Cheating can sometimes feel like the ultimate breach of trust. It can cause pain for both partners and can fundamentally shift the dynamic of a relationship. It's not an ideal situation, but for some, it’s all too real, and the consequences can be devastating. Not sure what to do if your boyfriend or girlfriend cheats? Here’s a blueprint of some potentially life-changing strategies for learning to trust again.
First of all, if you suspect your partner might be cheating, take some time to process your emotions before you confront him or her. Dr. Krystal White, psychologist and author of the upcoming book The Letter Code, suggests going to a trusted friend to hash out your concerns and figure out how you really feel. “Logic doesn’t function in such a highly emotionally charged situation,” she explains. “You don’t want this person to give you advice. You’re asking for this person to comfort you or stabilize you until your mind is out of its anger/fear/rage/depressed/confusion state.” Taking the time to process your feelings out loud will help you understand what steps you need to take next.
“Once you admit how emotional you are, something strange happens… emotional reactivity loses its grip on you,” White says. Step away from your high-stress emotions and do something just for yourself — meditate, spend time with friends, or go for a run. This will allow you to get a clearer idea of whether you want to address the situation, and if so, how you would like to do so.
If the answer is yes and the relationship is worth it to you, you’ll need to address your concerns head-on. “Set up a time when both of you are together, well-rested and free of distractions,” White advises. “Don’t beat around the bush to get to the topic. Simply, using as few words as possible, clearly share your feelings. ‘I’ve had a hard time lately. I have the feeling you are cheating on me. Please tell me if you are.’”
Marriage and family therapist Nicole Richardson suggests being upfront and honest with your significant other. “Being direct and respectful when you ask questions is always best,” she says. “Accusing people can often make them feel defensive … and it can be really counterproductive.” Try asking your partner if they have noticed that things feel off in the relationship, and then take the conversation from there.
If your fears are confirmed, you may need to take some time to decide whether you want to stay in the relationship. White suggests that you remove yourself from your partner for a few days and take time to work through your thoughts alone. If you’re still conflicted, try one option or the other — stay together or break up — for a month or so and see how it goes. “Trust that you’re in the process of using this challenging experience to also figure yourself out,” she says. “There is no formula for doing it perfectly … but you’ll be resilient no matter what you decide.”
There is no formula for doing it perfectly … but you’ll be resilient no matter what you decide.
Whether or not you choose to stay together, you will need to work through your emotions in order to regain trust in yourself and in your partner or future partners. “The only way to start this process is to spend time reflecting on this experience, what lessons you learned about yourself, and what it reveals about your needs,” White suggests. Focus on yourself and your process rather than staying fixated on your partner and what they might have done wrong. The most important trust you have to regain is trust in yourself and unconditional self-love.
White recommends repeating positive affirmations to remind yourself of how far you have come. “Find one that makes you feel good,” she says. “Some of my personal favorites are, ‘I am exactly where I need to be,’ ‘I am surprisingly handling this well,’ and ‘I feel proud that I am learning from this.’”
Your feelings are valid, and they matter. No matter how you choose to handle the situation, lean on your own willpower and your trusted friends to help you navigate the rough waters with grace. And remember, this is not your fault. “You were a whole, wonderful, worthy person before this happened and someone else’s choice cannot rob you of your light,” Richardson assures. You can move on with renewed strength and purpose, however you choose to proceed.