Insight Is 20/20

Exploring the pervasive, and unperceived, patterns that govern our lives

When You've Been Cheated On: What to Say/Do, Moving On Tips

Focusing on self-pride can save you from insanity.

In the past year, I’ve heard more than a handful of stories of people breaking into their romantic partner’s phone in a jealous, paranoid haze. I’ve heard these stories from clients and friends, acquaintances and co-workers. In fact, it seems to have become so common that people actually feel comfortable—or justified—to disclose such behavior. When someone reaches the point of secretly accessing their partner’s voicemails, texts, and e-mails due to suspicisons of infidelity, all has been lost in the relationship—regardless of whether the cheatee's investigation proves guilt or innocence.

If we take a moment to understand the behavior, it makes sense: You need to know the answer, so you do whatever it takes to get the information you need. The problem, however, is that there is no clear end to your pursuit once you cross certain boundaries. If the phone check doesn’t turn up what you’re looking for, for example, what’s next? Following them when they leave the house? Asking their friends for information? The pursuit only leaves the cheatee feeling more frustrated as their anxiety mounts.

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There are endless consequences of such intrusive, privacy-shattering behaviors, but one stands out, in particular. The worst consequence is the fact that the cheatee often starts feeling out of control and questions their own sanity, which is ultimately unfair to the cheatee. In the majority of cases, a person who starts doubting the faithfulness of their partner has a reason to worry. People have well-honed survival mechanisms, and they can pick up on a trace of infidelity when it lingers in the air. How well they cope with their suspicion determines whether they let the suspicions undo them or rise above the pain.

If you start suspecting that your partner is having an affair, your instinct is telling you that something is wrong. What you do with that instinct is one hundred percent in your control. You must broach the issue with your partner once you sense that the behavior reflects a pattern and isn’t an isolated day or two of strange behavior, and give your partner a chance to respond. Most partners will deny cheating, so it’s your job to deal with your feelings and your instinct which tell you your partner is guilty.

If your instinct tells you that your partner is cheating despite his or her repeated denials, you need to make a decision: trust your partner or leave the relationship. There is no middle ground when it comes to this kind of relationship struggle. When someone starts breaking into his partner’s phone, the cheatee reduces himself or herself to desperate actions and often ends up engaging in the same kind of inappropriate behavior that the cheater engaged in to begin with.

The number one goal in a relationship should be that you can say that you’re proud of who you are in the relationship—that you’re good, kind, and respectful. Even if you sense that the relationship is going to end because of your partner’s cheating, don’t let your primitive anger get the best of you. Say to yourself that your goal is to be proud of the way you end the relationship—because that’s a reflection on you, not your partner. So many of the intense feelings we feel—lust, rage, and fear—end up causing us harm because we give in to them, letting them control our behavior. Yet if we give into some of our most base and intense feelings, we often end up engaging in behavior that makes us look or feel bad later.

You should never put yourself in a situation with a cheater where you look like the crazy person, because you’d be throwing yourself under the bus and distracting everyone from the fact that what the cheater did was wrong. Though it’s never easy to walk away, it’s better to leave with your integrity than to end a relationship adrift in a sea of self-doubt and paranoia.

Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.

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