A 2021 study by Health Testing Centers reports that among the people polled, 46% cheated on their significant other. Maybe it feels like everyone is cheating or that no one in your circle has been affected by infidelity, but the reality is it’s commonplace no matter where you live, work, or socialize. Most people have either cheated, been cheated on, or know someone affected by infidelity.
So if you’re sitting in the aftermath of a cheating partner, what do you do? As widespread as cheating is, few people know what to do when it happens or what advice to give. To start off, there’s no one-size-fits-all advice for cheating—how you respond to that situation depends on your personal history, personality, history with cheating, relationship situation, and even family-of-origin dynamics. Today we’ll offer gentle guidance on responding to infidelity and navigating the next days and weeks.
1. Get The Facts
Before jumping to conclusions, have a brief conversation with your partner to confirm there was infidelity. While he may deny cheating, if you have enough evidence to prove he cheated, at least you have confirmation that what you suspect isn’t a hunch but a reality. A common emotional trap is to assume your partner cheated without having all the facts so be sure you know what may have happened before proceeding.
2. Acknowledge That Your Partner Was Wrong And It’s Not Your Fault
Many women are socialized to be forgiving without doing the hard work of holding people accountable when they’ve hurt them. Whether it’s in an effort to avoid conflict or out of fear of losing the relationship, it’s common for women to quickly let their partners off the hook, so the first step in responding to infidelity is acknowledging that your partner did something that both hurt you and damaged the relationship. Being able to identify your pain and face it can help you better respond to the situation instead of ignoring it.
And while you’re doing that emotional work, it’s important to remember that his infidelity isn’t your fault. No matter the circumstances, he chose to cheat on you—it was not an accident, and you are not to blame. You are never responsible for your partner’s actions, only your own and how you respond to him.
3. Feel Your Feelings
Your partner did something wrong, how does that make you feel? Why do you feel that way? It’s easy enough to either feel overwhelmed by those emotions or ignore them completely, but we encourage you to get your initial feelings out. You’ll likely feel waves of sadness and anger but the path to healing starts with expressing how his actions affected you. Take a hike and cry, scream into a pillow, or take a long drive and express your emotions. And once that first wave of feelings has passed, write it all down.
4. Get Your Emotions Down on Paper
It’s easy to either take a passive approach or be so fuelled by emotions like anger, shame, and sadness that you respond more harshly than you typically would. It’s important to take a beat when facing relationship hurt, if only to avoid doing or saying something you’d later regret.
We encourage you to journal about your grief, pain, and feelings of betrayal and get it on paper before talking with anyone about it, including your partner. When emotions are fresh, it can be blinding. Give yourself time to breathe by setting some time aside to write everything on paper. This will slow you down and give you an opportunity to reflect honestly on your relationship, the infidelity, your feelings, and start brainstorming how you want to respond.
5. Phone A Friend Or Counselor
That friend who’s constantly there for you and always has great wisdom to share? Call them up, it’s time to vent. Trust your closest confidant or friend group with the details of the infidelity because it’s important to verbalize your frustrations and feel both validated and supported. If you’re more comfortable sharing with your counselor, go to them and be honest about what happened and how you feel.
Often after being cheated on, it’s easy to withdraw and become isolated. Isolation is where our greatest fears and worst-case scenarios can feel very real and overwhelming. Keep talking to the people in your life you trust the most so they can offer ongoing support, advice, company, and care while you’re on the long journey to healing.
6. Assess Your Situation
Do y’all have a child in your household? Do y’all live together? What money do you share and what do you hold separately? Do you share furniture, vehicles, or appliances? Do you have enough funds to leave if you need to? Before confronting your partner or making a decision about leaving him, take stock of how entangled you both are. While you shouldn’t stay with him simply because it might be too difficult to leave, it’s critical that you understand the work that will accompany leaving him. That way, you can mentally and physically prepare to break ties if you choose to; you may even want to get some friends to help you untangle your lives so you can leave. For instance, if you (and your child) need a place to sleep away from your partner for a while, make sure you line that up early.
7. Talk To Your Partner
Find a safe place to talk to your partner and share some key talking points:
Preface - Start the conversation with a request for civility and patience; discourage casting blame, aggression, or manipulation (but remember that these ground rules may not be followed if the conversation gets heated so prepare for that, too)
Facts - Explain the facts of what happened (that he cheated and hears how you found out)
Feelings - Explain how his action made you feel
Ask - Ask for what want from him (whether it’s an apology, commitment to never cheating again, etc)
Listen - Hear what he has to say and respond as honestly as you can (this might be the time you find out new and important facts of the infidelity)
You may already have an idea of how your partner will respond so prepare your mind and heart for it. You may want to tell your friends you’re about to have the difficult conversation so they can check in on you and help you through the aftermath of the talk. You may want to go to a friend’s house to decompress afterward.
8. Make A Decision
Maybe your partner recommitted himself to you or maybe he didn’t own up to his mistake. Maybe this is the first time he cheated, maybe the seventh. Maybe you don’t have the emotional or mental strength to keep being with him. Maybe you’ve been excited to spend the rest of your life with him and you can move past his cheating.
Talk to your counselor and wisest friends, bring all the factors and potential outcomes to them, and listen to what they have to say. They’re not in your situation so they can offer more clear-headed advice but remember that they can’t make the decision for you. At the end of the day, after you’ve soaked in good counsel, make a decision.
Think about your mental and emotional health and physical safety and consider whether or not staying with this person will help you flourish or cause more hurt over time. While you may love him deeply, think about how much you love yourself—loving yourself means fighting for your health and safety. So do what’s right by you and not the relationship and be firm in your decision. Let him know what you decide and if you break up, prepare to sever your lives quickly.
If you’re married, we recommend working with a marriage counselor consistently for six months before making a decision. Temporary separation is usually the wise route and can help both parties heal and reconcile.
9. Don’t Rush Your Healing
Regardless of the decision you made, take care of yourself. Your feelings are likely raw and your world feels a bit shaken. It may take some time to emotionally recover and be able to trust your current or new partners again.
You know how best to administer self-care so our advice is to be intentional with self-care. Don’t skip exercising and spending time outside, hanging with friends and family, or seeing movies if those things typically help you decompress. Physical care is often the first to get lost in the shuffle when life is hard—taking care of your body can help give you the serotonin boost you need to feel just a bit happier with time and keep you healthy and strong. Fight for good sleep and start/continue seeing a counselor.
It might be tempting to move on quickly or wallow in your situation but ask your community to hold you accountable to a steady and healthy pace of healing.
10. Do Your Housekeeping
If necessary, get tested for sexually-transmitted diseases and infections. Your partner may have had sex with multiple women, it’s possible your partner brought home an STD or STI so get tested and treated as soon as possible.
Also avoid social media—if you and your partner separated, avoid online slander and internet stalking. He may find a new relationship sooner than you feel comfortable with or so might you. Lover’s quarrels can feel awkward for yourself and others when displayed on the internet. Avoid talking about your partner or relationship in a negative light online.