Being cheated on is painful as hell. For many of us, it’s our worst fear in a monogamous relationship. The lies, betrayal, and deception — all from someone we love and trust — can feel like the end of the world.
“Infidelity is often described as a traumatic experience,” says Lizbeth Hernandez, LMFT. “A person experiences the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The person may also experience self-blame, feelings of inadequacy, low self-worth, hopelessness, heightened anxiety, and vulnerability.”
Seven years into her relationship, Jennifer*, 28, found out her partner was cheating on her with a coworker. He repeatedly denied the accusations, and they even went to a couples therapist to try to work things out. In the end, she caught him in the act, and he ended up moving in with the woman he cheated with.
“I was anxious all the time while we were trying to work things out,” she says. “My self-esteem hit an all-time low, and my confidence was gone. I felt intense guilt, like maybe it was all my fault. I questioned everything I thought I knew about our relationship.”
It’s not hard to understand why those who have been cheated on may develop trust issues. This can make it difficult to re-enter the dating world — and according to Hernandez, that’s a sign to allow give yourself the time and space you need to recover.
Pause to feel everything, reflect, and heal.
“First and foremost, work on the trauma that results from cheating,” says Hernandez. “This means putting yourself first by practicing self-love. In doing this, you will learn to set expectations and boundaries for future relationships. Participating in individual or group therapy can help you process the pain of the betrayal.”
She says it can also help to develop a self-care plan toward healing, which might include leaning on your support systems (friends and family), exercising, reading relevant books, or journaling your emotions. Most importantly, you should be patient with your progress and realize that everyone heals differently.
After a month or two, Jennifer got back on dating apps at the encouragement of her friends. A few dates in, she realized it was necessary to take some more time to herself.
“I decided to learn to enjoy being alone and independent, and to find who I was without my ex,” she says. “There would be times where I would get mad at myself for still being sad and crying about the incident, but I realized it’s part of the healing process.”
About six months after her ex moved out, Jennifer had built up her confidence, got on Tinder, and started dating again.
Taylor*, 27, was cheated on seven years ago. While it’s been some time, she still vividly recalls her then-partner stepping out with one of her best friends. It ruined not only their relationship but also a close friendship.
“I felt extremely angry and hurt,” she says. “I thankfully had a lot of support from close friends and family. I never felt alone in my healing process. Another important thing I did was staying healthy and doing things that made me happy, like going to concerts and doing yoga.”
After being cheated on, it’s common to experience low self-esteem, especially if you get trapped in the negative spiral of your feelings.
“I always encourage my clients to use positive affirmations and positive self-talk to help rebuild confidence,” says Hernandez.
You can recite these affirmations in the mornings or leave notes with sentences like, “You are worthy and loved” around your apartment and at your desk. You can even set reminders so they pop up on your phone. It’s a way to uplift yourself, especially when you are feeling down.
“By being your own cheerleader, you will feel worthy of yourself and the experiences ahead of you in the dating world. Remind yourself what you have to offer, and you will attract a better partner,” says Hernandez.
Remember that communication, as always, is key.
Understandably, Taylor had some lingering insecurities and trust issues after being cheated on. When she and her now-husband met, she admits feeling jealous of his friendships with other women.
“Communication is the foundation of any new relationship,” says Hernandez. “Be transparent with your partner. It will help them understand what they need to do to help build trust.”
Taylor took this advice to heart. “I will say there have been some trust issues that have come up in my current relationship,” she says. “Thankfully I have been able to have wonderful communication with my now-husband. Whenever I have had feelings of mistrust come up, he has been extremely patient and encouraged me to open up about what I am feeling. I have made it a priority to talk about our past relationships — the good and the bad ones. This transparency about our past allowed for a clean break with it.”
For it to work, communication must remain a priority. “Practice check-ins to help clarify any miscommunications,” Hernandez says. “This will also rebuild security in the person who was cheated on. Continue to work on your journey of self-healing by being aware of what you want in this new relationship.”
Always listen to your intuition.
Taylor had a bad feeling about her ex-partner and friend from the moment the two met at a concert the summer before he cheated. She noticed their instant connection, and it sparked her jealousy.
“Later that night, I brought it up with my boyfriend,” she says. “He brushed it off and thought I was overreacting. When he ended up cheating on me months later, the first thing I thought of was that my intuition was correct.”
She has since worked to learn to trust herself, and only let people who give her the kind of love and respect she believes she deserves into her life.
Jennifer feels similarly. “After the whole experience, I realized I shouldn’t have put up with as much as I did and that I should’ve stuck up for myself more,” she says. “Now I know and am not afraid to ask for what I want and deserve. As I have gotten back into the dating scene, instead of taking it personally when it doesn’t work out, I’ve adopted the Ariana Grande mentality of, ‘thank you, next.’”
It may be a long journey after the initial sting of infidelity, but it’s hardly a hopeless one, says Hernandez. “With appropriate resources and self-growth, a person who has experienced cheating can learn to rebuild trust, open their heart, and have the courage to love again — in a deeper way.”