Heartbreak

The Right Question To Ask When You Find Out They Cheated On You

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Pensive young woman looks up from book, thinking

The shock can be cataclysmic when you find out that your spouse or intimate partner cheated on you. You might feel sick to your stomach or actually throw up when you find that undeniable evidence.

As time goes on, you might feel like you're in a kaleidoscope of memory. When did they start lying? Was the whole relationship ever real? What can I believe?

There are good and bad ways to ask the question: 'Why?'

One of the first questions you're going to ask is, "Why?" It's natural to want to know. You have to take a step back and make sure that you're asking that question for the right reasons.

The last thing that you need to do in this vulnerable moment is compound your feelings of betrayal with unwarranted feelings of guilt.

It's helpful to ask “What could have caused this?” — it helps avoid turning the guilt on yourself.

Try to avoid asking things like, “What was wrong with me?” or “Why wasn't I good enough?”

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To help you cope with this shocking moment, and the information that may follow your quesiton, please keep the following in mind:

3 common reasons an affair happens

Every relationship is unique but here are three possible causes for cheating.

1. The cheater is unable to empathize with how their partner will feel.

A cheating partner might have serious emotional baggage that prevents them from empathizing with how you will feel about the cheating.

Examples include narcissistic traits, drinking or drug use, and other serious mental health issues.

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2. They lack the ability to address relationship challenges or communicate properly.

The cheating partner doesn’t have the skills or courage to stand up for themselves and defuse tension in the relationship.

This isn't necessarily a flaw that starts with the cheater. People who struggle to resolve social issues in a productive and healthy way often have a long history of close relatives with mental health problems.

Many more people just end up with holes in their sense of who they are, in their self-worth, and in how they frame and think about problems in a marriage. (For a great discussion of this, check out the Running On Empty books by Jonice Webb, Ph.D.)

This creates codependency and attachment problems in the person when they grow up. They have no idea how to resolve issues in a healthy way because they never saw their parents do so.

3. The relationship has been changed by something nobody can control.

The last subset of cheaters is the caregiving cheater, where a spouse has a disease like Alzheimer’s and can’t even remember their spouse’s name, much less function as a marriage partner anymore.

This is certainly one of the more complicated reasons for cheating but is no less common.

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If you think that the reason they cheated is that you weren't "enough" for your partner, you are wrong.

Nowhere within these reasons is there one that says, “You weren’t thin enough, pretty enough, sexy enough, or attentive enough.”

Basically, if you can put the word “enough” after it, it’s not the reason.

It could be that you missed some cues in your relationship that something was wrong. There are people who dismiss when their spouse asks for marriage counseling or when they come to them repeatedly with some concern.

In some cases, people even do this because they feel like their spouse has ignored their own concerns for years.

But that doesn't make you a not-good-enough person who deserved to be cheated on.

After all, your partner had other options besides cheating. They could have demanded marriage counseling or threatened to leave if you wouldn't go, for instance, rather than cheat.

RELATED: Why Do People Cheat On People They Love?

It is possible that you contributed to the negative situation that resulted in your partner cheating.

While you might have contributed, it's critical to note that it was they who cheated instead of trying to resolve it.

Therapist Rick Reynolds has a much kinder way of putting this same idea. He writes, “Now, please don’t hear me say that you don’t need to consider the ways you fell short in your marriage.” He also writes about how important it is to “respond in love to the needs of your spouse.”

Obviously, you aren't a horrible person for being a part of a relationship where your partner cheated.

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Perhaps it's best described in my therapist’s favorite book, After the Affair, by Janis Abrahms Spring:

“I don’t separate the two of you into victim and victimizer, betrayer and betrayed. Each of you must accept an appropriate amount of responsibility for what went wrong. Rather than assign blame, I encourage each of you to confront those parts of yourself that led to the affair, and to change in ways that rebuild trust and intimacy. That doesn’t mean I hold you equally accountable for the affair—no one can make another person stray. But I do ask you both to be accountable for whatever space you created that made room for another person to come between you."

The trick is to be able to see your own part, and their part, in what happened without collapsing into what therapist Karyl McBride, Ph.D. calls "The Crash" — falling down a well where you feel as if you have no self-worth, just because you may have made a serious mistake. 

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Try look at what happened with a calm disposition.

When reflecting on what happened, aim for the role of Goldilocks: You need a level of self-worth, when dealing with cheating, that is just right.

You don't negate your spouse's every concern about the marriage because they cheated. When you're over the worst of the shock, keeping an open mind and being willing to listen is important.

You can acknowledge that you made a serious mistake, such as, "Oh, man. I've really stayed with a terrible narcissist, here," or, "Gosh. I didn't know how hurtful it was to turn my husband down for sex for that long. What else could I have done when I was angry or tired?"

But you still need a baseline level of self-worth. You can't mistakenly think you are such a bad person that the level of shock and hurt you are experiencing now is your due, as if you're globally unworthy.

Everyone has blind spots, and everyone makes mistakes — even serious, life-altering mistakes.

People don't cheat because you did or were something globally unforgivable. People cheat because they were running away from some problem in the relationship or in themselves. And cheating was the unhealthy, awful way that they chose to try to escape it.

RELATED: 15 Telltale Signs He's Cheating On You, According To Cheaters

P.D. Reader is a student astrologer and novelist who writes Unfaithful: Perspectives on the Third-Party Relationship on Medium.

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This article was originally published at Struggling-In-Or-With-An-Affair.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.