Moving on with your life after you’ve been cheated on can feel like an impossible task ― especially if your S.O. decides to stay with his or her affair partner.
First, you need to give yourself permission to feel everything: bitterness, sorrow, confusion, rage (in moderation).
But at some point you need to move on and not let the affair define you. Below, experts on the subject of infidelity share their best advice for letting go and starting over after an affair.
1. Stop telling yourself you’ve been wronged.
No, it’s not right that your ex cheated. And if he or she has moved on with the affair partner, it definitely doesn’t seem fair. But if you’re ever going to move on, you need to stop thinking of the affair as an injustice, said Tracy Schorn, the author of Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life: The Chump Lady’s Survival Guide.
“Every time you go down the rabbit hole of how unfair it is and compare how happy they are after what they did, ask yourself, ‘OK, so what am I going to do about it? How am I going to move forward anyway?’” she advised. “That’s all you control ― you. You don’t control the crappy things other people do. You only control how you’re going to respond. So focus on what you control ― your new, cheater-free life.”
2. Accept that the marriage is over.
Once you’ve made the decision to end the marriage or relationship, commit yourself to leaving. That means figuring out the logistics of divorce (Where are you going to stay? Should you retain a lawyer or is mediation your best bet?) and also coming to terms with the finality of your decision, said Caroline Madden, a marriage therapist and the author of Fool Me Once: Should I Take Back My Cheating Husband?
“Stop waiting for your spouse to come through the door,” she said. “Stop arguing about the affair. There is nothing to argue about anymore.”
Instead, Madden said to “take an honest inventory of how the marriage wasn’t working for you. If he or she was cheating, your needs probably weren’t being met and you deserve to be with a spouse who doesn’t bail during rough times.”
3. Stop wasting your energy hating the affair partner.
It may feel cathartic to disparage and name-call your ex’s affair partner when you rant to your friends, but at some point, you’ll need to curb your anger, said Madden. Since your ex was the one who made your marriage vows, the lion’s share of the blame should rest on his or her shoulders, she added.
“When you waste your energy thinking about the affair partner, you get sucked into comparing yourself to him or her and hating yourself,” Madden said. “You may think you are judging her, but you’re actually judging yourself.”
Even if you think you’re fitter, more accomplished and an all-around better person than the other man or woman, drawing comparisons is ultimately a losing proposition, she said.
“In any event, your husband or wife chose the other person over you,” she said. “If you keep thinking about her, you will continue to hurt yourself, more and more.”
4. Don’t let anyone dictate forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the next step to moving on but don’t let anyone rush you, said Schorn.
“Don’t let anyone dictate that timeline or say that you ‘must’ forgive,” she said. “Let go of some superhuman expectation of magnanimity and forgiveness. Just focus on building your new life. You’ll get to the ‘meh’ stage eventually, I promise.”
And if you’re worried that forgiveness is a tall order, it may help to know how Schorn defines the word when it comes to infidelity.
“Forgiveness means your ex doesn’t have the power to hurt you any more,” she said. “It takes a long time to get there. In the process, be kind to yourself.”
5. Don’t tell the kids.
You may be completely devastated but if you have kids, that doesn’t give you permission to tell them about mommy or daddy’s new “friend,” said Madden.
“If you tell them, you will involve them in deep adult issues that will threaten their foundation for all relationships,” she said. “It could cause them to worry and wonder if they can ever really trust their future romantic partner.”
She added: “The time to tell the truth will eventually come, but for now, let them have their childhood a little bit longer.”
6. Don’t isolate yourself.
If you can swing it, find a therapist who can help you process the rollercoaster of emotions you’re undoubtedly feeling. If not, reach out to that one friend who always dispenses balanced, nonjudgemental advice, said Samantha Rodman, a psychologist and the author of How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce.
“Don’t go it alone if you don’t have to,” she said. “Even online forums can be helpful to start to realize that you’re not alone.”
7. Rediscover yourself.
Infidelity can do a number on your self-esteem. When you start to feel really low, remind yourself of how bad ass you were ― and still are! ― by exploring hobbies and interests you put on the back burner during the marriage, said Rodman.
“Think about what makes you feel confident and most like yourself, whether it’s cooking, taking a dance class or even just spending some time with friends,” she said. “Activities that you left behind in your old relationship can make you feel more ready to move on and enjoy your future.”
8. Don’t let your ex steal your joy.
You know the saying “the best revenge is success”? It’s 100 percent true. Let your elaborate scheme for vengeance fall to the wayside and decide instead to live your life with gusto. Nothing will tick your cheating ex off more, Schorn said.
“People who cheat have a vested interest in rubbing their fabulous, new, sparkly life in your face ― it has to be fabulous to justify the trail of broken hearts and broken homes,” she explained. “Ignore. Block. You’re still you. Cheaters might try and take your children, your pension, and your wedding china ― but they can’t have your soul. You captain that.”
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