Originally published on InnerHour
Infidelity can happen to anybody. Unfortunately, not all of us are sure where we draw the line between harmless fun and cheating. Each of us has a different understanding of what constitutes ‘cheating’ based on our beliefs.
In 2013, the University of Michigan conducted a study addressing the subjective concept of cheating by asking a pool of undergraduates to rate 27 different behaviours (sexual, erotic, and financial) on a scale of 1-100 in terms of the extent to which it counted as cheating.
What they found was that there was no ‘universal definition’ of cheating, and the behaviour that came closest to being universally considered to be cheating was sex with someone other than your partner. Yet the results did show that some behaviours were overall considered closer to cheating than others. So, while peno-vaginal intercourse was scored at an average of 97.7, oral sex and taking showers together were also in the high 90s. Holding hands and sleeping in the same bed were scored in the 60s while kissing on the cheeks and talking on the phone frequently were at 36.9 and 40.1 respectively.
While there is no single definition of betrayal, we can agree that in a committed relationship, both partners should be concerned about each other’s feelings. Even if they don’t always agree on every point, they must be able to communicate their needs, feelings and insecurities to each other without the fear of being judged, and work together to keep the relationship secure.
Being cheated on can feel like being on an emotional rollercoaster. You may feel a sense of shock as you try and make sense of the event. You may feel betrayed or rejected by your partner. You may try to deny that this is happening to you. You may feel enraged or even helpless.
How Do You Then Make it Through?
Research suggests that the symptoms displayed by a betrayed spouse are similar to those experienced in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As with any other major loss, you feel intensely disoriented and distressed. However, it’s okay to feel this way. It’s a normal reaction to an abnormal incident in your life. Acknowledging and accepting this is an important first step.
The most crucial decision to make is whether you want to give your relationship another chance or end it altogether. This isn’t always the easiest decision, so take your time if you need it. Until then, or even after, here are some suggestions that might help you get through the crisis:
Don’t Share the News Too Soon
Unless you’re absolutely sure of where you want to go from here, it’s better to keep the news to yourself, or someone very close to you who can provide you with the emotional support you need. In case you decide to stay on in the relationship, it can complicate matters if friends and family constantly doubt your spouse and your decision to stay with them. This may put additional pressure on a relationship that’s already struggling.
Don’t Make Rash Decisions
Allow yourself time to come to terms with the situation. It can be a lot to process, and any decision you make in haste is one you might possibly regret once you’ve had some time to think it through. If you think you are likely to harm yourself or others, reach out immediately to a professional or someone you trust.
Take a Break
A little time apart may give you the space and clarity you need to figure out how you feel about the infidelity and the future your relationship. This is going to be a life-altering decision, so you need to think it through carefully and without any outside pressure. It’s also advisable to avoid having any emotionally intense conversations before you’re sure of how you really feel and where you want to go from here.
For Your Own Sake, Forgive
This doesn’t mean forgetting the incident or not holding your partner accountable. To free yourself from the negativity around the incident, you have to let go of it. Try not to dwell on the painful thoughts around the event, but learn from them and let them go.
According to clinicians and researchers, it’s absolutely possible to heal and even grow after being cheated on. So don’t give in to the negative emotions, find your strength and move forward.
Whether you decide to stay in the relationship or not, you will probably find it hard to trust easily again. Work on improving your own coping resources and communication skills to build trust, set new ground rules for yourself and learn to express yourself in an effective and timely manner in all your relationships.
Ask for Help
If the pressure is too much, confide in a close friend or loved one. Emotional support is important, so seek out those individuals who you can trust to allow you to make a decision yourself, and who will support your decision. If there’s no such person you know, you could reach out to self-help groups and forums rather than bottle up your feelings.
Refer to Different Sources
While the choice is ultimately your own, having a more balanced perspective can help you see the situation more clearly. If you feel that friends and relatives are too emotionally invested in your relationship to give unbiased advice, seek out a relationship counsellor.
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