When you find out that someone you love has been unfaithful, it can be devastating. "People tend to feel like the cheating is a result of something they did wrong," Shavonda Johnson, a licensed social worker and therapist, tells POPSUGAR. You may experience feelings of sadness and disappointment — especially if you've convinced yourself that you were somehow not good enough, she explains. Cheating can also trigger feelings of anger that you weren't taken into consideration and breed feelings of mistrust not only in your current partner but also in future relationships.
While the logical thing to do would be to just "get over it" and move on, that's a lot easier said than done. When you've been betrayed by someone you love, that pain runs deep, and it can take a long time for your heart to mend. Here, Johnson lays out some practical ways to heal from infidelity, as well as build healthy relationships if or when you decide to move on.
How to Heal When You've Been Cheated On
There is no right way to cope after being cheated on — moving on will look different for everyone, as will the timeline for healing — but these tips from Johnson can help.
1. Avoid self-blame.
It's a common pitfall, but one you should try to overcome. "The truth is, we can always be better at relationships. Having consistent areas of improvement does not mean that someone has the right to cheat," Johnson says. "I once heard a quote that says, 'The way people choose to mishandle you often has more to do with them and less to do with you.' And often that is true. People's behaviors can have a negative impact on us, but that doesn't mean that we provoked them to do so, which means that we are not to blame." When you start to think negatively about yourself, try imagining if a friend were in your position, and show yourself the same kindness you would show them.
2. Make sure you're processing your feelings.
You may be experiencing some ugly emotions right now, and yes, it would be easier to brush them off than confront the pain — but ignoring your feelings can cause you to implode later on. It's important to acknowledge how you're feeling in these moments, even if you'd really prefer not to. "Sometimes, it is helpful to say, 'In this moment, I am sad,' or 'In this moment, I am mad,'" Johnson says. "Taking a moment to pause and recognize how you feel can be empowering."
3. Have a game plan for dealing with big emotions.
There's no telling when the painful emotions that accompany infidelity will creep in, but thinking ahead to how you'll navigate them can be helpful. "For example, you can say, when I feel a difficult emotion, I am going to commit to journaling, calling a friend, or going to do something that brings me some calmness," Johnson says. Doing this can help you feel your emotions without getting stuck in an emotional rut for longer than you'd like.
4. Consider getting a therapist.
Talking to a trained professional who understands the trauma cheating can cause may help you heal and move forward, whether you're going it alone or with a partner. "I am a therapist, and I believe in the power of therapy," Johnson says. "Therapy is a safe and empowering place to address and work through some of the fears and traumas."
5. Understand that healing takes time.
Be careful not to compare yourself to others, or push yourself to move on because your ex has or because you've known others who have been able to do so. "Our resilience levels are all different. Our processing levels are different as well," Johnson explains, adding that these alone could mean that one person could move on in a matter of days or weeks, while another could need months or years to fully heal. "Neither are wrong. They are just different."
In the meantime, show yourself some compassion. "It's important to know that some highs will be really high and some lows will be really low," Johnson says. "Showing self-grace also means that being your 'best' is going to look different every day. Some days you will feel like, 'I have this,' while other days will feel like, 'I really might be on the brink of losing it.'" It's normal to feel a range of emotions for as long as it takes, so manage your expectations.
How to Avoid Feelings of Mistrust in a New Relationship
Sometimes people who have experienced the betrayal of cheating carry that trauma and fear into their new relationships. Is this always a bad thing? Not necessarily, explains Johnson.
"I think it is important to say that healing is a journey and a practice. One could move on from a relationship where there was cheating, have healthy boundaries, strong communication, [have] processed the events well, and still have fear and trauma. The bigger thing is focusing on how well you are able to manage the fear and trauma," she says. "The fear and trauma may be there, but if one has developed coping skills, those will be better managed."
To ensure that past hurts don't hinder you from developing healthy relationships, Johnson says you should be vulnerable about being cheated on and share any fears you may have with your new or prospective partner once you've established trust. Opening up to your partner can help them better understand what you've been through and how that may negatively impact your relationships. Again, if you're struggling to find a path forward, speaking to a therapist can help.