“Why me? What did I do? What about me isn’t enough?” and a host of other questions bombard one’s mind after discovering a partner’s infidelity. The crushing reality of being cheated on slowly sinks in over time and the heavy emotions linger even longer in the heart of the person who was betrayed.
Being cheated on can be one of the most emotionally taxing things anyone can go through, and if you add in factors like gaslighting, manipulation, and emotional, verbal, or physical abuse to the situation (usually one or more is present in the deception), the healing process becomes even more difficult. One aspect of life that takes the biggest hit after being cheated on is one’s view of themselves and their self-worth. Even someone with a high self-esteem and knowledge of their worth is left questioning their value. If the cheating partner shows true remorse and the relationship is reconciled, the one betrayed is still haunted by questions of identity and self-worth throughout the healing process. And the only way past those thoughts is the realization that it wasn’t about you.
When I discovered my partner’s infidelity, it felt as if I was a bug wrapped in a spider’s web. Each layer of the web was another lie, and I was left to struggle and wriggle my way out of the deception. I had to fully believe the lies and exit denial before I was able to escape the web.
When you walk through an actual spider’s web, you feel as if the web is still on you long after you swatted it away. What lingers after escaping a web of deception are negative views of yourself. I deeply knew that my self-worth was not dictated by others’ thoughts or actions, and I knew I was a person worthy of care, love, and value, but I didn’t feel it. A shift in perspective was required for me to not only intellectually know my self-worth but to live in it freely. I had to accept the fact that it wasn’t about me.
Admitting that an affair is not about you is a difficult pill to swallow because you are the one hurting from heartbreak and betrayal. But the cheating partner’s choice is not centered around their partner, it is centered around themselves. Cheating is an act of selfishness. I am not saying that the betrayed party is completely innocent and didn’t contribute to possible relational turmoil, what I am saying is that the cheater has several choices on how to handle the situation and cheating is the selfish choice. It’s no longer about their partner or their relationship, it is about their own escape, pleasure, avoidance, or satisfaction. Once that choice is made, it is no longer about you, but you are left to pick the pieces.
So, how do you accept the fact you are hurt and need to heal all because of the selfish acts of someone else?
The first step after acceptance of the situation is feeling the feels. It is allowing yourself to experience the pain, whether it seems logical or not. Don’t suppress it, don’t try to ignore it and cover it up with other people or substances. If you want to heal, give yourself the space to feel and to hurt deeply. You were hurt! Give yourself grace to process and heal—it will take time.
As the hurt subsides, you can fully accept that it wasn’t about you. This can be difficult, because in many situations it takes realizing that your partner didn’t set out to hurt you but that you were collateral damage for their own personal hurt, lack of maturity, baggage, or pure selfishness. More often than not, cheating is a result of a person’s inability to handle difficult situations, whether it be strife in the relationship or personal baggage—they are unable to cope in ways that foster communication and healing. They end up hurting the ones closest to them in an effort to not hurt themselves more. Hurting people hurt people. This is by no means an excuse for their actions, but realizing that it wasn’t about you, though it stings at first, can bring freedom in healing.
Address the negative views you have of yourself that have manifested as a result of this pain. Forgive yourself for your mistakes and your flaws and embrace and enhance all of the positive things you have to offer. Take small moments to celebrate steps in your healing process. Write down the positive things you have to offer, and if you are having trouble finding those, talk to your family and friends and seek out people who are encouraging. But the best way to continue in healing is realizing that not only was the affair not about you, this world is not all about you, either.
Do things with and for other people. Broaden your scope even more to those who are around you. Gather support from those who care for you and look for ways to encourage others as well. Healing won’t be quick and will take time and intentional effort, but the process will help you know and feel your worth, grow in your value, and live freely in who you are.