The period after all the wondering, the realizations, the “conversation” is just as important as all the angsty mess that led up to it. In fact it is even more important. What happens next is all about your being okay. And maybe healing your relationship.
This blog is the final installment in the four part cheating series (Is Your Partner Cheating? 5 Ways You Can Tell, Cheaters—Who Are They & Why They Do It, and Is Your Partner Cheating? — How to Have that Conversation?). Here is where we get you away from shock, anger, trauma, despair, and into a functional place with decisions to make and healing work to do.
#1. First things first:
→ It is not your fault. The choice to cheat was your partner’s. You can take responsibility for your part in the relationship, and if there were problems, you can own up to your part in them. But it was your partner’s choice to disrespect you by being unfaithful, degrade your relationship, shatter trust, and sacrifice his or her integrity. If your partner tries to lay responsibility for his or her cheating at your feet (“Well, if you hadn’t…” or “I wouldn’t have wanted to if you were more….”) do not take it.
#2. Next. The stages of grief. Do not underestimate the effect betrayal can have on you. Processing it is similar to processing any grievous loss. The relationship that you had is forever changed. Even if you end up salvaging it, you are likely to move through these 5 stages of grief. Whatever direction you go from here, understanding your feelings of loss will help you to make the best decision for you. Though knowing what to expect won’t lessen the pain, it will help you understand what is happening. Do not rush any decision making while you are processing.
The 5 stages of grief are as follows:
Denial. “It can’t be true. There’s been some kind of terrible mistake.” Often you will go through this stage before full disclosure. When you are pretty sure you know, but have not yet heard the admission or do not yet have concrete proof, you might cling to your denial for a bit longer. Until you can’t any more. Some people deny a betrayal even after their partners have confessed! Denial is powerful.
Anger. “How DARE you?” pretty much sums this stage up. Outrage. Mostly at your partner and the person he or she dallied with, but that anger can also be misdirected—at yourself. Don’t let that happen. Refer to the above: it’s not your fault.
Bargaining. This is not so much bargaining with God or fate as it is when dealing with death, but more bargaining with life, the past, the truth. It is during this stage that you are most in danger of turning blame on yourself. Somehow people find betrayal less agonizing if they can take some of the blame. “If only I had not gone to Florida with my friends in February.” Or: “If only I came home earlier from work every day.” This leads to: “If I change things now it will all go away and be fine.” No—to all of the above. It IS NOT YOUR FAULT (I will keep telling you this till you get it) and sorry, but catching the earlier train or staying home every weekend will not fix this. It will take more than that….
Depression. Paralysis. Whether literally—you can’t get out of bed, out of the house, out of your sweats—or mentally—you can’t think, imagine a future, or believe you will ever be happy again—this is a hard phase and can last a long time. If you recognize what is happening, you can seek the help you need.
Acceptance. Eventually, you will be ready to accept that what happened and ask yourself, “Where do I go from here?” Now you can start making plans.
Important! If your partner wants decisions and promises and a plan of action at any time before you hit the acceptance stage, say, “I am not ready for that yet. Give me time. Give me space.”
#3. The next step in your relationship. Two choices: you end it or you don’t. When you have all the facts, have accepted the truth, you can make this decision responsibly.
→ Many couples who choose to work things out after an affair achieve an emotionally and physically fulfilling and reciprocal relationship. Often better than it ever was, because while healing the attachment wounds created by the affair, they also do the work required to sort out other relationship issues. It takes a lot of work, commitment, time, and patience for both parties. There is no timeline for this. If you want solutions by this or that date or season, forget it. Are you in this for the long haul or not? One question that may bring you clarity is to ask yourself “Can we make each other happy again?” Caveat: the decision to heal the relationship must be a 100% commitment from both of you. If one of you is not so all in, it won’t work.
→ You may decide that it is not possible to continue the relationship, or not in your best interest. Perhaps the affair highlights certain issues in the relationship such as basic incompatibility, lack of attachment, mismatched goals, etc. Or, if you are unable to regain trust, respect, and love lost due to the affair, you will know it is over.
Whatever you decide is what’s best for you. Do not judge yourself harshly or by what you perceive others think of you. This is a life circumstance and does not define who you are. Forgive your partner and yourself, regardless of how it falls out. That does not mean you condone his or her behavior, but that you accept it so you can move forward, whether it is with the relationship or without it. Acceptance will allow you to find your happiness again… as you so richly deserve.