I just found out that my boyfriend cheated on me with someone I thought was a friend! I don’t know how long the affair has been going on, he wouldn’t tell me. I feel lost and confused. What do I do now?
Chantelle from New Jersey, USA
I’m sorry to hear about what happened. Finding out that your boyfriend cheated on you is more than just a signal that your relationship is in crisis, it’s a real, legitimate emotional trauma. Cheating, by definition is a violation of the rules that you live by as a couple. It is all about lying and betrayal and it can make even the most self-assured person question your self-value.
And this is true, by the way, whether the cheating was a one-time fling, a “friends with benefits” release, an intense emotional affair, or a full-blown physical and emotional relationship with someone else. The hurt is real. The pain is intense. And, though it takes two people to have a relationship and two people to ruin it, the fault in this case rests solely with the one who did the cheating.
Making the choice to stay together and work past the cheating or cut and run, obviously, is way too specific to each relationship and the people in it in order for me to give blanket advice.
However in the first days and weeks following the discovery or revelation of a cheating boyfriend, the actions that you take should largely be the same. The goal is to step back, calm down, reassess, and think about more than just the emotional trauma you are feeling in this moment.
Here are some important steps you can take to get that done and move on as a healthy and whole person, whether it is as a single person or still as one of a couple.
Get Away from Him
It is incredibly important to physically and emotionally distance yourself from your man for as long as you need after you find out about an affair.
This serves two, very important purposes. First, it allows you to cool your anger and communicate at a more even level with him, regardless of what you decide to do next. Second, it allows you to focus on the important part of this experience – yourself – and consider what’s best for you without the input and emotions of his presence.
However, while it is important to take as much time as you need, taking too much time can be equally dangerous since it leads to overthinking an already complicated situation. Don’t allow yourself to rehash every part of your relationship and every choice you made as individuals and couples. You cannot change the past and obsessing over it will help no one.
Get Angry, but Stay Rational
The intense violation of trust that takes place when someone cheats is a real emotional trauma. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. As such, it is important to express yourself and verbalize how you feel about that trauma in a safe space. Whether that is with a friend, at the gym, or with a therapist is irrelevant.
However, there is a big difference between expressing anger and acting out revenge. While the later may feel good in the moment, it will only complicate things further as your attempts to inflict pain create a bigger rift from both your beau and your grip on reality. Remember: two wrongs don’t make a right.
Forgive, but Don’t Forget
It is equally important for your own mental health that you find a way to forgive your boyfriend whether or not you plan to work things out in the relationship.
Failing to forgive him does not punish him, it punishes you, since you now have to carry the burden of your anger and betrayal around for as long as it takes.
However, as important as forgiveness is, you cannot forget what happened. That is, if you do choose to stick it out and work through the cheating, you need to proceed with caution.
You cannot let things go back to the way they were. This sends the message that the cheating was not as traumatic as it actually was and places the burden of moving forward with you alone. You must learn to move on since everything is “back to normal.”
Do What’s Right for You
Whether you pack your bags or go into counselling, moving on from the trauma of a cheating boyfriend needs to be about doing what is best for you, your mental health, and your future.
It is important to look at the relationship objectively and determine not only whether or not it is worth saving, but what actions led to the cheating in the first place.
Here is where you must evaluate your own role and your own choices. By doing this, you change the only thing you can – yourself. You make yourself stronger, more aware, and better able to move on in this or any relationship.