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The Best Advice for Betrayed Partners

What should you do (and not do) after you learn about your partner’s infidelity?

Key points

  • Dealing with betrayal is agonizing. But betrayed partners need not walk through it alone.
  • After learning of an infidelity, it's important for the betrayed partner to learn to trust their gut feelings and protect their health.
  • Acting out of spite after betrayal tends to cause longer-term problems.
Shutterstock, Fizkes
Source: Shutterstock, Fizkes

If your partner has cheated on you, you know how painful it is to learn about his or her betrayal, and how difficult it is to overcome both your pain and the loss of relationship trust. It is likely that finding out about your partner’s behavior has left you in a daze—stunned, uncertain, fearful, and unable to fully identify and work through your feelings about what has happened. If so, you might find the following list of suggestions helpful.

  1. DO reach out for support. Dealing with any type of betrayal is difficult. Dealing with a betrayal that is perpetrated by the one person in your life that you thought would never willingly hurt you is beyond difficult. It is agonizing, and you should not try to walk through it alone. If you’re smart, you’ll reach out to people who understand what you are thinking and feeling and empathize with you. The best options are therapists, support groups for betrayed partners, and family members and friends who’ve experienced the same type of betrayal.
  2. DO NOT make major life changes in the heat of the moment. Simply stated, it is best to not make life-altering decisions when you’re at the apex of your hurt and anger. No matter how angry you are in the moment, put off filing for divorce (though it’s perfectly OK, even recommended, to meet with a lawyer to discuss your rights). You should also put off quitting your job, moving to another part of the state or country, etc. If you can’t stand the sight of your partner right now, consider a therapeutic separation until things settle down.
  3. DO get a full STD screen. It’s likely your partner will downplay the extent of his or her cheating (most likely in an attempt to control your anger). He or she will almost certainly tell you that it was only one person and any sex that occurred was safe. And maybe that is the truth. But maybe it isn’t. Either way, you should not take chances with your own health. If there is an issue you need to deal with, the sooner you know about it and take care of it, the better off you will be.
  4. DO NOT have unprotected sex with your betrayer. In addition to getting a full STD screen for yourself, you should put off unprotected sex with your partner until he or she has had a full (and clean) STD screen of his/her own and you are convinced that any cheating behaviors have stopped and stayed stopped for at least six months to a year. STDs are serious business, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  5. DO trust your gut. Cheaters are expert liars, and sometimes they can convince you to believe their lies—no matter how blatant and obvious. Once you learn about betrayal, it is important to trust your feelings and observations. At times, you may want to reality-check your thoughts vs. your partner’s words by talking to your support network to see what feels like truth and what feels like lies to them. If your instincts are telling you that your partner has not told you the full truth, or is actively lying, or that he or she is still cheating, there’s a good chance that’s what’s happening.
  6. DO NOT become vindictive. It’s one thing for you to reach out to others for empathetic support. It’s another thing entirely for you to tell your partner’s family, boss, or best friend about his or her behavior out of spite. It is also wise to remember that Facebook and other forms of social media are public forums. Everyone can read your posts. If you don’t want to be gossiped about, then don’t provide gossipers with grist for the mill. You should also remember that anything you say to your kids cannot be unsaid, so think twice about badmouthing your fellow parent.

Without a doubt, the most useful piece of advice given above is to reach out to others for support. Unfortunately, betrayed partners, despite the anger, fear, and confusion they experience, often resent the idea that they might need help to deal with their feelings and reactions.

This resistance is perfectly natural, of course. For those who’ve experienced intimate betrayal, the obvious and overwhelming impulse is to (rightfully) assign blame to the cheater. That said, most betrayed partners find great benefit in therapy and other forms of external support. At the very least, they receive validation for their feelings and empathy for how their life has been disrupted by the betrayal.