Heartbreak and hurt don’t begin to describe what a person feels when they’ve been cheated on by their partner.
Those all-consuming feelings can leave anyone in a state of confusion and vulnerability, relationship expert Chantal Heide says, so deciding on whether or not to stay with the cheating partner is a difficult decision to make.
And while some would feel the best way to handle the situation is to move on from the relationship, it’s not always that simple, Heide says. Yes, there are the cheaters out there who don’t think things through and do this out of selfishness, but for others that cheating can be a symptom of depression.
“There are people who cheat – not because they’re jerks – but because there was a stressful life event that caused depression, and depression has a way of re-wiring your brain,” she says. “People will behave in ways that are counter to who they fundamentally are. These are the people – for me – when it comes to forgiving someone who cheats, it’s these kinds of circumstances I would focus on.”
Either way, these indiscretions can cause a world of pain for the partner who’s been cheated on. Despite that, however, some choose to stay and work on the relationship, Heide says.
It’s a decision many don’t understand – especially if these outsiders who are casting judgment were never in that position before, Heide explains.
“Partners who realize this is an uncharacteristic mistake stemming from trauma are more likely to feel compassion rather than judgment,” Heide explains. “They’re less likely to take that transgression personally. So they forgive a partner because they see the bigger picture. They realize the person they met, fell in love with and had this relationship with and built this life with, it’s not the same person that’s standing before them now. But they’re able to see through this scenario and see that if they get through this, the person will come back to themselves.”
And the cheating in these circumstances will take a toll on both parties, Heide says.
“For the person who did the cheating, because they’re in this mental state and it isn’t how they normally are, it’s just a really bad place for them to be,” she says. “It’s devastation on top of devastation… When you’re in a depressed state, it really changes the chemistry and wiring in your brain. Then to do something that you think in the moment is helping you, only to find out that it’s completely further devastated your life, is one trauma on top of another, on top of another.”
For the person who’s been cheated on, Heide says, it’s something that has taken them by complete surprise.
“Here they are trying to help their partner through this tough situation and a lot of times they don’t know what’s going on in their partner’s minds,” she says. “So a lot of times it’s a very shocking event to them.”
It might seem unattainable at the beginning, but Heide says it is possible to not only rebuild that trust but to bring it back to where it once was. It’s just going to take some time, as well as effort.
In order to repair that trust, Heide says there are five major things the partner who has transgressed should do if they want to save the relationship.
1. Own your mistakes
Own up to what you did, Heide says. But so do without deflecting by blaming.
“Don’t say you did this because your father died, for example, and it put you in this place,” she says. “Instead say that you understand that your father’s death put you in a depressed state, you own your depression and you own the decisions that came from this depression.”
When you own your own actions then you become empowered to change your behaviour so that you don’t recreate those actions, Heide says.
2. Apologize without ‘but’
When apologizing to your partner, do so without injecting the word “but” into the apology, Heide advises.
“Saying ‘but’ negates what you put in front of it,” she says. “So don’t say things like, ‘I’m sorry that I cheated on you but I was feeling really depressed and upset.’”
Instead, remove those words from the apology altogether, Heide says.
For example, say instead, “I’m sorry I cheated on you. I should never have done that. I realize how much I have hurt your feelings.”
Also, include a plan that will keep you from making the same mistake again, Heide says. This could be choosing to have regular meditation, for example, or seeing a therapist – something that can help you deal with what’s going on in your mind and become functional again.
3. Account for your whereabouts
As part of the healing process for the other partner, account for all your time and locations for as long as your partner needs, Heide says.
“You need to realize that there are consequences to your behaviour and that you will need to actively help your partner heal,” she says.
Should you become impatient with how long it’s taking, Heide says it’s important to realize that in this instance it’s your ego taking over.
“You shouldn’t get frustrated,” Heide says. “This is your ego taking over – the part of you that’s selfish… So if the selfish part of you is stepping up and you say you don’t want to keep doing this, you have to realize that this is going to help you and your partner rebuild that relationship. You need to ask yourself if you want to heal this relationship, and if the answer is yes, then you have to help your partner heal by understanding what your partner needs in order to start feeling more comfortable again because this is a big transgression on your partner’s emotions.”
4. Get help
In order to move forward, you may need some help doing so, Heide says.
“Get help so you can show your partner that you’re being proactive towards avoiding repeating bad decisions when life becomes difficult,” Heide says. “Again, try meditation and go see a therapist. These are key elements to ensuring that you’re maintaining balance in your brain and that you’re communicating at least with somebody about what’s going on in your life so that you’re not internalizing everything.”
It’s important to avoid letting those repressed emotions build up to the point where it impedes your thinking ability, Heide says.
5. Get better at communication
While it’s a good idea to speak to a professional about what you’re going through, don’t leave your partner out of the communication, Heide says.
“Get better at talking about your problems with your partner so you can deal with what’s happening in your emotional world in a loving, functional way together,” she says. “If communication is difficult between the two of you, then get help overcoming that obstacle because great relationships are built on foundations of honest communication and loving support.”