So You Cheated. Now What?
So You Cheated. Now What?
Discovering that your partner has cheated on you is one of the most painful experiences anyone can have. It’s a form of relational trauma that leaves you hurting and mistrustful, long after the affair has ended. Healing from this form of betrayal is a difficult process that takes many months or even years. But the partner who cheated has their own healing to do, and that very real need is often overlooked in conversations about infidelity.
If you’ve cheated on someone you love and care about, you may be questioning everything you thought you knew about yourself. People who’ve cheated often arrive in couples counseling or affair recovery counseling feeling confused about how they got here and conflicted about the future they want. It’s common to feel a complex mix of regret, shame, guilt, and ambivalence after cheating. Addressing those feelings and understanding your experience is the road to repair, both for you and for your relationship.
That’s why I created this article. If you were the partner who cheated, I hope it helps you find space for your own healing and growth so that you can move forward from this experience stronger than before. It will also help you understand the betrayal trauma that your partner experienced so that you can address it together. And if you are the partner who was cheated on, this podcast will help you understand your partner’s experience, and why they may not be responding to you in the way that you need them to right now.
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So You Cheated. Now What?
If you’ve had an affair, and you’re trying to pick up the pieces of your broken relationship, and your partner’s broken heart, it can be hard to find space for yourself. You may feel bad about even needing that space, rather than devoting one hundred percent of your focus to patching things up with your wounded partner.
But addressing your own experience is a vital stage of recovering from infidelity. If you don’t take the time to process your own complex feelings and understand why the affair happened, it’s more likely to happen again, and your relationship is less likely to recover.
Why Do I Cheat?
One of the most common myths about cheating is that it happens because there is something wrong with your relationship, with you, or with your partner. But cheating is often nothing more than a mistake. It’s as simple as feeling an attraction and acting upon it and then forming an attachment to someone other than the person you’re committed to. You can probably think of some “reasons” why you did this, but you should be skeptical of those reasons. They are often rationalizations in disguise.
When we do something that’s not congruent with our self-concept, we latch onto stories that help explain why our behavior makes sense. A person who shoplifts may have a story about how they’re stealing from a big corporation that does harm to society in various ways, so really they’re doing something neutral or even good. A person who cheats may develop negative narratives about their partner or about their relationship, which helps them bridge the mental gap between their actions and the kind of person they believe they are. In other words, they latch onto a narrative that helps them resolve their own cognitive dissonance, at the expense of their partner and their relationship.
If you catch yourself justifying the affair to yourself or to your partner by pointing to your partner’s failings or your relationship’s flaws, take a step back and reassess. In reality, whatever your issues with your partner are, it doesn’t actually make sense to resolve those issues by cheating.
The Different Types of Affairs
Instead, try to understand what needs the affair was fulfilling for you. The types of affairs and the needs they fulfill generally fall into a few buckets:
- The Intimacy-Avoidance Affair: Someone who has an aversion to emotional intimacy may turn to an affair when their relationship with their partner is feeling too emotionally intense. This distracts them from their primary relationship and relieves some of that pressure. This is usually happening well below the threshold of their awareness and is most common in people with an avoidant attachment style in relationships.
- The Entitled Affair: Some people cheat because they believe they’re entitled to cheat. They may think that they sacrifice so much for their partner or for their family that they have earned the right to a second relationship. They may have been raised in a family or in a culture in which having other partners was the norm. They may be a selfish person or even narcissistic. Getting to the root of this kind of affair requires re-examining this mindset.
- The Sexual or Lust-Based Affair: Some people cheat because they’re trying to meet sexual needs. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not having sex with their partner. It may mean they miss having sex outside a committed relationship, that they’re getting to have a kind of sex they don’t normally have, or simply that they like a novelty.
- The Emotional Affair: Sometimes people cheat to meet emotional needs. They are also more than likely meeting emotional needs within their relationship. But having an emotional affair partner may boost their self-esteem, or even give them a place to act out anger against their partner. (Read more about healing your relationship after an emotional affair).
- The Desire-Meets-Opportunity Affair: This kind of affair is very common. A person who never even considered cheating before may find themselves married with a crush on someone else, see an easy opportunity, and then make a bad choice. Facebook affairs often fall into this category.
- The I-Don’t-Know Affair — It’s also totally normal to not really understand why you cheated. Exploring what the affair meant to you and what needs you were really trying to meet will help you forgive yourself, repair your relationship, and become less vulnerable to infidelity in the future.
Feeling Bad After Cheating
When you’re cheating, the emotions can be intense. You may experience a level of excitement that isn’t possible in a healthy relationship that doesn’t involve clandestine rendezvous. You may mistake these drug-like feelings for real, enduring love, and question your commitment to your future with your partner.
But reality tends to seep in, and when it does, the painful feelings can be overpowering. You may be beaten down by shame, regret, guilt, and confusion. You might feel like you’d do anything to take it back, but you can’t.
These feelings are a good thing. They tell you that your actions are at odds with the person you are inside. You’re in pain because you’re disappointed in yourself because you know that you can do better than this.
It’s important for you to care for yourself emotionally during this time, and to get some support for processing your emotional experience. You might feel like you don’t deserve it since you’ve hurt your partner, but you do. You also need it — if you can’t work through your own emotional pain, you can’t be present for the work of supporting your partner and healing your relationship after infidelity. Doing this work on your own makes it possible for you to do the work with your partner.
Fixing Your Relationship After Cheating
One of the most damaging aspects of an affair can be what happens afterward. If your partner hurts you, you expect them to be contrite, apologetic, and infinitely supportive. But often, people who’ve cheated have a hard time being all of those things, because they’re waging an internal battle over who they are and why they did what they did. This can make it hard to listen to your partner and respond with empathy when they need it the most.
It’s common for the partner who cheated to feel ready to put the instance in the past and move forward as quickly as possible, and to feel frustrated that their partner is stuck. After an affair, saying “sorry” is not enough to repair trust. You need to be there for your partner through the long process of healing. To do that, you have to make your own healing a priority.
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So You Cheated. Now What?
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
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So You Cheated. Now What? Episode Show Notes
[01:50] Help! I Cheated
- After an affair, one partner will be hurt, but the one who did the cheating will also have difficult feelings to process.
- Couples may be at a loss for what to do after cheating.
- Having understanding on both sides is critical to healing.
[7:01] Why Did I Cheat?
- What story did the partner who cheated tell themselves about what they were doing?
- Be careful not to rationalize cheating. Dig deeper to find the emotional roots.
- The wayward partner needs a safe space to understand themselves before they can repair the relationship.
[15:03] Moving Forward after Cheating
- There are different types of affairs.
- Dishonesty and betrayal are the true source of the trauma.
- Affair recovery is a deep process that takes time for both partners.
[31:21] Forgiving Yourself
- It’s vital to give yourself the space to understand and feel your emotions, but staying in that space can be a form of avoidance.
- Regulating your feelings is the path to being present for your partner.
- Forgiving is not forgetting, but don’t let the situation and pain overpower personal healing.
[39:20] A Healthy Healing Process after Cheating
- “Sorry” is not that impactful — empathy is what’s necessary to heal.
- It’s important to have self-awareness and communication skills.
- Learning to self-advocate.
Music in this episode is by Death Valley Girls with their song “It all Washes Away.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: deathvalleygirls.bandcamp.com/. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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