11 Things Not To Do If You Find Out Your Partner Has Cheated On You

Heartbreak happens. It's not always a fact that's easy to acknowledge, even to yourself, but it's real and true. And that's not always a bad thing. Actually, in many ways, heartbreak is the price we pay for loving. It means that we've cared enough about someone to take a risk.

It also means that we've gifted the beloved with our trust, believing that they will value the heart we have handed them enough to protect it like their own. But what do you do when that trust has been betrayed? The reality is that there are few experiences in life more painful or more traumatic than infidelity.

Learning, or even suspecting, that your partner has cheated can take a devastating toll on your physical, mental, and emotional health. In fact, being cheated on can physically impact your brain. And that's why, when dealing with the aftermath of infidelity, you are often physically and mentally incapable of making good decisions for yourself or your family. Truth be told, there are several things you should never do when you find out your partner has been unfaithful.

Don't blame yourself

As illogical as it may seem, your first impulse when you learn your partner has cheated may be to put the blame entirely on yourself. Navigating your feelings after you've been cheated on is not an easy task. In fact, it's sometimes easier to try to assume responsibility for the affair rather than placing it where it belongs: with your partner. Self-blame, after all, gives you the illusion of control — as if you can prevent it from ever happening again if you just "do better."

And often, the self-blame impulse goes even deeper than that. Self-blame leads to guilt, which may feel like a less frightening and more acceptable emotion than anger. Many women, in particular, have difficulty getting in touch with, let alone expressing, their anger. And when that anger is triggered by infidelity, it can feel so intense that you're afraid that if you let it out at all, it's going to consume the whole world and yourself right along with it.

Don't make excuses

The desire to make excuses when your partner cheats connects directly with the common impulse to blame yourself. After all, making excuses is a way to minimize and rationalize the affair, which is often nothing more than a desperate effort to deny or escape the enormity of the hurt.

But you're not the only one who may be tempted to make excuses. In fact, it may be your partner, not you, who is trying to explain the infidelity away and deny the pain and turmoil they have caused. Unfortunately, if your partner is trying to make excuses or coerce or manipulate you into doing so, it's not about compassion and rarely about guilt. According to relationship experts, there are several personality traits of cheaters — and often, one of those traits involves the use of mind tricks to try to evade accountability or responsibility for their choices.

But if your partner really wants to atone for what they've done, if they want to repair the relationship, or, at the very least, help you to heal, they won't accept absolution without genuine remorse. Forgiveness without repentance is just denial, not reconciliation. So never make excuses, and don't allow your partner to, either. Remember: No matter what may have been going on in your partner's life, in your relationship, or in your home, they're still ultimately responsible for their choices. If your relationship is going to heal, accountability and acknowledgment are essential.

Don't try to get revenge

When your partner has been unfaithful, it's very human to want to hurt them as much as they've hurt you. Having a "revenge" affair can seem like a richly-deserved bit of karma. It can feel only 'fair,' after all, to want to give them a taste of their own medicine. And when your heart has been bruised, and your self-esteem shattered, it's natural to want to seek comfort and validation in someone else's arms.

What's more, the lack of emotional and physical intimacy with your partner can be a particularly devastating long-term consequence of an affair, as both partners may struggle with sexual dysfunction during the recovery process. In turn, you may find yourself seeking that sexual desire elsewhere.

But a revenge affair can have devastating and long-term consequences. A revenge affair is only going to compound the loss of trust that has entered into the relationship, making it that much less likely that the rift from the initial infidelity can be repaired. Making the decision to have an affair yourself before you've had time to process and gain perspective may well limit your future choices for yourself, your family, and your relationship. While it may feel gratifying in the moment, in the end, you're probably only going to introduce more pain into an already excruciating experience.

Don't make any irreversible decisions

As we've already seen, when your partner cheats, it rocks your world. You can lose all sense of security. It can feel as if everything you once counted on to be real, true, and enduring has been suddenly swept away, and you're falling into a scary, unknown world. You might find yourself struggling for purchase, grasping for something — anything — that feels stable and sure.

And that means you might be tempted to make big, life-altering decisions just to try to replace the current chaos with some sense of permanency. For instance, you might have always considered infidelity a deal-breaker, and this event might have you instinctively running for the courthouse door. But before you make any significant decision about the state or fate of your marriage, it's important to take a breath, take some time, and gain a little perspective before you decide how to move forward.

Your relationship is not necessarily doomed, but you won't know what is possible until you take the time to regain your bearings. According to Insider, infidelity is one of the leading causes of divorce — but the relationship between infidelity and divorce isn't always so straightforward. With effort, relationships can heal and even become stronger after infidelity, but when divorce follows cheating, it's often because a host of additional factors have made the relationship unsalvageable.

Don't give your power away

There are few experiences as unmooring as being cheated on. It's a profound trauma that leaves you feeling weak, vulnerable, and unsure across pretty much every domain of your life. It shakes your confidence, makes you question every choice you've ever made, and causes you to fear making an independent decision ever again. But just when you're feeling more secure than perhaps ever in your adult life, you're also likely to find yourself overwhelmed with advice.

Odds are you're going to have a lot of people trying to tell you what you need to do in this situation. It can be tempting to let them. After all, you're heartsore and emotionally wrung out. Why not let someone else take the wheel in your life for a while? It's a perfectly understandable impulse — but not a healthy one. Only you know what is in your best interest and the interests of your family, especially if you have children.

Never let anyone else guilt, bully, coerce, or shame you into doing anything you're not ready for. Whether you choose to remain and work on your relationship or leave and start anew, you may feel judged by extended family or friends, and that's where drawing healthy boundaries and (re)learning to stand up for yourself become essential. You are the one who will have to live with the ramifications of the decisions you make. At the end of the day, the power of choice in your own life rests with you alone.

Don't involve the kids

When you're angry and in pain, it can be difficult to camouflage it, even from your children. Kids are, after all, far more perceptive than many adults give them credit for, especially when it comes to sensing that mama or daddy is distressed. Unfortunately, though, many parents aren't just unsuccessful at concealing the turmoil from the kids, but they're often unwilling even to try.

When you're reeling from a betrayal, you may instinctively yearn for your children to know. Your shadow self may be tempted to use the kids to hurt your partner. It can be incredibly painful to see your children revere someone who has caused you so much pain. Your children's relationship with the other parent may even feel like a threat both to them and you. But, regardless of whether your reasons are vengeful or ostensibly altruistic, involving the children in your relationship drama is like setting off a ticking time bomb.

Sooner or later, it's going to blow up in your face — and theirs. It's not fair to your children to be burdened with the weight of a parent's infidelity. Kids aren't equipped to deal with grown-up issues, and they shouldn't be expected to. They'll feel guilty. They'll blame themselves. And ultimately, they end up resenting you both. 

Don't forget who you are

When you've experienced infidelity, it can shake not only your view of the world but also your view of yourself. Much like the impulse to self-blame, when your partner cheats, it can feel as much like a reflection on you as it is on them — if not more so. If you're not careful, you can start to internalize some very damaging (and some very false) beliefs about yourself.

But you mustn't let your partner's choice undermine who you are. You're not a victim. And your partner did not cheat because of some intrinsic flaw in you that made you somehow unworthy of fidelity. You are worthy of love, security, and faithfulness. You don't have to live your life in fear of getting hurt again. You can and should demand more for and of yourself.

That's why, when you're recovering from a partner's infidelity, you must take care not to let the pain and shock erode your self-esteem. After all, self-esteem can play a determinative role in your ability to recover from the trauma of infidelity. So take care to take stock and do some self-reflection and self-protection. Your partner's choices are about them, not about who you are, were, and will be.

Don't expect things to go back to 'normal'

Infidelity in a relationship changes things. There's no getting around it. And even if you and your partner stay together, it's going to take time to find your bearings again. No one, not you, not your partner, not your family, should expect that things will simply go back to normal. It will take patience and work. Healing can and will come, but your relationship is never going to be exactly as it was before.

It may even be stronger, but it will still be different. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. In fact, psychologists have identified a phenomenon known as "post-traumatic growth," which, according to the American Psychological Association, can occur when a traumatic event compels you to cultivate new and healthier coping skills, such as resiliency and self-efficacy.

But post-traumatic growth isn't a spontaneous outgrowth of emotional pain. It's the product of a laborious process of healing and transformation. It can't be rushed, and it can't be coerced. If your partner or your family (or you yourself!) expect everything to immediately be just fine again, that's not healing. That's denial, and, unfortunately, it's one way that partners who have cheated try to avoid acknowledging and dealing with the damage they have caused.

Don't forget to take care of yourself

There are few things more physically or mentally stressful than infidelity in a relationship. That's why it's critical to prioritize self-care, ensuring that you stay as healthy and strong as possible for yourself and your children. Unfortunately, though, when you're dealing with the aftermath of an affair, self-care is often the last thing on your mind.

In fact, according to a study shared on PsyPost, people whose partners have cheated aren't just more likely to experience depression and anxiety, but they're also more likely to "engage in risky health behaviors." You might find yourself sleeping too much or not at all. Perhaps you're overeating — or not at all — or turning to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate. You may also engage in other risky behaviors, from excessive gambling to unsafe sex, in order to try to feel better, if only for a moment.

It's imperative, though, that you don't allow this event, as heartbreaking as it is, to deprive you of the rest of your life. You deserve a healthy, happy future, whether you realize or even want it right now or not. And that means you must take care of yourself now, in this critical time of vulnerability, so that you will be well, strong, and stable for the brighter days to come.

Don't apologize for what you need

There's no playbook for healing in the aftermath of infidelity. There's no one way to heal a broken heart or a broken relationship. How you respond will very much depend on your relationship, your circumstances, and your personal needs and values. So don't apologize or feel guilty for taking the lead in the recovery process.

After all, your partner made their choice when they were unfaithful. Taking the lead in determining how you will respond, and if you choose to remain and work on the relationship, is an essential part of the process of taking your power back and regaining the control over your own life that your partner's breach of trust took away.

You have the right — and the choice — to determine what you and your partner need to do to heal and move on, either together or separately. You are the one who needs to set the timetable and the agenda. A temporary imbalance in the power dynamics of the relationship may be essential as couples learn to rebuild trust and develop healthier patterns. If your partner is truly committed to reconciliation, they will recognize and consent to your right to take the lead.

Don't reject couple's counseling

As we've seen, infidelity is a physical, emotional, and psychological trauma. It is a turning point in a relationship. Once that Rubicon has been passed, there's no going back to the time of innocence. It's an immensity. And any effort to minimize or evade its impact is both unhealthy and fruitless. Sooner or later, you and your partner must confront the beast. But, as we've also seen, the beast can not only be confronted — it can be conquered.

It is possible for relationships to survive infidelity and even to emerge healthier than before. It's by no means easy, though, and it's even more difficult if you and your partner try to reconcile without professional support. For example, couples counseling can be a tremendous benefit when recovering from infidelity. A qualified therapist can help you gain perspective, learn to communicate more effectively, cultivate opportunities for healing, and address the challenges that may have existed in your relationship even prior to the infidelity.

According to a study published in Couple and Family Psychology, couples who received couples' therapy and developed a sense of "relationship satisfaction and marriage stability" following infidelity were more likely to stay together and to feel increasingly satisfied in their relationship than those couples who experienced instability in their relationship post-infidelity. "Infidelity does not have to be the end of the relationship," the study's conclusion notes. With the right help — and effort — getting back on track is possible.