How to Resolve Trust Issues After Being Cheated On, According to Experts

Whether you choose to stay in the relationship or leave, the self-work matters.

It seems like cheating is happening all around us. It’s happened throughout politics and in the White House (see: Clinton-Lewinski affair), it’s a common plot point in TV dramas and movies (see: Big Little Lies, Marriage Story), and it’s always made headlines in celebrity news (unfortunately, yes, even Beyoncé was cheated on). But just because cheating is normalized in the media and sometimes in our personal lives doesn’t mean it should be treated as such. Being cheated on can have lasting effects on someone’s self-worth, ability to trust, and overall sense of security.

Licensed marriage and family therapist Cindy Grajkowski explains that the most common response she’s seen from people after they’ve been cheated on is a trauma response. “They [respond how] you would after [being in] a car accident…where they suddenly don’t feel safe anywhere, can’t sleep, and are super reactive,” she says. Every person may respond to cheating differently, based on past relationships or even childhood experiences, but it’s important to understand the impact that infidelity can have in order to move forward in healthy ways.

Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and relationship issues, also doesn’t take cheating lightly, categorizing the act as a form of abuse. “It is abusive to someone because you’re going after the core piece of a relationship, which is trust,” she says. Even if the person who cheated says that the act of cheating “didn’t mean anything,” Dr. Manly says it always does. “People try and make it just about sex. It’s not about sex, it’s about the bond,” she says. “It’s about the symbolic bond that is essential for a healthy relationship.”

This isn’t to say that the couple can’t grow or move forward (together or apart), but the healing process shouldn’t be neglected. Often, when someone is the victim of cheating in a relationship, people may think the most important question to answer is, “Should I stay or go?” but, in reality, it should be: “How can I heal from this?” So we gathered advice from relationship experts on how to resolve trust issues after being cheated on, below.

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