Healing After a Cheating Ex: 7 Stages to Recovery
Let me first say that if you’re reading this article, I’m deeply sorry for what you’re going through. No one can fathom the amount of emptiness that follows the discovery of betrayal— unless they have. Healing after a cheating ex is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. There are 7 stages you will experience from discovery to truly healing your heart.
Every painful heartache, moment of loneliness, and the feeling of being completely lost in your own life — I understand.
I understand because I’ve been in a marriage that went from happily married (or so I thought) to discovering my husband’s infidelity. Read about my entire journey here.
I’ve experienced every stage I’m about to share with you multiple times. My first attempt at recovery was within the mission to reconcile. I say “attempt” because all that resulted from the year I stayed in my marriage after the discovery was more pain for me. He wasn’t willing to do all that it takes to reconcile a marriage after such devastation.
Experiencing each of these 7 stages after discovering cheating is normal.
Becoming stuck in one stage for too long and rehearsing damaging behavior is unhealthy for your recovery.
Cheating Can Make You Feel Lonely– But You’re Not Alone
When I was at my most depressed state, I turned to my friends for support and guidance. Unfortunately (or fortunately for them!), most of my girlfriends didn’t know how to support me during this devastating time. It’s hard for friends to know your needs when they simply can’t understand the depth that cheating affects you.
Your friends can’t grasp how hard it is to just breath at times. They don’t know what it feels like to run out of tears or to have the same images uncontrollably running through their head.
You don’t have to navigate through this painful road alone. Empathetic support, coping methods, and strategic actions can greatly expedite your healing.
Helping clients recover, regain control of their lives, and seeing them excited about their future is one of the most rewarding things I experience as a coach. It can also be comforting to connect with others that understand how you feel.
Experiencing cheating is incredibly traumatic and filled with a flood of emotions. There are 7 stages you will experience in order to recover from your cheating ex. While labeled 1-7, the stages aren’t always liner. Often times, you will toggle between two or even three stages.
Understanding these phases will validate your emotions and help you gain control of your life again.
Healing After a Cheating Ex: 7 Stages to Recovery
You never expected your man to cheat on you. You can’t imagine ever doing this to someone.
Your brain simply can’t wrap itself around the situation and fully understand how this happened.
People react differently when experiencing shock. During this time two things happen in your brain:
- Your mind attempts to fully understand the situation (but it can’t).
- Your mind desires to feel better (but this situation can’t be solved immediately).
During this stage, it’s best to spend some time separate from the situation (i.e. your partner) to allow the situation to sink in. This will also prevent your actions from being highly emotionally driven. I acknowledge that this is easier said than done.
Love is an energy that doesn’t immediately dissipate due to your partner’s actions.
When I first discovered the cheating, I was (obviously) hurt. While hurting so deeply, I wanted to be comforted by the man I loved (my cheating husband).
People who haven’t experienced this betrayal say, “You should have immediately just left him!” Seeking comfort from the cheater and choosing not to immediately leave are concepts incredibly hard for outsiders to grasp.
We all respond differently during the discovery phase.
Did this actually really happen? How in the world did this really happen?
During this phase, these type of questions may be cycling through your mind.
We walk through life with an understanding that certain tragedies are a possibility. We understand that our friends and family are mortal. Our brains know that death is always a possibility. While loosing a loved one is incredibly painful, we “get” that death is a part of life.
When you entered into this relationship and gave your entire heart to this man, you never thought cheating was a possibility.
This is why it’s so hard to accept. You aren’t the type of woman that has lived her life knowing cheating is a possibility because you would never stoop to that level of deception.
You have to accept the realities of the situation in order to move on.
All you think about is the affair.
- The details run through your mind all day.
- You can’t stop thinking about her.
- You even imagine how they interacted together.
These are the types of thoughts that flood your head. You can’t control them… and they consume your mind.
During this phase your brain is still trying to fully understand the affair. Our brain is wired to “fill in the gaps” which allows us to view situations and thoughts as a whole. While some people don’t want or need the details, other’s need to know the specifics in order to fully let these obsessive thoughts go. It’s normal to seek details, even if they’re painful to discover.
If you need, allow yourself to paint the entire picture in as much detail as possible. If you don’t need more details, then allow yourself to move forward.
While experiencing this phase is normal, it can easily cause you to rehearse unhealthy behaviors that will be damaging to your overall recovery.
Reality has finally fully set in. The past isn’t going to change. He cheated.
Everything you’ve bottled up during this experience is about to come pouring out.
You have every right to be angry. You are justified in being more angry than you thought was even possible.
Don’t ignore or dismiss your anger.
During this phase, you must allow yourself to feel the anger but not allow yourself to act upon the anger. The only thing you can do is feel. Because actions will not resolve this emotion, it’s best that you remove yourself from the situation and give yourself time to process.
You enter the bargaining phase after you’ve had time to think and process.
During this phase you might try to convince yourself that it’s not as bad as you think. Compromising on issues you thought were important to you become a possibility.
Let me tell you a little secret:
Bargaining is created from one emotion: FEAR.
- The fear of being alone.
- The fear of starting over.
- The fear of your future being different.
- The fear of never finding true love.
Do not let this fear dictate your future! When I coach clients stuck in this phase, I help them dig deep and discover what they really want out of life. Focusing on what your life can and will look like after you recover can often times speed the healing process.
I help my clients connect with their authentic self and have the confidence necessary to not let fear dictate their actions.
Recognize any bargaining as a symptom of the real emotion: fear.
Your heart feels empty and hollow. Getting through the day feels like a chore. You’re overwhelmed with sadness.
When I was in this phase, I there were many times when I cried until I vomited. Not a pretty picture, but then again, nothing is pretty about an affair. If you’re having any thoughts of hurting yourself or that are suicidal— seek medical help immediately.
The only way to get through this time is to walk through the door of pain so that you can come out on the other side. No one can feel this devastating sadness for you.
During this phase you’re in danger of doing two things that will greatly affect your future and your recovery:
1. Ignoring the Pain
If you ignore it, it will live on a shelf in your heart. While time is a helpful friend, the pain will never disappear. Instead, it will morph into a more difficult emotion to move past: Bitterness.
2. Engaging in Unhealthy Coping Behaviors
These behaviors only temporarily mask the pain. Rehearsing coping behaviors makes it extremely difficult to stop. These behaviors will greatly affect your ability to heal and your happiness in the future.
Don’t allow yourself to ignore the pain and don’t allow yourself to engage in unhealthy coping behaviors.
Acceptance does NOT mean you’re suddenly happy or even that you’re fully recovered from this emotionally devastating experience. However, true acceptance of the situation is mandatory for you to finally start taking control of your life and moving forward.
It’s necessary for you to mourn and accept your past, your present, and your altered future.
The sooner you accept that things are going to be different, the sooner you can start moving towards happiness.
Feeling connected with yourself and focusing on your needs and will help you feel in control of your present. Knowing what you want out of life and having tangible steps towards accomplishing your goals brings a new excitement for the future.
A Better You and a Happy Future
Recovering from a cheating ex is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. He took so much from me and I refuse to let him take anything more. I didn’t allow this experience to dictate my future… and neither should you.
Never forget: Your situation doesn’t define You.
You deserve happiness. You are worthy of loyalty. You will find unconditional love…. but it all starts with You.