I was utterly devastated when my long-distance partner told me he cheated on me with my friend (!!!). The night I found out, I went to a dance party alone and aggressively made out with a stranger in the photo booth. The following day I ate an entire container of Oreos, watched romantic comedies, and cried myself to sleep. On the third day, I was already trying to justify his behavior, thinking that he would never have done this if we weren't in a long-distance relationship, and trying to look at the good things in our relationship.
A study found that common reasons include anger, self-esteem, lack of love, low commitment, need for variety, neglect, sexual desire, and circumstance or some mix of the above. It is crucial to analyze the reason for cheating.
Infidelity can be one of the most painful and complicated experiences that one can go through. A study explored the brains of folks who felt conflicted about a relationship and found that the brain areas relating to addiction were active. Folks can actually experience physical cravings for their partner, akin to substance use withdrawal.
Deciding what to do after infidelity can feel like an impossible task. Love doesn’t go away overnight, and your body may be physically craving to see your partner, despite their behavior. So how do you know if you should let the relationship go or give your partner another chance?
Here are signs that perhaps you should give your relationship another chance.
You believe this was a one-time incident.
There are endless reasons for cheating. If they just experienced a death in the family, got drunk at a bar, and ended up running into their high school sweetheart and kissing them - that is a rare and unusual experience. However, if they have a general need for sexual variety and you were the one that insisted upon becoming monogamous, that is a more general relationship problem.
If it feels like your relationship may have a chance - have an honest conversation with your partner about why the incident occurred. Your partner's behavior is never your fault, but the relationship dynamics may have impacted your partner's headspace and decisions. The best case would be that you can get to the root of some deep-seated relationship issues by discussing this with your partner. For example, say you and your partner have different love languages, and they didn’t feel loved and supported by you, so they looked for connection elsewhere. Again, this does not excuse their behavior. Still, if you can shift your relationship dynamics so that your partner feels more secure in the relationship, this type of behavior may be unlikely to happen again.
You can get over it
You know yourself. Is this something that you can get over, or will you still get angry because you had another dream about the incident when you hit your 60th wedding anniversary? A study found that folks who experience a lot of repetitive thinking after infidelity are significantly less likely to be able to forgive and stay with their partner. Are you generally able to let things go, or are you prone to obsessive thinking? Have you been thinking about the incident less every day, or is it consistently in your mind? If you know this is not something you will be able to get over, it is logical to end the relationship now instead of causing yourself more suffering. However, if you think you can adapt and move on, start thinking about what that could look like.
They were honest and transparent about what happened.
It is not a good sign if you are slowly getting more of the story in the weeks following the incident or if you found out what happened from someone else. Especially, If you catch them outright and they are trying to pull a Shaggy (it wasn’t me!!) - that signals that they are not mature enough to own up to what they’ve done, so figuring out how to move forward together may be impossible.
However, it is an excellent sign if they come forward and are fully transparent about what happened. They should understand that this betrayal may take a while to process and involve many emotions and follow-up questions. Also, instead of giving excuses like alcohol or stress, if they admit that they made a terrible mistake and genuinely apologize, that is a great sign.
Are they willing to do the hard work?
Cheating is not something you can just put into the volt and get over. It is something that will likely involve lots of conversations and all the feels. Are they open to discussing it even though it is hard? Can they accept all your emotions as they arise? Have they engaged in introspection to see what needs to change to ensure this never happens again?
They have taken a step away from the other person.
It is a great sign if, without you saying anything, they have estranged themselves from the person they cheated on you with. If they are thinking of reasons to continue to see them, it is a sign that they may be emotionally invested in that relationship. Unless you are open to exploring polyamory, the sustained contact will make it harder to heal from the incident. Any resistance on this point should not be tolerated!
Your relationship is strong.
How is your relationship otherwise? Can you see this person as your forever person, or are there other problems? If everything else in the relationship is solid, it makes more sense to consider salvaging the relationship. If you can shift the dynamics that led to the infidelity and genuinely believe you can get over it - perhaps you should give them another go.
Ester Perel talks about how relationships are never the same after infidelity -you have to let go of your old relationship and start anew. The good thing about this is that you have the chance to create a new relationship together. To let go of the past and create something new and exciting. Unfortunately, good people sometimes make foolish mistakes. Perhaps, there are some situations where choosing to forgive your partner for years of happiness is the right decision. However, there are also some situations where you will simply extend the turmoil by not ending it right away. In my case, the cheating was indicative of more significant relationship problems, and after accidentally having sex a few times, I came to that conclusion and ended it. Only you know what decision is right for you, but exploring the points above should help you weigh the pros and cons and decide what will cause you the most joy and the least pain in the long term.