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What to Do (and Not Do) After You’ve Been Cheated On

After infidelity: 12 tips for betrayed partners.

Shutterstock, Brovko Serhii
Source: Shutterstock, Brovko Serhii

Betrayed partners, after learning that they’ve been cheated on, are typically in a daze—stunned, angry, sad, and struggling to accept and assimilate the infidelity. Worse still, their thoughts and feelings are an absolute rollercoaster, changing drastically from one moment to the next. As such, they struggle to know how to properly react in the moment, how to envision and think about the future, how to decide whether to stay or go, and sometimes how to just make it through the day without completely losing it.

If you and your relationship have been impacted by a partner’s infidelity, and this chaos, confusion, and uncertainty sounds familiar to you, the following tips—six things you should do and six things you should not do—may be helpful.

  1. DO get a full STD screening. As soon as you learn that your partner has been unfaithful (even if you think the infidelity occurred only online), you should visit a clinic or your primary care physician, explaining the situation and asking for a full STD screen.
  2. DON’T have unprotected sex with your partner. No matter what your partner tells you, you absolutely should not have unprotected sex until you and he or she have had a full (and clean) STD screen and you feel confident that he or she has been faithful to you since the screening.
  3. DO investigate your legal rights, even if you hope to heal your relationship and stay together. Wanting to stay together doesn’t mean you will. You should always find out your rights in a potential separation, including financial concerns, property concerns, and parenting issues (if you have kids together).
  4. DON’T jump into long-term decisions. Making life-changing decisions (like impulsively deciding to end your relationship and move across the country) when you are at the height of anger and pain is not a good idea. It is better to put off life-changing decisions until things have calmed down and you’ve had a chance to fully and rationally assess what is best for you. The general rule of thumb is no major changes in the first six months after discovery.
  5. DO get support for yourself. Dealing with a partner’s betrayal requires a level of emotional support that is beyond the life experience of most people. If you are wise, you will seek assistance from people who understand what you’re going through—therapists, support groups for betrayed partners, family and friends who’ve dealt with similar betrayal.
  6. DON’T try to use sex to fix the problem. Sex is not relationship glue. Sex will not fix the problems wrought by infidelity. Sure, sexual intensity may feel good (and bonding) in the moment, but using sex to assuage emotional pain is a form of mutual denial that moves both you and your partner away from the process of healing. Generally, it is wise to hold off on sex until relationship trust is restored.
  7. DO learn everything you can about infidelity. This educational process helps you to better understand your partner and his or her betrayal and to make healthier decisions in the future.
  8. DON’T make threats you don’t intend to carry out. If you tell your partner that any further betrayal will cause you to leave, make sure you are ready to follow through on that. Otherwise, you diminish your credibility. (It’s usually best to not make threats at all. Say what you feel, but don’t make threats that you might regret later.)
  9. DO trust your feelings and observations. If you feel that you’re being lied to or that your partner is still cheating, trust your intuition. If you don’t see your partner doing what he or she needs to do to make things right, that probably means that things are not getting better.
  10. DON’T take blame for your partner’s behavior. Taking responsibility for your partner’s choice to cheat is not helpful. Nothing that you did or did not do caused the infidelity. It doesn’t matter how you’ve aged, how much weight you’ve gained or lost, or how involved you are with the kids and/or work. You are not responsible for your partner’s betrayal. That is a decision your partner made on his or her own.
  11. DO expect to join your partner in therapy if you want to work things out. It is likely that you want a full accounting of your cheating partner’s behavior. This type of disclosure best occurs in the presence of a neutral professional. If there is a therapist present to help you process the disclosure experience, you reduce the risk of further harm to both you and your relationship.
  12. DON’T stick your head in the sand. If you have an investment in your relationship, you can’t avoid the hard facts of your partner’s betrayal. Pretending the problem will go away on its own can be tempting, but it is ultimately ineffective. You need to address the issue head-on.