Cheating. It’s something many of us have done (or thought about doing) at some point in our lives. And anyone who’s dealt with infidelity can tell you it causes a lot of pain, guilt, and suffering — both for the person who cheated and the one who did the cheating.
But whether you have been a serial cheater, you’ve done it a few times, or you’ve only strayed once, infidelity can offer up some serious lessons for everywhere involved. After all, people cheat for many different reasons — from neglect, to self-destruction, to anger.
Whatever the motive, at the end of the day, wallowing in the pain you’ve caused and the shame you feel won’t get you anywhere. Instead it’s important to let the past go and focus on becoming a better, fuller person. But how exactly? Here, six real women share the biggest lessons they learned from cheating.
1. ‘COMMUNICATION AND TRUST ARE CRUCIAL’
“I cheated on my ex-boyfriend because I was super unhappy in our relationship. I felt neglected and like he never really loved me. I think I cheated to feel more in control of the situation. He was a lot older than I was and I didn’t know what power I had in the relationship. I learned that communication and a lack of trust are big reasons for cheating. You should never resort to cheating. You should always try to work stuff out beforehand and if you do wind up cheating, that relationship is likely over.” — Mika, 28
2. ‘THE GUILT ISN’T WORTH IT’
“When I cheated, I did it after being with somebody for a year. He was out of town often and I was excited to be with somebody else. I did not enjoy the cheating and felt bad for it. I did not tell my partner and never cheated again.” — Isabel, 32
3. ‘YOU HAVE TO BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF’
“I’m not proud of it, but I cheated on my boyfriend of 11 years with my best friend. [The cheating lasted] for about four years [and he] had also been with his girlfriend for 13 years. Eventually, it forced us to realise what happiness actually feels like, and to admit to ourselves that, after being with our significant others since we were both 18, while we had grown up together, we had also grown apart from them. It was so much more painful and heartbreaking than I could have ever imagined it to be, but eventually we left them and are now together. We quit our jobs and are traveling around the world together. And it seems that both of [our exes] are much better off [now] in relationships where they feel valued for who they really are.
“I constantly surprise myself with how often I think about my ex-boyfriend, even from across the world, which is comforting to know that I’m not dead inside, and that I really did actually care about him, probably even more than he realised.” — Kate*, 30
4. ‘YOU NEED TO LOVE WITHOUT FEAR’
“I used to cheat on every person I dated before I met my wife. I was a hot mess and really self-destructive. I would sleep with men and women—‘fake committing’ to people while still sleeping around. I was drinking a lot and screwing up every good thing that came my way. When I met my partner, she showed me a different way and how to allow love into my life without fear. We’ve been together for nearly six years and I’ve never had the urge to cheat. Unconditional love is very powerful. I think it’s about the place in your life and where you are as a person that dictates whether or not you’re likely to cheat.” — Adele, 36
5. “ONLY BY HEALING MYSELF COULD WE HEAL OUR RELATIONSHIP”
“My marriage came out of the fire stronger than it had ever been before after my affair. The experience helped me to recognise that something wasn’t right within me since the things we do indicate the condition of our heart. The greatest lesson I learned is that I was trying to fill the broken places inside of me with the affair. So I left the other man, turned the spotlight on me, and allowed God to heal the ills my heart. Now my husband and I love and appreciate each other more.” — Tesha, 32
6. ‘MY HAPPINESS IS MY RESPONSIBILITY’
“I learned a few important lessons after cheating:
“1. Cheating isn’t about something missing in the relationship. It’s a lack of self love, plain and simple. When someone loves themselves first, most, best and always, they’ll leave a relationship they’re not happy with OR… will tackle issues with confidence, and a solutions-based mindset.
“2. My happiness is 100 percent my responsibility. When we put our happiness in how others validate or treat us, we risk becoming attached, manipulative, and a victim. We cannot control others. Conditional love makes people powerless to conditions. When you take full responsibility for your own happiness you free yourself from the pressure of making others happy. Everyone is in charge of watering their own garden.
“3. After cheating, you can heal, transform and emerge wise, strong, and committed to your peace and clarity. That expression ‘once a cheater always a cheater’ is a limiting belief. When people realize that THEY are the common denominator to their repeated relationship issues, and commit to changing for the better, then do the work and heal, they will transform into a self-loving person who will never have reason to cheat again.” —Lisa, 40
*Names have been changed
Gigi Engle is a sex educator and writer living in Chicago. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @GigiEngle.
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US
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