Finding out a partner has had an affair can rock your world and be an emotionally devastating experience for you and your family. After all, it’s a betrayal of trust that can bring up a wealth of other concerns about your home life, your future and your health. In the moment, it makes sense that you might be overcome with emotions: People can suddenly experience an array of feelings after discovering infidelity including sadness, anger, shock and disbelief. If your partner cheats, it’s hard to understand why they would do it, what you missed or how it was but what you decide to do afterward is important.
Here are some expert tips on healthy and productive things that you can do right after your partner cheats:
Take a breath & allow yourself to cry or scream
Far too often, people don’t give themselves the space and time to simply be in the emotions and feel them, Piper S. Grant, a licensed clinical psychologist, sex therapist and relationship expert, tells SheKnows. “So if you need to scream, scream — into a pillow rather than at your partner. If you need to cry, then let yourself go into that ugly cry.”
Reach out to trusted friends
Reach out to a friend that you know can be supportive and free of judgment. “It is not uncommon for friends to want to jump to your rescue and quickly offer advice for what you need to do. This can be further confusing and actually can make it hard to figure out what is best for you,” says Grant.
Try to understand why or how the infidelity happened
Make sure you listen and don’t make assumptions. “As much as you might not want to hear about the specific details, you will want to create an understanding for why your partner did what they did, Bethany Ricciardi, a sex and relationship expert with TooTimid, tells SheKnows.
Make sure to assess the status of your situation
Where did you find out? Are you safe? Do you feel comfortable staying in the same place as your partner? If not, find somewhere safe for the night and make sure you take care of yourself first, suggests Ricciardi. “Things can get pretty unstable when working through infidelity, and you want to make sure you are in a stable environment so that you can continue to take care of your everyday life.”
If you and your partner had been together for a long time and were fluid bonded (or beyond using barrier method contraception), which is often the case for people who are in longterm monogamous situations or folks who were open to conceiving, you want to take the time to check in on your health. Make an appointment with your doctor and get yourself tested for STIs — better to be safe than sorry!
Understand it’s not your fault
It was their call to cheat when they did, and you can’t take it out on yourself. “No matter what the situation was, your partner had a commitment to you, and you can’t feel responsible for it,” Lori Bizzoco, a relationship expert and founder of Cupid’s Pulse, tells SheKnows.
Evaluate your options
It might be hard to make a final decision, but start to lay the foundation for which direction this relationship is going. “Whether you stay together or decide to move on, at this stage, you need to focus on your coping skills. Work through it to forgive or to forget,” says Ricciardi.
Give yourself at least 24 hours before making any big decisions
No big decisions need to be made immediately, so give yourself at least 24 hours to make any big decisions, suggests Grant. “Right after finding about a partner cheating, we can feel like we need to go straight into fix-it mode or make big decisions based on discovering the sexual infidelity. Rather than being reactive, be intentional and thoughtful.”
Reevaluate the relationship
You should take a step back and decide if your partner cheating is something that is forgivable. “If it’s something that you can forgive them for, then you’ll need to have a conversation about how to move forward in the best way possible. If not, then you’ll have to move on in the best way you can,” says Bizzoco.
Avoid social media if you can
“You don’t want to react online and write about how much you hate your partner just to later forgive them for their actions,” says Ricciardi. And the exact opposite can be just as bad. “Don’t post fake, happy photos to get your partner jealous or to disguise that you’re OK when really you’re not. Keep your business to yourself and give yourself some time to process everything and stay offline.”
Don’t try to get back at your partner or to act vengefully
“You’re really hurting right now, and you want your partner to hurt the same, but don’t spread the pain,” says Ricciardi. You don’t want to do anything you can’t reverse, and at the end of the day, you won’t feel better “getting back” at them.
Accept what happened
“In a lot of cases, people are in denial about their significant other cheating on them. Pushing the problem aside won’t change what happened, so confronting the problem with your partner head-on is the best way to go about it,” says Bizzoco.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself
Sometimes, these emotions can be overwhelming, and people might find themselves not eating or binging on loads of unhealthy food. “When you are going through something so emotional, it is imperative to try and take care of yourself physically because it will only help support you in being able to process all of the emotions,” says Grant.
Nothing is going to make the process painless, but hopefully, by following this expert advice you can heal completely and in a way that is healthy for you and your partner.
A version of this story was published August 2018.
Before you go, click here to see celebrities who have opened up about their estranged family.