Self-love after a breakup is hard. It’s especially hard when you know you messed up. When it comes to cheating in relationships, Gottman Institute Certified Therapist Zach Brittle acknowledges that being unfaithful can come in many forms. Because people cheat for so many different reasons and in different ways — from flirting on Tinder to full-blown romantic dalliances — moving on after hurting someone you care about can be really challenging. However, cheating doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doomed to be single forever — if done right, self-reflection after cheating can actually lead to even more relationship success in the future.
1. Grieve. Brittle says that cheating is often the loss of your own identity. Most people aren’t born wanting to cheat on someone — it happens as a result of a change in identity. Taking time to understand this change and (if you genuinely feel sad) being gracious towards yourself can be instrumental in moving forward. “I don’t believe that people choose to cheat,” Brittle said. “I think they choose to push a boundary and then one day they find out that that boundary was not okay.”
2. Understand your new identity. A healthy dose of self-awareness is key here. Try to understand why you changed and what caused it. Brittle recommends asking yourself these questions: Are you a novelty-seeker? Are you a good person who made a mistake? Why did you cheat?
3. Look for answers within your relationship. “We cheat because we’re getting something from someone else that we’re not getting from our partner,” Brittle said. Whether we realized it before or not, understanding what it is that you need or want from your partner can be a really important part of gaining their trust back and forgiving yourself.
If these steps are successful and you find yourself wanting to go back to your partner, Brittle says that the relationship you were in before will not be the one you will return to. “The rules will change and you’ll have to be more accountable as a partner than you were before,” Brittle said. However, that accountability could increase trust and happiness in your relationship, and increase trust in yourself.
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