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Infidelity is one of the most unimaginable pains—something we believe will never happen to us.
We felt safe to give ourselves security, a knowing, and promise that we have invested our hearts in a person who will always choose us, respect us without fault, and never go against integrity.
The reality is, we are all capable of a lapse in integrity at some point in our life. While I have never lied to or been unfaithful to a partner, I also learned to honor myself and my truth through trauma, mistakes, illness, and grief early in life. Whether it be at 16 or 50-years-old, when we start to ignore our truth, shove our emotions down, and conform to others, we abandon ourselves.
That abandonment can be numbed through shoplifting, addiction, Netflix binging, alcohol, eating disorders, sex, or any other emotion-blocking activity.
We run from ourselves—we hide on the inside.
When we stay in a relationship that leads us to abandon ourselves, we set ourselves up for sabotage or failure. Some individuals have done a lot of inner work and know to hit the pause button, advocate for themselves, stay connected to their truth, and interrupt before sabotaging oneself.
The problem is that learning how to tune into what we feel, then acknowledge and react to those feelings healthily, and then communicate them to those we love is scary as f*ck.
Lying or hiding are undoubtedly the worst options, but almost everyone has been impacted by infidelity somehow in their lives. It’s undeniable; humans don’t start out choosing courage and what is “right” over what is easy or comfortable unless we are taught to (or have gone through pain).
Since I uncovered the infidelity in a long-term partnership, it’s been a personal development whirlwind. I want to start sharing the revelations, perspectives, and truths I have discovered about humans, relationships, and trauma. Starting with infidelity is only fitting.
Here are 10 of the things I have come to learn that have helped me stay afloat in my journey:
1. Infidelity is a symptom of a minimum of two (or more) significant problems at hand. One of those problems involves the honesty and integrity of the person who chooses to abandon themselves (and the relationship).
2. Integrity work aside, identifying the underlying problem is just the beginning. Having an “aha moment” or understanding what has been going poorly—what set the betrayer up to want to abandon the relationship—does not mean the underlying problem has been fixed. It’s simply been uncovered.
3. There is not always a clear direction forward. The person who stepped out got to the point that they were willing to risk losing the relationship (sometimes many times). Their stance is clear, whether or not they are willing to examine or admit that.
You have to start asking yourself (as the betrayed one):
>> Can you place the hurt on the back burner to explore what is underneath?
>> If you can, do you want to patiently stand by your partner to understand and address the underlying issues at hand?
This is hard work. Both of you have to be committed to this.
4. There is no such thing as deeply loving a partner and committing infidelity.
There is also no such thing as deeply loving a relationship and committing infidelity.
Many fail to recognize that there is no such thing as deeply loving or honoring oneself and committing infidelity, either.
In order to choose infidelity, the first thing you do is abandon your truth and yourself. Lies become the truth. Therefore, repairing or rebuilding a relationship often starts with the person who betrayed taking a magnifying glass to their perception of the world, relationships, and their relationship with themselves.
As the person who has been betrayed, you will need constant reassurance, engagement, attention, and love, but that is the last thing your partner can provide. They need to work on and save themselves before they can start to show up for you in a sustainable way.
5. Unless you have experienced infidelity in your life and have strict and strong boundaries surrounding it, you may not know what you would do.
There is no step-by-step guide to navigating infidelity; there is no guide on choosing whether to stay or leave or a checklist to go down for you and your partner to make a decision. It can be exhausting. Be compassionate with yourself.
6. If you choose to stay, you need to lay down firm boundaries (and stick to them). Innately, staying will feel like you are abandoning yourself and your beliefs, and soon, you will start to distrust your partner and distrust yourself.
This is a terrifying place to be. Be willing to have an ongoing examination—take a huge step back if this happens. If you start to lose your sense of self by being the therapist and trying to “save” or “teach” your partner, you must reprioritize. And yes, this is much easier said than done. But, if you don’t do this, your relationship will undoubtedly fail. You need to be whole first to be healthy in a partnership.
7. Your old relationship is dead. You have to be okay with that. There is a reason the old way was not working. If you keep searching or miss what used to be, you will not find a way out into a healthy place in the present. This will also feel scary. It will feel like a failure. It will make you insecure. Hold onto who you are while also finding softness for your partner.
8. Other people will judge the hell out of you. They just will. You will feel like your options are: suffering in silence, being judged fiercely, and/or being a topic of gossip. Remember that this is not a reflection of you or your relationship, but rather the social constructs and the taboo that we place on mental health, broken relationships, and emotional trauma.
9. Do not let it consume you. This was a mistake that I made after COVID-19 hit. I am still suffering the ripple effects of that. But seriously, if it takes over your life, you both lose. If this happens, you need to take space or call it quits. Do not let it steal your life.
10. Assess if the betrayer is willing and ready to do the personal development work—honestly and objectively. You cannot do this for them.
Read that again; you cannot do this for them.
This is number 10 on the list, but probably the most important.
I am not justifying or condoning infidelity in any way. I am simply sharing what I have experienced to reach others who are struggling or feel significant loss during one of the most isolating human experiences.
We often like to make things black and white, but this is such a gray area.
If you are in the gray, know that it is okay not to be sure; nobody knows what is right for you, there is no rushing a decision like that. And remember that you will be able to navigate through this.