Breakups suck but when there’s cheating involved, they suck even more. The end of any relationship hurts, but ask anyone who’s been through it and you’ll hear the same thing: Learning you’ve been betrayed is an assault on your heart like no other.
So how do you move on after lies and deception come to light?
There’s tons of advice on how to spot the signs of a cheating spouse, and lots of stories about how it feels when your marriage suddenly ends. But how exactly do you uncrumple your messy self from the floor so you can return to the most routine of tasks (like brushing your teeth and getting dressed) while you begin to process what has become of your life?
That first month or so of post-cheating discovery really is The Barf Period. Now how fitting is that distasteful mental image? Whether for you, that’s literal or figurative, this is a necessary entry point to the bridge between a painful end to a joyous beginning. And, trust me, I know that when you’re living this kind of hell, nothing feels joyous to you, but that tide will change. Soon for some. Longer for others. But, it will change.
The initial shock of learning you’ve been cheated on puts you at the “beginning” of a transition period where you feel that nothing will ever be the same, that you will never never again feel whole, that no one will ever love you the same way again, that you’ll never trust again.
Here are some suggestions on how to get through this phase so that you can begin to heal. Do one or some, do them in any order, one at a time or in a combination. Do what works for you.
6 STEPS TO HEALING AFTER YOU’VE BEEN CHEATED ON
1. Distinguish Change from Transition
Before you can make sense of what’s happened, you have to make a distinction between Change, what has been done to you, and Transition, how you will deal with that change. Did you know that not all change was created equally? When people say I hate change, they mean they hate change that is imposed on them. Change is something that happens to you—such as being betrayed. Transition, on the other hand, is what happens inside your mind (and body and soul) as you go through learning to live with the change. In other words, transition is how you deal with your circumstances, and feelings about them.
Understanding this distinction is important in your healing process. Change is an all-or-nothing event such as being pregnant. You can’t be kind of pregnant, just like you can’t be kind of betrayed. You have been betrayed (aka cheated on) or you haven’t. As much as you want to, you can’t change the fact.
Transition, on the other hand, is a process with a beginning, a middle and an end, and it’s all yours. Nobody can take it away from you or tell you how to deal with it. Transitions take time and, as with other kinds of grief, there is no expiration date. Everyone transitions—or heals—over a different period of time, in their own way. Transitions take patience. They also require love, support, understanding and compassion. The more you—and especially those around you—understand this fact, the smoother your own personal transition will be.
2. Make Sense with a Question Log
The person who caused you the pain in the first place—aka your cheater—is not ever going to be the one to take that pain away. It’s natural to want to be comforted most by the person least likely to be capable of doing so because they are—or once were—your partner, but that’s not going to be their role in this instance.
What they can do, however, is give you the gift of full disclosure—if that’s what you need in order to move on. I recommend keeping a log of questions that come up for you as you move forward, and then “parking” them. In other words, don’t do anything with the log. Keep it for/to yourself and revisit as required. When you’re ready and the opportunity presents itself, you can determine which answers you require from your ex (that serve your healing well) and which don’t. In the meantime, just the act of logging questions as they arise may prove to be therapeutic in and of itself.
3. Check Out and then Check In
In a way that makes sense within your life’s constructs, put all colleagues, clients, friends, dependents, family, neighbours and pets on notice that you will be indisposed for a period of time that works for you. I recommend that you get away from it all for no less than two nights and no more than one month.
Whether you are the one displaced by the breakup or you are the one to remain in the home you once shared, the first few weeks are bound to make you feel disoriented. It’s an emotional experience to start getting used to living a different way, alone. It can feel excruciating to be engulfed by your ex-lover’s presence and “things” —both of which are painful reminders of how your world has been turned upside down and how you’ve been shaken to core. Extracting yourself from that environment is crucial. And by “that” environment, I mean: shared home, shared city, shared pets, shared furniture, and the list goes on. Whatever your circumstance, a change of scenery is a must.
The only excuse for not getting away is that you really don’t want to. If you are a homebody and the idea of leaving wherever you are calling home creates further anxiety, then don’t. But, if you are broken, and restless, and confused, and hurting, and immobilized by sadness, then I strongly urge to you break out your piggy bank, gather up those pennies you’ve been setting aside for a rainy day, and get out of Dodge to anywhere that’s you happy place. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but that nebulous rainy day has arrived, and it’s pouring.
4. Celebrate, Mourn and Contain the Relationship
Have yourself a glorious pity party. Hell, you’ve earned it. Watch that old (or new) wedding video. Sift through old pictures. Creep Facebook pages, Instagram profiles and all things social media (but no posting or commenting!!!). Reread birthday cards, love letters, kids’ report cards and baby albums. Relive every moment you ever shared together. Immerse yourself in the past as much or as little as you want and don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. Remind yourself that it was not all bad. Do not think that it was ALL a lie. Do not diminish your memories. They are real, and they are yours.
When you are done, put everything away. Together. In a box, an envelope, a closet, but PUT IT AWAY. You’ll revisit your pity party the next time the urge hits to take a trip down memory lane. I say don’t trash, burn or otherwise tear it all up. But hey, this is your journey so do whatever the hell feels most empowering.
5. Become A Cheating Expert
Learn about infidelity. Not just from Google but from real live people. Talk to offenders, the offended, professionals. Read books, take a survey. There is a lot of anecdotal and clinical/scientific information available. Remember: Knowledge is power and education fosters growth. While becoming a self-professed expert in all things cheating might be overkill, it can be empowering for others.
6. Amass Your Empathy Army
At this “beginning” phase, the main thing you need from others is empathy—a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, compassion and generosity of spirit. What you do not need that may, however, be doled out by well-meaning loved ones is a lot of unwanted advice. It’s okay to give yourself permission to minimize time spent with those who are not able to simply be empathetic—nothing less, nothing more.
We all have friends who address our diverse needs differently. The fun friend. The great-listener friend. The gossipy friend. The shopping friend. The parenting-advice friend. And so on. While you are in this crisis, it’s important that you know who is able to do what and, conversely, that your friends know what they can expect of you which, for the next little while, at least, I suggest should be practically nothing.
Stacie Ikka is a professional matchmaker and Relationship Consultant who works with male and female, LGBT clients of all backgrounds, across North America. You can find her at sittinginatree.com.