6 Steps toward Healing after You’ve Been Cheated On

6 Steps toward Healing after You’ve Been Cheated On

Let’s be real: cheating is not limited simply to acts of physical infidelity with another human being. For example, using pornography, developing an intense emotional relationship with another person in your workplace, and connecting with people inappropriately online are all examples of cheating. For years, I told myself, “Well, at least he’s not sleeping with other women” when my husband engaged in pornography. But the truth is, that rationalization never lessened the pain I felt because any type of infidelity is hurtful and harmful, both to you and your relationship.

How do you cope with the devastating reality of infidelity and the loss of what you thought was your safest, most trusted relationship? What follows are 6 ideas to help you move toward healing from this trauma.

Some of these steps toward healing may vary slightly depending on if you choose to continue a relationship with your spouse. Also note: there isn’t a true order to these steps even though they are listed numerically. Everyone’s journey is different and no journey to healing from trauma is linear or accomplished in specific time frames. The most important thing is to start somewhere.

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  • 1. Seek validation.

    1. Seek validation.

    If you find yourself engaging in self-talk that sounds like, “I shouldn’t be upset about this,” “It’s probably not that bad,” “Others experience things that are much worse than this,” you may want to consider seeking some external validation for your pain.

    To truly start healing from wounds, you must acknowledge you have them. Where can you find healthy validation? A trusted friend, a trusted member of your pastoral care team, a licensed counselor, or an online support group such as Bloom. A safe person will:

    – See the situation through your eyes.

    – Refrain from casting judgment.

    – Listen and not try to fix the problem.

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  • Unhelpful questions and advice you might be told:

    Unhelpful questions and advice you might be told:

    Many people do not understand that betrayal caused by porn or emotional/online affairs registers as trauma. If the person you choose to connect with says/asks any statements/questions that sound like the following, end the conversation and seek counsel elsewhere:

    – Did you do something to drive him away?

    – It’s only porn use. At least he’s not sleeping around.

    – Are you giving him sex regularly?

    – Don’t tell anyone else about this. It’s shameful and embarrassing.

    Know this: you are not alone in having these feelings of betrayal and trauma! In unfaithful relationships, over 72% of women experience trauma from sexual betrayal. It is so healing to have people come along side you with love and empathy because connection is vital to your healing. (If you want a short lesson in empathy vs. sympathy, click here to view this amazing video by Brene Brown.)

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  • 2. Acknowledge needs and pursue self-care.

    2. Acknowledge needs and pursue self-care.

    Just as we have a responsibility to take care of our children and other important relationships, we must take of ourselves. We all have needs, even though at times it’s hard to admit that we have them.

    As a human race, each one of us needs acceptance, affection, appreciation, approval, attention, comfort, encouragement, respect, security, and support. We all need various levels of these, but if you’re reading this list and your heart leaps at one of them, it probably means this is a particular one you’re craving right now. In your heightened tension and emotional state, it can be very difficult to make a plan to figure out how to get these needs met. The best place to start? Ask God. He will help you see how you can get your needs met and for Him to help pave the way to making this possible.

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  • The different ways God will meet your needs:

    The different ways God will meet your needs:

    Sometimes, He will meet these needs directly. I remember one time in my life being so despondent. Suddenly, I heard in my spirit that I should go outside to a very specific place. When I got there, I saw a huge rainbow! In that moment I felt so encouraged. I knew God was paying attention to me and my situation, and I was comforted by His presence and intention.

    Other times, God will meet your needs through other people. There have been so many times when I have sent off a text to a friend because she popped into my mind. Whatever I said “just happened” to be exactly what she needed in that moment.

    Lastly, sometimes God will ask you to be proactive in meeting your needs. Perhaps going to the doctor to get tested for STDs would go a long way in creating emotional space for yourself. Going for walks, treating yourself to a pedicure, curling up with a good book, spending time reading His Word, are all ways you can replenish the good things your soul needs to continue to work through this draining time.

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  • 3. Implement boundaries.

    3. Implement boundaries.

    Regardless of whether you choose to continue to remain in your relationship as a couple, boundaries after infidelity are so important. Every relationship is different, and there isn’t a complete one-size fits all boundary package that simply “plug-and-play.”

    Boundaries exist to define where you end and someone else begins. They help you understand what is you and what is not you. Without clear definition, it is easy to take ownership of something that doesn’t belong to you.

    If you are not continuing your relationship, you may choose to set boundaries about what you are willing to listen to from your spouse, how you will interact with him with regards to kids, how you will pursue your financial and physical health, etc.

    If you are working towards reconciliation, you may ask your spouse to create and hold boundaries regarding online behavior, communication strategies (i.e. non-manipulative word choice, gaslighting, etc), sexual activity you share together, and relationships with the opposite sex.

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  • "The goal of boundaries is to create a safe place for you and for your relationship."

    "The goal of boundaries is to create a safe place for you and for your relationship."

    The goal of boundaries is to create a safe place for you and for your relationship. These signs show that your spouse is both respecting boundaries and working towards creating this safe space:

    – Honest and humble

    – Willingness to meet your needs without resentment, anger, and retaliation

    – Accountable for his lies and any forms of infidelity

    – Accountable for any emotional abuse

    – Makes restitution for his mistakes.

    Boundaries should only change if the above statements are true and the changes are communicated beforehand, and some boundaries should always hold.

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  • 4. Acknowledge your emotions.

    4. Acknowledge your emotions.

    Sadness, grief, anger, and disappointment (along with myriads of other emotions) are normal. There is no emotion that is bad. Emotions simply are. They are also God-given! Recognizing and acknowledging your feelings helps you to process through what is happening. Denying or trying to tamp them down will only result in them coming out sideways on people who are normally not to blame.

    It can be easy to try to numb what you’re feeling. Feeling like you want to run away and hide or escape in these circumstances is a normal inclination. In the moment, it feels much better to binge on Netflix, drink a little too much alcohol, or eat away our feelings. But as Brene Brown said in her vulnerability TED talk, you can’t selectively numb.

    If you choose to numb the pain, you will also numb joy. Going through life devoid of joy is really no life at all. It may feel impossible right now to even think about feeling anything but a negative emotion, but one of the ways God does help us get through is to give us joy in spite of the pain. He is working, but sometimes we just forget to look and allow ourselves to feel something positive.

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  • 5. Acknowledge growth.

    5. Acknowledge growth.

    After experiencing betrayal, it is easy to be incredibly down on yourself. Many women suffer from both PTSD, anxiety, and/or depression. Celebrating both big and small steps of growth and change is incredibly important because it reminds you that you are indeed moving forward through this process.

    This is another area where good friends and support is so helpful. Oftentimes, we can’t see our own progress (in ourselves, in our spouse, or in our relationship) because we continually fix our eyes on where we want to be and how far we have until we get there. We need people close to us to point out those small changes we might miss because we are simply so close to the situation. When someone points out something to you, don’t be quick to dismiss it. Even if you don’t fully believe it, right it down and ask God to show you how what they have said is true.

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  • 6. Grow in your relationship with God.

    6. Grow in your relationship with God.

    You need Jesus to get through this because after betrayal, trust has been broken on so many levels. Jesus is the only One you can fully trust and only He can help you rebuild the trust you need to redevelop with others around you.

    I remember one night, after discovering my husband had relapsed into porn, I came to the startling realization that people could always hurt me. No one is completely safe. As one who loves to hole up in self-protection, I had to open my eyes to how Jesus wanted to protect me so that I could have healthy relationships. Everyone will fail us at some time or another. We will fail others. But Jesus, who is always worthy of our trust, can show us how to rebuild those bridges again.

    Remember, regardless of whether you choose to stay in your relationship or walk away, healing is necessary for our overall health—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. You aren’t in this alone. Healing is possible.

    Jen Ferguson is a wife, author, and speaker who is passionate about helping couples thrive in their marriages. She and her husband, Craig, have shared their own hard story in their book, Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography and are also creators of the Marriage Matters Prayer Cards. They continue to help couples along in their journeys to freedom and intimacy at The {K}not Project. Jen is also a mama to two girls and two high-maintenance dogs, which is probably why she runs. A lot. Even in the Texas heat.