Discovering that your partner has been unfaithful is one of the worst feelings you can experience – it’s hard to explain how your heart drops and you feel completely betrayed. There are all sorts of emotions as well as feelings of numbness, disorientation (you’re part of the world but you don’t actually feel as if that’s the case), anger and depression.
You’ll probably have lots of questions too such as ‘why wasn’t I enough?’ and ‘how can you do this to me?’. Although you might have had suspicions that this had happened, actually having it confirmed makes it real. It also makes a difference whether your partner told you him/herself, you found out from someone else or discovered the awful truth in another way.
If, after weeks or months of questioning yourself and your partner (and maybe the other person concerned) you decide to try to stay and make things work, remember that it’s all going to take time to work through what’s happened and you can only do that if both of you learn from the experience.
Here are some things that you can think about and do to get beyond what’s happened and hopefully save your relationship:
- There aren’t any right or wrong feelings – all the rage, possibly guilt (‘should I have done more to stop this happening?’), agitation, pain, confusion and shock are absolutely normal. Even not feeling much at all – that could be the numbness of shock which will wear off, or the fact that you’ve been half-expecting it for some time.
- Start a journal – write down all your thoughts and feelings regarding what’s happened.
- Don’t make any major decisions about ending your relationship right now – this is a time you could used to reflect on what’s happened and how you might deal with it, either by yourself or as a couple.
- Ask all the questions you want. Talk with your partner about the infidelity but you may have to accept that he or she doesn’t know why it happened. That may seem strange (and infuriating!) but is sometimes the case. However, the other thing is that they may not want to reveal this to you (again, infuriating!).
- If you have children, they need to know that you’re going to be alright. It’s hard to keep what you’re going through a secret but if they’re old enough to suspect something’s wrong, they don’t need to be weighed down with the details. Whatever you decide, don’t make promises that you can’t keep.
- Take it one day at a time. Ideally, both you and your partner should be tested for STDs before you have sex again although that may be a while.
- Think about what boundaries you need in order for you to stay in the relationship and make them clear to your partner. More importantly, make sure that you stick to them, if only for your own self-respect.
- Take care of yourself – physical reactions such as sleeplessness, nausea, breathlessness, shaking and either wanting to eat a lot or not at all are normal. Even if you were half-expecting it, you’ve had a shock and your body is reacting to it. Try to make sure you eat well, even if you don’t feel like it, do some exercise, don’t drink too much alcohol and take some time for yourself if at all possible.
- It’s okay to laugh. Watch some funny films or TV shows. Spend some time with people who make you smile. ‘Life goes on’ is a cliché, but it’s also true – however much your heart is breaking, you still need to function.
- It’s also okay to cry – it’s natural, for men and women. If you can’t cry yet, you will be able to at some point, probably about something else that doesn’t seem related to what’s happened to you.
- This is a really hard one – try not to get into the blame game, including blaming the third person involved. It won’t change what’s happened. Also, tempting though it is, think about whether to tell your family or your partner’s family – they might hold a grudge for a long time, even when you’ve worked through it, either alone or with your partner.
- You may have post-traumatic stress. If you still feel constantly ‘jumpy’, as if you’re walking on eggshells and shout at quite small things after four or five months, it’s probably time to seek outside help.
- Get practical – look at how you’re going to cope with money in the future, where you will live if you decide to end your relationship and try to budget to see a solicitor about your situation. Some solicitors now offer twenty minutes’ free advice – that’s a good place to start.
- It all takes time to get beyond the pain of having an unfaithful partner. Don’t expect the feelings, which probably include confusion as well as the inevitable mistrust, to fade quickly. It’s a big loss, even if you stay together, and is part of a grieving process. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your relationship is over but it will be different, sometimes in a good way although that’s very hard to believe at the beginning of this process.
- Seek counselling – this can help and support you, either as a couple or by yourself. Talking about it in a confidential environment can help you to come to terms with what’s happened. For example, was it a one-night stand or due to a life or work crisis? Did you cheating happen to make the end of the relationship happen? Understanding some of it can help a lot.
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