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Break ups are painful, but when they involve cheating too, it can be hard to see how you’ll ever get over it.
When I found out my ex had cheated, I was devastated. Of course I blamed him, but when I took an honest look at our relationship I realized that there had been a lot wrong with it – including on my part. I was approaching 30, and felt pretty depressed by the years I’d wasted. After throwing myself a week long pity party, I decided that I didn’t want to waste anymore. So I took action to help myself move on and actually found that I thrived as a result of the betrayal.
Here are some tips to help you deal with this ultimate betrayal and come back stronger should you ever find yourself in a similar situation:
1. Cut contact with your ex
This is sensible advice even if you haven’t been cheated on. Unless you need to remain in contact to resolve logistical issues like children, mortgages, rent, or bills, then delete their telephone numbers and emails from your life. If you don’t, you’ll only be tempted to text them asking questions like, ‘Why did you do it? Wasn’t I good enough? Did you ever love me?’ – especially after a few drinks.
The answers you get (if you get any at all) are unlikely to bring you any peace – you can’t trust that they’ll be the truth, and they’ll inevitably just lead to more questions. Plus, when you look back on them, chances are they’ll sound more desperate than you intended and you’ll regret having sent them.
If you have to stay in contact to organize outstanding issues, then you’ll need some steely determination and willpower not to stray into other topics. If you think you’re likely to crack, consider giving a trusted friend your ex’s number and delete it from your phone – they can then dish it out to you if it’s needed.
If your ex is the one trying to keep contact with you, ask them to respect that you need to cut ties with them – it doesn’t have to be forever (unless you want it to be), but until you’ve moved into a more rational stage of grief (see point 3 below), it’s best not to prolong the agony by maintaining contact.
This also goes for contacting your ex’s family (again this may be more difficult in some circumstances). We often fool ourselves that we are staying in contact with our former in-laws because we had a close relationship with them and want to maintain this, when in reality we are just trying to stay connected to our ex and glean any snippets of info we can about their life without us.
2. Unfriend your ex from Facebook (or temporarily remove yourself)
There are two options here. If you think you have the will power to resist Facebook-stalking your ex after unfriending them, then you may be able to go for this softer approach. If you’re really self disciplined, you might even be able to get away with just changing your preferences so that their activity doesn’t show up in your news feed. You might also want to consider doing the same to any mutual Facebook friends who are likely to post photos of your ex with his hands all over other women.
This approach requires a LOT of willpower, though, and most of us would probably be better off going for option 2: removing ourselves from Facebook for at least a month. It still requires a bit of self restraint as you can easily reactive your account, but if you delete the app from your phone as well, this may be enough to stop you in your tracks if you’re having a wobbly moment. It’ll probably feel weird at first, but after a few days you’ll get used to it, and it actually feels quite empowering to know you are actively taking steps to get your grief under control.
Same goes for any other social media outlets you use.
It’s almost impossible to move on from someone if you are regularly in contact with them and constantly being bombarded with updates about their life. So points 1 and 2 really are crucial steps to get the ball rolling.
3. Understand the stages of grief
It’s important that you realize you are grieving. You’re grieving the death of a relationship, and when you’ve been cheated on, you’re also likely to be grieving the memory of the person you thought you knew.
In short, the five stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. When you’re in the first 3 stages, this is when it’s most important to avoid unnecessary contact with your ex. You’re particularly vulnerable at this time, because your emotions are all over the place. This is especially important if you’ve been cheated on, as there’s likely to be a lot of denial, anger and bargaining going on.
By being aware of the stages of grief, it allows you, in part, to detach yourself from the situation and see that it’s a process which everyone goes through. It also gives you a sense of control over your emotions – you can see what’s happening and understand that it’s perfectly normal. Yes, when you’re in the depression stage it may feel like things will never be ok again, but knowing this is just a phase of grief you are going through can help you to see that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s important to note that not everyone goes through the stages in the same order, and not everyone experiences all of them. So don’t be worried if you miss a stage, or if you jump back and forth between stages for a while – this is perfectly normal. You’ll get to acceptance when you are ready.
4. Don’t play the victim (and stop telling the story)
Of course you’ve been treated badly and you deserve to be angry. And no doubt you’ll need to talk about it with friends and family. But there comes a time when it’s no longer productive to tell anyone and everyone who will listen about how hard you’ve had it and what a scum bag your ex is.
Repeating the story over and over again only serves to reinforce that you are a poor, defenseless victim, with no control over how you react now. Yes, your ex behaved appallingly, and yes, he is to blame for his actions. But you are responsible for your actions too, and if you want to move on and find happiness again, you need to realize this and stop playing the martyr.
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5. List your ex’s relationship pros and cons
Once you are in a better place, you’ve had some space from your ex, and you’ve stopped playing the victim, consider writing a list of your ex’s pros and cons. The key thing here is to be really honest. Obviously the fact that they cheated on you is going to be right up there with the cons, but chances are, there were actually a lot of other things wrong in the relationship, and with hindsight you’ll realize your ex wasn’t as perfect as you thought.
The list isn’t all about ex bashing, though; you need to be honest about their plus points too. Providing you’re in a good head space (do NOT do this if you are in the throes of denial, anger or bargaining!), you should be able to give a rational picture of what your ex was really like.
Writing this list can be really empowering. It allows you to see that your ex was human, just like the rest of us. Mixed in with all their mistakes and shortcomings are good qualities too. If you feel ready to, say a private thank you for all the good times you shared. If you follow the steps in this article, you may even come to a point where you can say thank you for the bad times too – as they will be what teach you the most.
6. List your relationship pros and cons
If you’re brave enough, you can take point 4 a step further and make a list of your own relationship pros and cons. This isn’t about beating yourself up, it’s about moving on – and if you truly want to move on and one day have a happy and healthy relationship, you will need to own your issues so that you can try and prevent them from rearing their ugly head again.
Were you overly insecure or clingy? Did you tolerate unacceptable behaviors and let your ex walk all over you? Did you go for a guy with a reputation for cheating? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting for one second that cheating is an appropriate response to any of these things, but it takes two people to make a relationship work. It’s important not to let the cheating stop you from admitting to other issues that could be avoided in future.
Take this example – whilst you were together your ex was forever going out without you, getting drunk and staying out until all hours. You kicked up a bit of a fuss when it happened, but ultimately forgave them every time. Eventually they will have concluded that because you put up with it, they could get away with it, and they may even have extended this logic to other behaviors.
If this sounds familiar, you may want to consider what sort of behavior you’re prepared to tolerate in your next relationship. Set some boundaries – three strikes and you’re out. After all, will you really be able to trust your next partner if they behave the same way as your ex?
7. Use the break up as an opportunity to realize you don’t need anyone else to complete you
A lot of us go from relationship to relationship without much break in between, because we are afraid of being alone, and because our heads have been filled with fairy-tale notions that we need someone else to complete us.
Make no mistake, being in the right relationship can be one of the most wonderful things in the world, but when you place your entire reason for being in someone else’s hands you devalue yourself and put far too much responsibility on your spouse. This creates neediness, insecurity and jealousy in you, and can often be the reason your partner pulls away and starts looking elsewhere.
Use the break up to take some time out for yourself. Work out what you enjoy doing just for you. This is particularly important if you gave ‘too much’ in your relationship. Did you spend enough time seeing your friends, family, doing hobbies? Or did you devote all of your time to your ex because you thought they were ‘your life’?
Rather than rush straight into another relationship, spend some time alone. If you’re not used to it, it may feel uncomfortable at first. But if you truly want to avoid running straight into the arms of another guy just like your ex, then you need to give up your need for someone else to complete you and embrace your emotional independence.
Cheaters can sense this neediness and will use it to their advantage. Read some philosophy and self help books – they can be a great place to start in helping you to realize that you are good enough, just as you are.
If you use the break up as an opportunity for self development, when the right person comes along you’ll be with them because you want to, not because you need to. And that creates a much happier, healthier and more secure relationship.
8. Go on a few dates, but don’t jump into a relationship
This one is definitely best left until you are nearing the acceptance stage of the grief process. Otherwise, you’re likely to be vulnerable and easily sucked into a rebound relationship with the wrong kind of guy.
Once things have settled and you’ve become comfortable being alone, put yourself out there and go on a few dates. Let your friends set you up with people they think would be good for you – people who aren’t like your ex. Keep an open mind if they don’t seem like your type at first. After all, you probably thought your ex was your type, and they didn’t turn out to be too good for you.
When you meet new people, look out for traits that are like your ex’s and those that aren’t. A good sign that you are moving on and learning from your relationship is that you can spot the red flags when you see them – like your date talking about how they spend every weekend getting drunk, or expressing viewpoints that were similar to your ex’s.
If you do meet someone that you connect with (who isn’t like your ex) and want to pursue it further, make sure you take things slow. There’s no rush, and it’s important to make sure you get into a relationship for the right reasons.
It can feel like your life is over when a relationship ends, and when you’ve been betrayed as well, it’s easy to spend the rest of your life blaming your ex and distrusting every new person you meet. But if you follow the steps above, in time, you can turn the heartache into healing, and come out stronger than you were before. Who knows, one day you may even be grateful for what the experience taught you – I know I am.
So I’d like to say thank you, ex, for cheating on me.
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