Robert Weiss at YourTango answers all the questions you'll ask yourself after your partner cheats on you.
Infidelity destroys trust and spins betrayed partners into an emotional roller coaster.
Surviving infidelity is not easy and when you've been betrayed, your broken heart leads you to ask many questions about your relationship, your cheating spouse, and what you should do.
Needless to say, learning that your supposedly monogamous partner has cheated on you is a nightmare experience. Often, the secrets, lying, and gaslighting surrounding the adultery are more upsetting than the actual behaviour because suddenly you learn that the one person you always thought would always have your back has betrayed you.
Cheating destroys relationship trust and spins betrayed partners into an emotional and psychological tornado.
In addition to dramatic mood swings, common reactions include:
- Turning into Sherlock Holmes, examining phones, credit card bills, wallets, computers, etc
- Obsession about the cheating and losing focus on day-to-day activities and the business of life
- Inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or wake up
- Social and emotional isolation
- Avoidance, often by numbing out with addictive substances or behaviours
If you find yourself dealing with one or more of these issues, do not dismay. What you are experiencing is a normal response to the trauma of infidelity and heartbreak.
You and your relationship are deep in crisis — not of your own making — and your thoughts, feelings, and actions are an expected part of grieving and healing.
Most likely, you feel confused about what happened, fearful of what might happen, and uncertain about what to do next.
If you are a betrayed partner, here are 6 questions you are probably asking yourself about surviving infidelity and a broken heart (and the answers to them).
1. "Should I stay or go?"
Put this question on hold until your emotions settle and your thinking clears — unless you were already planning to break things off before the infidelity.
Typically, I advise a "cooling off" period of at least six months, which gives you and your partner a chance to think about what you want and if your relationship can heal from the affair.
2. "Can trust be restored?"
The answer to this question is maybe. If your partner earns it. And either way, it won't happen as quickly as either of you might hope.
In fact, you are likely to struggle with trusting your partner for 9 to 18 months — and that's if the infidelity stops and your partner becomes rigorously honest both with you and everyone else in their life.
3. "Should I set some boundaries?"
Absolutely, starting with no more cheating. And you can make it clear that any sexual or romantic behaviour that involves someone other than you — including looking at porn, chatting online, and having profiles on dating/hookup apps (even if they're not being used) — qualifies as cheating.
You should also ask for the secrets, lies, and gaslighting to stop. Other boundaries to consider including are regular check-ins during the day, giving you full control of the family finances, installing filtering and monitoring software on digital devices, and anything else that will help you feel safe.
4. "Where can I find useful, empathetic support?"
Yes, you're heartbroken right now. But, whatever you do, don't go public on social media or elsewhere with your grievances. That sort of behaviour, no matter how good it might feel in the moment, will ultimately damage not just the cheater but you, your relationship, and your family.
It is far better to privately share with friends and family members who will listen and support without judging or offering unsolicited advice. Better yet, seek support from a trained and certified therapist, who can listen and provide objective, unbiased feedback for your affair recovery.
5. "Should I insist that my partner tell me absolutely everything?"
If you want to know everything that happened, it's reasonable to ask for and to receive this information. Often, this knowledge is integral to the process of rebuilding trust and healing the relationship.
That said, the process of full disclosure should not be undertaken without the guidance of an experienced couples therapist who understands the nature of infidelity and its aftermath. A good couples therapist can guide you and your partner through this process.
6. "What should I tell the kids?"
First and foremost, you need to understand that anything you say now cannot be unsaid later. So proceed with caution when talking to your children. They do not need (or want) to hear graphic details or highly judgmental statements.
Usually, it is best if you and your partner sit down with them together and tell them that you are having difficulties, you are working on them, and none of the tension and anxiety are their fault. If they have any questions — and they likely will — you can answer those questions in an age-appropriate way.