Sex + Dating

You’ve Been Cheated On. Here’s What to Do Next.

Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck
Dan MacMedan/WireImage/Getty Images

There’s no bigger slap in the face than discovering your significant other has been cheating on you. You were in love with this person! But they lied to you in the biggest way possible and played you for a fool. First off, know you’re not alone -- modern surveys estimate more than half of people engage in extramarital affairs. Of course, having (extensive) company for this won’t change the fact that you’re heartbroken. Humiliated. Pissed.

And... very confused about what comes next.

Here's a guide to help you navigate this shitty deceit of the heart -- from sorting out the initial story, to handling the murky emotional aftermath... and finally, deciding how to move past it.

DO get the story straight

“Cheating” is a pretty loaded word. And I’m sure the gun you’re pointing at your partner is loaded, too. But before jumping to conclusions or pulling the (figurative!) trigger, it’s imperative that you find out PRECISELY what went down. There are various different types of cheating, and in order to make an informed decision you MUST sit down and have a painful (read: necessary) conversation with your partner about said treachery. Here’s what you need to find out.

What exactly occurred during this deceitful act? And when did it happen? Was this an emotional affair that involved real feelings, or was this a purely physical infidelity in which your partner slept with someone else but swears it meant nothing? Intent matters a lot here. There's a big difference between consciously making an Ashley Madison profile and drunkenly kissing a co-worker after 10 tequila shots. I’m not saying either is ideal, but there is a big difference.

How you found out also matters. Did your partner fess up and plead for forgiveness, did you discover the truth by snooping, or did you catch them in the act? And finally: does your partner still want to stay and make your relationship work? Or are they (ugh) in love with someone else? Your next step may already be determined for you.

... but DON’T ask too many questions

There are plenty of questions to ask, but definitely some that ought to remain unanswered. These are the ones that won't help you make an informed decision, but simply drive the knife needlessly deeper. “Was she good in bed?” “Was he bigger than I am?” For the sake of all parties involved, just don’t go there.

couple breaking up
Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

DO give yourself time and space

There's no way around how shitty this situation is. And for a while, your roller coaster of fucked-up emotions will make Kingda Ka look like the lazy-river log flume. One minute, you’ll be overwhelmed with how badly you never want to hear from or about this person again. The next, you’ll miss your partner SO MUCH and be unable to fathom life apart. This is where that magical concept of time comes in. Give yourself well-deserved space from your partner until you’re ready to reach out and discuss next steps. In the meantime, do what makes you happy. Write, exercise, bake cupcakes, go noodling (I dare you to Google that). Careful with the drinking, though -- booze is a scientifically classified depressant -- and poor-decision-making guarantee.
 

DON’T deal with this alone

Dionne Warwick nailed it with her 1987 ballad about what friends are for. Don’t be afraid to use them! Call them, meet them for lunch, have them over for movie nights, and let them take care of you. But not forever. Relying on your buddies too much may strain your friendship. One late-night emergency phone call is fine; a week of 3am rants is not. These people aren't trained (or paid) therapists, who, come to think of it would actually be PERFECT to talk to. A little professional advice and some well-thought-out coping mechanisms can do a world of good.
 

DO get tested

If your partner’s treacherous act was of the sexual nature, immediately get yourself tested for STDs. Even if they claim to have used protection, you can never really be sure -- can you? Play it safe -- your sexual health is of utmost importance; and some of those infections are for life. Even if your relationship isn’t.

man looking at pictures of women on his phone

DON’T stalk them on social media

Whether you’re still trying to decide next steps or you already cut relationship ties, now would be the time to unfollow this human on all forms of social media. Facebook “stalking” a loved one is so tempting, and giving in will only cloud your judgment. A harmless Facebook photo of your partner smiling will send you into a tizzy because WHY ARE THEY SMILING when you’re hurt and confused? And who is that girl who commented on it? After an affair, space from the person is important -- virtually and IRL.
 

DO make an informed, final decision

So you took your time apart and weighed all the facts, variables, pros and cons. What’s your final decision?

If you decide to stay, make sure you AND your partner are 100% committed to repairing the relationship. Consider enrolling in couples therapy to help work through any big changes or bewildering emotions you’ll inevitably experience while reconnecting. Rebuilding post-affair trust will take a lot of patience, time, and energy -- but if both parties are willing to put in the effort, your relationship may come out of the woods stronger than ever.

If you realized the damage is irreparable and want to break things off, that’s also your prerogative. It’s an extremely hard decision to say goodbye, so try to remember the positives (there are some!) This is your chance to start anew and concentrate on yourself for a while. Be selfish! You deserve it.
 

DON’T punish your partner forever (if you stay)

Choosing to work things out with your partner is also choosing to forgive them for their mistake (eventually, of course.) You can’t pull the “cheating” card in every argument; you also don’t get to dig through their emails every time you have an emotional hunch. If you label them a cheater forever, how can you possibly get past it?
 

DO wait before jumping into something new (if you leave)

But if you went the route of bidding your philandering partner adieu... as tempting as it may be to download Tinder and fill this void with a new love (or lust) interest, that’s NOT where you should channel your energy right now. Your heart was just ripped out! That shit HURTS. If you don’t take time to heal before latching on to someone else, you’re just bringing an unhealthy, baggage-carrying version of yourself into the new relationship -- not exactly fair to you OR your new partner. Alone time for reflection will allow you to mend your broken heart and evaluate what it is you really want in love.

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Brooke Sager is a contributing writer for Thrillist who would feel too guilty even cheating in a game of Risk. Follow her adventures in NYC and beyond on Instagram and Twitter.