Coping With Infidelity

I’ve spo­ken else­where about tran­si­tion­ing from cheat­ing to a polyamorous rela­tion­ship, an arti­cle which is direct­ed to the cheater, but I’ve heard from mul­ti­ple peo­ple who have been cheat­ed on and want advice. Whether they are monog­a­mous or polyamorous, I hon­est­ly think the steps involved are the same.

Where I’m Coming From

For the sake of open­ness, I’ll dis­close that I’ve been cheat­ed on, and that expe­ri­ence def­i­nite­ly informs my opin­ions. My for­mer part­ner vio­lat­ed our explic­it agree­ments repeat­ed­ly dur­ing our years togeth­er. He had an affair with a woman he’d specif­i­cal­ly agreed not to get involved with and the woman con­tact­ed me to try to break us up when he dumped her. I for­gave him at that time. Years lat­er, he vio­lat­ed our safer sex agree­ments and had unpro­tect­ed sex with some­one he’d agreed not to have sex with, then con­cealed the fact that he was hav­ing sex with her for over a month, hav­ing unpro­tect­ed sex with me in the inter­im. There were many oth­er inci­dents over the years, but that last one even­tu­al­ly led to the end of a 14-year part­ner­ship, large­ly because he refused to end that rela­tion­ship and he would­n’t go to ther­a­py with me to work out the prob­lems it caused for us. I know where­of I speak.

Infidelity is Inexcusable

Infi­deli­ty is inex­cus­able, but it is for­giv­able if the cheater is con­trite and ful­ly hon­est. There are always, how­ev­er, con­se­quences. By inex­cus­able, I mean that there are lit­er­al­ly no excus­es for vio­lat­ing the agree­ments you’ve entered into with your part­ner. It does­n’t mat­ter whether or not the cheater felt neglect­ed or lone­ly or was drunk/high/stoned/bored/angry/out of town. It does­n’t mat­ter whether or not the two of you were get­ting along well or not hav­ing sex fre­quent­ly when the cheat­ing occurred. There are no excus­es. If there’s a prob­lem in your rela­tion­ship, infi­deli­ty is nev­er the answer—working out the prob­lem is.

The Cheater’s Behavior

A cheater often tries to make excus­es in order to avoid fac­ing the facts about them­selves: that they are whol­ly cul­pa­ble for their own actions, that they have delib­er­ate­ly act­ed in such a way as to cause harm to some­one they claim to love, and that their actions may have caused irrepara­ble harm to the rela­tion­ship between them and the vio­lat­ed partner.

If your part­ner is tru­ly con­trite, that is a good sign. True con­tri­tion means that they are indeed sor­ry that they hurt you, not just sor­ry that they got caught. A tru­ly con­trite per­son will cut off all con­tact with the per­son or per­sons with whom they cheat­ed with­out any urg­ing from you and will let you know imme­di­ate­ly if he hears from them in any way. If you feel a need to snoop on their com­mu­ni­ca­tions in any way instead of trust­ing them to do that, there’s more heal­ing to do. Spy­ing on your part­ner isn’t healthy for you. It’s also like­ly that you’ll learn some­thing that will make you even more unhappy.

Are they min­i­miz­ing what they did? If so, that’s bad. “It was just one time/a few quickies/I did­n’t care about them”—any of that talk is a way to try to min­i­mize what hap­pened and weasel out of tak­ing the blame. In short, they might be sor­ry that they got caught, but they aren’t real­ly sor­ry that they hurt you. Dump them and get start­ed on the heal­ing process.

Take Care of Yourself

As for cop­ing with the hurt and rebuild­ing your rela­tion­ship, first, step back and take care of your­self. You’ve been hurt. Your trust has been vio­lat­ed by some­one you should have been able to count on to love you and treat you well. Emo­tion­al pain is the same as phys­i­cal pain as far as your brain is con­cerned, so you need time to recu­per­ate. Be gen­tle. Reach out for sup­port from peo­ple you trust, or cocoon for a while, depend­ing on how you heal. Con­sid­er seek­ing help from a ther­a­pist to process your feel­ings if pos­si­ble. It is nor­mal to feel vio­la­tion, shame, hurt, anger, pain, humil­i­a­tion, and even guilt after you’ve been cheat­ed on. You might feel dam­age to your sense of self if you’re heav­i­ly invest­ed in this relationship.

You need to get a full set of STD tests: HIV, Hepati­tis B, Hepati­tis C, Syphilis, Gon­or­rhea, Her­pes Sim­plex Virus (I & II) (HSV IgG test), Chlamy­dia, Gen­i­tal HPV (women), and Oral HPV (must obtain from a dentist)—see this arti­cle by Joreth for fur­ther infor­ma­tion. Do that right away. I don’t care if your part­ner claims they used bar­ri­ers or not. They’ve already been dis­hon­est, and at this point, you have no rea­son to trust them about that (and bar­ri­ers don’t stop every­thing). It’s your health and you need to pro­tect yourself.

Don’t even think of hav­ing unpro­tect­ed sex with them. Sex won’t make things bet­ter, and it could fur­ther expose you to all man­ner of nasty dis­eases, some of them incur­able. Don’t even con­sid­er non-bar­ri­er sex until you’re cer­tain they’ve been faith­ful for a full year and have a full year of peri­od­ic STD tests show­ing that they aren’t going to infect you in any way.

Take Time to Decide

Decide whether or not you want to repair the rela­tion­ship. Don’t make any quick deci­sions, and don’t let your part­ner pres­sure you. Kick them out if nec­es­sary. This is time for a legal sep­a­ra­tion if you’re mar­ried, or at least insist­ing that they sleep on the couch. Yes, if you have kids they will know that some­thing’s wrong, but you’re kid­ding your­self if you think they don’t know that already. Be hon­est with them in say­ing that your part­ner did some­thing wrong and that you and your part­ner are tak­ing some time away from each oth­er to think things out. They don’t need any more detail than that. (Don’t bad-mouth each oth­er to the kids. That hurts the chil­dren and it won’t help either of you.)

What do I mean by decid­ing whether or not you want to repair the rela­tion­ship? Well, how healthy was it in the first place? Are the two of you tru­ly good togeth­er? Is this per­son healthy for you? How do you feel when you’re with them? Are the two of you togeth­er out of habit? What kind of per­son are they? What kind of part­ner are they? What kind of par­ent are they? If you met them all over again, would you go out with them? Get involved with them?

If You’re Staying In the Relationship

If you decide that you want to repair the rela­tion­ship, find out whether they’re com­mit­ted to repair­ing it and them­selves. They might not be will­ing to do the work involved. After all, they’re the one who did the dam­age to it. They would prob­a­bly pre­fer to just sweep what hap­pened under the rug and go on as things were, but that isn’t best for anyone.

When I say they have to work on repair­ing them­selves I’m quite seri­ous. Are they will­ing to look at what led them to behave in such a destruc­tive man­ner? Are they behav­ing in a com­pul­sive man­ner with regards to sub­stance abuse or sex? If so, are they will­ing to deal with that some­how? Are they in ther­a­py? Is it work­ing, or do they need to switch ther­a­pists? Will they attend and engage active­ly in a sup­port group?

If you’re both com­mit­ted to repair­ing the rela­tion­ship, decide what that looks like. (Cou­ples ther­a­py is a real­ly good tool for work­ing this part out.) Do the two of you need to work on increas­ing the inti­ma­cy in the rela­tion­ship? (That isn’t a code word for sex.) What would that look like? How are you going to go about it?


Whether or not you’re going to con­tin­ue invest­ing in this rela­tion­ship, for­give your part­ner for the sake of your own emo­tion­al health. If you cling to resent­ment, you’ll hurt your­self. If you’re try­ing to heal the rela­tion­ship, a lack of true for­give­ness will sab­o­tage it. For­give­ness does not mean pre­tend­ing noth­ing bad hap­pened, though. It means acknowl­edg­ing the harm, let­ting go of resent­ment, doing what it takes to heal your­self and the rela­tion­ship, and mov­ing forward.

Good luck!

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