Therapy, self-compassion, and social connection can help you cope in the aftermath of infidelity.
If you or your partner has had an affair, it can have a lasting impact on both of you. You might feel a variety of emotions, including:
The pain of cheating can be difficult to endure — but with patience and self-care, you can learn to cope with the pain and find peace after infidelity. You can equip yourself for this journey with:
- social connection
Whether you’ve decided to stay with your partner or end the relationship, it is possible to heal from the pain of infidelity.
Although cheating can have a lasting effect on your mental health, it’s possible to heal after infidelity, says Babita Spinelli, a psychotherapist licensed in New York, New Jersey, and Florida. Spinelli offers couples coaching for partners recovering after infidelity.
“For some, the experience is similar to grief and individuals go through similar stages of grief,” Spinelli says. “The pain feels like a huge loss — the loss of the person you thought you knew and trusted or the loss of the version of the relationship you had.”
Feelings of grief are common, according to Bonnie Scott, a Texas therapist who specializes in relationships and communication.
“It’s going to be a bit cyclical. Sometimes [clients] will still feel angry or disappointed or sad, and to cycle through those emotions is totally [typical],” she says. “But with time, therapy, and support from friends, I do think most people come to a place of acceptance.”
Yes, many relationships survive infidelity. But it can be tricky. “Whether the relationship can survive depends on both individuals’ commitment to rebuilding the relationship,” says Spinelli. “Both individuals need to be committed to doing some painful and long-term work to heal.”
This painful, long-term work isn’t for everyone, says Scott. She explains that it requires faith: You need to put in a lot of work without a guarantee that it will save the relationship. However, she says, it is possible to heal your relationship after infidelity.
Regardless of whether you and your partner are staying together or not, it’s possible to heal after cheating. The key to coping with the pain of infidelity is taking care of yourself in several ways, including:
In the immediate aftermath of infidelity, you might feel compelled to make decisions. Should you break up with your partner, or stick with them? Should you tell people what happened? Should you move? Should you make other steps to detach your heart and your life from your partner’s?
Although these decisions are entirely yours to make, you don’t have to make them immediately.
Spinelli advises folks to “give yourself permission to pause on decisions while you process the betrayal.” You’ll likely be overwhelmed by a roller coaster of emotions, so it might be wise to take your time.
Scott suggests finding a place to stay for a few days to clear your head if you live with your partner. This can give you the mental space you need to start processing your emotions.
From there, you can make a plan for the future, whether that includes working through the infidelity with your partner or separating.
Scott and Spinelli both advise practicing self-compassion. Be kind to yourself and take care of your needs.
After infidelity, you might ramp up negative self-talk. This might look like blaming yourself for issues in the relationship.
You can challenge negative self-talk by asking yourself:
- Is this thought objectively true?
- Is there evidence to the contrary?
- Am I helping the situation by wallowing in these thoughts?
- Is there something constructive I can do to address the issue?
Self-compassion also includes being patient with yourself.
You can “remember that your emotions may come in waves and feel like a roller coaster of feelings,” Spinelli says. “It can take time to work through.”
3. Caring for your body and mind
While your focus might be on understanding and processing the betrayal, it’s important not to neglect your physical and mental health. Disregarding your basic needs can leave you feeling worse — which isn’t good for you, your partner, or your relationship.
Self-care can include:
- eating enough
- sleeping enough
- staying hydrated
- engaging in enjoyable exercise
- maintaining social connections
- spending time in nature
Your self-care plan can be loosely held, Spinelli says there’s no need to chastise yourself if you skip a meal or forego your evening walk for an early bedtime. “Pay attention to what you need,” she advises. “Take a moment and ask yourself, what do I need today?”
4. Speaking with others
Both Spinelli and Scott emphasize the importance of spending time with loved ones after infidelity.
Although being cheated on or being outed as the one who cheated might make you feel isolated, you’re not alone. Cheating is common.
Learn to ask for help from trusted friends and family. You might find that talking with them about what happened — venting productively can help you process your experience and feel better.
You might also want to ask loved ones for practical help, such as:
- a place to stay for a night or two while you clear your head
- help with moving your things, if you choose to move
- a lift to therapy or couples counseling
- watching your kids for a few hours while you decompress
Spending time with your loved ones can help you feel less isolated, whether it’s:
- over a meal
- during a hike
- for a quick cup of coffee during your lunch break
Therapy can help you heal after infidelity. “Don’t be ashamed to seek professional help,” Spinelli says. “Talking things through in a safe, objective space is important.”
Regardless of whether you decide to separate from your partner or not, individual counseling and couples therapy can be helpful. If you’ve decided to break up, couples counseling can help you separate peacefully.
If you’re staying together, couples counseling can help you both rebuild trust and move past shame.
“After infidelity, relationship counseling can be useful because it gives a safe and supportive space to explore some pretty intense emotions,” Scott explains. “A therapist can keep the conversation on topic and give feedback about emotions they’re hearing.”
Additionally, you might want to consider finding a therapist for one-on-one sessions to help you cope in the aftermath of cheating.
It’s absolutely possible to heal from infidelity. Although the pain and grief can be intense, it’s also possible to work on the relationship so that you and your partner are able to move on.
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