Your partner cheated on you. After the shock fades, you start to feel a burning in your chest. Your love and trust have been taken for granted. As the shock moves to anger, you want to scream in pain but nothing comes out. Your heart is hurting and you don’t know what to do. Part of you wants to destroy your partner’s belongings, but a deeper part wants to collapse on the floor and sob in agony.
Here’s what needs to take place if you want to salvage your relationship after an affair.
Make it clear the affair must end
As Beyoncé said, there will have to be “dust to side chicks” (or side dudes) if you want your relationship to have a fighting chance. Let your partner know that you will not be one among several side dishes. Either you will be his or her one and only, or there will be no relationship. Remain firm on this one, because if your partner continues to cheat and you stay in the relationship, this communicates that you are OK with what is happening.
The partner who cheated must want to get help
It will be difficult to move forward unless your partner is willing to attend couples counseling. So before that can happen, your partner must admit he or she was wrong. This is often where couples remain at a standstill. The cheater will try to convince their partner that what happened wasn’t his or her fault. The cheater might even assign blame to the person he slept with — or worse — you. Don’t accept the blame. It was your partner’s decision to get into this situation.
Love, intimacy, and sexuality coach Michele Fabrega told The Cheat Sheet that both partners should avoid playing the blame game:
Marriage counseling is a great source of healing and support. For most couples, I think it is a key investment to have the best chance at getting to a better place together. … Staying away from blame and getting into discovery mode is key. What are each of us missing in our relationship? What do we need from each other? What do we need for ourselves as individuals? Some couples might even choose to change their agreements around monogamy going forward.
You don’t necessarily have to forget, but you must forgive
Holding a grudge will slowly poison you and the relationship. You won’t be able to fully move on and maintain a healthy relationship unless you work hard at letting go of the pain inflicted on you by your partner. While the emotional wounds might always stay with you, attempt to forgive your partner for hurting you.
Check in with yourself
Spouses left in the aftermath of an affair often begin to question their self-worth and may fall into depression. It will be important to monitor how you’re feeling and take steps to keep yourself mentally well. Psychologist Willard F. Harley Jr. said the pain associated with an affair could even cause one to consider taking his or her own life. “What most people don’t realize is that the unfaithful spouse and the lover are also hurt by the experience. It almost always causes them to suffer acute depression, often with thoughts of suicide,” Harley writes in an article for Marriage Builders.
Know when to let go
If you find that, despite therapeutic intervention, you cannot work through the infidelity, don’t force it. Release yourself of the guilt and expectations imposed by others (and yourself), and let go of the relationship. Do what is best for you. Therapist Eboni Harris told The Cheat Sheet you’ll know it may be time to move on if your partner has not stopped being unfaithful, is unwilling to go to counseling, or won’t take responsibility for his or her role in the affair. But hey, maybe you just don’t want to be with them anymore.
Follow Sheiresa on Twitter @SheiresaNgo
[Editor’s Note: This story was first published November 2016]