Getting cheated on hurts. Whether it happens once or repeatedly, the sense of intimate betrayal and the inevitable loss of relationship trust is devastating. The pain and mistrust you feel may linger throughout the remainder of your relationship, and possibly into future relationships. However, it doesn’t have to rule your life. As you work through, and past, your partner’s betrayal, you can learn a lot about yourself and what’s truly important in your life, whether you decide to stay in or end your current relationship.
First, I want to make one thing clear: You did not cause the cheating. There is nothing you did (or didn’t do) that caused your partner to violate the boundaries of your relationship. If he was unhappy with you or the relationship for some reason, real or imagined, he had choices beyond infidelity — the most meaningful of which would have been talking to you, perhaps with the assistance of a couple’s counselor, about his feelings and how the two of you might be able to make your relationship better. Your partner’s choice to cheat is not your fault. Period.
Now the potential enlightenment: Please note that not every betrayed partner will identify with all (or perhaps any) of the following points. But some will. If you have a history of becoming intimate with men who ultimately betray you, read on.
1. Are you repeating the same patterns?
If you’ve ever said, “I will never date another guy like that,” only to find yourself in similar situations again and again, you are probably choosing the wrong men. This type of pattern typically results from childhood trauma — neglect, abuse, inconsistent parenting — which teaches problematic life lessons about trust and intimate attachment, with those lessons carrying forward into adulthood. Common childhood issues that lead to a “bad picker” include a parent’s pattern of infidelity or a parent’s abandonment of the family (either physically or emotionally, as occurs with alcoholism and other forms of addiction). This teaches you to seek attachment with people who either can’t or won’t fully attach. So as an adult, you choose partners who are likely to cheat or to abandon you in some other meaningful way. If this sounds familiar, therapy can start to resolve the trauma that’s undermining you, while also helping you understand what you truly need and want as an adult. This, in turn, can lead to a healthier romantic attachment moving forward.
2. Do you confuse sexual intensity with romantic intimacy?
The healthiest and most enjoyable romantic relationships are as much (if not more) about close companionship as they are about hot sex. However, some people think they want and/or need a blazing physical attraction more than an intimate emotional connection. Because of this, they can end up with a partner they’re physically attracted to, but with whom they have little in common. So maybe your partner is a smooth talker who makes your friends and even your mom jealous, but you have to ask: “Does he care about who I am as a person? Do we share values, beliefs, and fun experiences? Do my friends and family like him? Or do I only feel like we’re fully connected when we’re having sex?” If you're reluctant to tell your partner about your dreams or embarrassing moments, there is almost certainly a lack of genuine emotional intimacy and connection in the relationship, and eventually things are going to go wrong because of that, whether it’s infidelity or just growing apart and slowly becoming miserable. Sexual attraction is important — even required to some degree — but ultimately fades in every relationship. Physical attraction is the magnet that brings us together, not than the glue that keeps us connected.
3. Does your self-esteem need a boost?
Individuals who are insecure about their looks or some other self-perceived shortcoming will sometimes settle for the first partner who seems interested, even one who may be emotionally unavailable, and who may reinforce their already low self-esteem as a way of making themselves feel stronger and more important. If this sounds familiar to you, then it might be a good time to take a relationship timeout, investing instead in supportive friendships and experiences that will help you grow stronger, perhaps joining a women’s support group or getting into therapy to work on your self-esteem. When you understand that you truly are beautiful and wonderful, you will also understand there’s a really great partner out there who can love and adore you exactly as you are.
4. Do you “lose yourself” in your relationships?
Many people tend to “lose themselves” in their role as lover and partner, especially as the romance heats up. They stop calling friends, they blow off regular social engagements, they stop hanging out with colleagues, and they focus almost entirely on their partner. This is natural, and we all do it to some extent, but it can be carried too far. Relationships are meant to add to your life, not replace it. When you’re in a relationship, you still need to be yourself, with your own interests, desires, values, and activities. So when you get serious about a new relationship, you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) only listen to the music he likes, only post pictures of you with him on your social media feeds, etc. If everything is about him and your relationship, you will begin to feel trapped and overly enmeshed, and when that occurs, the relationship is bound to struggle.
5. Do you fear being alone?
Sometime we get into relationships with the wrong people simply because we don’t want to be alone. In time, this causes relationship friction and the usual problems, sometimes including infidelity. If you tend to enter into a new relationship before you’ve even had time to process the end of your previous relationship, maybe it’s time to spend some quality time as a single person, getting to know yourself, learning to rely on your friends for meaningful support, and figuring out what you want and don’t want in your relationships moving forward. This can seem like a scary thing to do, especially if you’re worried about being alone forever. I promise you, though, that the self-confidence and self-knowledge you develop as a self-sustaining single person will make you very attractive to all sorts of really great potential partners who want to love you exactly as you are. Single for now does not mean single forever.
Again, the most important thing to know after you’ve been cheated on is that it’s not your fault. Nothing you did or didn’t do caused your partner to cheat. It’s OK to get mad and to have other strong feelings; in fact, it’s normal for your emotions to be all over the place, so you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. Instead, talk to your friends and/or therapist about this perfectly natural reaction to the deep emotional trauma you’ve experienced.
* If you are willing to work on your relationship, and your partner is as well, then your relationship can not only survive the infidelity, it can even become stronger. This process is detailed in my book, Out of the Doghouse: A Step-By-Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating. Although the book is primarily written for cheating men, their partners have also found it useful. Often, a woman reads the book and then gives it to her partner, who, if he truly wants to make things right, reads it and finally starts to understand the impact of his behavior.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is a digital-age intimacy and relationships expert specializing in infidelity and addictions. He is the author of several highly regarded books. Currently, he is Senior Vice President of National Clinical Development for Elements Behavioral Health, creating and overseeing addiction and mental health treatment programs for more than a dozen high-end treatment facilities. For more information please visit his website, robertweissmsw.com, or follow him on Twitter, @RobWeissMSW.