“There are strong parallels between discovery/disclosure of infidelity and grieving the death of a loved one,” says Dr. Alexandra Solomon, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist. “There’s shattering and it can’t be undone.” According to her, grieving is a long process, but there are ways to make the memories and sharp pangs feel less painful.
Speak To A Therapist
It can be difficult to process these heavy emotions on your own. A professional can help guide you through this experience in a healthy way. Reach out to your primary care doctor for therapist recommendations or ask your friend circle 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 low-cost, free, and virtual options you could try, like Talkspace and Crisis Text Line.
Release Your Anger
It’s important to let go of your anger in healthy ways so you can avoid making impulsive decisions. “Taking revenge in some way is your attempt to feel powerful when you feel powerless.” Dr. Solomon explains. “Breathe and move with your anger so it doesn’t lock you up. A reactive decision won't rid these emotions; it often brings on a new set of issues.”
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 about how terrible my ex is in a safe space, and sharing every angry thought with trusted friends. These strategies helped me begin to heal.
Process & Manage Your Upsetting Thoughts
It’s incredibly common to experience intrusive thoughts while dealing with infidelity. Here are a few strategies for coping:
1. Take your thoughts seriously — but know that feelings aren’t facts. “Validate and normalize intrusive thoughts,” Dr. Solomon suggests, “but resist the urge of trying to make meaning of their actions, especially when that meaning making turns self-deprecating.” In other words, if you find yourself thinking your ex cheating on you because you aren’t good enough, recognize how you feel, but understand that is not the truth. You’re good enough exactly the way 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, certified sex and relationship therapist, recommends journaling about your experience by hand, not on your computer or phone. “Hand-writing recurring, obsessive thoughts will break the pattern of fast thinking and allow you to see one thought at a time.”
3. Focus on your five senses. According to Dr. Solomon, this can ground you. Hug yourself for comfort, blast music that makes you feel good, light a scented candle, make or buy your favorite treat, or watch your favorite movie. “[Recognize] that was such a painful experience and it is not happening now. [Tell yourself] ‘I am safe in this moment now.’” Recognize the control you do have and the ways in which you are safe.
4. Embrace positive affirmations. Start a daily affirmation journal by listing things you’re grateful for and that you love about yourself. You can even repeat those 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 may always hurt,” Dr. Solomon says, “It doesn’t mean you're unhealed. Painful things stay painful. With time, we carry them more easily, and they don't intrude as much.” Healing might take longer than you expect, but that’s OK.
Lean On Loved Ones
“Confide in one or two of your least judgmental and most trusted friends or family members,” Dr. Sida explains, adding that you “don’t need to be alone” in this pain. Explicitly let them know what kind of support you need from them.
You might not always feel like they say exactly the right thing, but it’s good to stay in contact with people who care about you deeply. One sign of healing? If it starts to seem like your friends are saying all the right things.
“The zone of tolerance is our capacity to stay calm, connected and see things from multiple perspectives,” Dr. Solomon shares. “When we’re traumatized, there’s no zone of tolerance. We numb out and get frustrated with loved ones and feel like nobody says the right thing.” With time and intentional acts of nourishment you begin to come back to yourself. The zone widens and life begins to feel less painful.
After my breakup, simple things I used to do with my ex (like meal-prepping or visiting certain areas of town) filled me with panic or exhaustion. If you feel similarly, it’s OK to alter your routine. “Avoid places that are triggering — making different choices isn’t avoidance, it’s a loving choice,” Dr. Solomon stresses.
In the long term, if you’re ready to approach those routine activities again, bring yourself back slowly with gradual exposure. But remember, there’s no pressure to do anything painful. Dr. Solomon says, “Never bypass a bunch of triggers in order to prove to yourself that they didn’t win.”
Give Yourself Time
“Time is a vital aspect of any healing process.” Dr. Solomon explains. With a lot of patience, and intention, post-traumatic growth is possible.
No matter how long it’s been since you discovered the infidelity, I hope you’re nourishing your overall health, feeling heard, and confidently recognizing the power you hold. You deserve healthy, authentic love.