If you learned about your partner's infidelity after years of being together, it may be even harder to come to terms with the news. When you share a living space together, you may not have been able to grant yourself the physical or mental space you need in order to process the situation. But if there's one thing relationship pros want you to know, it's that with time and patience, healing is possible, whether that’s with your partner in or out of the picture.
Effects of infidelity on your mind and body
Before you can begin to get over being cheated on, it’s important to understand what happens to your mind and body after learning the news about your partner’s lapse in faithfulness.
According to author, public speaker, and sex and relationship expert Dr. Tara Suwinyattichaiporn, PhD, victims of infidelity go through several stages of complex emotions while coping with betrayal–similar to the seven stages of grief we experience after the death of a loved one.
“Usually, the very first thing people experience is anger,” says Dr. Tara. “Then you have confusion. Like, why did they do it? What went wrong? And then hits sadness. Then, some people experience denial, or they justify their partner’s actions. And then, some people hit resentment. That is usually the last lingering stage of the aftermath of infidelity: heavy resentment.”
Our bodies react strongly when we hear news of infidelity, too, explains Dr. Tara. “Not everything is psychological–some things are physiological,” she says.
When you've just been cheated on, your cortisol levels will probably be really high, says Dr. Tara. Cortisol, AKA the fight-or-flight hormone, is released by our adrenal glands during times of high stress. This cortisol release increases our heart rate and blood pressure, and if elevated for too long, can lead to nasty health complications.
“Your whole body is in shock,” says Dr. Tara. “A lot of people will say that after they hear the news, their whole body shuts down, or they get sparks in their body like anxiety, or a panic attack.”
After the initial spike in cortisol has waned, you may begin to experience signs of adrenal fatigue like grogginess and inflammation. These symptoms, coupled with sadness, can leave you feeling depressed. Junk food, Netflix binges, and bed rotting activities become especially alluring in this fragile state, says Dr. Tara.
To combat the cortisol spike and its aftermath, Dr. Tara recommends first engaging in relaxing activities that double as acts of self-care. “Maybe it's going to a spa, getting a massage, hanging out with friends; whatever that is relaxing for you, that can lower the cortisol and regulate the stress,” she says.
When the shock begins to settle, turn toward oxytocin-boosting activities like “exercise, hanging out with friends, laughing, hugging, singing, dancing,” she says. “If you can regulate, if you take care of yourself, relax, and give yourself a boost of oxytocin, then you'll be at a maximum capacity to move on,” says Dr. Tara.
Now that you understand how to tackle the initial shock of infidelity, you can begin to take steps toward healing after cheating. Ahead are seven steps that will help you in coping with the betrayal of being cheated on.
How to get over being cheated on: 7 steps for healing
1. Turn inward rather than lashing out
When one person steps out of the confines of a relationship, it isn't usually just shrugged off with a casual "we good." If you're reeling from the whiplash of information you really didn't want to know but very clearly needed to know, you may feel like you're in a tsunami of negative emotions. But rather than lashing out at your partner to "even the score," thereby feeding into toxic relationship dynamics, it's important to step away and process those emotions privately.
"Take the time that you need to move through the shock and initial gathering of information. Time does not heal all wounds—however, it will give you some perspective." —Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT
"You don’t want to make an impulsive decision out of anger and hurt that you may regret later on," says licensed marriage and family counselor Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT. "Take the time that you need to move through the shock and initial gathering of information. Time does not heal all wounds—however, it will give you some perspective."
2. Get support from a loved one or professional after being cheated on
Infidelity is a particularly lonely and isolating experience. While we can all benefit from inner work when we lose our sense of self (and we'll get to that in a second), you need other people to lean on as well. As much as you may not want to share what you're going through, opening up to a trusted friend or family member can help you heal after being cheated on.
"Dealing with an infidelity alone is extremely difficult and can lead to more pain in the future," says Thompson. If you have the funds, consider reaching out to a mental-health professional.
3. Ask yourself if the relationship is worth fighting for
Infidelity isn't necessarily about a person not loving you and an indiscretion doesn't necessarily point to a toxic relationship. In some cases—like when your partner gaslights you or continuously displays untrustworthy signs—it absolutely does. But if you know your partner to be generous, loving, kind, and they seem truly committed to working things out, the relationship could be worth another shot.
"If there were some good things about this relationship before the infidelity, it may be worth hanging in there," says Thompson, and relationship therapist Esther Perel agrees. "[When asked why they cheat], what people tell you all the time is not that ‘I wanted to find another person’, it’s that ‘I wanted to find another self,'" she says. In these cases, Perel believes a relationship can be salvaged with patience, communication, and understanding.
On the flip side, infidelity may be the catalyst that helps you see you and your partner aren't right for each other. Again, a therapist can help you navigate this process for yourself.
4. Communicate with your partner, especially if you need facts to move on
It's tempting to shut down when you're hurt, but communication is vital to heal after being cheated on, especially if you’re wanting to forgive the cheater. According to Dr. Tara, having the perpetrator explain the specifics of their infidelity can help the victim process what happened and make an informed decision on what healing after cheating looks like for them.
“The person that did this needs to explain why they had the desire to do it,” says Dr. Tara. “Was it truly a lapse of judgment? Or has this been going on for months because they crave other people’s attention? They need to come clean and be vulnerable and share what truly happened.”
Learning this information can help you decide whether you should stay or leave after cheating. If you decide to stay with your partner, having an open dialogue about your needs and feelings can help mend your trust in them. You may also want to wade through the details of what happened before you can move forward, either alone or together. More often than not, it's a journey that's best navigated with a professional.
"Find a therapist to help you practice a new kind of dialogue—one that focuses on your feelings and lets you talk about your needs," says relationship therapist Tammy Nelson, PhD.
5. Assess the relationship to see if something wasn't working
Okay, this one comes with a major disclaimer: You are not at fault if someone cheated on you. If your partner tries to blame you by saying that you "made" them seek other bedfellows, that's an unfair deflection. Nonetheless, objectively examining your own role in the relationship can help you heal after being cheated on–and is an important first step if you want to save the relationship.
"Chances are that there were some [repetitive] patterns—like in all relationships—that were dysfunctional or negative," says Thompson. "[This] does not excuse infidelity. However, it's important to own your own part of the negative cycle that perhaps was created between you and your partner."
For instance, let's say that you felt like you and your partner were growing apart, but neither of you opened a conversation about it. Once you shed light on this dynamic, you can move forward with a new awareness of the importance of clear, honest communication—either in this relationship or your future ones.
6. Do things that reinforce the awesomeness of you
Infidelity can bring up feelings of not-enough-ness—and if you and your partner were extra tight before, cheating can make you feel like you've lost part of your identity. "Many times when someone has been cheated on, they'll [feel like] there is something wrong with them and that their partner is rejecting them," says Thompson. "This is absolutely normal. What can help heal you through this is remembering who you are, what gifts you bring to the table, and what your interests are."
This is especially true if you downplayed these parts of yourself while in the relationship. So if you and your partner always bonded over college football games, but that meant you had to give up your weekend art class? Break out the watercolors and reclaim your Saturdays.
7. Commit to start over and heal after being cheated on
Give yourself some time to assess how you feel and make the choice to stay or go. You may even want to give yourself a concrete timeline to keep yourself accountable. Once you've made that decision, embrace fresh-start energy and stick to it.
Moving forward on your own means setting firm boundaries with your ex and keeping an eye toward the future. And if you choose to stay with your partner, that requires a fresh start of sorts, too, with a joint desire to rebuild trust after the infidelity. "If you choose to stay together with the partner who had an affair, take time to explore a new relationship together," says Dr. Nelson. "Even if you are feeling intense anger and hurt, you can begin again, but it’s got to be a totally new relationship and a new monogamy." Couples who are committed to forgiving, seeing the big picture, and communicating honestly are well-equipped to overcome infidelity, according to experts. It's essential to take whatever time and steps you need to heal, because you don't want to carry the baggage of trust issues into any future ones.
Overall, healing is about looking honestly at the state of your (potentially unhealthy) relationship and getting in touch with yourself, all while giving yourself outside help and time to process. Deciding to stay with your partner or not—well, that's a decision you really need to make on your own. But in either case, forward motion is essential, even if you're feeling extra stuck right now.
“Once a cheater, always a cheater” is a mindset that many people subscribe to. This line of thinking is convenient, but not necessarily true. Not every cheater is a habitual serial cheater.
If the cheater in the relationship is willing to self-reflect and analyze the ‘why’ behind their infidelity, it’s very possible for a cheater to never cheat again. Without tackling the root cause of why they cheated, however, it’s possible that the desire to cheat will continue to rear its ugly head.
How do I rebuild my self-esteem after being cheated on?
Pouring time and attention back into your special interests, hobbies, and non-romantic relationships can boost your self esteem and aid you in getting over insecurities that might have stemmed from being cheated on. Positive self-talk in the form of daily affirmations or journaling positive traits about yourself can help you remember all of the amazing things you have to offer the world (and future partners) and, according to research, can positively impact your cognitive function, something that takes quite a hit after you’ve experienced infidelity.
What percentage of relationships work after cheating?
There’s no definitive poll or study documenting how all relationships fare after infidelity. For one, each person defines ‘cheating’ in a different way. Non-monogamous and LGBTQIA+ relationships are typically excluded from surveys and polls surrounding marriages, too. This being said, a 2021 survey conducted by Health Testing Centers reported that, of the 441 people they polled, nearly 24% of marriages affected by cheating ended up staying together.
Of course, we have no real way of knowing which percentage of these couples are in healthy relationships post-infidelity. Some cheating victims end up staying with their partner despite the state of their toxic relationship, and some couples break up for periods of self-discovery before eventually reuniting. In the end, each instance of infidelity is as unique as the couples who experience them.
Will I ever trust again after being cheated on?
Although it may take time, therapy, and lots of introspection, it is absolutely possible to regain the ability to trust people. You can take this horrible experience and make something great out of it through self-care and reflection. Extend grace and self-love to yourself and know that you are worthy of a partner that is faithful. Regardless of whether you decide to stay or leave after cheating, you can use this experience to set new standards and expectations of the people you allow into your heart.
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