For expert input, we turned to argument and affairs expert Sharon Rivkin, author of Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy. She outlines six steps to follow when you first find out your partner has cheated.
Finding out that your partner has cheated can be a serious shock, especially if you didn't suspect or see it coming. Ward off panic by taking some really deep breaths, Rivkin advises. This may seem like an overly simplistic first step, but it's an extremely effective way to help shift from panic mode to functionality. Unless you breathe deeply, you're going to continually feed your panic and it will be much harder to calm down. "When you're not breathing deeply, your brain is deprived of oxygen and your body tenses, feeding the cycle," she explains. "The probability of making bad decisions increases."
Depending on how you found out, you need to confront the cheater. Sitting on the information isn't going to make you feel any better, but how you choose to deal with the betrayal is an individual decision. Who you are, how you found out, what your relationship is like with your partner, how much shock you're in, etc., will all be factors that lead you to decide what you want to do right after you've found out that your partner is cheating, explains Rivkin. "Your whole world has fallen apart, similar to experiencing an earthquake or natural disaster, so do what your instincts dictate," she says. "Do not judge or be hard on yourself for whatever you choose to do."
Even though you're in the midst of a relationship crisis, life still goes on. Things need to get done (going to work, getting the kids to school, chores), but it can all feel like a huge task. "Nothing comes easily right now," Rivkin says. Feeling overwhelmed is normal, but don't let that feeling overtake your day-to-day life, especially if you have kids.
"Remember, you're in crisis mode, so be kind to yourself by getting some temporary help with basic functioning," says Rivkin.
Because of the deep damage to trust that this kind of betrayal brings, it's important that, if you can afford it, you find a good therapist and get help as soon as possible. "I've discovered that the couples who seek help the quickest after an affair have the best recovery results," Rivkin says. Good therapy can help a couple determine their direction (to stay or go) and whether trust can be rebuilt or not. In addition to seeking professional help, creating your support team will be a huge help. "Your team and connections will help you survive and recover from the affair quicker," she explains. "Carefully assess your relationships with others to figure out who you think will be the most understanding, nonjudgmental and supportive person."
After you've confronted your partner about the affair, tons of questions will flood your mind (Why didn't I know? Why didn't I trust my intuition? Why did this happen?). It's through asking questions and feeling all your feelings that the healing starts, Rivkin says. "The questions and their answers are the first step to piecing together what happened to your relationship." It's important to look at the history and the patterns of your relationship and begin to understand where the breach of trusting each other really started.
Most people usually have the tendency to want to take some kind of action right after discovering a cheating partner. It may help for the moment, but because you're in crisis, your judgment can be impaired, so it's wise not to make any big decisions at this time, Rivkin explains. Instead, make the smaller decisions first: Get a therapist, read a book, talk to your support system, do some writing and do some talking with your partner. "You will ultimately have some major decisions to make as to what direction you want your relationship to go, but these decisions will be made with time and clarity," she says. So for now, don't make any major decisions.
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