Have you been cheated on by someone you love?
We can cheat on our diets with little remorse, but cheating on a partner is an entirely different story.
Then there are the levels of cheating on a partner—emotional, physical, one-time, long-term, etc.
It’s enough to send your brain into a spiral, and your stomach lurches from your body.
It’s okay; studies show that the pain of infidelity is akin to physical pain.
When you don’t know what to do when you’ve been cheated on, we can help take the wheel for a few minutes of healing.
Why Am I Constantly Overthinking Being Cheated On?
If you let it be, healing after cheating is a long, painful path. The initial revelation is like a bomb going off.
First, you’re shell-shocked.
Layer by layer, your brain allows more information to enter the process, which can cause a circular conversation in your head that never seems to end.
There’s a chemical reaction fueling this process.
- Adrenaline: You’ve been hurt. Your body is in flight or flight. This surge is protecting you from hurtful or dangerous information.
- Dopamine: Enter this motivational chemical that wants to fix things and improve happy hormone levels. We’re mentally chasing our tails while overthinking. It’s also the reason why you’re so hurt because this neurotransmitter fired up when you fell in love.
- Serotonin: This chemical is the mean girl of your brain. When things are going well, serotonin thrives. The endless loop reduces serotonin, directly and negatively impacting moods and emotions.
- Cortisol: The opening that serotonin left is filled in by the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol lets in more overthinking cycles and invites intrusive thoughts and rumination.
“There’s a whole six weeks of that experience that I don’t remember. I have no recollection of it. People who came to see me said we had dinner, and I don’t remember. I was in so much shock over it all.” – Sienna Miller after finding out Jude Law cheated on her.
How To Heal After Being Cheated On: 17 Helpful Practices
Instead of focusing on how to get over being cheated on, focus on how to get through it.
That comes with one hour, day, or week at a time using healthy and adaptive practices.
1. Visualize a line, not a loop, while overthinking.
You need to take the path to heal, and that’s going to be a line, not a circle. Yes, a jagged, ugly line, but a line nonetheless. Instead of wondering, “How could this happen?” change the tone to “It happened. What do I do next?” It’s okay to think a lot about something that was important to you, but you don’t need to circle the drain repeatedly.
2. Write down your thoughts as they happen.
Purge the words from your overthinking brain and write them down. It doesn’t matter if Day 1 is a hard-pressed pen stating “THE BASTARD CHEATED ON ME” and Day 5 is a dissertation of emotion. Just seeing the activity in your brain on paper can calm you down. It also will denote progress as you heal.
3. Control when, where, and how you communicate with the cheater.
You are now in complete control of this trauma. No matter how much the infidel wants to speak with you, don’t do anything on their timeline. Choosing words wisely is important, especially if children are involved. You want to be in a calm and controlled state of mind when you speak, as you’re likely to get more traumatic information.
4. Examine the bigger picture of the relationship.
Nobody is the person reflected only in their worst moments and worst transgressions. As you progress in your healing process, the big question will be whether you’ll stay with them. Averaging several studies, about 30% of people say they would never forgive cheating, but just as many say they likely would.
“I still feel so lucky to have experienced it. I wouldn’t know what I know now if I hadn’t been married to Brad. I love Brad; I really love him. I will love him for the rest of my life. He’s a fantastic man. I don’t regret any of it, and I’m not going to beat myself up about it. We spent seven very intense years together; we taught each other a lot—about healing and about fun. We helped each other through a lot, and I really value that. It was a beautiful, complicated relationship.” – Jennifer Aniston, years after Brad Pitt cheated on her and left her.
If this person has legitimately been your rock and made a mistake, consider it. If he’s always been suspicious, it might be time to move on.
5. Refuse to accept blame for the infidelity, no matter what.
We don’t care if you’ve been nagging and celibate for the past year. It’s irrelevant if you’ve put on 20 pounds or lost your interest in putting on makeup since the pandemic. This is not your fault. A cheating partner shows a glaring weakness in themselves, separate and disconnected from anything to do with you.
“It’s about realizing it’s not about you. When someone cheats on you, it’s about them…about their shortcomings. It makes it feel like it’s about our shortcomings, like there was something wrong with us. But the truth is, it’s really their ego, and what they need to fill within themselves that drives them to do things like that. Not because you weren’t enough.” – JLo after being cheated on.
They had options to resolve their perceived issue and chose the wrong path. You play a big role in the solution and forward movement, but you don’t even have a background dancer role in his sin.
6. Acknowledge underlying mental health struggles that are making this worse.
If you already suffer from anxiety, this will take you to DEFCON 1. If you’re prone to bouts of depression, you’ll be sent down a rabbit hole of sadness. If you have ADHD tendencies, you will process information differently than a neurotypical person.
It doesn’t fix the overthinking, but it does help you understand why it seems to be assaulting your senses so much.
7. Intentionally counteract the chemicals in your brain.
Now that you understand what the neurotransmitters in your brain do, you can consciously work against them to create a better state of mind. If you need a dopamine rush, do some yoga or brush your dog. A good, hard workout can raise serotonin levels.
Tackle the evil heart-racing twins of adrenaline and cortisol by doing some mindful practices or breath control techniques.
8. Don’t let anyone tell you how to grieve.
We’re going to seek solace in loved ones when we’re betrayed, and that’s okay as long as we set the boundaries. Whether it’s “DUMP HIS ASS!” or “give him one more chance,” too many rogue ideas will be thrown at you, exacerbating the thought process.
Either tell your friends you need some distraction or just a listening ear (or whatever it is that you need) and ask them to respect that.
9. Talk to a therapist via video chat or in person.
It’s such a low-hanging fruit to offer that advice, but here’s where it helps the overthinking process. Your mind is spinning because there is something you don’t understand. You have to identify and name the monster of emotions.
You aren’t just hurting; you feel violated. Where does that feeling come from? Is it because you’ve cheated in the past and feel guilt and karma shouting that you “deserved” it? Or is it a breach of trust that touches on the childhood trauma of being abandoned or neglected? Understand the pain to process it and take another healing step.
“I’ve learned that when I see a flag in a relationship next time, recognize it as a flag. Don’t think, Oh, that’s just a shadow. That’s a flag. And when I looked back at our relationship, I saw the flags…but I wanted this relationship, I loved this man so much, that I made up in my mind it wasn’t a flag.” – Halle Berry in an interview with Oprah after Eric Benet cheated on her.
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10. Sing it out of your system temporarily.
Picture it—you driving down the highway with the windows down bellowing, “I dug my key into the side of his pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive…” When adrenaline and cortisone are flooding, the release of energy will calm the letter and purge feelings, similar to writing down those feelings.
Before you know it, you’ll be wrapping up the road trip with, “At first, I was afraid; I was petrified. Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side. But then I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong. And I grew strong. And I learned how to get along.” (Gloria Gaynor, I Will Survive)
11. Let go of assumptions and all-or-nothing thoughts.
In the vortex of overthinking, we can go to extreme lengths to process information. Catch yourself when you’re in an extreme or intrusive thought and redirect your thought pattern. For example, you’re thinking, “He said he loved me, and now I know he never did.”
Is that true? Unless he’s a narcissist, probably not. Take the overthinking energy and turn it into fact-chasing. Can someone love you and cheat on you? (Wait until you see that Google black hole!) You’ll learn some people cheat as a way to find excitement or freelance out certain lost experiences, like the newness of a sexual partner. In the most pathetic cases, people cheat to get the attention of a disconnected spouse.
You’re getting a lot of information, but you’re moving forward and not stuck in a cycle of intrusive thoughts.
12. Don’t try to avoid the pain or push it down.
While you still have to work, take care of the kids, and bathe occasionally, you’ll do more harm than good in the long run if you shove down the emotions instead of processing them. Use this time to your benefit by adding in a visualization technique.
After a good long cry, visualize the pain you feel and give it a face and a name. Let’s make it a brown ball of sticky substance covered in nails and broken glass. We’ll name it Bart. After every emotional experience, picture yourself with a shovel, picking up a small amount of Bart, and tossing it into the universe. You’ve just let go of a little bit of pain.
“Sometimes I get overwhelmed coping with things, but experience also teaches you how to manage. When you get older, you have so much experience at falling and getting up. You’re not going to stop falling. But you will get better at getting up and brushing yourself off. I believe that. I’ve lived it.” – Shania Twain after her husband had an affair with her best friend.
13. Take your time before making any decisions.
Nothing has to be decided today, tomorrow, next summer, or next year. You are on your own unique timeline of healing. How you feel about it today is not how you’ll feel about this in a month or a year. Even filing for divorce is a time-consuming, heart-wrenching, and expensive step. Be selfish and make this all about you and your needs until it’s time for answers.
“I learned a lot about myself this year. I learned what I can handle. I learned how much I can take. I learned who I am and what I will accept for myself and my daughter. I feel brand new. I’ve been to hell and back, but I survived. I’m stronger for it, and now I’m ready for the next phase of my life.” – Christina Milian, cheated on shortly after having a child with her husband.
14. Stop trying to find closure or logic in this madness.
Chances are, anything he tells you will be a lie if you try to talk it through. He’s so riddled with hormones and chemicals as he realizes the gravity of his actions and his own self-reflection will send him into survival mode, trying to restore the balance.
He can talk until he’s blue in his cheating face, and it still won’t help you heal. Even if you “feel good” after a conversation, it could just be dopamine reminding you how good it feels, while cortisol waits around the corner to spark more overthinking.
When you do communicate, stick to facts. Does he love her? How long? How many times? Does he still see her during the course of the day (coworker, bartender, etc.)? First time? That information can help you process a decision, which will help to heal.
“We’re all where we’re supposed to be. I am exactly where I want to be now. You can’t go backward. I’m not going backward. I’m grateful that I’m here, blessed to have what I have. Nobody can be prepared for everything.” – Sandra Bullock after Jesse James cheated on her.
15. Do things that make you feel good about yourself.
Treat yourself to a day at a spa or be a tourist in your own town. Re-watch the Twilight Saga and get those nostalgic moments that feed happy hormones. Do the “single things” you used to do before you met him. You’re just tapping into the whole person you are, with or without him.
When you are connecting with yourself, you’re disconnecting from the intrusive thoughts and giving yourself a chance to love “you” again.
16. Swim in your emotions. Don’t drown in them.
Emotions after a cheating scandal can be overwhelming and come on suddenly. They can also become too heavy to bear in our weaker moments. Acknowledge them internally or even say, “Oh, hello, blind rage and sadness!” Then close your eyes and watch them float by like a cloud in the sky.
You could even treat them like the Inside Out cartoon emotion characters and let Disgust saunter by before leaving your visualized frame. Scary things aren’t so scary when you know where they are, what they are, and where they are going.
17. Find a cheated-on muse to mimic.
JLo, Jennifer Aniston, Beyonce, Halle Berry, Eva Longoria, Gabrielle Union—they are all women who were cheated on (in a public, paparazzi-rich environment) and went on to thrive. Learn from their experiences and channel that fabulousness. At least know that if these women can get cheated on, anyone can. It might help the self-loathing you’ve been doing to realize once again you’re the victim, not the cause.
We’ve included some quotes from these amazing women because you can see not only how each one processed it differently but how they all survived and soared afterward.
Does the Pain of Being Cheated on Every Go Away?
Physical pain heals but leaves a scar. Emotions are similar. Remind yourself that “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” You might experience a small or seismic shift in how you approach a relationship—whether you stay or not—and what new boundaries you have.
When someone cheats on you, the aftermath is post-traumatic stress, just like a soldier on a battlefield. Some mental health experts have coined the phrase post-infidelity stress disorder (PISD). The pain can be managed and minimized, depending on several variables.
- How well you process the trauma. If you’re repressing emotions or staying stuck in your own head, you’re going to suffer longer or risk a breakdown later in life.
- Look back on other painful experiences. How you handled and healed from past traumas can be indicative of how you’ll heal this time. If you want to change the pace, get professional help to do so.
- Give forgiveness, even when it tastes like crap coming out of your mouth. If you hold onto the pain, choose punishment, or form a resentment toward the cheater, it’s like “drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” You don’t forgive them to feel better. You forgive, so you can feel better letting go of that darkness.
There’s no way to be cheated on and come out the other side as the same person you were the day before you found out about the affair. Be prepared to grieve the person you were, but celebrate the knowledge and growth you experience along the way.
“As a woman, a mother and a wife, there are certain values and vows that I hold sacred, and it is in this spirit that I have chosen to move forward with my life.” – Demi Moore