Self-Care

Here's How To Practice Self-Care If You've Been Cheated On

From getting tested for STIs to soothing upsetting thoughts.

By Sophia Shalabi
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My feet felt cold in the stirrups that afternoon at the gynecologist. My body, heavy, even though I had been too disturbed to eat for weeks. I was lightheaded and had a cold sweat from my forehead to my exposed lower half. The exam table paper stuck to the back of my legs.

“So you’re here for some tests. Are you currently sexually active?” she asked.

“Umm, I mean, yeah, kind of.”

“How many sexual partners have you had in the past year?”

“One.” My throat clogged up.

“So you have a long-term partner?”

“I did. He… cheated on me. I’m pretty sure with multiple women. We were together for almost two years. I just need to know I’m OK.”

I exploded into tears. On top of feeling heartbroken, I was worried about the risk that my partner may have carelessly given me a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Now that I’ve gone through the trauma of betrayal firsthand, I know how important it is to prioritize your physical and emotional wellbeing in the aftermath. Whether you’ve just discovered your partner’s infidelity or your gut is telling you that something is wrong, start by acknowledging that you’re worthy of healthy love, trust, and respect. You deserve to feel safe. As you begin to process and heal from your partner or ex’s infidelity, here’s how to take care of yourself.

How To Take Care Of Yourself Physically After You’ve Been Cheated On

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Infidelity can throw your emotions for a loop, but it’s equally as important to take care of your body right now.

Get Tested For STIs

As soon as you can, get tested for STIs. It’s important to get tested early since certain STIs can affect your long-term health. For example, chlamydia, if left untreated, can make it difficult to get pregnant. There’s no need to wait — chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis show up early after exposure on test results.

Testing is available through your primary care physician, at a local clinic or Planned Parenthood, or on most college campuses. Be open with your doctor or testing provider about your experience, recognize that this was not your fault, and stand strong in the fact that you’re taking control of your health.

Focus On Food, Water, Sleep, Hygiene, & Exercise

This experience can be so destabilizing that it might distract you from your normal daily routines. Remember to nourish your body with sleep, food, water, hygiene, exercise, and any medications you take on a regular basis.

In the early days after I found out about my ex’s cheating, my therapist suggested I focus on hydrating when I was unable to keep food down and relying on a friend to remind me to eat each day. She also suggested I establish a hygiene log to ensure I’d both shower and brush my teeth on days I felt I couldn’t get out of bed. Finally, I aided my sleep by taking melatonin and listening to free sleep meditation recordings from Insight Timer.

How To Take Care Of Yourself Emotionally After You’ve Been Cheated On

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“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.

Avoid Triggers

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.

Sources:

Dr. Alexandra H. Solomon, PhD. licensed clinical psychologist, author and speaker specializing in families, marriage and relationships

Dr. Rossana Sida, PsyD, LMFT, certified sex and relationship therapist