want to go back over everything that happened, in an attempt to find clear answers, or to make sense of it all. The truth is, something awful and heartbreaking happened, and there are no quick and easy fixes.
Your job is not to go through with a fine-tooth comb and find every mistake and wrong move everybody made. Instead, create within yourself a big enough container to hold the entire messy complexity of what you are experiencing, and know that you are still okay. Even though it really sucks.
Recover From Being Cheated On Tip #3: Know That It’s Not About You
How someone treats you is not about you. It’s about their stories about themselves, and the world, and how they believe things should be.
Your self-worth is not determined by what anyone else thinks or does. You decide what works for you, and what doesn’t. You give away what power you have when you let somebody else tell the story of your worth.
What happened to you is painful, and heartbreaking. It is hard enough, without adding shame and pressure on yourself to make yourself responsible for someone else’s bad behavior.
Recover From Being Cheated On Tip #4: What’s Next
We so desperately want there to be a way to fix what happened, but it’s time to accept the unacceptable and hold the truth of what is.
Once you’ve had a chance to recover, you can decide – what are your minimum standards, and what are your boundaries? What are dealbreakers for you? What is a natural consequence of someone else’s behavior falling below your minimum standard, or crossing your boundaries?
Forgive yourself for trusting someone who didn’t deserve your trust. Forgive yourself for what you didn’t know. Forgive yourself for what you suspected but ignored because it was easier, or because you loved your partner so much.
Once you can forgive yourself, it’s much easier to forgive the other person. That doesn’t mean they still have a place in your life. You get to decide what you need and want.
My ex and I are still friends. I didn’t need to make them the bad guy in order to recover. Once I built enough trust in myself – to take care of myself, to hold my boundaries, to know what I needed – I found the space I needed to genuinely forgive, and move forward with a new vision for my future.