If you’ve been betrayed in a relationship, there’s something you really need to hear and if you’re like most of the people who sit on my couch in my office, it might be hard to take in:
Your partner’s infidelity was not about your worth. It was not your fault. It did not happen because you are not good enough, not pretty enough, not sexy enough, not skinny enough, not smart enough — it had nothing at all to do with you being enough— even if your partner has said otherwise. When somebody cheats, it has nothing to do with their partner being “enough” of anything. Cheating is a choice and no matter what was happening in your marriage at the time, you are never responsible for your partner’s choice. The choices a person makes are about them, same as your choices are about you.
If this is hard to take in, you are not alone. I have clients who are beautiful, fascinating, intelligent, sexy and incredible women who wrestle with these very same fears that they are not enough for their partner as a result of their partner’s betrayal. There’s a reason for this. When something traumatic happens, our mind tries to make meaning out of it and we often cling to negative cognitions (like “I’m not good enough”) as a way of understanding. We even clump it together with other traumas where we have arrived at the same negative cognition. It’s self-sabotage, it’s unkind, and it’s human. But it is not truth.
Additionally, sometimes partners who cheat also gaslight and tell their partner that they are to blame for their sexual acting out. It’s easier for them to put the blame on you than it is to feel the shame and disappointment that comes with taking responsibility for their own behaviors. Their discomfort with accepting responsibility for their actions is also not about you.
If someone across from you drops a plate, are you responsible for dropping it? Of course not. And yet people who have been betrayed in relationships often take responsibility for the affair as though they caused it.
If you’re noticing that you’re feeling less than enough, I encourage you to remind yourself that you are enough and treat yourself accordingly. Be extra kind to yourself right now — increase your self care as much as possible. You are not responsible for another person’s choices. Does this mean you’re not responsible for the problems in your marriage? No — a marriage has two people. Your choices impact your marriage too. The hard part about healing after infidelity is that the trauma of the betrayal sometimes gets in the way of sifting through the other issues in the marriage. Addressing the infidelity and its impact on both partners comes first. And then, in its wake, there comes a rebuilding of the relationship that addresses the other issues and ruptures in intimacy, both sexual and emotional. The sting of the trauma and the loss of trust and sometimes even self-esteem that follows, makes this process a challenge. And yet people do it and go on to have stronger, healthier, more connected marriages as a result.
And some people don’t. Sometimes infidelity ends marriages. In my Facebook Group “Healing Through Divorce,” I see people feeling as though they were left for another woman. These people often wonder about their ex’s happy life with their new person. But the person who betrays in one relationship is still that same person who betrays regardless of who they are with now. Without doing the deeper work to address the issues that led them there, they just carry the same issues into the next relationship. A new partner may be exciting and euphoric for a while but when real life sets in, reality does too.
Infidelity hurts. Honestly, it took me years to believe that the betrayals in my marriage were not a reflection of my own worth. And I share this with you only because I want you to understand that you are not alone in that place. And that you don’t need to be there. Writing this here is hard and incredibly uncomfortable for me because I too struggle with feeling shame around the reality of what I endured in my marriage. Often, the person who has been betrayed feels shame for their partner’s behavior. It’s unfair. If your partner betrayed you, please try to remember that it was not about you and thus, it’s not your shame to hold.
You are enough.
It’s not your fault.
Treat yourself with kindness and love, and you will heal.
And if you have a friend or know someone going through a divorce, try to understand that as scandalous as their partners’ behaviors may be to gossip about, you are touching an open painful wound. Be gentle, be understanding, be kind.
The wounds of infidelity run deep.