If you’ve been cheated on, here’s how to take care of yourself
“There are strong parallels between discovering/disclosure of infidelity and grieving a loved one,” says Dr. Alexandra Solomon, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist. “There is a shattering and it cannot be undone.” According to her, grieving is a long process, but there are ways to make memories and acute pain less painful.
Talk to a therapist
It can be difficult to deal with these heavy emotions on your own. A professional can help you through this experience in a healthy way. Reach out to your GP for therapist recommendations or ask your circle of friends if they have any contacts they would feel comfortable sharing. The American Psychological Association and the American Counseling Association are other great resources for finding a therapist. There are also inexpensive, free, and virtual options you can try, such as Talkspace and Crisis Text Line.
release your anger
It’s important to let go of your anger in a healthy way to avoid making impulsive decisions. “Revenge in some way is your attempt to feel powerful when you feel powerless.” explains Dr. Solomon. “Breathe and move with your anger so it doesn’t lock you in. A reactive decision will not rid these emotions; this often brings a whole new set of problems.
My therapist recommended that I release my anger through exercise (like boxing, swimming, or jiu jitsu), safe destruction (like smashing plates or fruit outside), yelling at how my ex is terrible in a safe space and sharing every angry thought with trusted friends. These strategies helped me begin to heal.
Processing and Managing Your Upsetting Thoughts
It’s incredibly common to have intrusive thoughts about cheating. Here are some coping strategies:
1. Take your thoughts seriously, but know that feelings are not facts. “Validate and normalize intrusive thoughts,” Dr. Solomon suggests, “but resist the urge to try to make sense of their actions, especially when that sense-making wanes.” In other words, if you think your ex is cheating on you because you’re not good enough, acknowledge how you feel, but understand that it’s not the truth. You are good enough exactly as you are. When I practiced this, I found it helped me redirect and reframe thoughts in a healthier way.
2. Journal using pen and paper. Dr. Rossana Sida, a certified sex and relationship therapist, recommends keeping a journal of your experience by hand, not on your computer or phone. “Handwriting down recurring and obsessive thoughts will break the fast-thinking pattern and allow you to see one thought at a time.”
3. Focus on your five senses. According to Dr. Solomon, it can ground you. Hug for comfort, play music that makes you feel good, light a scented candle, make or buy your favorite treat, or watch your favorite movie. “[Recognize] it was such a painful experience and is not it happens now. [Tell yourself] ‘I’m safe right now.’ » Acknowledge the control you have and the ways you are safe.
4. Embrace positive affirmations. Start a daily affirmation journal by listing the things you are grateful for and love about yourself. You may even repeat these powerful, loving words to yourself in the mirror.
5. Give yourself grace. “Neutrality is not a requirement for healing. When you think about infidelity, it can still hurt,” Dr. Solomon says, “it doesn’t mean you’re not cured. Painful things remain painful. Over time, they are easier to wear and less imposing. Healing may take longer than expected, but that’s okay.
Lean on your loved ones
“Confide in one or two of your least judgmental and most reliable friends or family members,” says Dr. Sida, adding that you “don’t need to be alone” in this pain. Let them know explicitly what kind of support you need from them.
You may not always feel like they say exactly the good thing, but it’s nice to stay in touch with people who care deeply about you. A sign of healing? If it’s starting to look like your friends are saying it all to the right things.
“The zone of tolerance is our ability to stay calm, connected and see things from multiple perspectives,” shares Dr. Solomon. “When you are traumatized, there is no zone of tolerance. We become numb and frustrated with our loved ones and feel like no one is saying the right thing. With time and intentional acts of food, you begin to come back to yourself. The area widens and life begins to be less painful.
After my breakup, simple things I did with my ex (like cooking meals or visiting certain areas of town) filled me with panic or exhaustion. If you feel the same way, you can change your routine. “Avoid places that trigger – making different choices isn’t avoidance, it’s a loving choice,” Dr. Solomon emphasizes.
In the long term, if you’re ready to tackle these routine activities again, pick yourself up slowly with gradual exposure. But remember, there is no pressure to do something painful. Dr. Solomon says, “Never bypass a bunch of triggers in order to prove to yourself that they haven’t won.”
give yourself time
“Time is a vital aspect of any healing process.” explains Dr. Solomon. With a lot of patience and intention, post-traumatic growth is possible.
No matter how long ago you discovered infidelity, I hope you are nurturing your overall health, feeling heard, and confidently acknowledging the power you hold. You deserve healthy, genuine love.