The worst has happened. Your partner cheated on you, and now you've kicked that jerk to the curb. But rather than jumping right back into the dating pool, there are lessons to be learned, says Ian Kerner, author of She Comes First, Love in the Time of Colic, and Be Honest, You're Not That Into Him Either.
I talked to Kerner, a frequent TODAY show contributor, about the ill effects of infidelity on one's well-being. The good news? If you've dumped that cheating bastard, it will be easier to get your mojo back. The bad news? Infidelity takes a toll on your self-esteem and your libido.
Luckily he also gives some great advice for moving onward and upward.
How do you move on after someone cheats on you?
The first thing to recognize is there is a natural period around the breakup where you have no desire to date or be sexual. You have to be true to that period. It's also very easy to get depressed and isolated, so hang out with friends and do things socially. Not necessarily with the intent of meeting people, but not to be cut off and isolated.
It's really important to hang out with people that you consider to be your cheerleaders and your champions. Hanging out with a lot of other bitter, divorced, or separated people is not necessarily the thing to do. You need people that can boost your self-esteem and make you feel good about yourself.
It's important to start dating again. You should be open about your story and not hide your story from people that you date.
How soon would you tell someone about your past?
I would tell somebody almost immediately if you think there is a connection and you'd like to see them again. I think people, generally, from a first or second date start to naturally map out each other's stories and reveal things about themselves.
People that go through infidelity don't usually break up because of the cheating; they break up because of all the lies that came after the cheating. That can be rebuilt; it's the web of lies that often continues that causes people to break up. In that spirit you want to be honest and transparent with whoever you date -- and expect the same.
What about the physical aspect?
People that recover from infidelity, sometimes, have a harder time with sex. They're more inhibited about sex and more battle-bruised and nervous. But even if you're not, sometimes sex has a backfiring effect because sex releases a lot of oxytocin, which is a very strong hormone that pushes a lot of emotional buttons. Sometimes people recovering from infidelity go out and have a one-night stand thinking it's going to be fun. Then you treat sex lightly, but sex doesn't always treat you lightly back in return.
Would you recommend people who are recovering from infidelity delay sex?
It's a tricky question because I think that being sexual is a hugely important part of dealing with life and having a sense of self-esteem and connection. I think it's about knowing yourself, and not pushing it. But also not delaying it. I'm largely a proponent of having a healthy sex life. If you're honest with the partner, that helps. I would say take it slow, but don't be overly cautious either. Don't be so guarded that you're cutting yourself off.
The other thing that happens very often is that people that deal with infidelity and breakup often end up going on anti-depressants. Those anti-depressants have the effect of inhibiting arousal and inhibiting desire.
So if you're on anti-depressants, it's worth noting that your overall libido may be diminished and that may impact your desire to get back into the dating game. Because sexual motivation plays a big role in dating.
Is it common for someone who was cheated on to expect it to happen again?
I think people who have been cheated on absolutely are battle-bruised. There are two things that happen: If you've been cheated on, you are either going to try to make a commitment to work it out, or you're going to leave. In either case you're going to have anxiety. I've seen both scenarios.
For example, say a woman went online and found her husband having an affair. Now every time she sees her current spouse (if she stayed) or her new partner go on a computer, or take a cell phone call and go in the other room, or furtively typing away into the night ... a little part of her is wondering what's going on and if she should be scared.
If you, unfortunately, are a victim of infidelity, you're likely to have post-traumatic stress and be a lot more anxious and paranoid in general.
Can people get over it?
People can get over it, but it really takes time. I have not seen a couple recover from any kind of infidelity, truly, in less than a couple of years. It really takes time to rebuild your confidence, your self-esteem, and your trust.
In some ways people who divorce or separate have an easier time because they meet someone new, they fall in love, and infatuation hormones kick in. Those hormones override a lot of doubt and nervousness. This is a new person, they can start again, and they're getting a lot of confidence boosting from their friends.
It's probably easier to recover from infidelity and leave and find someone new than it is to stay in the relationship and work through all the issues.
For more sex and relationship advice from Ian Kerner, check out Good in Bed.
Image via denharsh/Flickr