There's no way to accurately verbalize what it feels like when you
learn your partner has cheated on you. Oftentimes, you feel a little bit of rage compounded with the need to school the person who you feel ruined your relationship with your partner. And right when you think you're over the whole thing, a subtle reminder of your relationship creeps in and you go through the whole cycle again. But moving on is possible.
"There are a lot of decisions to be made in that moment [when you discover the infidelity], because your trust has been broken," says
Lisa Brateman LCSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in relationships. And if you're nowhere near ready to forgive your partner, and you two break up, it can be really hard to plot your next move.
Even though you've decided that the relationship is over, a little self-reflection is necessary before you swan dive into the dating pool or swear off dating indefinitely, Brateman says. If you're feeling lost, here are a few tangible activities and topics to meditate on, according to relationship experts. This might not be exactly what you need during this time, because everyone is different, but it's a start.
Tell someone you trust.
Wanting to text every group chat you're in with the news is a natural reaction, because it gives you affirmation that your cheating partner wronged you from people who care about you. But you should really only tell your closest friend and your therapist (if you have one), Brateman says. Your friends (hopefully) have your back no matter what, so if you do decide to get back together with a partner who cheated, they might not support you if they know what happened with your ex — because they want to protect you. "There are unintended consequences when you broadcast the information, because it's hard to go back and say,
We got back together," Brateman says. "They're not going to trust that person and will have a negative view that will change their dynamics with them as well." More
Think about yourself.
The only person you should be obsessing over in the time after you're cheated on is yourself — not your ex or the person they cheated with, says
Jess O'Reilly, PhD, a certified sexologist. "We tend to focus on what our partner or ex did wrong — it's a matter of emotional and personal self-preservation," she says.
Dr. O'Reilly suggests spending some time reflecting on what you did well in the relationship, and how your partner did or did not reciprocate. You should use that information to figure out what you want in a relationship going forward, she says. But don't let this introspection make you feel like it was your fault: "You
can’t affair-proof a relationship, and though you aren’t perfect, you are not responsible for their cheating," she says. "The blame game does nothing but expend your valuable energy, so call it quits and focus on feeling great." More
Change one part of your routine.
If you and your partner used to go to the same coffee shop or gym, make a point to change where you go or when you go, because the constant reminders can be painful. "Breaking your weekly habits not only makes life more exiting, but will also help you to shed your old identity and develop into a new and improved version of yourself," Dr. O'Reilly says. You don't have to completely transform your life and stop going to your favorite places, but just changing one thing will make you feel better and like you have control of the situation.
Destroy the evidence.
Any screenshots, emails, photos, or lingering physical evidence needs to get out of your life, Brateman says. "Even if it's buried somewhere in your phone, it's like an open scab," she says. "You may not come across it, and then all of a sudden you see it and it's a trigger for those feelings."
Rereading old text messages can feel comforting in the moment, because it gives you permission to feel hurt, but you should set a time limit for doing that, Dr. O'Reilly says. "Pick a dump date by which you promise to delete all the evidence and recruit a friend to keep you on track," she says. And if new evidence comes along, don't try to assign meaning to it, or use it as a clue to figure out why the cheating happened, Brateman says.
Don't investigate the person your partner cheated with.
If you get caught up comparing yourself to the other person in the equation, that's normal, but that could just make you feel worse, Brateman says. Scrolling through their Instagram or LinkedIn account and listing reasons why
they're the worst might feel good in the moment and give you an outlet for your anger, but it's not productive, she says. Instead, start a list (in your phone, a journal, or whatever works best for you) of all the things you like about yourself, and add to it weekly, Dr. O'Reilly says. "It may sound self-absorbed, but most of us don’t spend enough time celebrating how great we are — especially after a break-up," she says. More
Get a therapist.
Cheating is something that can bleed into your future relationships — romantic or platonic — and impact how you trust people. You might not feel ready to fully engage in relationships in the way that you want to and need to after you've been cheated on, Brateman says. Consider finding a therapist who can help work past the trauma and slowly, but surely, get you back in the dating scene, she suggests.
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