Getting cheated on can leave you with an indescribably bad feeling that never seems to completely go away. You’re left feeling hurt, confused, angry, and most of all, betrayed. However, it’s important to realize this is actually a blessing in disguise. While it may not feel like it, you’ll be thankful in the long run.
The Cheat Sheet spoke with Dr. Stan Tatkin, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and author of Wired for Love, and Jackie Pilossoph, founder of the blog Divorced Girl Smiling. We asked them to share their insight on why people cheat and how it can be beneficial. Get comfy and read on for more.
The Cheat Sheet: How can getting cheated on be a blessing in disguise?
Stan Tatkin: Affairs are most often a sign that there is a deeper, more profound issue of fidelity within the relationship. By fidelity I am not referring to affairs but to the secure functioning of the relationship. Secure functioning relationships operate as two-person systems based in true mutuality and interdependence. Partners are fully transparent, protect each other in public and private, are the go-to people, and operate according to principles of fairness, justice, and sensitivity. When one partner has an affair, the result is a crisis that can set in motion a real transformation of the relationship toward secure functioning. It can be the catalyst for growth and increased complexity. The affair can become a scar that reminds both partners of their failings, a reminder that drives them to do better and be better people. But the main ingredient of this lesson is regret. Without embracing regret people will repeat self-harming behavior and remain young (and not in the good sense). Betrayal cannot be forgotten or forgiven. Partners must own their misdeeds and strive to become more than they were before they did harm.
Jackie Pilossoph: There are blessings that come from getting cheated on:
1. The person who got cheated on might “wake up” and make an effort to make the relationship work. Someone who was always against counseling might agree to it, knowing that their spouse has cheated and could choose to leave.
2. The person who got cheated on might get left, in which case they go through a terrible time with sadness, devastation, and low self-esteem. But if they are willing to work on themselves, with therapy, faith, exercise, healthy eating, a professional life they love, and they take steps to achieve a new life that makes them truly happy, they will come to realize that there were problems in the marriage they didn’t see (or didn’t want to see). This then sets them up to meet someone who is a better fit, and who won’t cheat on them.
CS: In your opinion, why do people cheat?
ST: One reason is that some of us find dependency on another person to be particularly threatening. The thrill of courtship fades and our partner suddenly becomes “deep family.” We may feel that our sense of self and autonomy is in jeopardy the moment we find ourselves depending on a partner. The roots of these fears go back to our earliest experiences with our caregivers. As such, the only way of feeling free is to go outside of our primary relationship. Sometimes this is our solution to feeling trapped. We go outside because we seek admiration, novelty, and a renewed sense of hope and aliveness. Some of us fear depending on another person because we remember being abandoned, rejected, or punished and so we go outside the relationship to feel wanted or to punish our partner.
Still another reason people cheat is because they can, which leads us back to my first point about secure functioning relationships. Cheating comes naturally to the human animal. So then what prevents us from cheating on our partner? Fear of getting caught? That won’t stop us forever. Lack of desire to cheat? That is no assurance for the future. Desire to cheat can change over time or an unforeseen opportunity may arise. Being in love or feeling attracted to our partner? Again, a flimsy safeguard because feelings shift and change through time. What keeps us from cheating in the long run is fear of betraying our own principles and the ones that assure mutual safety and security with our partner.
JP: When men and women cheat, it is often because they are feeling unfulfilled emotionally in their marriage. Instead of talking to their spouse, going to therapy together, or choosing another way to try to make the situation at home better, they turn to an affair, in hopes to fulfill what’s missing. Cheating, in my opinion shows an inability to see the big picture, and what is possible if you try other, healthier avenues to fill what’s missing. Even if you and your spouse can’t make it work, at least you can say you tried without having a third person having entered the situation.
CS: What is the best way to get over the heartbreak and move on?
JP: The best way to get over the heartbreak of being cheated on is to first realize that it was very much beyond your control, and that the cheating is more about your spouse than it is about you. This takes a long time, a lot of introspection, therapy, and other healthy life choices to figure out. I know countless men and women whose spouses cheated on them. They got divorced and are now in very happy, fulfilling relationships with someone else! It just takes time, patience, and the ability to let go of the past.
I think that people who don’t get over being cheated on are the ones who play the victim — the ones who never stop talking about how much their ex ruined their life. Being cheated on is like anything else in life that happens to a person, that is to a large extent out of your control. So, treat it like, ‘this was the card I was dealt. Now, how do I handle it and become happy again?’ instead of ‘my life would have been perfect if so and so never cheated on me and we were still together.’ He or she is gone, so let yourself have a big pity party, and then it’s time to get it together and figure out the life you want. It’s not easy! But countless men and women I know have been cheated on and are now in other relationships and blissfully happy!