It’s not fair.
That instead of following the promise to have and to hold, your spouse made the decision to crumple up and throw away those vows. That your partner chose to forsake you in the pursuit of others. That your other half replaced intimacy with lies and betrayal, eroding the marriage from within.
And now you’re left dealing with the consequences of those choices.
It’s not fair.
You’re angry that you’ve been put in this position and maybe even wondering if relationships are worth the potential pain. You’re worried that you may struggle to trust again and that if you do, betrayal may find you yet again. You’re embarrassed that you were defrauded and you doubt your own perceptions and choices. You’re tired of being the responsible one, the one who cleans up the mess that is left behind.
And it’s not fair.
The unfortunate fact is that your partner’s infidelity not only impacted your marriage, it will also continue to impact you moving forward. The good news is that with awareness and intention on your part, you can limit and even learn to benefit from some of that influence.
And it all starts with recognizing the impacted that being cheated on has on your next relationship.
Trust is Replaced With Doubt
Most people confide that the realization of the ongoing deception was the most painful part of being cheated on. It’s so difficult to integrate what you now know about your partner with what you thought you knew.
At the minimum, lies of omission were carefully maintained in an attempt to conceal the truth of the affair. Half-truths were delivered and excuses offered up in order to buy opportunity for indiscretion. As a result, you now have trouble taking people at their word. Is he really staying late at the office, or is that just the story you’re being fed?
It’s easy to get carried away with truth-finding, veering into the dangerous territory of obsessive snooping and interrogation, punishing a new partner for the sins of the old. It’s natural to want to control things. To pursue lies like a cat hunting down its prey. Yet the reality is that no amount of searching will uncover everything and that operating from a place of assuming deception will ruin everything. There’s a balance that must be reached between trusting everything and believing nothing. And you reach that point, you will be miserable in every new relationship and you will make your partner miserable as well.
In the worst cases of infidelity, gaslighting tactics were used against you, causing you to have trouble trusting even the most basic of perceptions. Gaslighting is a type of emotional abuse where careful and crafty manipulations are used to make you doubt your sanity and your observations. The impact of gaslighting is more persistent and more nefarious than that of the garden-variety lie because your trust issues are less with others and more with yourself. Recovering from this type of abuse takes time, persistence and a constant awareness of its impact.
Insecurity Can Run Wild
You thought your partner had your back when instead they were cheating behind it. You expected your spouse to be there for you only to discover they were trying to free themselves of you. When the affair came to light, you felt powerless. Worthless as you concluded that somehow you weren’t enough for your spouse. Your partner made the decision to have an affair and all you can do is react as your marriage slips out of your hands.
And the natural reaction when we lose our grip is to grasp even tighter.
It’s not unusual for those that have been cheated upon to smother their new relationships. It can be an attractant at first. After all, you doesn’t like to receive attention? However, the insecurity behind those actions will eventually make itself clear and have the unintended consequence of pushing people away.
Insecurity can also lead to an uptick in perfectionist and people-pleasing qualities in an effort to be the “perfect partner” and to avoid future infidelity. Those strategies will also backfire as they have a tendency to slide into resentment or martyrdom.
The remedy for insecurity isn’t found in holding tighter or in the illusion of perfection. Security is found within, in trusting yourself, your instincts and your decisions. When you seek validation outside of yourself, you will never find it. When you find validation within yourself, you will never lose it.
Defenses Are Fortified
“I will never allow myself to be hurt like that again!”
I get it. The pain of betrayal is so piercing. So all-encompassing that all you want is for the agony to end and to never take the risk of feeling it again.
And so you build walls. Allow people in, but only so far. You rationalize your choices by claiming that they are smart. Prudent. That when you went all-in before it was out of a foolishness of youth.
You may find that when discord does strike, you have a sudden and intense impulse to cut your losses and end the relationship. You’d rather be the one leaving rather than again being the one left behind.
It’s tempting to try to build a relationship in such a way to mitigate risk. But relationships don’t work that way. Without vulnerability, there is no chance of connection. Of intimacy. Of all of the things that make love worthwhile.
Responsibility May be Shifted
Are you caught up in blaming the other woman for seducing your hapless husband? Or are you convinced that your wife’s flaws are the reason for the affair and that if you have a different partner that all of the problems will disappear?
There is a temptation to believe that if we just had the right partner, that infidelity will be held at bay. There is an instinctual reaction to lay all of the blame at the feet of the betrayer and their affair partner(s) while avoiding the difficult work of looking within.
While you are by no means responsible for your partner’s transgressions, the truth is that an affair is a wake up call that you shouldn’t sleep through. Maybe you need to work on your own courage and assertiveness so that future problems can be addressed rather than swept away. You may realize that you had been inadvertently abandoning the marriage by directing all your attention to work or to children.
At the very least, reflect on why you chose this person and/or chose to stay with this person who responded to difficulty or discontent with dishonesty. Were you afraid of being alone? Did you feel unworthy of someone better? Were you operating on fairytales and blind hope?
This is important work and work that cannot be outsourced to another. Ultimately, you and you alone are responsible for your happiness and well-being no matter your relationship status.
Confidence is Built
At first, your confidence will most likely take a hit. Especially if you feel as though you were traded in for a younger/prettier/smarter/richer model. But in time? As you begin to conquer obstacles that once seemed insurmountable and you realize that you are stronger than you ever imagined?
You start to trust that you can handle anything that crosses your path.
That newfound confidence will impact your next relationship. Those on the dating scene that are looking for malleable and controllable partners will pass you by. You will begin to see your worth and seek out those that see it too.
You are no longer afraid of being alone. You enter and maintain relationships out of desire to be paired rather than a fear of being solitary. You are less likely to stay in a toxic relationship and have more courage to address issues in a strained one.
That’s not to say that you will never flounder, never fear. You will. But following that slide will be a little whisper from the back of your mind, “You have been through so much and survived. You can handle this.” And that little voice is right.
Acceptance is Reached
Love is all or none.
If you try to hold it at a distance, you end up pushing it away.
If you attempt to control it, you will inevitably strangle it.
If you build walls and hang back out of a fear of being hurt, you are avoiding the very intimacy that is the foundation of a relationship.
If you punish your new partner for the sins of the old, you are wrapping the new in the cloak of the past.
If you assume that this partner will also hurt you, you are more likely to be hurt again. After all, the dog that you expect to bite often does.
Love is always a risk. Whether you’ve been hurt before or not.
It’s just that those of us who have felt the anguish of betrayal know exactly what it is we are risking.
And you may decide that it’s not for you. That you’re happier alone and don’t want the risk or the compromises again.
That’s okay. Life is not one size fits all. Tailor your life to your specifications.
But if you do decide you want to let love in, you have to be ready to embrace it. Risks and all.