I recently found out that my long-term boyfriend of five years had cheated on me. What do I do now? How do I recover from this?
This post was contributed by dating coach Rishma Petraglia (@rishma_petraglia). She has a podcast called You Are Worthy of Love, which talks about dating, relationships, love, and heartbreak. Listen to it on Spotify here.
Being cheated on can be a very traumatizing experience—it can trigger emotions such as shame, guilt, grief, anger, and blame (Ed’s note: Beyoncé encapsulates it perfectly in her album Lemonade).
Many women blame themselves and think if only I did __________, my partner wouldn’t have cheated. Stop. This is so far from the truth!
One thing you need to understand about cheating is that people can get high off the feeling. Literally. Studies have shown that when a new love affair is a secret, it causes people to produce more pleasure seeking hormones.
In doing so, the cheater activates elevated levels of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin in their brain. Each cheating event is like taking another hit. These feel-good chemicals in their brains made them believe that what they’re doing isn’t that terrible.
The first thing you need to answer is this:
Are you willing to forgive your boyfriend, and do you believe he can change?
Right now, you need to evaluate him as a person. Try to understand who he is and what his values really are. Ask yourself: Did he ever lie in the relationship? Did you feel like he was hiding things from you, or being secretive?
If the answer is yes, the truth may be that being dishonest is part of who he is as a person.
Next, consider this:
Are you willing to forgive and spend time, energy and emotion to repair the relationship, or do you want to cut the cord and move on with your life?
If you decide you don’t want to stay in the relationship, I recommend that you do these two things that I’m about to suggest.
1. Feel your emotions
When someone cheats on you, it will bring out a lot of old emotions that you’ve experienced in your past. One emotion that typically comes up for people who have been cheated on is the feeling of shame and humiliation.
Realise that feelings of shame and hiding will creep up and will try to hold you hostage. For most women, when our partner cheats, our ‘shame story’ will tell us over and over again that ‘We are not enough’ and this is why our partner cheated.
Bringing awareness to your ‘shame story’ by journaling can help you heal the parts of you that feel broken and humiliated after the betrayal. Writing down how you feel can help you to release the feeling of shame.
Other emotions that are bound to manifest are grief, hurt and sadness. Grief is the feeling of losing someone or something that was close to you. When you suppress grief, you are preventing yourself from being open to another relationship.
To let go of grief, you must feel it fully and this takes time. The movies don’t give us a good representation of this concept – in most romantic comedies, you’d often see a heartbroken woman drinking wine, or binge eating ice-cream with her girlfriends after a breakup, and then she’s fine the next day.
As we all know, it’ll probably take a lot more than that to fully process this grief. And it’s important that you do so because if you suppress your emotions, you’re creating a blockage in your heart that can prevent you from attracting a new relationship.
So how can you move this process along?
Let yourself cry. Let out all of the sadness and hurt. Feel it fully. My personal suggestion is to light a candle, and put some binaural beats for the heart as you do so.
2. Recognise your beliefs
When someone cheats on you, this is an experience your mind will hold onto as evidence: that all men are cheaters.
This evidence can subconsciously turn into a belief, or support your prior beliefs. A belief is a thought repeated over and over again, that you deem as being true.
Understand that on a subconscious level, our beliefs create and curate our experiences in life. When we have a belief that is not serving us, it can control who we attract in a major way.
Go into your past experiences and ask yourself the following questions:
Did any of your exes cheat on your prior to this relationship?
Did your mom or dad cheat?
Who else do you know that has cheated on their partner?
If you answer is yes to two or more of these questions, it’s likely that you’d be holding onto some negative beliefs. This needs to change before you enter a new relationship.
Here’s how to do that: Create a new list looking for evidence of good. For instance, list as many examples of men who are faithful and trustworthy in their relationships. The more evidence you can provide, the easier it will be for your mind to change this deep-rooted belief that is no longer serving you.
Being cheated on is never an easy thing to deal with, and I’m so sorry that you’re going through this experience. I hope this helps you in some way, and I want you to know that you can come out of this just fine. Sending you so many positive vibes.
Have a question for dating coach Rishma? Email us at CLEO@sph.com.sg .