About two years ago, Alex accidentally found out her husband was having an affair.
The 42-year-old of Toronto (who has decided not to share her name), stumbled upon information that pointed directly to her partner of nearly 20 years having an affair.”
“It felt like a punch in the stomach,” she says. “I was emotionally destroyed.”
After confronting her partner, the affair was denied. He was the type of man everyone loved being around, and was incredibly nice. For him to be unfaithful seemed out of character, especially since prior to this, the couple had been working to patch up their marriage.
After admitting to the affair, they tried to make things work again, and this time, Alex left the ball in his court. But by the end of last year, he had packed his bags and moved out.
“Now I am coming up on a year of separation and there’s no intention to get back together … he’s already moved on with another person.”
The initial reaction
Dr. Carlen Costa, a sexologist and psychotherapist, says it’s hard to predict how people react to the news of being cheated on, but many end up making decisions they later regret.
“Most people freak out, but the correct response really is to take in the information, take a step back and walk away.”
You should also avoid trying to piece together the affair — even though it’s incredibility tempting, says Yvonne Filler, a therapist and managing director of The Affair Clinic based in the U.K.
“You want to know the basic facts and what happened from your partner,” she tells Global News, instead of relying on the other person or social media to tell you the story.
For Maria, 49, of Toronto, she had no idea her husband had been cheating on her for 15 of the 23 years they were together.
“It was betrayal on so many levels,” she tells Global News. “He was a really good liar.”
Maria found out about her husband’s affair after he admitted it to a friend of hers. He admitted to having an emotional affair but later confessed it had been going on for more than a decade with different people.
The couple tried to make the marriage work, but eventually separated in March.
“Right after we split up I had a rebound relationship and I was really needy,” she continues. “It was a constant need for approval and developed into a fear of people leaving me or not being good enough. I went to a lot of therapy.”
The lingering impact
Being cheated on can leave long-lasting impacts on people’s mental health, self-esteem and overall confidence, Filler says.
Her London-based clinic sees individuals in all stages of affairs, and she adds when someone is cheated on, it can affect every single part of their life.
“There is a real initial shock, panic and a deep sadness and loss,” she tells Global News. “They go into anger, then there is a bit of guilt, depression and you come out the other side beginning to see the light again.”
She says when people are betrayed, their mental state can sometimes result in losing their jobs, members of their family and unfortunately it can also lead to self-harm, eating disorders and even thoughts of suicide.
Costa says trust is also another issue.
“It impacts your ability to trust yourself and others,” she says.
The year Alex found out about her husband’s affair, she spent a lot of time feeling insecure.
“I turned into this person I never was before. I was constantly questioning where he was. I was needy.”
She said she didn’t want to expose her vulnerability, but finally did, exposing herself to her partner in the hopes that the bare honesty may bring them closer together.
“I thought that would bring us closer together, but it didn’t.”
She eventually ended up losing a lot of weight, couldn’t sleep for months and felt ashamed.
Costa says as soon as someone finds out they’ve been cheated on, the next step involves either staying or leaving the cheater. While this decision is never easy, it can get even more complicated when children and finances are involved.
“That’s such a big decision and every situation is different,” she says. “But it’s an opportunity to look at the relationship and if it’s actually serving you and if you both are growing together.”
She says the fear of what happens to the children is also on top of mind. But she adds this fantasy to stay together for the sake of the kids is a harmful attitude to take. “The kids will be fine and happier if you are happier and healthier.”
Filler says forgiveness is hard and forgetting is easier. But sometimes, it’s just about asking the simple questions (either to yourself or to a therapist), if you even love the person.
She adds, cheating often exposes bigger relationship issues that have been ignored for a long time.
For Alex, having her ex-husband move on meant taking control of her life again. As a stay-at-home mom for the majority of the time, she went out and got a job and went to therapy to focus on herself.
“I realized after the fact that I had lost myself too in the marriage,” she says. “I thought I was happy but it wasn’t who I wanted to be.”
For Maria, it was about figuring out she didn’t miss having a man in her life. “It surprises me that I still have faith that I can trust again. And while many people who have been cheated take on the blame themselves, which she had also done, she later realized she had done nothing to make her husband cheat.
“You cannot take it personally no matter what the spouse does.”
Learning to move on
And no matter how much time has passed, how much advice or therapy you received, and how many people talk about your cheating wife or husband behind your back, moving on is a slow process that takes patience.
“It’s about seeking the resources to support you and if you choose to stay together, then you need to choose to stay together and move forward,” Costa says.
This means not constantly bringing up the affair, but leaving it in the past. “Once a cheater, always a cheater is not necessarily true, that’s saying people don’t change.”
But if you are ready to move on without your partner, don’t cross out falling in love again off your list.
“We have this fear we will never meet anybody again, but that’s just about your ego.”
For Alex, who is now dating, says she does get cynical about relationships sometimes, but she’s not in any rush to meet someone.
“I have two nights a week when I can date, but I am happier spending time making our home a home again,” she says, adding she ends up spending more time with her kids. She has also learned how to be alone and be happy about it.
“I don’t know where I’ll be in six months from now, but it’s an interesting journey.”