Surviving Infidelity


It seems no relationship is safe from the potential of infidelity, whether a private relationship or a public one. Statistics show that somewhere between 30-60% of individuals stray at some point during their marriage, although exact statistics are challenging due to the secretive nature of the subject.

When a partner cheats on, or even partakes in viewing pornography, it often triggers comparison and self-doubt. We often think that if we were thinner, stronger, taller, richer, more handsome or beautiful, sexier, etc. that this would not have happened. Self-doubt triggers an onslaught of negative self-talk, embarrassment and depression.

However, there are a myriad reasons people cheat, many of which have nothing to do with their partner, or whether or not they love their partner.

Sometimes people cheat because of their own lack of self-worth or need for external validation. Sometimes people cheat for revenge, or because they are afraid they are going to be left by their partner, so they start seeking elsewhere. Sometimes they cheat because they don’t feel they deserve the person they have, so they sabotage the relationship to prove themselves right. Sometimes people cheat for power or because they don’t want to be controlled or told what they can or cannot do. Sometimes it is purely about the sex and has nothing to do with anything else. Underneath the behavior of cheating is a faulty belief system. Clean up the belief and the behavior will follow. If you just try to curb the behavior but you still hold the troubled belief, then the behavior will happen again.

What people often truly want is a loving, intimate and harmonious relationship with their current partner, but when we can’t figure out how to create that we quickly go about destroying the very thing that we want the most.

So, how do we survive the onslaught of resulting emotions? When you are the one who has done the cheating, whether your spouse knows or not, you need to get clear on your values, beliefs, what you actually want, what you are capable of and do the right thing: If you are not going to be able to be in a monogamous relationship, tell your partner so that they have a choice whether they want to be in an open relationship or if they would prefer to move on.

If you do want to be in a monogamous relationship, then behave that way. The “wrong thing” is to pretend you want to be in a monogamous relationship when you are unable to align your behavior with that choice. If your spouse knows about what you have done, apologize with deep sincerity and regret. Denying what your spouse knows is only a breeding ground for more distrust. Make it clear that you take full responsibility for the choices you have made and the consequences, and commit to either not doing it again, or be honest about your inability to follow through on that commitment.  At some point, you will need to forgive yourself for your actions, but be careful that forgiving yourself doesn’t sound like excusing yourself. What you did is not okay, so don’t blame anyone else as that will leave your spouse feeling pretty convinced that you will do it again.

If you were cheated on, be gentle on yourself and avoid the tendency to belittle yourself. Your partner cheating on you doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong with you. Be observant of your thoughts and examine them to see if there is any truth to them. It is often the stories you make up, especially when lacking facts, that cause you the most pain.

Be clear on the outcome you actually want. Our egos will scream “break up” or “get divorced,” or “never trust again,” but it is important to consider whether that is truly the desired result. Ones guess is, at least when it comes to a spouse, that your preference would be to put your relationship back on track. If this is the case, I encourage you to realize that this is an opportunity to dig deeper into the depths of who you really are and access a stronger version of yourself. You may find that this experience assists you in tapping into greater clarity, more honest communication, better defined boundaries and perhaps a reprioritization of values.

If you decide to stay in the relationship, and your partner has changed their course of behavior, avoid the tendency to punish them for the rest of time. If you choose to move forward, you need to let go of the past.

Sever Ties with the Lover

Start with the obvious: End the affair for good. The first and most crucial step is to remove the other man or woman from your lives  

Don’t just take his word that he’s cut off his mistress, or expect him to trust that you’ve ended things. The two of you have to handle this breakup together. Even though it will be an emotionally charged, and possibly surreal, thing to do, sit down with your guy to write an e-mail or letter to this person that states very clearly that all contact must end, that he or she can no longer be a part of your life. “My partner is writing this with me. I can’t see you again. I need to work on my relationship. Please don’t contact me.”

This way the person who was cheated on regains some power, and the cheater shows that his or her priorities are back on track.

Become Transparent

Odds are, the mistress or mantress will respond or get in touch in some way That’s why it’s crucial that both you and your guy agree to being “completely transparent,” and that means some intense, privacy-busting stuff.

You both must be allowed to look at each other’s text messages, phone records, e-mail, social media accounts, and banking passwords—even STD test results—for as long as the partner who was cheated on deems necessary. Sound overly intrusive- Maybe so. But, all of your efforts should be toward re-establishing trust, and part of that is showing you have nothing to hide.

Keep in mind, however, that you have to shift out of the mode of being a detective out to catch someone doing something wrong, to a partner working to make sure things continue to go right.

So, if your guy receives a message from his ex-mistress and you happen to see it first, don’t instantly accuse him of relapsing. Or if your ex-flame contacts you, don’t withhold that info out of fear. Instead, discuss it calmly until the trust is restored.

Do Ask, Do Tell

Get ready to ask and ask (or answer and answer) lots of probing (and heartbreaking) questions. A healthy way to discuss infidelity is for the partner who was cheated on to get all the details he or she wants—the who, what, when, where, why, how, and how often. They may also want to know how far it intruded into their own lives: Did their partner buy gifts or invite the person back to the home they share?

If you’re doing the asking, try to stick to questions you’ll be comfortable learning the answer to. (Ask yourself, Can I live with my partner if I know this information? Will I find out something useful or not?) If you’re doing the answering, respond to every question directly and honestly, even if they’re as specific as what sex positions you used or if there were toys involved. Really! That’s because, much like a crime-scene investigator, the cheated party won’t be able to consider the case closed and move on until they hear all the facts that they’ve deemed important.

Being this honest also shows that the cheater is done lying (something he or she probably did a lot of during the affair). But you don’t need to offer details your partner didn’t ask for, and if a question comes up related to your own feelings, you can filter your response. There’s no reason to be hurtful by saying something like “He was hotter than you.” It’s more important to share the facts.

Take a Break, Together

A post-affair honeymoon sounds bizarre (and like the last thing you need right now), but it will jump-start healing. So leave talk of the affair, as well as your friends, families, and jobs, behind for an extended period of undivided couple time. This is an emotional step, not a rational one, so if you want to stay with your partner, you’ll have to open yourself up. This will also help you get away from everyone else’s comments about what happened, which can cloud your judgment and desire to work things out.

Take a trip that doesn’t allow for much wandering, like a cruise. The point is to spend time together. Avoid finding another couple to hang with or talking about the affair (or anything else that might make you want to flee). Just be together and try to make it as romantic as possible. As for sex, you can get back to it as soon as you’re both ready and there’s no more anger or dishonesty. There’s something to be said for making an effort to reconnect physically, and by the time you return, you may both feel a lot better about your union.

Spark the Passion

The cheating itself is not the only factor in most divorce cases. Yes, there was cheating, but the marriage had been over for years. So how can you make your own union one you want to be a part of again?

Don’t go back to your [pre-vacation] schedule and routine. Instead, devote at least 15 hours a week (two hours a day or the majority of the weekend) to couple time, during which you can rebuild your romance and meet each other’s emotional and physical needs. Do activities you both like (check out new restaurants or try trendy workouts), and keep up the honesty and transparency.

If after all of this, you don’t feel like your relationship is becoming better, consider therapy or couples counseling to help you work through your feelings and figure out what your next best move should be.

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© Ajita Shah  2023
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