So your partner was unfaithful. Now what?
Deciding whether to repair the relationship after you’ve been cheated on is an ultra-personal process—one that can stir up lots of conflicting, confusing emotions. One day, you may feel too betrayed to stay put; the next, you may be determined to fix things and move on.
First things first: There are some dangerous relationships, like abusive or emotionally manipulative ones, that never warrant sticking around. It can be hard to be objective when you’re in the relationship, and in these cases, it can be beneficial to talk to people you trust.
“In speaking with your friends and family, it is very possible that they shed light on these various definitions of what could be happening to you and help you recognize that you fall into one of those categories,” says Amy Andersen, founder of the San Francisco-based matchmaking firm Linx Dating. “Your family and friends, as well as many support groups, can help get you out of any bad situation you are in.”
But infidelity isn’t always part of a larger pattern of toxicity. As renowned psychotherapist Esther Perel has pointed out, cheating can happen in otherwise happy, healthy relationships, too. And if you decide to work things out with the one who strayed, the path forward is rarely clear or simple. Well-meaning friends and family may pressure you to break up with your S.O., or you might second-guess yourself. So how do you overcome the shame you may feel when thinking about the situation—and what do you say to people who may think you’re “weak” for giving your plus-one a second chance?
Here’s how to proceed with a relationship after infidelity—even when others may not agree with your decision.
One of the best ways to ensure you’re making the right decision is to spend time focusing on self-love and self-inquiry. “Always follow what your heart tells you,” says Andersen. “Do a weekend alone of soul-searching away from distractions and everyone’s opinions.” When you’re thinking about moving forward, be honest about why you want to stay in the relationship.
“Remember your core value system and try to get centered with a very clear head so you can derive the right answer you need for you,” says Andersen. This is key: Choose what will bring you satisfaction, not what will please your partner. “If you are happy staying with your partner who cheated, then that is what works for you,” she says. But be realistic. “If you know you will always be suspicious or can’t move on from what really happened, you have your answer,” she notes.
Investigate your feelings
Even if you know in your heart that staying’s the right thing to do, it can be difficult to navigate all the emotions that come with that decision. “If you are feeling shame about being back in the relationship, then you need to think about whether you have truly moved past the event,” says Elizabeth Cohen, PhD, a New York City-based clinical psychologist. Reflect on why you’re judging yourself for forgiving your partner, if that’s the case. Are there fears, regrets, anger, or concerns that you haven’t dealt with yet?
Cohen recommends journaling or talking to a therapist to help process your emotions about the situation. “Affairs involve deceit and fear, but they can also trigger someone’s early experiences of loss and abandonment,” she says. Looking inward, she adds, is the key to letting go.
Control the conversation
Of course, you want to turn to close friends and family for support when you’re going through a tough time. But oversharing can be counterproductive when it comes to relationship issues. New York City-based clinical psychologist Logan Jones, PsyD, recommends trying to minimize negative talk about the infidelity if it’s not part of a larger pattern of abuse. The not-so-pretty details may impact people’s opinions of your relationship, which can be confusing when you’re working hard to heal things.
Andersen suggests having a “sound bite” that you can use socially if people ask about the situation. She recommends saying something like: “All relationships have their highs and lows. While I was devastated and very heartbroken [to learn that my partner cheated], we talked openly about why he did it and, although it still makes me sad, I’d like to think that we are in a stronger place now.”
If someone insists on sharing her opinion and you’d prefer to focus on your own decision, you can politely set boundaries. Dr. Jones suggests being assertive when you explain your decision to your friends and family. He recommends saying: “I know you are concerned, and I appreciate it because I know you love me. At the same time, I also need you to respect my decision. I am an adult and I am willing to endure. I hope that I have your support.” (But again, if this isn’t the first time your S.O. has hurt you, it’s worth hearing out those close to you—they may see something you don’t.)
If the judgment hurts your feelings, Andersen suggests adding something like “I know you care about me a lot, but to be honest, it hurts when you tell me we should just break up.” Because, as Cohen points out, the only two people who truly know your relationship are you and your partner—and if you’re both willing to put in the work without distractions, you may just find that there can be life after cheating.
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