Dating After Infidelity

You were in a relationship, your partner cheated on you, it was devastating, and now you want to date again.  However, the question becomes, “How do you date after infidelity?”  “How do you trust again?”  Dating after infidelity can be more difficult than we think.  Issues surrounding trust and insecurity may be the unconscious baggage that we bring into the new relationship.  These issues may surface when dating after infidelity, so here are some useful strategies to help you manage them.

Not Everyone Is A Cheater 

There’s no doubt about it: cheating hurts.  It can even be scarring.  Though the pain and subsequent cynicism is more than natural, we have to remind ourselves that not everyone cheats. There are people in the world who share your same definition of fidelity, and there are some who value loyalty over anything else.  Just think about the romantic relationships that you know; your parents, grandparents, friends, and siblings are all fine examples.  Without trying too hard, you can probably think of a number of couples who never faced infidelity, and who probably never will.  If you can’t find an example of fidelity within your circle, try looking at statistics.  According to a research study, about 30% of married couples cheat (Atkins, Baucom, & Jacobson, 2001), which means that more than half of all married couples don’t cheat.  With all that being said, isn’t it fair to say that  cheating isn’t always going to happen and that there is hope?

It can definitely be difficult to see relationships from rose-tinted glasses; dating after infidelity is simply hard.  Once again, you partner did cheat on you.  Though this is true, remaining guarded and pessimistic over relationships tends to do more harm than good.  Look, dating after infidelity is hard.  You may not be ready to date, and it’s totally okay if you’re not.  If you are, however, daring yourself to be vulnerable may help you re-experience the joy that romance once brought.

This next step may be difficult, but try to think of your dating history in terms of faithfulness.  Do you have a pattern of your partners cheating on you?  Do you tend to attract people who just can’t seem to stay faithful?  Are you in some unconscious way setting them up to be tempted to cheat on you? If so, this might be a good time for self-reflection.  To be clear, being cheated on is a horrible experience that no one deserves.  At the same time, it might be useful to reflect on our actions, on our contribution to the infidelity.  Consider the following thoughts.

  • Do I have a habit of picking poor partners? (eg., have they cheated on all their past partners, are they not that into me?)
  • Do I tend to push my partners away, whether it’s emotionally or physically?
  • Do I feel comfortable hearing the needs of my partner?
  • To what extend are we able to work through our problems together?

Once again, no one deserves to be cheated on.  By focusing on your actions, however, you can better prevent its reoccurrence.  It’s also important to consider certain aspects of your partner.  There are some signs that show that your partner is trustworthy, honest, and actually desirous  of a relationship.

Is Your Partner Integrating you Into Their Lives?

So, you’ve been dating someone for some time now (maybe a couple of months or so), and things are getting pretty serious.  It’s clear that you’re not interested in anyone else, but you can’t help but wonder if your partner feels the same.  Uncertainty is pretty much a given in a lot of new relationships, and unfortunately, dating after infidelity can amplify those concerns.  To help dampen fears of infidelity, reflect on your partner’s willingness to integrate you into their life.  Here are some questions to get you started.

  • Have they introduced you to their parents? 
  • Have you met their siblings?
  • Has your partner shown a desire to meet your family?
  • Could you stay at your partner’s place without them being around?
  • Have you met your partner’s close friends and acquaintances? 
  • Does this person has a history of cheating?

There are also other signs to consider.  For example, would they answer the phone in front of you? Would they let you see all the incoming and outgoing text messages, or credit card statements?  Your partner doesn’t need to explicitly show you everything.  Rather, if they’re around, do they tend to change their behaviors?  In other words, would they open their email in front of you and let you read it with them?  Do they seem as though they are hiding something?  When you walk into the room, does your partner suddenly change their actions or attitude?  And, of course, does your partner flirt with other people in front of you?

These questions are useful because they highlight how open your partner is.  After all, the more candid your partner is, the less likely they are hiding something from you.  However, it’s important to be flexible with this hard-and-fast rule.  It’s very possible to have a reserved partner who simply doesn’t like to share personal details, only time will tell.  While openness from your partner is generally a good sign, try to remember that each person is unique.  

Reality Testing

It is definitely beneficial to hold certain standards for your partner; however, there are also things that you can personally do to ease your transition into dating after infidelity.  For example, you can incorporate a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy technique called reality testing.  Essentially, you evaluate a specific thought based on the evidence that supports it.  If I have the thought, “My new girlfriend, Maria, is going to cheat me”, I would then challenge that claim based on what I know.  “Is Maria the same as my ex?” and “Has she cheated on any of her past partners?” would be excellent questions to consider.  If this isn’t clear, here is another way to understand reality testing.

CBT argues that our thoughts influence our behaviors, which influence our feelings.  All three (thoughts, feelings, and behaviors) impact each other; therefore, by changing one, you change the other.  Regarding reality testing, this technique modifies a person’s thought by analyzing its probability.  If you think that your new partner will inevitably cheat on you, try to back that belief up with evidence.  Here are some questions to consider.

  • Has our sex life changed?
  • Has my partner been open with communication?
  • What signs lead me to believe that my partner is going to cheat on me?
  • Has my partner become more secretive?
  • Does this person have a history of cheating?

With reality testing, you shift your thinking from what’s possible to what’s probable.

Setting Fair Boundaries/Expectations

As previously mentioned, it is completely acceptable (and even encouraged) to assert certain needs when dating after infidelity.  One common need is the desire for security.  Some people may need to assert this need from the very beginning, while others wait until the relationship is already established.  There are no wrong answers here; simply do what feels right.  Regardless, why is this important?  After being the victim of cheating, it can be hard to trust a future partner.  After all, your trust was betrayed.  The way you saw the world was suddenly shattered.  That is going to make anyone question the worth and security of future relationships. However, there are some ways to help remedy this. 

Asking that your partner text you every now and then, advocating for calls during the weeknights, and discouraging cancellations are all fair and effective ways to strengthen your trust with your new love interest.  You could also ask them to facetime you.  Your partner may ask why this matters, so let’s explore why. 

Simple communication can be reassuring when dating after infidelity.  Transparency can lessen the fear that you’re going into this blind.  Plus, little to no communication can be a red flag.  Sure, some people are simply quiet and reserved.  However, you have to ask yourself, “Is this what I need right now?”  There are numerous more expectations to hold in a new relationship; however, what is truly important is how reasonable they are.  Essentially, your expectations need to be fair to you and your partner.

Openness

Whether they are old or new, communication is always important within a relationship.  Your partner is unable to read your mind; therefore, the only way they truly know how you feel is through your statements.  After three or so months into the relationship, telling your partner about your history with infidelity could prove beneficial.  This gives you the opportunity to vocalize your needs and challenges regarding the relationship.  The timing for this disclosure is crucial.  Only do it once you feel secure with yourself and the relationship.  After all, you don’t want to scare someone off by dumping too much on them too soon.  Just remember that different people will want to share this information at various stages in the relationship.  It could be the very first date before you are emotionally invested, it could be in the first couple of months as the relationship is deepening, it could be once it gets serious, or right before marriage.  Know that each option has its own pros and cons. 

Being so candid can definitely feel vulnerable.  Perhaps even worse, there may be the fear that you would scare the potential partner away.  This is a very real concern that only makes sense.  However, would staying silent about your needs be any better?  A person may not want to work to be trustworthy, and that is fine; however, that person may not good for you.  Direct communication is essential.

At the end of the day, cheating can still occur.  You cannot force anyone to be faithful, despite that very fair expectation.  You only have control over yourself, your beliefs, and your actions.  Falling in love, by definition requires you to take some risks and be vulnerable.  If you know that having a partner cheat on you would be too much and destroy you, then you may not be ready to date again.  Bad things in life will always happen,all you can do is make the best of each situation and learn from them.  Though the trajectory of romantic relationships will always remain unclear, you can still do what you can to make them as enjoyable as possible.  

 

 

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References

Atkins, D. C., Baucom, D. H., & Jacobson, N. S. (2001). Understanding infidelity: Correlates in a national random sample. Journal of Family Psychology, 15, 735–749.