It’s not something we love talking about, but the reality is, cheating happens. Whether you find out what your S.O.’s been up to behind your back through Pokemon Go (gotta catch ’em all… in the act), or literally behind your back through a smart mattress, the news is going to be upsetting.
If you’ve been cheated on, we’re here for you (and sending you HUGE hugs across the Internet right now). We asked relationship expert April Masini, author of four relationship advice books and the popular Ask April advice column, for tips on the right and wrong ways to cope with cheating. You know, in between writing your hit breakup album.
B+C: If you suspect (or know) your partner is cheating, how would you recommend bringing it up and having that conversation?
AM: If you suspect your partner is cheating, sit tight. You could be wrong. Some people bring baggage to relationships, and that baggage is pain from being cheated on in the past. As a result, they’re ready to pounce when they suspect, rather than know, that there is cheating. The reaction is understandable, but it’s difficult to deal with in a relationship. I’ve seen relationships fail because one person is always suspicious.
That said, if you know that your partner is cheating, by all means, talk. Sit down and say what you think and ask questions. Listen — which will be hard because you’ll probably be hurt — but give it your best shot. And don’t jump to conclusions, especially if there is a lot at stake like a marriage, a long-term relationship and children.
Try to bring this up in the daytime, and not at night before bed (no one will sleep well and that’s not going to help anything or anyone). And bring up the talk in the living room, a coffee shop or the kitchen, not the bedroom. The bedroom is loaded with meaning and it’s also the place you will sleep and maybe even have sex again, so try to keep it free of fighting, especially about this.
B+C: What are some of your recommendations for coping with cheating?
AM: Cheating is usually a symptom of a bigger problem. People tend to cheat to get attention that they aren’t getting in the marriage or long-term relationship. It’s not usually with someone who’s hotter — it’s with someone who’s going to make them feel valued, attractive, smart — whatever it is they don’t feel in the relationship. That said, cheating isn’t often just about the cheater. It’s about the relationship, and even if you didn’t cheat, you may have played a crucial part in the cheating. When you realize that you have a part in the problem, you can actually do something to make changes in yourself and the relationship and work on “your side of the street.”
B+C: What if it’s a few weeks or months later, and you’re still having trouble moving on?
AM: Processing infidelity is not something that happens in an hour. It takes time — sometimes a lifetime, sometimes less than that. Depending on a person’s background, infidelity can be traumatic or not so big a deal. People who had a family culture where cheating was part of the fabric of that background are less unsettled by it. Those who are not familiar with it in real life can find their worlds rocked in a bad way.
B+C: What would you say to someone who’s blaming themselves for why their partner cheated?
AM: Blaming yourself isn’t as productive as accepting responsibility and making changes. Blame is a little bit like a badge of negativity. Accepting responsibility for bad behavior or behavior that led to disappointment is normal and healthy. Infidelity is a loaded relationship dynamic because anything that has to do with sex has deep layers of feelings. There are all sorts of questions that go with infidelity like, “Was I bad in bed?” or “Is someone else better in bed than I am?” And these are tough questions to ask and answer — and triage.
B+C: What are some of your “Don’ts” for coping with cheating?
AM: Don’t “revenge cheat.” It’s immature and it doesn’t make the problem better. In fact, it’s one of those “two wrongs don’t make a right” situation. If you want to feel better about being cheated on, ask your partner how he or she can make you feel better. It’s a fair question and it gets the conversation going.
Don’t point fingers. This happened, but you both had a part in it. Don’t act like the relationship is over because infidelity doesn’t always mean the end of the relationship. People work through these obstacles and some even emerge with stronger relationships and marriages because of the downfall and the work to get over it and get closer to each other.
B+C: What are the factors to consider if you think you might want to continue the relationship?
AM: Cheating should not always be a deal breaker. Depending on the relationship, it can be the end game or a bump in the road. The length of the relationship, the number of family members involved in a split, and the reasons for the infidelity are all important factors. For instance, if you have a 20-year marriage, and 19 years were good without infidelity, this may be a cry for help in the relationship and just a fraction of the whole thing. But if the cheating happens in month 7 of a 7-month relationship, that’s a warning sign that this isn’t the commitment you envisioned. And if you really see where you let the relationship go and didn’t pay attention to a partner who’s cheated, there’s a lot of room for improvement, and if you both want to commit to working on the relationship and you see what you can do differently, you should.
B+C: How do you recommend dealing with any trust issues that might come up in future relationships, as residual effects of being cheated on?
AM: Being cheated on can be traumatic and future events can trigger those feelings of a past trauma from infidelity. The events can be real life infidelities, or someone else’s infidelities, or something that reminds you of a past hurt. The process you need to address is to separate out a trigger in real life from the past. Just because you see your partner flirt with someone doesn’t mean they’re cheating, and if you attach feelings of being cheated on to too many triggers, the relationship will get bogged down with your failure to process and let go. Sometimes when he or she says they’re staying late at the office, they’re really just staying late at the office.
(Photos via Getty)