So, you caught your ex cheating and then the wheels came off of your relationship for good. It sucked, but you survived. Rather than jumping directly into another relationship, you took some time to process the whole thing. Kudos to you for acting like a grown up during your break-up -- even if your ex didn't act like one during your relationship.
Now that the trauma has receded and your period of reflection has come to an end, you feel like you're ready to start dating again. But there are a couple of questions that are nagging at you: Has the betrayal you experienced in your last relationship affected your ability to trust someone in the future? And perhaps more importantly, should it?
Those are excellent questions. Navigating a new relationship after getting cheated on in your last relationship can be tricky business. And while it's wise to give previous experiences enough consideration to learn how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future, you don't want to give them so much weight that they keep you shackled to your past.
As the saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." The fact that you got cheated on was not your fault. But it will be your fault if you repeat your own mistakes the next time around.
The following five tips can help to maximize your chances for successfully moving forward.
1. Forgive but don't forget. Wait -- before you post that angry comment, let me explain. I'm not talking about forgiving him; I'm talking about forgiving yourself for your own lapses in judgment. Maybe you believed him when he said the only reason he went to Sugar's every day for lunch was because the strip steak special just couldn't be beat. Or you ignored the story you heard about how his last relationship ended when his then-girlfriend found a half-empty box of condoms tucked in a pocket of the suitcase he took on his frequent business trips. Maybe you thought you could change him. Or you didn't listen to your gut when it kept telling you that something was wrong. There are real lessons to learn from all of these mistakes. But once you learn them, your job is to forgive yourself while not forgetting what you learned.
2. It's not you, it's him. Whatever your shortcomings were, he was the one who cheated, not you. You may have ignored the warning signs, but that goes in the category of letting yourself down; it doesn't rise to the level of betraying your significant other's trust. In terms of culpability, there's a big difference between those two offenses. Being guilty of one requires asking and answering some tough questions of yourself. Being guilty of the other requires answering up when you ultimately meet your maker. Don't let his betrayal change the essence of who you are. If you're a trusting person by nature, that's a good thing. But if you're a trusting person who ignores red flags, change the part about ignoring red flags. In other words, do let the whole experience generate healthy growth, but don't let it rob you of your positive qualities.
3. Get a new type. If you're a person who has a "type" and your ex is a representative sample, it may be time to get a new type. If you have a history of being attracted to guys who are players, you won't be entitled to any sympathy points when you start dating another guy who has a "bad boy" reputation and then he ends up cheating on you, too. So before you dive back into dating, think about what you want from your love life. Do your spirits soar at the thought of turbulence, bumpy air space, and crash landings? Or do you like generally smooth sailing? Once you have the answer to this question, pick a guy who's interested in traveling in both the same manner and direction.
4. Don't convict the wrong guy. Once you start dating someone new, don't expect him to serve the sentence for the crime committed by your ex. There is no faster way to kill your next relationship than to send your new boyfriend the message that you expect him to cheat on you any second -- or worse yet, to treat him as if he already has. Neither the victim vibe nor passion for payback are attractive to healthy individuals. So, if Beaten-down Becca is your post break-up persona, you should automatically be suspect of any new suitors. And if you are Vengeful Vanna dedicated to punishing your subsequent boyfriend for the pain caused by your last one, don't expect relationship success to be your good fortune. The bottom line is this: If you are not at the point where you can let a new relationship grow without poisoning it with your past experience, then don't start dating yet because you are not ready.
5. Check your suitcase for any emotional baggage. After you break up with a cheater, there are two nasty parting gifts that often sneak into your suitcase when you pack your stuff. One is fear and the other is insecurity. Fear that someone might cheat on you again can make you skittish of emotional vulnerability -- a necessary component in any healthy relationship. That fear can cause you to cut and run rather than moving forward with a relationship that has real potential. On the other hand, insecurity about your own self-worth and the prospect of being alone can keep you from breaking it off with someone you know is not good for you. You've heard of gifts that keep giving. Well, these are gifts that keep taking. Sort through all of your stuff to make sure that these two saboteurs aren't stowed away, waiting for the chance to undermine your prospects for healthy relationships in the future.
Conventional wisdom holds that cheaters never win. But I disagree; they win if you let them by failing to learn and move on. If you do your part to keep the cheaters from winning, your efforts will be richly rewarded in the future.