1. Don’t ignore the infidelity
You might be tempted to act as if nothing happened because it feels less painful, but if you do, any resentment you have will likely fester, and what’s more, you won’t address the underlying problems in the relationship. “The most important thing is to understand the meaning of the infidelity, because many, many times it’s a reflection on the satisfaction in the relationship,” says Firstein.
“There are, of course, situations where people are sexually compulsive, but most of the time, [cheating] really happens in a kind of attempt [by the cheater] to bring some attention to the problems in the relationship.”
Maybe the infidelity really was a one-time moment of weakness or maybe it was an attempt by the cheater to find something they felt was missing in the relationship. Either way, figuring it out will bring you closer together and make infidelity less likely to happen again in future.
You should focus not on “making things go back to how they were” things are already different but on building a new, stronger, more fulfilling relationship. It is possible.
2. Don’t blame yourself
Someone cheating on you is not your fault. You’re not responsible for it, you didn’t “deserve” it, and if your partner crossed lines instead of communicating their needs (or breaking off the relationship), that’s on them, not you.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to understand those needs and meet them if you want to salvage the relationship (and of course, they’ve got to do the same for you).
“It’s kind of empowering to see, This is what happened and this is why it happened and this is my role in it,” Firstein points out — but don’t beat yourself up over someone else’s bad decision. (Beyoncé’s “Sorry” is a great soundtrack for remembering that you’re not the one who needs to be apologizing here.)
3. Don’t try to get “even”
It might make you feel better momentarily to trash your no-good cheating partner on social media, or to go Carrie Underwood on them and trash their car. (OK, that one might make you feel better for more than a moment.) You might even get a rush from cheating on them too.
But “evening the score” is what opposing teams do, not two people who ostensibly love each other and are both dedicated to recovering from one person’s violation of the other’s trust.
Right now, it’s important for you both to do what you can to feel like you’re on the same side again.
4. Don’t bring up the infidelity to “win” unrelated arguments
As sex therapist Vanessa Marin has pointed out, “The fact that he cheated doesn’t give you the right to beat him up endlessly or bring his infidelity out as your trump card every time you get into another argument …
You have to be willing to let it go if you want to move on.” This means that when you’re arguing about how you didn’t tell them you’d be out of town with friends all weekend, you don’t insert a “Well, at least I didn’t cheat on you” into the conversation.
That’s not to say that if you’re hurting about the infidelity, you shouldn’t bring it up, but acting petty when you know better doesn’t help anyone.
5. Don’t rush the healing process
Your partner’s betrayal could hurt in the same ways for the same reasons for a long time. Be patient with yourself as you process, and let your partner know that they need to be patient with you too.
“It’s very important for the person who had an affair to understand that their partner is devastated and that it’s difficult to put things back together,” Irstein says. “There are going to be a lot of questions asked, and sometimes it’s going to be the same questions over and over again … People are trying to rebuild their understanding of the partner and the relationship, and they’re in shock.”
Yes, you could eventually realize that you’re not able to let go of what happened and that you need to move on from the relationship but in the meantime, don’t rush yourself.
If your partner is getting frustrated with answering the same questions and having the same conversations, question whether they’re really as committed to regaining your trust as they say they are. It might be time to put their things in a box to the left.
6. Don’t shy away from professional help
“Very often, [infidelity] is the thing that really brings people to a therapist’s office” when they could have benefitted from being there long beforehand, Irstein says. Yes, it can feel scary and messy to analyze your fury/guilty/shame/embarrassment/sadness while sitting next to the person who triggered it. But a therapist can give you both tools for establishing healthier styles of communication.
This is your shot at a new relationship with the same person don’t be afraid to call in a pro. And trust, they have already seen it all.