3 Important Things I Learned from Being Cheated On
It has taken me quite some time to write about the dissolution of my last relationship. Part of that was the pain of having to leave my partner and figure out my life, but another part was due to the fact that he cheated on me. I felt embarrassed that this happened and I was unsure about what to make of it in my own life as a sex and dating coach.
Ultimately, I learned how incredibly common this gut-wrenching experience is and that the direct experience gave me a deeper understanding of the nature of infidelity. So, after about five months of separation, I am ready to share my story and what I learned. Here it goes.
On Valentine’s Day of this year my partner of two years disclosed that he was unsure if he could be in a committed relationship and that he had been cheating on me for about four months. Everything that I had worked so hard for in my relationship and all that I believed about our future together was upended that day.
What happened over the two months following his disclosure was heartbreaking and forced me to evaluate who I am and what I was willing to do for my relationship. Though it was an incredibly isolating experience I know that I am not alone. I know that there are others who have been blindsided by infidelity or will be in the future.
My hope is that through sharing what I learned the hard way I can give some relief to those in a similar position.
1. Cheating is almost never about sexual desire alone.
I personally believe that in long-term relationships there will be attractions and crushes but that if handled with honesty and respect the integrity of the partnership can remain intact. At one point, my partner and I discussed this and it was understood that we would tell the other if anyone else came up on our radar.
I believe that my partner cheated because of a fear of commitment and his personal insecurities within our relationship. Internalized fear mixed with attraction to another person is a powerful combination and it can make otherwise caring people act in incredibly hurtful ways.
2. Sometimes there are no signs.
There are plenty of articles and blogs about how to know if someone is cheating on you, but the fact is that there are instances where people cheat and the partner will never know. Some people are particularly good at deception, of self and others. They build a wall between themselves and their partner. This wall acts as a shield for them to do things completely on their own and limit their guilt. For some this could result in a change in behavior that is detectable, but for others it just won’t. In my case, I had absolutely no idea that my partner was seeing someone else.
3. Mental health support is crucial.
Betrayal can be a traumatic event. I learned this through personal experience and by investigating the work of therapist and renowned relationship researcher, Dr. John Gottman. After my partner's disclosure I had several PTSD-like symptoms like hyper-vigilance, flashback, fear, severe anxiety, and self-destructive thoughts. I felt unlike myself and knew I would need outside help to get through it.
After reading Gottman’s The Relationship Cure my partner and I were inspired to find a Gottman couples therapist. My partner started seeing his own therapist and I started a trade with a fellow coach which has been incredibly helpful for me. I still see her for support because things come up for me unexpectedly that I need help working though.
The decision to stay or leave after you find out your partner is cheating is yours alone. Remember that cheating is more about whatever the person who cheated is going through than it is about sex. You may have never suspected this could happen to you and that’s okay. Therapy can help you to work through the often traumatic aftermath of cheating.
If you don’t think that you can afford mental health care, there are many low-cost options for therapy, including video therapy like Talk Space and Maven. And if those aren't available to you either, just talk to someone in your life who cares about you. It's so important to lean on friends and family, even if you think they may judge you. The chances are high that they have gone through something similar and can help you through it.