Should You Leave A Partner Who Cheated? 4 Reasons To Consider Calling It Quits
It all started to unravel when you found some incriminating texts with another girl on their phone. Or, they came clean about their indiscretion on a recent work trip. Maybe a mutual friend comes to you with hints about their recent affair. Regardless of how you find out about it, one thing’s for sure: infidelity is one of the most emotionally traumatic events a person can endure in a relationship. So, should you leave a partner who cheated? Some people manage to rebuild the trust and move forward, which obviously requires a lot of digging into the deeper issues that led to the cheating. In other cases, however, it’s simply time to call it quits.
Time and time again, we’ve seen fictional protagonists in films forgive their cheating partners. We’ve seen them ultimately realize that they aren’t willing to sacrifice their relationship due to one misstep. In real life, deciding to end a relationship due to infidelity is obviously no simple matter. Particularly if you’ve been together for a long period of time — it’s a lot easier said than done. After all, you likely still have a lot of love for this person — which is difficult to just throw away at the drop of a hat — and we’re all human, right? We all make mistakes. In fact, 22 percent of men and 14 percent of women admit to cheating on an SO, according to Trustify. However, just because it's common doesn't make it any less devastating. The range of emotional damage that can result from cheating may be reason enough to walk away.
I consulted Chelsea Leigh Trescott, breakup coach and podcast host of Thank You Heartbreak, and Nicole Richardson, licensed marriage and family therapist, about valid reasons why you might consider leaving an unfaithful partner. Here's what they had to say.
You had to drag it out of them.
Your ability to re-build trust in your partner can be particularly problematic if you already felt like your gut instinct told you that they were cheating, but your partner denied it when you brought up your concerns. Trescott says that if it takes “cornering” your partner with actual proof to get them to admit to their infidelity, that doesn't tend to bode well for the future.
“It’s easy to want to sympathize with someone who has cheated should they start saying that they felt deprived of love or depressed and hid it because they felt ashamed, disgusted with themselves, and were too afraid of losing the best thing they have in their life — you,” she explained. “This all may be true, but someone with this much self-awareness should never go out of their way to compromise the person they love’s self-awareness."
Cheating is hurtful enough, and lying about it adds another element of betrayal. So whether your partner can admit to their cheating when you confront them is a crucial factor to take into account.
It's a habit.
You’ve probably heard the old expression, “once a cheater, always a cheater.” While this is definitely an exaggeration, it exists for a reason: one 2017 study found that people who are unfaithful in their first relationship are three times more likely to cheat again in their next relationships. Only you can decide what constitutes a habit. If you know your partner cheated in a previous relationship and now they cheated on you again, that might be a red flag. Alternatively, if your partner has already been unfaithful in your current relationship before, a second strike may mean they’re out.
The point is, if you get the sense that this infidelity is not a one-time thing, you may very well have difficulty ever feeling totally secure in your relationship.
When you know someone has made the same mistake more than once, you’ll likely find yourself wondering what would stop them from making it again. If you’re not sure whether your partner has cheated before, you may want to ask them up front after you find out about their infidelity. Allowing them a chance to be forthcoming about their past indiscretions will help you to decide whether you want to call it quits.
Remember: trust is indeed something that can be rebuilt after it’s been broken — as long as both parties are willing to work on it, says Richardson. She suggests that if you get the sense that your SO can't or won't do the work to rebuild your trust, it could be time to reconsider your relationship.
Your trust is shattered.
Arguably, there's a difference between a cheater coming forward and confessing, and catching your partner in the act. For many people, it’s not the actual cheating that’s so difficult to get over, but the lying. So if you had to find out that your SO was being unfaithful for yourself, whether through texts, emails, voicemails, or word of mouth, there’s going to be an even stronger blow to your trust. If you didn’t find out about the infidelity, would they have ever told you? What else haven’t they told you about? A discovery like this can make it extremely challenging to take your partner at their word. Before long, you may find yourself questioning even the truth behind the simplest statements or promises they make.
Very often, people feel particularly betrayed when they were blindsided by the cheating, according to Trescott.
"In the aftermath of a cheating scandal, honesty seems to matter more than it ever has in the relationship,” says Trescott. “Trying to hunt down the truth is how we try to gain back control, reassurance, sanity and even closure. A crucial part of gaining this perspective is also a part that often gets neglected, and that is demanding honesty not only from your partner but especially from yourself. Instead of investing all your investigative fury into the person who has cheated, you have to seek clarity within yourself.”
Trescott recommends asking yourself if you were both showing up for each other before the cheating happened, whether you remember feeling neglected or acting neglectfully, and whether you held back from voicing concerns or asking questions when your dynamic felt “off.”
It's important to keep in mind that there isn't necessarily any justification for cheating, but there are factors that could better explain the behavior. If you’re unable to determine where something went wrong in your relationship that could have triggered the infidelity, Trescott says ending it may be your safest, sanest bet — because if you can’t make sense of a partner’s motive, you’ll end up feeling “directionless,” which can lead to paranoia in the future. But remember — an explanation is not an excuse.
“Even when your relationship feels solid, the past has proven to you there’s absolutely zero guarantees that you know what’s really going on,” she explained.
“For those who saw no signs, and even in retrospect can’t see where they could have done anything differently, staying in a relationship with someone who has cheated will be like handing your heart over blindly to someone you know can’t handle you with care. As a result, it's unlikely that the person who was cheated on will ever feel safe, compassionate, or confident moving forward if they were blindsided by the experience.”
You’re not feeling good about yourself anymore.
Realizing that your partner has cheated can inspire a slew of insecurities. You might start feeling like you’re not attractive enough, or you might start obsessing over what you may have done wrong to drive them to this behavior. Remember: There are countless reasons why someone may cheat, and there's no reason to blame yourself for it — in fact, the reason may have nothing to do with you. Your partner may be feeling insecure themselves lately and wanted to feel desirable, for example. That doesn’t mean that their actions won’t affect you, and if it gets to the point where your self-image feels negatively impacted, it may be time to walk away.
Richardson says it's important to recognize if you've become someone you don't like — someone's who's possessive, jealous, or mean, for example. "If you feel like your best self can no longer show up in the relationship, it is best that you walk away so that you can take better care of yourself," she explained.
Of course, this is something you should consider discussing with your SO before taking action. Letting them know how their behavior has made you feel will give them the opportunity to at least attempt to lessen your insecurities.
Your partner may not understand what you’re going through, but ideally they will at least give you validation for your feelings. In cases where your SO is so uncomfortable, guilty, or in denial that they can’t seem to sympathize with or have patience for your emotions surrounding the experience and the nagging questions that may flare up as a result, Trescott says you may not be able to repair your relationship post-cheating.
“If the person who cheated still wants to make it about themselves after they’ve cheated and not what they can do with and for you to purge yourself of this experience and even cleanse yourself of the emotional torture and trauma, then your heart may never feel truly seen or supported ever again within this relationship,” she says. “If you’re addressing the situation and your partner isn’t, you may wind up outgrowing the relationship before you can even out-love it.”
To be clear, not all relationships must end at the first sign of infidelity. Very often, cheating is a sign that something else is wrong in a relationship — so it’s up to you to decide whether that’s something that you’re willing to work on together, or whether it’s not worth it.
It's still possible that you are simply hurt beyond repair. While we all make mistakes, you deserve someone who you can trust, and who makes you feel good about yourself. If you get to a point where neither of those things is true, it’s important to communicate your concerns with your partner before making any rash decisions. Explore what might help rebuild your trust and your security in this relationship, whether between just the two of you or with the help of a trained professional, like a couples’ therapist. If you reach a point where it just doesn’t seem possible to repair the damage that’s done, you have every right to close this chapter — trust me, now that you’re stronger for this experience, the next one is going to be even better.
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