The way people manage the shocking news that their committed partner has been deceiving them by engaging another lover behind their backs predicts how healthfully they will recover from such a betrayal, whether or not they reconcile with their partner.
Here are 5 things not to do if you discover your partner is cheating:
1. Don’t panic.
When we perceive danger or a threat, our bodies release excess stress hormones and adrenaline, essentially putting us in a hyper-vigilant, ready-for-action state. Although the chemicals associated with panic make us ache to take action, what we really need to do is take a breather. Pause instead of giving into the panic and throwing your partner’s clothes on the front yard, or making a down payment for a new home. Give yourself the calm and tranquil space necessary for the chemicals to run their course through your nervous system. No one in a panic state, and I mean no one, makes decisions in his or her best interest. You need just enough calm to return so you can begin to think through how best to handle the situation.
2. Don’t stop taking care of yourself.
The shock of discovering an affair can make you want to pull up the blankets and hide from the world. As I describe in my workbook, Breaking Up and Divorce, the problem with this approach is that you stop taking care of yourself and fail to provide yourself with what you require to heal and recover. Treat yourself the same as you would if you had the flu and a fever: Be kind and gentle. Buy soup and easy or healthy foods, and make sure you are drinking enough water. Try to rest, even if you can’t sleep. Every day, go out and walk, or sit on a bench in your yard to quietly reflect and feel the sun on your face. Remind yourself that your partner cheating is not a statement about who you are or your worth as a human being.
3. Don’t tell the whole world.
The panic of discovering a betrayal compels many to immediately tell the world about how they were mistreated. The outrage of having been wronged and lied to calls for action, and for people to stand up on the side of your honesty and against your ex’s perfidy. You do need support, but resist the immediate urge to tell your mom, your colleagues, and your neighbors. As you get some time to process what’s happening in your relationship, you may regret sharing too much too soon. Many couples do recover from cheating or affairs — sometimes they even go on to have stronger relationships as a result. You don’t want to feel that you have shared intimate details with people with whom you would ordinarily not be that intimate. Better in these circumstances to pick one or two loyal and trusted friends to use as a sounding board. Wait on telling others until you have determined for yourself how you wish to proceed.
4. Don’t rush to court.
If you are married, the impulse to immediately file for divorce can be one of the hardest to resist after discovering that a spouse is cheating. But the courts aren’t going anywhere; there will be time for all of that. You can prolong the grief if you rush to act before you have emotionally processed what’s going on and what has gone on in your relationship. And filing for divorce is not an immediate fix for your painful and complicated feelings; in fact, it often makes them even more complicated.
5. Don’t stalk.
Resist the impulse to figure out, analyze, and scrutinize the person with whom your partner is cheating. Do not use Facebook and social media to stalk your partner’s lover. All you are doing is giving yourself more and more material to be overwhelmed by. You have enough to sort through; you don’t need the image of your partner’s lover swirling around in your brain on top of all the rest. Also, the person with whom your partner is cheating isn't the problem. The problem is your partner, and the fact that he or she has been dishonest with you.
Jill Weber, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C., and the author of Breaking Up and Divorce—5 Steps: How to Heal and be Comfortable Alone and Building Self-Esteem—5 Steps: How to Feel 'Good Enough.' For more, follow her on Twitter @DrJillWeber and on Facebook, or visit drjillweber.com.