As Sam Thompson and Zara McDermott hit headlines once again
Public service announcement: relationships can be hard.
Whether it’s bickering over the small stuff, like what put on the TV or deciding who should take the recycling out, or going head-to-head about bigger issues, where true differences of opinion come to the fore, every couple has their rough patches.
Most, if not all, relationships will face their own hurdles and challenges. Overcoming said challenges, to an extent, is what being in a healthy relationship is all about: mutual respect, listening to each other and tackling said hurdles together, as a team.
But if you’re searching the Internet for ‘how to cope with being cheated on’, we’re guessing, sadly, that your partner has been unfaithful. You are not alone. Shockingly, almost half (45%) of British men admit they’ve cheated on their partner at least once in their lifetimes. Similarly, a fifth (21%) of women in the UK have.
There’s no one ‘type’ of cheating—rather, there are several. There’s emotional cheating, which normally involves your partner communicating with another person in a romantic or flirtatious way behind your back. The lines between innocent, friendly chat and emotional cheating can be hard to distinguish, which makes it difficult to know when to walk away.
Physical cheating, on the other hand, is—yep, you guessed it—physical, that is, where your partner is physical with someone else. This can range from kissing, all the way up to having sex with someone else.
Wondering how to cope with being cheated on? While it can feel all-consuming and overwhelming at the time, you will move on, and you will find someone who treats you with the respect you deserve.
Below, we chat to a relationship expert and a psychologist for their top tips for coping, both physically and emotionally, if you’ve found out your partner has been cheating on you. It’s never easy, but we hope this helpful, practical advice will make things just that little bit easier.
How to cope with being cheated on
My partner’s been unfaithful on me. How should I feel?
The reality, there is no ‘normal’ way to feel when a partner cheats on you. It totally depends on the circumstance and your relationship. “It’s important to realise that feelings can come and go, and you’ll go through different stages. Some may feel quite contradictory, for example, relief it’s over alongside anger and frustration at how you were treated, says Kate Moyle, sex and relationship expert for LELO.
She continues: “It’s important to give yourself space for your feelings, and also prioritise self-compassion and acceptance, too. You shouldn’t be too hard on yourself – often we’re our own worst critic.”
Coping with being cheated on: the 7 stages
In therapy, Kate says that sometimes people talk about relationships ending being equivalent to a life loss or grievance. When someone cheats on you, you’re required to move to a ‘new normal’, which means your life follows similar patterns to a change or grief curve.
We often talk about moving through stages such as:
“At the initial stage of a breakup—that is, grief—you’ll really mourn the loss of an ex-partner,” shares psychologist and founder of The International Psychology Clinic Dr Martine Paglia.
“You’ll think about the time you spent together, things you have done, experiences you shared with one another, and so on. You’ll likely start questioning your own actions and feeling very low—this is normal. You’re going through grief,” she adds.
How to cope with being cheated on: 13 expert tips
1. Deal with your grief
“Try to manage your feelings as they pop up. Don’t not assume that all future partners will be the same”, says Kate. “So often, we carry the experiences or weight of previous relationships and experiences with us, but not always in a positive way”. If you feel like you could perhaps be starting to carry grievances forward, note this in yourself and your actions.
2. Talk it out
Talking is the cure, in Kate’s eyes. “Don’t keep it all in. Talk to a trusted friend or family member, or if you feel you need too, do see a counsellor or therapist. That way, you can have some space to be focused on you and your experience, plus work on your understanding of what’s happened.”
3. Rebalance the positives and negatives
A good tip is to try as much as you can to balance your thinking on both the positive and negative aspects of your ex-partner and the relationship, shares Martina.
“Ask yourself, ‘Was it really like as I am thinking about now? Am I exaggerating the positive and discounting the negative? What didn’t I like about the relationship? What set me off?’ And so on. In reality, nothing is perfect; there are ups and downs in every relationship. Possibly, with a partner who’s cheated, there were more downs than ups, otherwise you guys would still be together,” she adds.
4. Accept the hurt
Acknowledging that it’ll be painful now, but not forever, is important. “Try not to take your ex-partner’s behaviour as meaning everything about you. Infidelity can completely knock someone’s confidence and self-belief, but it says more about their behaviour than it does about yours,” says Kate. Hear, hear.
5. Try and see the bigger picture
Trauma can trigger massively dramatic responses—for example, your brain will start to consider the very best and worse scenarios. “To help you balance your thinking, you may find it useful to write down a list of, say, five good memories and five bad memories from the relationship”, Martina shares.
Why? “This will help you to see the bigger picture. Next, link the good memories and bad memories with how you felt at the time. Ask yourself the question: “How did I feel about being there? Do I want to feel that way again? Is it how I want to feel with my next partner?”. This will help you to learn from your previous relationship and avoid making the same mistakes next time.”
6. Surround yourself with people who make you smile
This one’s important. “Surround yourself with the people who love you. Spend time with the people that you love, who you know love and accept you for who you are. Allow them to boost your mood, and listen to them.”
7. Prioritise self-care
While you may not feel like you can make much time for yourself when feeling so low, the small things will help enormous amounts. Think washing your hair or painting your nails. “Do something for you,” shares Kate. “Put yourself first and focus on feel-good activities. Reclaim this time as an opportunity to boost yourself, whether it’s doing a home workout, listening to a new podcast, downloading an app that’ll help safeguard your mental health, or watching a new series. Something that you want to do that’s just for you.”
8. Get outside
Fun fact: walking outside has been shown to improve mental health. “Even if it’s just a short walk, it’ll just give you the chance to change your context for the day. Plus, you’ll feel more energised by the increased oxygen intake,” shares Kate.
9. Keep busy
Sounds obvious, isn’t so simple when you’re struggling with low grade depression. “Making sure you’re busy will bring a degree of comfort and self-soothing to your days”, shares Martina. “Make sure you’re doing things you enjoy doing and that make you happy, and don’t exert you too much. Some examples of caring behaviours that require little effort, time and money include having your a coffee in your favourite spot or reading your go-to author’s new book,” she explains.
It’ll take time, but when you are ready to date again, it’s important to set clear boundaries. “Decide what is acceptable for you and not; if a new partner doesn’t like them, then they aren’t the right partner for you,” Kate explains.
11. Don’t compare yourself to others
Take your time and don’t judge your progress based on other people’s. Every relationship, and every break-up, is different. “You don’t give yourself a fair chance to focus on how well you’re doing if you’re focusing on how everyone else is doing. Every person’s timeline is different”, Kate details.
12. Plan, plan, plan
This may not be for everyone, but Martina explains that for some, making sure they’ve etched out plans for the week is essential for safeguarding their mental health. “It’s really important to plan your weekly commitments ahead so that you can visualise your diary and fill the gaps,” she explains.
“I usually suggest to my clients who are struggling with breakups to take some time on a Sunday afternoon to look at their calendar and organise what they’ll do next week when they have any free time The final step is to review your diary – you want to make sure that you don’t overbook yourself. Then just do it, stick to your commitments and notice how taking care of yourself and doing what you love makes you feel.” Distraction and reminding yourself that there is more to life is sometimes just the cure.
13. And… masturbate
Yep, you read that right. “Remember: you don’t need a partner to have a sex life,” shares Kate. “Taking the time to explore your own body, at your own speed your own time, is important”. You could try different masturbation techniques or sex toys. Remember that pleasure is something that you can give yourself, too.