I broke up with my boyfriend about two months ago because he cheated on me. I am really struggling - it infuriates and makes me sad every time I think about it. I feel totally betrayed and duped. Any suggestions on how I can get over this?
Cheated on, 28, Chicago
Dear Cheated On,
I am going to respond to your question by sharing about two recent sessions I had with clients in a similar situation. I'll refer to my first client as Kathy. Kathy scheduled a session with me because she continues to, in her words, "be tortured" by the fact that her ex boyfriend cheated on her. Understandably, Kathy was very hurt and angry and spent most of the session venting and asking questions like, "How could he do this to me?" and "Why did this happen?"
I listened compassionately to Kathy and told her I did not have an answer that would instantaneously make her feel better. Getting over any break-up takes time but the process can be accelerated by the types of questions we ask and are willing to answer. So I asked her gently, "Kathy, what do you think this experience is teaching you that you could only learn from this experience?" Kathy went into blame and began to tell me how fundamentally flawed her boyfriend was which caused him to cheat. I told her that I heard her and asked if complaining and blaming made her feel any better. A pause followed by a "no, not really." Again, I encouraged her to look at this situation from a different perspective and asked her what this experience was trying to teach her.
Her immediate response: "That men are sex-crazed jerks and I'm never going to trust another one again." According to Kathy, she saw this as more of a punishment than a learning experience.
A day later I had a session with another client I'll refer to as Nikki who was dealing with an almost identical situation. The coaching session began in a similar way: venting, tears, and questions about why this happened. When I asked Nikki if she was willing to look at things from a different perspective her response was, "Well looking at it from this perspective certainly isn't moving me out of feeling this way so why not!" Whether Nikki was aware of it or not, just that simple willingness had already created a shift inside of her.
I presented the same question to Nikki as I had to Kathy, "What do you think this experience is teaching you that you could only learn from this experience?" Nikki paused for a moment and allowed the question to marinate. She then responded, "Well I think it was a wake up call about how I treat myself more than it was about how he treated me." The tone of her voice completely changed - she was calmer, more vulnerable, and open. I acknowledged her honesty and asked that if outer experience is a reflection of inner reality , what was this reflecting back to her?
Nikki went on to share that she was learning that her boyfriend cheating on her was showing her how much she cheats herself. She admitted to patterns of not keeping her word with herself, settling, over-extending herself, and being extremely neglectful of her own needs. As she was coming to these realizations, she was also stepping into the willingness to stop these patterns. Her biggest "aha" was the awareness that in order for her to really wake up to how much cheating herself was costing her, it had to happen in her external world to get her attention. Nikki admitted that she tolerated cheating herself but couldn't tolerate another person cheating on her. But after seeing how painful the experience was, she finally was able to look at ways to be more faithful to herself.
Nikki continued to speak with ownership and by the end of our coaching session she reported that she felt a lot less angry at him. Her willingness to look at the learning opportunity does not mean that she deserved to be cheated on or caused the situation to happen, but it does create a space for more healing to occur. Asking the question, "Why did this happen to me?" and only answering it from a victim perspective rather than a student of life perspective cheats your healing process.
Neither Kathy nor Nikki is more "correct" - we all relate to challenges in different ways. The main difference is that Kathy continues to experience upset, hurt and blame while Nikki is experiencing more peace and acceptance. She also discovered a tremendous learning opportunity that is improving the relationship she has with herself.
Yes, your boyfriend cheated on you. Yes, it hurt - I am not minimizing it. But do you want to continue to feel the hurt and anger day after day after day? You do not have the power to change the past but you do have the power to choose which approach you want to take in the present: stay in upset and keep blaming him or go for the learning, forgive him and yourself, and move forward. To me if you choose to stay in the upset, you are only cheating yourself.