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OK ladies, getting cheated on hurts. A lot. Whether it happens once or repeatedly, the sense of intimate betrayal and the inevitable loss of relationship trust is devastating. And, sadly, the pain and mistrust you feel may linger throughout the remainder of your relationship (and possibly into future relationships). However, it doesn’t have to rule your life. As you work through and past your partner’s betrayal, you can learn a lot about yourself and what’s truly important in your life, regardless of whether you decide to stay in or end your current relationship.
Before I talk about the things you can learn, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: You did not cause the cheating. There is nothing you did or didn’t do that caused your partner to violate the boundaries of your relationship. If he was unhappy with you or the relationship for some reason, real or imagined, he had plenty of choices beyond infidelity – the most meaningful of which would be talking to you, perhaps with the assistance of a couple’s counselor, about his feelings and how the two of you might be able to make your relationship better. Your partner’s choice to cheat is not your fault. Period. End of discussion.
Now the potential enlightenment. Please note that not every betrayed woman will identify with all (or any) of these learning points. However, some will. And when that happens, a better life can evolve as a result. So if you have a history of becoming intimate with men who ultimately betray you, read on.
- You might have a bad picker. If you’ve ever said, “I will never date another guy like that,” only to find yourself in similar situations again and again, you are probably choosing the wrong men. This type of pattern typically results from childhood trauma –neglect, abuse, inconsistent parenting, and the like – that teaches problematic life lessons about trust and intimate attachment, with those lessons carrying forward into adulthood. Common childhood issues that lead to a “bad picker” include a parent’s pattern of infidelity or a parent’s abandonment of the family (either physically or emotionally, as occurs with alcoholism and other forms of addiction). This teaches you to seek attachment with people who either can’t or won’t fully attach. So as an adult you choose partners who are likely to cheat or to abandon you in some other meaningful way. If this sounds familiar, therapy can help to resolve the trauma that’s undermining you, while also helping you understand what you truly need and want as an adult. This, in turn, can lead to a healthier romantic attachment moving forward.
- You might confuse sexual intensity with intimacy. The healthiest and most enjoyable romantic relationships are as much (if not more) about close companionship as hot sex. However, some women think they want and/or need a blazing physical attraction more than an intimate emotional connection. Because of this, they can end up with a partner they’re physically attracted to, but with whom they have little in common. So maybe your guy is a smooth-talking stud that makes your friends and even your mom jealous, but you have to ask yourself: “Does he care about who I am as a person? Do we share values, beliefs, and fun experiences? Do my friends and family like him? Or do I only feel like we’re fully connected when we’re having sex?” If you worry about telling your guy about your dreams or your embarrassing moments, there is almost certainly a lack of genuine emotional intimacy and connection in your relationship, and eventually things are going to go wrong because of that, whether it’s infidelity or just growing apart and slowly becoming miserable. Admittedly, sexual attraction is important – even required to some degree in those you date – but ultimately this fades for every person and every relationship, as physical attraction is (and is meant to be) the magnet that brings us together rather than the glue that keeps us there.
- Your self-esteem might need a boost. Women who are (even temporarily) insecure about their looks or some other self-perceived shortcoming will sometimes settle for the first man that seems interested, even if he’s kind of empty and emotionally unavailable. A lot of the time these terrific yet emotionally fragile women end up with men who reinforce their already low self-esteem as a way of making themselves feel stronger and more important. Sometimes these women don’t even need a man to help them with this damage; they complain about what they see as imperfections without external prompting. If this sounds familiar, this might be a good time to take a relationship timeout, investing instead in supportive friendships and experiences that will help you grow stronger, perhaps joining a women’s support group or getting into therapy to work on your self-esteem. Every woman is beautiful and wonderful, including you. When you understand that about yourself, you will also understand there’s a really great guy out there who will love and adore you exactly as you are.
- You may have “lost yourself” while in the relationship. Many women, when they get into a relationship, tend to “lose themselves” in their role as lover and partner, especially as the romance heats up. They stop calling friends, they blow off their usual social engagements, they stop hanging out with colleagues, and they focus almost entirely on the relationship. This is natural and normal and we all do it to some extent, but it can be carried too far. Relationships are meant to add to your life, not to replace it. When you’re in a relationship, you still need to be yourself, with your own interests, desires, values, and activities. So when you hook up with a guy and get serious about that relationship, you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) only listen to music he likes, only post pictures of you with him on your social media feeds, etc. If everything is about him and your relationship, you will begin to feel trapped and overly enmeshed, and when that occurs your relationship is bound to struggle.
- You might fear being alone. A lot of women get into relationships simply because they don’t want to be alone. And because of that, they latch onto the wrong guy. In time, this causes relationship friction and the usual problems, including infidelity if he chooses that option. If this sounds familiar, if you’re a woman who tends to enter into a new relationship before you’ve even had time to process the end of your previous relationship, then maybe it’s time to spend some quality time as a single woman – getting to know yourself, learning to rely on your female friends for meaningful support, and figuring out what you want and don’t want in your relationships moving forward. And yes, this can seem like a scary thing to do, especially if you’re worried about being alone forever. I promise you, however, that the self-confidence and self-knowledge you develop as a self-sustaining single woman will make you very attractive to all sorts of really great guys who want to love a strong woman exactly as she is. So single for now does not mean you’ll be single forever.
As stated above, I think the most important thing you can know after you’ve been cheated on is that it’s not your fault. Nothing you did or didn’t do caused your man to cheat. That means it’s OK for you to get mad and to have other strong feelings. In fact, it’s perfectly normal for your emotions to be all over the place – loving him one minute, hating him the next. At times, you might feel like you’re living in a Taylor Swift song. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, so you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. Instead, you can talk to your friends and/or your therapist about this perfectly natural and fully expected reaction to the deep emotional trauma you’ve experienced.
Lastly, I want to say that if you are willing to work on your relationship and your cheating mate is as well, then your relationship can not only survive the infidelity, it can become better than ever. This process of healing and improving is discussed in detail in my recently published book, Out of the Doghouse: A Step-By-Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating. Although this book is primarily written for cheating men, betrayed partners also find it quite useful. Often, a woman reads the book and then gives it to her cheating partner, who, if he truly wants to make things right, reads it and finally starts to understand the impact of his behavior.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is a digital-age intimacy and relationships expert specializing in infidelity and addictions. He is the author of several highly regarded books. Currently, he is Senior Vice President of National Clinical Development for Elements Behavioral Health, creating and overseeing addiction and mental health treatment programs for more than a dozen high-end treatment facilities. For more information please visit his website, robertweissmsw.com, or follow him on Twitter, @RobWeissMSW.